Wednesday 31 October 2012

Halloween costumes should not be subjected to gender stereotypes

This sort of thing makes up my mind for me. Yes, even though Mr. Obama saved General Motors, I do want Mitt Romney to win. The people who write this sort of thing scare me deeply and they do not, I imagine, vote Republican.

Whenever I hear the word gender used to mean sex, I reach for my gun.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

I have loved this coin since I was a little boy. I saw it in the British Museum as a child. SO beautiful.

Interesting that under the changes to the British succession, which were recently introduced, under which first born daughters would succeed instead of subsequently born sons, the Hohenzollern, Kaiser Wilhelm, would have been on the British throne in 1914.

If this change had taken place in the Tudor period, then the crucial reign of Edward in which he and his tutor Cranmer turned England Protestant instead of back to Roman Catholic, as Mary later tried and failed, would never have happened. History changed so much because of that short reign.

Those utterly disastrous few years that did so much harm - much worse even than Tony Blair's period. My objection to the change in the law is that it is changing something immensely old and beautiful - plus letting magic in on mystery and ridiculous to try to mix monarchy and egalitarianism. My objection is not because Queens are not so effective as kings although this is true too. But feminism doth make cowards of us all - the only idea even more powerful than anti racism.

Edward VI had he lived would have been much stronger than Elizabeth I. Monarchy lost power under Elizabeth I and Victoria. And there is something about the words 'The King' which gives me goose pimples - 'The Queen' does not.

This Queen has presided over many dreadful things that she could at least have warned against.

Monday 29 October 2012

Divine retribution in the blogosphere

Is Hurricane Sandy 'God's revenge for the refusal of the US government to take action on the climate crisis'? Or because Mitt and Obama are 'a pro-homosexual Mormon and a pro-abortion/homosexual Muslim'? Hard to call.

Actually, I do not think it has anything to do with any of these things or any kind of punishment but I do not see why people should not think so, as they always did in the past. Dryden, for example, wrote his wonderful Annus Mirabilis to refute the idea that the Great Plague and Great Fire of London were God's judgment on Londoners and by implication on the reign of King Charles II. 

Of course, it is far-fetched and richly comic to say that God permitted the September 11th outrages because of widespread homosexuality in the USA, as Jerry Falwell did, but I was shocked that the hellfire preacher aroused such anger for saying so - everyone in America seemed furious with him and he apologised. Though, of course, why single out homosexuality not divorce or materialism or violence or a thousand other possible reasons? Mr Obama's pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, thought September 11th was a punishment for racism. And so it goes. 

By contrast, in England, acts of God somehow seem to be considered, even by devout Christians, purely a term of art from the insurance industry. English Christians sometimes even refuse to believe that God causes natural disasters or illnesses, which goes along with what Jonathan Meades meant when, speaking of modern British church architecture, he referred to 'the idea of God, the awfully nice bloke.' Romanians have a much clearer idea that God is very immanent and to be feared as well as loved.

If hundreds of people die in the hurricane, presumably this might will help Mr. Romney. I suspect that some people, including American defence and tobacco company executives, who stand to gain from a Romney victory, are calculating that it might be the October surprise that decides the election.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Vampires do exist

Vampires do exist. They are called psychopaths or sociopaths (the words are interchangeable) and are in a true sense the undead. They appear to be very vivacious but this is an illusion. They draw their energy from those around them, especially their victims. 

Detail from Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights; his demons, not sadists but methodical, destructive and inhuman, resemble psychopaths

They have no consciences. Their characteristics include extreme manipulativeness, total egocentricity, shallow emotions, fearlessness, callousness (they lack 'warm' empathy but have 'cold' empathy, meaning they are very good at reading others' emotions), superficial charmcharisma and antisocial behaviour. 

I came to know at least two of these perverse and dangerous people in Romania. Both were good-looking and highly intelligent women. One of them, let us call her Paula, matched President Mitterand's description of Mrs. Thatcher - 'the eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe'. 

The eyes are significant - the penetrating and prolonged psychopathic stare is part of the way in which they mesmerise their victims, while spinning lies or playing games. Another is by conversational hypnosis. They have soothing and caressing voices which enable them to lull their victims into acquiescence and even to implant ideas (commands) into the victims' minds, although when they are not using this mode their voices are very cold and tellingly ugly. Voices, unlike physical appearance, are, by the way, one of the best ways of reading people. 

Psychopaths like positive people because they need to find sources of energy. People without power or energy are of no use to them.

