Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The real reason why white Americans feel guilty about slavery

I asked a week ago, 
Why do white Americans still feel guilty about slavery?
A strong reason why Americans still feel guilty about slavery has suddenly become clear to me, on further thought. It's because the USA is founded on Enlightenment ideas. 

Americans believe Rousseau's idea that man is born free and is everywhere in chains, that society was originally based on contract and was later based on status, whereas it is exactly the other way around. Though not in North America. Except for the slaves and indigenous peoples, life in North America was to a large extent based on contract, not status. White society in North America was built by individualists who decided to seek their fortunes in the New World, without hierarchies or a powerful church or state.  This is why there is no American culture, in the sense that European and Asian countries have cultures, except a whispish WASP culture and a richer African-American culture. 

This is why there is no conservative tradition in North America. The myth of the Southern gentry was always a myth. The slave-owners were no more aristocrats than any businessmen in the North. The 'peculiar institution' - slavery - was not an ancient institution, like serfdom in Europe, but a cruel business strategy, arrived at because white indentured servants left the plantation when they became free, Indians ran away but Africans stayed and could survive the mosquitoes.

Around the world, at most times, most men have been unfree and freedom is something that has developed, through institutions, laws and civilisation. Slavery in the New World was a tragic revival of an institution that, thanks to the Catholic Church, had been abolished in Europe centuries earlier. Americans find it hard to understand how such a thing could have happened because, although they are for the time being the one developed country which is genuinely Christian, they do not have a strong belief in original sin. They tend, like good liberals, to believe that man is basically good. All Americans are either right-wing or left-wing liberals, apart from a small number of Marxists and fascists.

This reminds me of Nathaniel Hawthorne's explanation for why a good novel cannot be written in America (he certainly didn't write one)
because America has no shadows.
America has almost no shadows, unlike Europe, Asia and Africa, but Hawthorne, like most men of his time, forgot that the USA does have two terrible shadows: slavery and the extermination of the Indians.

Actually, I am very interested in slavery in North America but much more interested in the huge and complex significance American slavery has assumed worldwide since 1960. It seems to me that the most interesting and valuable book that one could write would be a 'History of Anti-Racism' 1945-2015'. I suggested this to a famous historian who has written brilliantly about Winston Churchill's views on race, but he told me I was inviting him to throw away his career.

A final point. I love footnote knowledge and this is an interesting example. Czar Nicholas I strongly disapproved of slavery in America, which he considered inhumane and un-Christian, even though one third of his subjects were serfs. One contemporary historian of Russia has stated that the difference between slavery and serfdom in practice was so fine as to be indistinguishable. This, however, is not quite true. American slaves could be sold ('down the river' which is where we get the expression from) whereas serfs, to use an English legal phrase ran with, i.e. were part and parcel of, the land. 

Nicholas I's son, the great Alexander II, shared his father's views on slavery and emancipated the serfs in 1861, thus freeing vastly more people than Lincoln did, and without a terrible war. Yet we hear nothing about this and no-one feels guilty about serfdom, not even in Russia.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

  • A last word about slavery and the American nervous breakdown about race that makes otherwise intelligent people pretend the pharaohs and Pushkin were black.http://pvewood.blogspot.ro/2015/06/why-do-white-americans-still-feel.html
    2 hours ago
  • Paul Wood
    To many Americans, Pushkin was indeed "black". The old term for Pushkin's status is "octoroon", nowadays he would be called biracial. Some modern African Americans have no more African blood in their veins than Pushkin did. The difference is that while Pushkin's great grandfather was raised in the Tsar's household and entered the nobility after his enslavement making Pushkin a privileged nobleman since birth, American blacks suffered generations of hereditary enslavement as chattel, creating in the process a separatist subculture that persists today. In America it's not necessarily about being black, it's about being descended from multiple generations of hereditary chattel slaves and being raised in the shadow of that subculture. That's what dark skin essentially means to Americans of all colors.

    And I'm not sure liberal-minded lighter skinned Americans feel guilty, its more likely they feel frustrated that there seems to be no resolution to African American outrage over the past despite the (relatively recent) removal of all legal impediments to racial equality. For a society that prides itself on ignoring history, this is a bit strange. I suppose policemen should stop shooting unarmed black men and children.