For psychopaths most of mankind are zombies. Ayn Rand, whose philosophy is pure psychopathy, expresses the psychopath's contempt for the mass of humanity:

Do you ever feel as if the world is full of zombies? Mindless people who merely obey the dictates of society and their own emotions, showing no sign of rationality, letting others decide who and what they’re going to be in this life, regurgitating moral nostrums as if they were pearls of the highest wisdom, attacking those who are not like them and wanting desperately to turn all outsiders into exact replicas of themselves... ?

One characteristic psychopaths  have which has not, to my knowledge, been remarked on is that they find their lives very tiring. It is draining to be a psychopath, constantly manipulating, lying and simultaneously juggling mind games with various people on various levels. Like autists, psychopaths often have photographic memories and minds that work very quickly and this too is tiring. My two psychopaths looked young and seemed vivacious both admitted that they tired very quickly and I came to realise that they were very old in their hearts. Undead. This is why, unlike the vampires of myth, both liked early nights.

Psychopaths are so good at reading and manipulating people that I finally concluded that it is about more than lightning-quick intellects: they have psychic powers, as many people do. They get into the minds of those they interact with. Paula told me that she sometimes had prophetic dreams and always knew if she was going to get her way at an encounter before it began. She could usually read people perfectly. She only failed, she told me, with stupid people and with 'a few people who wouldn't let me in at all and all of those, I discovered later, hated me. Not for any reason', she added, unconvincingly. On one of the first occasions when I met Paula, I had a psychic experience myself. I saw a black aura around her, blotting out the sunlight from a summer evening at the Marriott Hotel. 

A down to earth material explnation, on the other hand s that is the psychopath's inability to feel stress which lets him see calmly and unemotionally. Psychopaths and Tibetan monks, who learn calm from meditation, detect deep emotions that are invisible to others, according to the author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths, Kevin Dutton. 

Psychopaths cannot be bargained with or trusted under any circumstances. Psychopaths are dangerous and should be steered very well clear of. Apart from the harm that they delight to inflict on those around them, if they judge it safe and politic to do so, they carry around with them black clouds which occlude the happiness and joy of life. They feel savage glee and rejoice in tricks and lies but the happiness they obtain from life is most of the time thin. They are black holes. Carlyle said that 'In the moments of our greatest happiness there is something that prevents us being wholly happy. That something is nothing other than the shadow of ourselves.' That shadow makes up the psychopath's whole existence.

Dr. Martin Israel, the author of a leading work on pathology, who went on to become an Anglican priest and a famous authority on psychic forces, believed that psychopaths are: 

especially powerful mediums of destructive cosmic forces, and their power is related to their intelligence and their ability to communicate on a psychic level with other people. The murderous type of dictator, so common in our century, typifies this trend to its most devastating extent.
This, I believe, is exactly right. Stalin is a very good example.

Israel goes on to say:
The end of the powers of evil, wherever we may place their origin, is world domination. But behind this outer desire for conquest there is a hidden, deeper lust for total destruction. The evil impulse looks for the death of all life, the corruption of all beauty and the perversion of all truth and justice.

Female psychopath

This detail from Bosch's curious painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights, Paula's favourite painting, reminds me of her (she is, like most psychopaths, very promiscuous). The penetrating beak, the huge mouth, the underbelly being feasted on by hommes moyens sensual who are on their way to self destruction and, especially, the grasping hands

The picture, Paula said, is 'as much about contemporary New York as Holland centuries ago. I have stared for hours at every detail trying to imagine the story behind each figure.' No doubt she did so to learn as much from it as she can, because psychopaths  are only interested in knowledge they can use. 

What did she learn from it? Everyone in the painting is suffering or will suffer as a result of their weaknesses, except the pitiless satanic creatures who efficiently administer the punishments and are enjoying their task. 

The Satanic agents in the Garden of Earthly Delights are the only pure figures. They are like psychopaths, in fact, for psychopaths are curiously inhuman. They are evil yet not corrupt, are in fact incorruptible, although possessing all the deadly sins themselves. Psychopathfeel emotions such as savage glee, lust, greed, and most of all contempt and boredom but their emotional range is very limited and they do not have normal feelings, especially not feelings of  affection, or consciences which derive from such feelings. They are the proof that Aristotle and Kant were wrong to think that virtue proceeds from reason, for psychopaths  are very sane and completely rational. Conscience and virtue are functions of love not reason. 

Psychopaths, when they let down their guards, seem like creatures from outer space, not humans at all, though Diana, the second psychopath I knew, said to me once that 'I still hope somewhere in me is a little shred of humanity'. I felt sorry for her, which seemed absurd. Diana also said to me, while listening to a Bach concerto: 'This was written from pure hatred.'