    As I mentioned earlier, the pharaohs and their subjects were hardly black in skin color, and they were certainly not black in the American sense of an enslaved race either. This is an irrelevant topic to the thread, though it's an interesting historical question.
    42 minutes ago
  • This is a wise and informed comment like all your comments, except the one saying it was racist to talk about the achievements of 'white people' as opposed to 'Europeans'.
    1 second ago
  • I don't think Mr Obama is black - he's a mulatto and having a Kenyan father does not give him much in common with the descendants of slaves. Nevertheless he gets away with singing Amazing Grace which George W Bush would not have dared do.

Friday, 26 June 2015

In praise of me

On Tuesday evening I met the owner of a British company, who was thinking about building a sizeable factory in Romania, and several of his associates. This evening he wrote to the group of us and some others to say he has made the decision to invest here. 

This is very good news but that's not why I'm blogging. I cannot resist quoting what he said in his mail about me.

Paul Wood, as a seasoned traveller of the world I have the privilege of meeting many amazing people from interesting back grounds and with tales of joy, woe or general frustration. Generally the last person I want to meet abroad is an Englishman. If they are not moaning about the country they are in,  they are moaning about something they left behind, or they are covered in tattoo`s and wearing a stupid football shirt, which is normally at least two sizes too small covering a body that has never played football moaning about the English breakfast they ate in the afternoon.

Then we met Paul! An English gem, full of joy and an infectious positivity and zest for life, clearly very comfortable in his own skin and indeed even more comfortable in Bucharest. A joy to meet, a font of possibly useless knowledge along with some very useful knowledge in respect of recruitment in Romania. I urge you all to read his blog, if you read it with an open mind and accept it as opinion and  not fact it will make you chuckle and you will most certainly relate to many of the comparisons mentioned. It is excellent! http://pvewood.blogspot.ro/2013/04/25-reasons-why-i-love-living-in-romania.html

Finally comfortable in my own skin, huh? It's true but it took half a century.

The possibly useless information was about Rochester where he lives. I told him about the Prince of Transylvania  who’s buried in the cathedral but was an imposter. More here.

By the way I wrote that article, 25 Reasons why I Love Living in Romania, in about an hour and a half and it has gone viral. Every day another thousand clicks. It's reached 72,000 clicks and the rate never slows down. Here, providence is telling me, is the subject of my book. 

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Slavery in Romania and Liverpool

I showed my article (blog post sounds inelegant but little essay sound precious) on American slavery to a friend of mine, who commented interestingly:

I also come from a slave owning family…yes…gypsies were slaves..and by the way the largest slave owner was the Orthodox Church, being the largest landowner in the Romanian principalities up to Romanian unification

Do I feel guilty about it?  How could I since it was not me but my ancestors who indulged in the practice?  Furthermore, anyone with a sense of history knows that what is deemed “moral” changes all the time (although I am not a moral relativist and I certainly do not condone slavery today).  However, the fact is that “gypsy owners” at the time did not perceive that they were doing anything wrong. I am also proud that we were apparently the first Wallachian family to voluntarily give up their gypsy slaves, which interestingly enough happened almost at the same time as slavery was abolished in the US (though there was no direct linkage at  the time, unlike today where what happens in the US reverberates round the world)

It is sad that politically correct people focus on historic slavery, whereas the practice continues today throughout many developing countries, especially Africa and the Middle East.  People with a grudge to bear do not seem to care about the current practice of slavery, but focus on what happened over 200 years ago, which in any event cannot be undone.  There is also quasi-slavery throughout the developing world which is economic exploitation to a degree that is slavery in all but name. Another interesting point is that for all the achievements of the European Enlightenment, it is not liberal political theorists like Locke to whom we owe the abolition of slavery, but to dedicated Christians who lobbied against the practice, leading to its abolition in the British Empire'
He is right that people talk about slaves owned by whites two hundred years ago but  do not speak of slavery today. Today very many of the slave-owners are Muslims. It is not slavery that upsets people today but whites oppressing non-whites.