Psychopaths, by the way, also seem oddly to transcend their nationality, social class and even their sex. Paula and Diana, for example, in many ways seemed like homosexual men in women's bodies.

I asked Paula what this detail from the Bosch painting meant to her, but all she said was, in the dreamy voice she affects:
'It's so enjoyable to be eaten'. 
She added:
'Victims want to be victims. I really believe that.'
And on this occasion she was telling the truth. This is, curiously, what all psychopaths  believe and perhaps at a deep level they are often right. 

There seems to be a genetic basis, although this is not certain, to psychopathy. Psychopaths' brains when scanned differ from those of normal people, but brains develop in childhood, just as personality traits do. One interesting fact is that psychopaths are more likely to have blue or green eyes than the general population. If this is true then Romania has fewer psychopaths per capita for blue and green eyes are rare in this country of brunettes. But I wonder.

For more about psychopaths by me please click here and here.

Note: I have come across this interesting blog on the subject by the well-known Romanian-American novelist, Claudia Moscovici.

Why Churchill allowed Romania to become Communist

This decision was disastrous, prolonged the war and indirectly led to Romania and Bulgaria becoming Communist. The decision to invade Italy, and not the Balkans, is to blame, not Yalta, as I never tire of explaining to Romanians, who never tire of disbelieving me.

Hallowe'en is rearing its ugly head in Bucharest tonight, four days early

Samhain (pronoun­ced SAH-WEEN), nowadays known as Hallowe'en, approaches. A time, the Druids taught, when the earth begins to deaden and the chasm separating living and dead thins out. The Catholics renamed it All Souls' Eve. It is now a marketing campaign for various businesses, in Romania as everywhere else. 

Just as the North American grey squirrel has made the red squirrel almost extinct so has the North American Hallowe'en taken over with extraordinary swiftness, extinguishing older, weaker traditions. This too is life, I suppose, but it is part of the process by which the whole world is becoming plastic.

Hallowe'en, traditionally marked by apple bobbing, was almost dead in England when I was a boy and I never heard of anyone bobbing apples except in books, but Hallowe'en was taken by the English to America and has been exported back to us and worldwide in recent years, for purely commercial reasons. Romania has her own traditions about ghosts walking the earth on St. Andrew's Eve, 29 November, which alas are nowadays being submerged by Hallowe'en, just as the commercial Western St. Valentine's Day (increasingly the word saint is dropped nowadays) is subsuming Dragobete.

So the American Hallowe’en is an originally pagan and Catholic festival which now reflects America’s core Protestant and English identity. As America becomes less Protestant and less English the traditions change with the times. In America it is the tradition to wear fancy dress for Hallowe'en parties and in the last few years rules have emerged to discourage party goers from ‘perpetuating racial or gender stereotypes’. Dressing as Chinamen or Red Indians or, heavens forfend, from blacking up to impersonate the President, all these are not acceptable in the USA, a country in the grip of a collective nervous breakdown about any sort of discrimination. Rules have emerged to guide party goers.

This costume is definitely outré, it appears:

As is this:

I thought Mynah Bird looked very fetching in her scanty Nazi stormtrooper costume on The Two Ronnies, but that was long ago and in another country and besides the wench is dead.

Out of laziness, I asked my friend Valentin Nas, who knows very much about Romanian folklore and traditions, to advise me about the significance of St. Andrew's Eve and he tells me:

There are many legends and customs related to the night of St. Andrew when the souls of the dead are believed to come out of graves and fight the living undead. The ghosts return to their graves at dawn, when they hear the first rooster. If the undead have nobody to fight, they go to people's homes and try to suck the blood of those they can catch. Garlic is believed to keep them away, therefore, in order to stay safe from ghosts and undead, people use to brush with garlic their windows and doors before evening comes. 

A common tradition on this day is to plant wheat seeds and keep them indoors until New Year’s Eve. Tradition says that the person who plants the wheat will be able to tell how next year will be based on how the plants will look like. Another tradition is to take small branches from a fruit tree, put them in water and keep them until the Christmas holiday. The branches should bloom, which is another sign of how fruitful next year will be.

The last line of Agatha Christie's Hallowe'en Party provides a final thought for the 31st., from Hercule Poirot: 

Halloween is not a time for the telling of the stories macabre, but to light the candles for the dead. Come, mes amis, let us do so.
Note written on November 1st: Last night charming girls in Hallowe'en costumes walking down my street looking for Hallowe'en parties made me realise that I only wrote part of the truth. Hallowe'en  is transmogrified and made charming by Romanians and it is great craich.