I doubt if Locke and the Whigs disapproved of slavery. Whigs are heartless people. It was Low Church Tories like Wilberforce and Lord Macaulay’s father Zachary who persuaded the political class in the UK that slavery had to be abolished. Interestingly, W. E. Gladstone when he was the rising hope of the stern unbending Tories, made his maiden speech justifying slavery. He was a Liverpudlian – Liverpool was a city that waxed fat on slavery – and his father Sir John Gladstone made his fortune in the slave trade. 
W.E. Gladstone was also High Church. He later, during the American Civil War when he was a leading Liberal politician, described the American Confederacy as 
A nation rightly struggling to be free.
I think, by the way, that Gladstone was right about this, but he said it at a time when Lancashire cotton girls, made out of work by the Royal Navy's embargo of the Confederacy, were nevertheless backing the North.


I did some research after writing this - it took five minutes, so wonderful a thing is the internet - and found that Locke wrote about slavery. He thought it only legitimate to enslave people if they were prisoners of war. It was legitimate for a just conqueror to enslave them because slavery is
but the state of war continued, between a lawful conqueror and a captive.
I am indebted to Eric Brandt for telling me that John Locke invested money in the slave trade and helped draft the Constitution of the Carolinas, which provided for slavery.

I dislike Locke and the Whigs and all the shabby crew of American rebels and love Tories, like Dr Johnson, who said 
How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes? 

The Old Testament approves of slavery ('Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's slave') and Jesus did not condemn it, unlike divorce. Still, it was the Bible that in the end brought about the abolition of slavery, not Locke, Hume, Voltaire or Rousseau and certainly not the Koran.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Inequality in Romania

The Gini coefficient is a measure of the variation in incomes within a country. A value of 0 means absolute equality, a value of 100 absolute inequality, though I do not know what absolute inequality means. 

Romania scores 27.4, much the same as Bulgaria. Hungary scores 31.2. The average for rich countries is around 31.5. Russia by contrast scores 40.1 and the USA 40.8. The USA is the exception here, but the UK is more unequal than most rich countries at 36.0. Norway scores 25.8, Germany 28.3, Rwanda 50.8.

Romania has seen a clear rise in standards of living since I came here in 1998 but everyone complains about how expensive things are and many older people (over fifty) say things were better under Communism.

The very rich are very rich indeed in comparison to the average and spend their money ostentatiously, though they know very well the malice and envy riches provoke. This is why the rich often prefer to entertain in restaurants, not at home. The very rich first emerged soon after the 1989 revolution, but there were far fewer of them then. Before the revolution some people were rich, it's true, but they were very careful about not displaying the fact. 

One of the reasons for the revolution and the changes throughout the Soviet bloc was that leading apparatchiks had power and money but nothing to spend it on. The revolution, which began with an outbreak of fighting in Timisoara and spread to the crowds assembled by the Communists in the centre of Bucharest, triggered a coup plan that was already being organised by the KGB. The plotters wanted to replace Ceausescu with reformed communists well disposed to Gorbachev and the Soviet Union. At some point before or after Ceausescu was killed it suddenly became apparent to powerful people in the Communist power structure that the end of Communism would not be the end for them, but instead a liberation for them. So it proved. The revolution was in effect a management buy-out. 

But the oligarchs, many of whose names are unknown but who wield great economic and political power, are only part of the story. Former secret policemen and party officials grew rich and so did entrepreneurs who were not in the party. Some were crooks, some shysters, some hard working entrepreneurs who may have cut corners and given bribes but grew businesses that sold things people wanted. A few were even completely honest. The numbers of very rich grew enormously as the Romanian economy grew in the 00s. But the growing middle class of professionals and employees of international firms is also increasing inequality.

Income inequality is changing Romania, in good ways - a middle class is what she most needs - but noticeably in bad ways. Romania is becoming consumerist. Dark satanic malls sprout everywhere. They are depressing places and the amount of shopping that is being done depresses me too. What human activity, after all, is less life-enhancing?

Inequality has been widening almost everywhere for thirty years and in the former Communist countries the process is much more striking, although it's fair to say that the disparity in power and life-chances under Communism between a member of the secret police and someone with a 'bad [political] file' was wider than between rich and poor today. 

In Romania porters, ill paid old men whose function is to sleep in cubicles on the ground floors of blocks of flats, say 'Respect, respect, dom'l!' to the occupants and tug imaginary forelocks. Hierarchy is everything here, based on class, universities, culture and command of Romanian grammar, as well as money. I find I like this and I even more like the way Romania, like all ex-Communist countries, is strikingly egalitarian. The kind of people - even hot girls - who in England would expect fancy restaurants go to cheap dives and terraces with their friends. Waitresses are friends with television stars, multi-millionairesses with bank tellers. 