Chiajna Monastery on the outskirts of Bucharest

File:Mănăstirea Chiajna - Giulești.jpg

I am ashamed I never heard of the Chiajna Monastery on the outskirts of Bucharest until today, when Rupert Wolfe-Murray mentioned it- it looks enchanting. I must go there and to what other places?

This wonderful picture is by Mihai Petre and won first prize in the Wiki Loves Monuments competition in December 2011.

Shkodër, Albania

I MUST go back to Albania before the grockles arrive and the developers and all the horrors of civilisation. I say this each summer and three summers have passed since I was last there. Not that summer is a good time to go - spring and autumn are best. 

Thursday 25 October 2012

Today King Michael of Romania is 91

Today King Michael of Romania is 91, the last surviving Head of State and Commander-in-Chief from the Second World War. Why has Romania not restored the monarchy?

How sad dethroned kings are, their faces like worn coins. Today the king unveiled a statue to himself at a square that is being named after him at the intersection of Şoseaua Kisileff and Strada Ion Mincu, at the invitation of the Mayor of Bucharest. It is a short distance from the palace where he lived as a boy, which now houses the ING Bank. All very sad. 

If the impeachments of President Basescu show anything, whatever ones view of him, surely they show the advantages of a hereditary monarch and a head of state who is, like Caesar's wife, above suspicion.

What is England's secret? Freedom. Hah.

And what is [England's] secret? Freedom, ordered freedom, within the law, with force in the background and not in the foreground: a society in which authority and freedom are blended in due proportion, in which state and citizen are both ends and means. It is an empire organised for peace and for the free development of the individual in and through an infinite variety of voluntary associations. It neither deifies the state nor its rulers.
So said Stanley Baldwin in his last speech as Prime Minister in 1937, when we were considered the most important and even the most progressive country in the world. When I was growing up he was loathed for letting Germany rearm and the second hand bookshops groaned with collections of his speeches on the theme of England's greatness. Only I bought and read them. 

Then they seemed charming but banal. Now reading him is desperately sad-making. His praise of the British race seems like something from an extremist right wing group, his praise of the Empire almost as subversive. He extolled horse-drawn ploughs in the English countryside just as the countryside was collapsing into ever deeper depression and the cinema was bringing global culture to the small towns and villages. His premiership coincided with the building of hideous ribbon development that ruined much of the landscape and his government authorised the building of pylons over the fields he eulogised: putting the wires underground was judged to be too expensive.

As for freedom, I used to think of England as a very free country when I came in 1998 to live in Romania. Now when I go back as I did last weekend it feels like a very agreeable police state, patrolled by armed police who are increasingly unpopular. People are gaoled for offensive tweets and for saying homosexual acts are sins. Evangelical street preachers are moved on by the police for handing out pamphlets 'in a Muslim area'. Someone was sent down for revving his car in a racist manner and an Oxford undergraduate spent a night in the cells for telling a policeman his horse was gay. And the list of stories would fill half of cyberspace. 

People in England who wanted to be stroppy used to say 'It's a free country' if you asked if you could sit at their table in a pub or in similar situations. It is impossible to imagine them using the expression any more, except ironically.

Post-Communist Romania is very much freer. How much has changed in both countries since the Revolution of 1989.

Monday 22 October 2012

Do we know anything about Muhammad or the origins of Islam?

I am reading Tom Holland's book In the Shadow of the Sword which I should probably not have bought had I taken the time to look through the pages and see that it is a popular history, written to make the paperback bestseller lists. But this would, on the whole, have been my loss. Some of the book's themes are important and should be widely discussed.

The book is exasperating and quite exceptionally badly and vulgarly written.  I cannot remember ever reading anything that insults the reader quite so much and yet Mr Holland has won several literary prizes, which I find completely incredible. The book contains many hundreds of sentences as bad as this one:

'He [Muhammad] had experienced history's most epochal mid-life crisis.'  
Historians are discombobulated. A sultan with halitosis can 'slay flies with a single breath'. Holland sounds like a history teacher trying to amuse his fifth form class and the whole book seems to be written for serialisation in the Daily Mail. The stories about the Empress Theodora's prepubescent sexual life, which are completely off the subject, are repeated with unnecessary detail and given undue credence. The book is, as Gerald Manley Hopkins described Locksley Hall, an ungentlemanly row, but the subject matter is fascinating.

Holland convinces me that we know virtually nothing about Muhammad, including whether or not he had a religious conversion at the age of forty. This is largely because of a lack of a written culture in the Arabia of the period. Compare what we know about fifth century Britain: we know much more simply due to Gildas and the Venerable Bede. The Koran tells us almost nothing about Muhammad. There are no more than four references to him in the Koran and two fleeting references to him by name in near-contemporary Christian writers. The Teaching of Jacob, a Greek Christian apocalyptic text written between 632 and 640, which Holland does not specifically mention, might be the oldest reference to Muhammad in existence. It does not name Muhammad, but puts the Christian case against him poignantly and pithily: 

I, having arrived at Sykamina, stopped by a certain old man well-versed in scriptures, and I said to him: "What can you tell me about the prophet who has appeared with the Saracens?" He replied, groaning deeply: "He is false, for the prophets do not come armed with a sword. Truly they are works of anarchy being committed today and I fear that the first Christ to come, whom the Christians worship, was the one sent by God and we instead are preparing to receive the Antichrist."

The hadiths, sayings attributed to Muhammad, and the biographies of him probably have no value at all as historical evidence, being written far too late. This lack of evidence should always have been obvious (Gibbon pointed it out in a footnote to the Decline and Fall) but only became reasonably widely accepted in the last thirty-odd years, though it is still fiercely disputed. We do not know, for sure, if Muhammad visited Mecca. The battles he is thought to have won, over which historians have spilt much ink, are probably as factual as the Battle of Camlann at which Mordred defeated King Arthur.

Thomas Carlyle's famous essay praising Muhammad and Sir William Muir's Life suggesting he may have been a psychopath possessed by Satan seem equally houses based on sand. The most important fact that we know for sure about the early history of Islam is that Muslims conquered half the known world in the seventh century, including the Middle East, North Africa and Spain, before being defeated at the Battle of Tours in 732. We do not know for sure if Islam enabled the Arabs to conquer so much of the world or whether Islam was a by-product of this remarkable explosion. The late Bishop Kenneth Cragg said: 

Muhammad, in expanding his empire, managed to start a religion.

However, we do not know for sure if Muhammad himself led the Muslims to victory. Some have even argued that Mohammad did not exist, as others have done about Jesus of Nazareth, of whom much more is reliably known. 

Holland is certain (perhaps too certain) that the Koran originates in the early seventh century, basing his argument on one verse, which he thinks refers to the Persian conquest of Palestine in 614. He rejects, in a couple of sentences, the idea that the Koran was composed using material from various sources, including Christian hymns, as others have asserted. This is a question that deserved much more space in a long book that includes many long and irrelevant digressions. I suspect that it is elided for fear of the reaction from Muslims.

Two scholars were allowed to examine parchment fragments of the oldest known Koranic manuscript which were found forty years ago in a mosque in Sana’a, in Yemen. One, Gerd- Rudiger Puin, decided that the Koran had evolved over time using material from various sources. The Yemeni authorities were understandably angry and no further research has been published. This is also the theory of other scholars, including Patricia Crone and 'Christoph Luxenberg' (the latter writes under a pseudonym for fear of violent reprisals).  Holland, however, agreeing with the scholarly consensus, is convinced that the variations in texts are not of great importance and their similarities point to an early origin. These scholarly disputes require a good working knowledge of Arabic and classical Syriac or Middle Aramaic. Holland, so I have read, does not have these languages.

Of course, for Christians the idea that the Koran we know today does have an early origin is rather disappointing, although they hate it when biblical scholars undermine the historicity of the Gospels. Still, there is very much that is very mysterious about the Koran. It is fascinating to learn that many hadiths insist that the punishment for adultery should be death by stoning, but the Koran stipulates 'a hundred lashes'. How does this square with the Koran being much older than the hadiths? It tells us that the scribes who copied out the Koran did not adjust the text to accord with the hadiths but also that those who wrote down the hadiths did not know the Koran in the version we have it.

The Koran is almost the only evidence that we have for the origins of Islam, yet the Koran tells us virtually nothing about history. According to Holland, we do not even know if it originates in the Arabian peninsular (Arabia) or elsewhere in the Arab world - Iraq has been suggested by Patricia Crone as an alternative site.

Some light on this mysterious period in Arabian history is also shed by this book about the Jewish kingdom of Himyar (very roughly what is now Yemen), where Jews oppressed Christians. The suppression of Himyar by the Ethiopians provides Holland with the opening chapter of his book, though it is not very relevant to the origins of the Muslim religion. My visit to Ethiopia and to the Yazidi holy place, Lalish, in Iraq have whetted my appetite to know more about this period and part of the world. I look forward to going to Sana'a, though possibly when it is a little less dangerous.