Economists keep arguing that inequality is bad for economies. An OECD report last month contrasted unequal Britain with much more equal France. I am not convinced that inequality does much harm. Certainly the French economy and polity seem in disastrous difficulties, while Britain is doing reasonably well. Nor do I think that inequality weakens social cohesion. 

Romania, from one point of view, lacks cohesion or any sense of a public space or public-spiritedness. Charities - it's purely my subjective impression -seem to get most of their support from foreigners. From another point of view, social cohesion seems to me the most remarkable fact about Romania - people take pride in their country and her history, identify Romania with Orthodox Christianity and have shared values that you only get in relatively poor countries, without much pluralism and with very few nonconformists. 

In fact, it's a bit like 1930s England, with a very small number of very rich people, a smallish middle class, a mass of poor people and only a tiny number of bohemians or free spirits. Under Communism, the pre-war upper class and bourgeoisie fled, were imprisoned or sidelined and a Communist bourgeoisie was created. Nevertheless Romania has many of the cohesive qualities 1930s England had: deference, homogeneity, a natural acceptance of hierarchy and very little crime. 

How to be happy

Aldous Huxley

Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness it is generally the by-product of other activities.


Happiness is bloom upon the cheek of youth. 

Eleanor Roosevelt

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.

Baruch Spinoza

Happiness is a virtue, not its reward.

Eckhart Tolle

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

Benjamin Franklin

Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.

Bertrand Russell

To like many people spontaneously and without effort is perhaps the greatest of all sources of personal happiness.

(Thank God I do.)

Alfred Adler

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

Dryden, translating Horace. Book III, Ode 29.

Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own;
He who, secure within, can say,
'Tomorrow, do thy worst, for I have liv'd today.'


Hope is itself a species of happiness, and perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords.

Arnold Bennett 

Pessimism is as much fun as optimism when you get used to it.


Oh, see the happy moron;
He doesn't give a damn.
I wish I were a moron.
My God, perhaps I am.

Dr. Johnson

Sir, that all who are happy, are equally happy, is not true. A peasant and a philosopher may be equally satisfied, but not equally happy. Happiness consists in the multiplicity of agreeable consciousness. A peasant has not the capacity for having equal happiness with a philosopher.

There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

In the long history of mankind there have not been so very many democratic republics, yet people lived for centuries without them and were not always worse off. They even experienced that ‘happiness’ we are forever hearing about, which was sometimes called pastoral or patriarchal.

Marcel Proust

Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.

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.

Immanuel Kant

It is not God's will merely that we should be happy, but that we should make ourselves happy.


I don't know why we are here, but I'm pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.

Malcom Muggeridge

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.

Cardinal Newman

God has determined, unless I interfere with His plan, that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, He calls me by my name, He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and He means to give it me.

I am reading (very slowly because of severe internet addiction) War and Peace and am loving it. War and Peace teaches much about how to live a happy life. This article explains. Leo Tolstoy said 

If you want to be happy, be.

Three more thoughts

Life is not a science but an art. The art it most resembles is dancing.

Very young children are happy because they don't know what could go wrong. At school they find out. Nothing later is nearly as bad as school.

Political correctness, though originally Marxist, is now a secular progressive version of Calvinism.
Very young children are happy because they don't know what could go wrong. At school they find out. Fortunately, nothing later is nearly as bad as school

Saturday, 20 June 2015

To say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book

It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book, said Nietzsche. Here are ten sentences of mine.

Romania is the Orient dreaming that it is France.

The Balkans is not a geographical expression but a state of mind.

The Victorians liked sex. If they hadn't there wouldn't have been any Edwardians.
One tells oneself Guardian readers are people too but somehow that makes the offence worse.

The existence of women is the strongest proof of the existence of God.

Biology is very right-wing.

History, like poetry, art and jokes, exists to reveal a hidden order and meaning in the world.

Economics does not determine culture, as Marxists taught. Culture, of course, determines economics. Culture is determined most by religion, then by history and genetics.

When I was growing up I used to thank God every day that I wasn't American, but now I take it for granted. I am at ease in Zion.

Life is a helter-skelter. I am clinging to the sides.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Why do white Americans still feel guilty about slavery?