Here is a very good article in Standpoint by Nick Cohen, about Tom Holland's book.

Sunday 21 October 2012


Every major question in history is a religious question. Hilaire Belloc
“What threatens democracy today? ...First, there is the inability to be reconciled with the imperfection of human affairs. ...a sort of secular messianic belief has penetrated deep into the general consciousness. ...The notion that all history to date has been the history of bondage but that now, finally, the just society can and must be built soon is propagated in various slogans among atheists and Christians alike...”—Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

“…For the State has returned with all its ancient terrors out of antiquity; with the Gods of the City thundering from the sky and, marching with the pageant in iron panoply the ghosts of a hundred tyrants; and we have begun to understand in what wide fields and playgrounds of liberty, the Faith that made us free has so long allowed us to wander and play.”
From “The Return of Caesar”, by G.K. Chesterton

"Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure... are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments."—Charles Carroll of Maryland, Roman Catholic and signer of the Declaration of Independence

“When a man does not believe in the institution of Private Property, as understood by the old Capitalists, he generally does believe all the more absolutely (we might say abjectly) in the institution called the State, as worshipped by the Socialists and Communists; or, for that matter, by a good many of the Fascists or the Hitlerites.”—G.K. Chesterton 

Sunday 14 October 2012

Ion Mihai Pacepa on the killing of the U.S. Ambassador in Benghazi

Ion Mihai Pacepa talks about the killing of the U.S. Ambassador in Benghazi, which we know, despite what Mrs. Clinton said, was not a spontaneous response to a film about Muslims: 

"My past experience at the top of the Soviet bloc intelligence community gives me solid ground to state that the Muslim attacks on U.S. embassies and the assassination of our ambassador to Libya, carried out with Soviet-made rocket-propelled grenades, Kalashnikovs and Molotov cocktails, were just as “spontaneous” as the May Day parades in Moscow – and that they have the same organisers".

He is certainly not very trustworthy but since he was working for the KGB (not the CIA)  this is probably true. 

"In those days anyone who could write at all could have a living."

Novelist Evelyn Waugh

On writing, Waugh - the author of novels such as Vile Bodies, A Handful of Dust, Scoop and Brideshead Revisited - says he has always found it easy, "nothing easier". He adds: "In those days, perhaps even now, anyone who could write at all could have a living."

Saturday 13 October 2012

Enoch Powell told me the time to start worrying ...

His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halyč, Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Enoch Powell told me the time to start worrying was when bishops started looking young - this is the moment when they started to.

Charles Moore is one of the greatest living Englishmen

Charles Moore today in the Daily Telegraph:

The concept of life itself has warped. People who go white with rage at the idea of any restriction on the abortion of human foetuses get even more beside themselves at any killing of wild animals by human beings.

In last Saturday's paper:

On Thursday, I listened to the BBC News at seven in the morning after the first of the Obama/Romney US presidential debates three hours earlier. The report of the debate was only the third item on the news. So I knew, without having to hear any more, that Mitt Romney must have won. If Mr Obama had come out on top, the BBC would have led with the story.

Charles Moore is my favourite journalist, now that Frank Johnson and Alan Watkins are dead. I love him even more then Rod Liddle, Michael White, Peter York  and Matthew Parris. I loved him too in the 1980s, when I shared his Tory premises but passionately disagreed with the Thatcherite conclusions he drew from them. Then I thought he was the Thatcherite zeitgeist but someone truly said of him that all the causes he has associated himself with have lost: the union with Northern Ireland; Euroscepticism; free market economics; hunting.

His best and saddest article is this one, from last year, entitled 

Will there always be an England, whatever the origin of its people?

New Yorker cartoon

"An intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting than sex.' Aldous Huxley.

A friend, who was hugely successful with women, once told me: 'You talk to women in the same way that I do to children: as if you were talking to an adult. And it works. Women find it flattering, as children do, but they find it tiring and hard to keep it up.' 

I was very  amused but terribly shocked by this and think I probably still am.

Gang rape in Paris shocks France

A terrible story of gang rape of a young white girl has shocked France and shocked me, who generally never read crime stories. The light sentences meted out to the four youths who were convicted were almost equally shocking.  I scoured the net to find out whether they were indigenous French youths or whether 'youths' was code for Arabs or Muslims. 

Only the NYT mentions that one of the men convicted has a Muslim name. I presumed the others were also Muslims and a French journalist has confirmed this to me Why is this not mentioned in the press that disingenuously talks about 'French gang culture'? This should be not only mentioned but widely discussed surely, not least by Muslims in France.

Friday 12 October 2012

Romania the eternal (and fascinating) adolescent

This article appeared in Vivid in 2004. Romanians have come a very long way since 2004 and no long ago stopped seeming like children of a larger growth to well-disposed foreigners.

The psychology of nations is not intellectually out of fashion in Romania in the way that it has been for the last sixty years in the West. Romanians, usually their own severest critics, talk at length and often with cruel accuracy about their national character and question the reasons why so much of Romanian society appears to be dysfunctional. On the other hand, foreigners who have the luck to live and work in Romania are often enchanted and exasperated in turn, or simultaneously, by what seems to them a curiously childlike quality in Romanians (in common with other central and eastern Europeans but to a more pronounced degree), even when they are taking part in activities that are far from innocent.

In a superficial sense adolescence is over much more quickly in Romania than in the Anglo-Saxon world where baby boomers squeeze themselves into jeans at sixty. At twenty or twenty-one the Romanian is a young adult earning his living, even if still at university, and surviving in a tough and dangerous world. Older people are treated with respect in a part of the world where the generation gap was never heard of and each generation follows fairly closely in the path of its parents. Important figures in business and politics seem rarely to talk to people under fifty. Yet at a deeper level Romanians seem, at least to outsiders, in some ways children of a larger growth.

One reason is that life in the West changed out of all recognition under the impact of sudden and unprecedented economic growth and technological advance in the fifty year period in which Romania was frozen in time under communism. Life in the West was once much less pressured, slower, simpler, more human and more innocent. Watch a British film from the 1930s or 40s and you will recognise a lot. Bolshevism’s final achievement, while destroying so much that was priceless, was to act as the only conservative force strong enough to put a brake on progress and preserve a traditional way of life which with astonishing rapidity was destroyed forever in the market economies.

But another reason is that for fifty years initiative and freedom of thought inRomania was crushed. And the Communists were only the last and worst in a long line of bad rulers. The Communist tyranny, bear in mind, extended from the central committee to every factory and office in the country. In psychological terms the result is comparable to the trauma inflicted on a child who is not allowed to detach himself from his abusive parents and to mature. He remains a perpetual adolescent. In Jungian terms we can speak of the phenomenon of the puer aeternus, the eternal boy, of whom the classic literary example is Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up.

The psychologist Jeffrey Satinover has described the puer aeternus as “characterized on the one hand by a poor adjustment to quotidian demands, a failure to set stable goals and to make lasting achievements in accord with these goals, yet, on the other hand, it is also characterized by noble idealism, a fertile imagination, spiritual insight and frequently, too, by remarkable talent.” Professor Satinover went on to refer to a “refusal to take the difficult path of adaptation, or work. The grandiose fantasy is preferred to the modest accomplishment.”

If this parallel holds true, Romanians are in a sense perpetual (and fascinating) adolescents traumatised by a disrupted and painful history who dislike and scorn authority, break rules without a qualm of conscience but at the same time are sorely afraid of punishment. Leaders (adults) are idealised and expected to solve all the problems, demonised when they (always) fail to do so. The puer is obsessively interested in how he appears to outsiders because he lacks a solid sense of identity. He is passionate, artistic and warm-hearted but often impractical, passive, shirking responsibility, seeking to shift blame, preferring nostalgia or fantasy to reality on which he has a tenuous grasp.

Such psychoanalytical comparisons are beguiling but should not be pressed too far of course. The puer aeternus is  un vrai naïf and here the parallel with Romanians might seem to break down, for Romanians are nothing if not cynical. On the other hand  children who are the victims of prolonged abuse become highly suspicious and unable to trust others. Romanians often combine naiveté and cynicism in a way that foreigners don’t easily understand. Maybe that’s the secret of the present Government’s high ratings in the opinion polls.

Romania’s  orphans (in fact a misnomer since few of the institutionalised children are orphans) are, entirely due to pressure from opinion abroad, a political story that never goes away. They may well play a large part in postponing Romania’s admission to the European Union. In a front page cartoon in a leading newspaper a weary Romanian complains: ‘Why do they keep talking about orphans? We Romanians are all orphans.’ And so indeed they are. The Romanian-American writer Andrei Codrescu in a speech in 1991 put it this way. ‘Romania is a country of abandoned children, literal children and grown-up children, abandoned by its own leadership, abandoned by the West and psychologically by its own citizens.’

In another sense too Romania is orphaned. Since the demise of Communism other former Soviet colonies have found Western countries to act as economic partners-mentors: Austria supports and invests in Hungary and its other ex-Communist neighbours: the Baltic States and Poland have Scandinavia; even wretched Albania has Italy. The Romanians have no-one, for surely the Greeks and Turks do not fulfil this role. They have only the EU whom Romanians look on as a rich and benevolent distant relative who will adopt them and thereby solve all their problems. Lady Nicholson’s career as a backbencher in the British Parliament was pretty undistinguished but as the European Parliament’s Rapporteur the hectoring style and meddlesomeness which grated in England the 1990s is what Romania now requires. Whether or not she is right in her opposition to foreign adoptions, how statesmanlike and how adult a figure she cuts among the Ministers and officials whom she harries. On balance, how lucky, did they but know it, Romanians are to have her.

Romanians are the enfants terrible of Europe and if they succeed in joining the European Union in 2007 they will do so as the licensed problem children, expected to lag behind the others and embarrass the grown ups. Real children who have been ill-treated and neglected very often grow up to be child abusers. In Romaniagenerations of cynical and self-interested leaders have taught succeeding generations to misuse power. Romanians hope that foreigners, like wise and beneficent grown-ups,  will step in to make things better but what is needed to break the cycle is moral regeneration from within. Discouragingly, the only movement in recent Romanian history that sought to achieve this daunting task was the Iron Guard, the pre-war mystical-fascist movement who proposed a cure for corruption worse than the disease.

This article appeared in Vivid in 2004. Romanians have come along way since 2004 and no longer seem like children of a larger growth to well-disposed foreigners.

Thursday 11 October 2012

America is no longer a Protestant country

Two enormously significant milestones in 24 hours for the U.S.A. 

First, America is no longer a Protestant country. The end of an old song. 

File:Grant DeVolson Wood - American Gothic.jpg

I am a Catholic, yet am sad, though I was expecting America, the only industrial country which is intensely religious, to become slowly secular. She will thereby be gravely weakened. The future for America looks European and this means wisdom, sophistication and decline. 
I am much more saddened by this than by the economic statistics showing America losing ground to China. Economics is in itself unimportant - economics reflects culture which reflects, in the broadest sense of the idea, religion (and genetics). In no country have religion, self-belief and sense of purpose always been as closely linked as in America, founded though she was by Deists, with church and state strictly separated. 

As Margaret Thatcher said: "Economics is just the method. I want to change people's souls."

It is a mistake, by the way, to confound American Protestants with the religious right.  There is also a smaller but still large and influential religious left and most American churchgoers are not in either camp. And religious conservatism is found in both parties. Black voters who mostly vote Democrat have voted down homosexual marriage in California. But there is an anti-religious strain in the Democrats and the American Left which is becoming more visible.

To Europeans, American religiosity seems odd. First because Americans, despite being proverbially rich and modern, take religion seriously, including those who do not believe. Second because, while few countries are more religious, none is less mystical. And few countries are more violent, more exuberantly keen on making money or more relaxed about divorce or sex generally. American Christianity is very Old Testament. Nevertheless, this very muscular, very individualistic Christianity is what gives America her self-belief. Victor Frankl learnt in Auschwitz that what gives an individual the strength to endure is the belief that his life has a meaning. This is true of societies too, which are made up of individuals.

The second milestone is a new Gallup poll today that finds that, for the first time, most Americans believe that the government should "not favor any set of values" rather than promoting traditional ones. Until 2004, a majority favoured the promotion of traditional values, and since then, the numbers have been in flux. A slim 52 percent majority now say that "the government should be values-neutral".

Most of that 52% do not in fact want government to be values-neutral. They want government to enforce all sorts of values like sexual and racial equality, just not traditional ones. I should add that I am not sure what traditional values are, and perhaps it is not important to know, though marriage between two people of the same sex is certainly not one of them.

Many of the 52% are 'Millenials'. I was interested to read an American demographer the same day saying that: 

"Millennials say the role of government is to be our parent. Parents set rules. " 

An interesting analogy that suggests that young Americans have been infantilised by the state like West Europeans.

The small-town Protestant America which elected Ronald Reagan is losing ground rather fast. 
This, rather than economic statistics, makes me think that America is starting to decline. It might be a nicer, fairer and more interesting place in decline, like Canada, which is in a much worse state. We shall see.

In twenty or thirty years, the USA will also no longer be a white majority country. Many Americans I learned recently, from the BBC, do not speak English. Everything flows and this tide is flowing quickly.