Commenting on the murder on Thursday of nine black Americans in church in Charleston Mr. Obama said slavery

casts a long shadow and that's still part of our DNA that's passed on.
This eloquent article by Charles P. Pierce links the massacre to
the mother of all crimes
slavery. As William Faulkner, who came from Mississippi, said,
The past is never dead. It's not even past.
Ronald Stockton, Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan was exuberantly happy the day Mr Obama was elected president in 2008. In an essay he wrote he quoted an email he received from a distant relative who was a genealogist, who said
I have an estate distribution of my ancestor Valentine Barton, dated 1832, in Boone Co., Ky, bequeathing his slaves, by name, with values attached, to his heirs including my great great grandmother Alcey Barton. It is a chilling document, tough to take if it is your own lineage. It took us almost two centuries, to erase the stain, but tonight WE MADE IT!
Professor Stockton went on to ask, 

Why do we feel bad for a sin we did not commit? Is it because our ancestors let us down? Is it because the problem is still there as a constant reminder of an injustice in which our ancestors took part? She used the right word, stain. It was the word John McCain used in his concession speech. The former President of Germany once discussed how Germans felt about the Holocaust, which occurred before most of them were born. He said, “We do not believe in collective guilt, but we do believe in collective shame.” 

This is how many Americans felt, even those who voted for Mr. Obama's Republican opponent, Mr. McCain. It's how Mr. McCain himself felt. He mentioned the stain in his concession speech, though he somewhat gingerly consigned the stain to the past, saying
We both recognise that, though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation's reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of American citizenship, the memory of them still had the power to wound.
I think England, by which I mean the UK, is the greatest country in the world. We had slavery too, in our colonies. In fact, we brought it to our thirteen American colonies, which became the USA. Going back to the dark ages our own people were often slaves ('thralls'). Much worse, we burnt heretics or hanged, drew and quartered them, heroic Catholic saints and Protestants. We burnt witches too. This is desperately sad. Yet, I don't feel that any of this is exactly a stain on my country's honour. 

Why don't I or my countrymen feel guilty about these things or even think about them very much?

Because it was the spirit of the age. Other countries did the same things or worse, at the same time. 

Had we burnt only Welsh people, or had we enslaved the Cornish, would people feel differently? Possibly. Race/ethnicity is the collective neurosis of our age, not only in the USA. 'We' bought and transported African slaves, it's true, but in fact only a very small number of British people were slave traders and they were far from home.

Why do Americans, on the other hand, still feel guilty after 150 years about slavery and feel very much guiltier now than they did sixty years ago?

First, because 1865 is not so very long ago.

Secondly. clearly because it's about race, not slavery. Had the slaves been white no one would feel it was a stain on America's honour. Slavery brought a large black population to North America and they have not been part of the melting pot. Race has occasioned a collective nervous breakdown in the USA starting in the early 1960s, which they have exported worldwide. Nowadays slavery is still widespread - mostly in Muslim countries - but we hear very little indeed about this and instead very much about slaves owned by whites two hundred years ago.

Thirdly, though America is really based on an ethnic Anglo-Scots core and on English Protestant and puritan culture, Americans think that their country is based on ideals. Ideals they have to live up to. Americans, admirably, judge themselves by higher ideals that they expect from lesser countries (I almost wrote 'lesser breeds'), although they often try to impose their ideals on other countries too. Slavery uncomfortably suggests that they are as bad as or worse than countries which are not founded on high ideals.

Fourthly, because the American ideals, including egalitarianism, are really puritanism. Anti-racism is a form of puritanism, as is feminism and, going back further, prohibition. Puritanism and Calvinism morph in different times and places. In the American South they used to justify slavery, in the north they opposed it, in South Africa a moment ago, they supported apartheid, but in recent years, especially in their secular godless form, they strongly reject white supremacy.

Even the horror felt at the racist murders of the black churchgoers is not so much horror at the murder itself but at the racist motive. Since the massacre black killers have shot ten blacks in a mass shooting in Detroit, ten blacks were shot by blacks in Philadelphia and four in Detroit. 93% of black homicide victims in the USA in 2010 were killed by blacks and blacks, despite being 11% of the population, killed whites slightly more often than the other way around. In other words, blacks oppress blacks far more than whites do, and it could even be argued that blacks oppress whites more than vice versa, but this too, at least so think many high-minded people, may be because of slavery.

Is it so? I really don't know why blacks and whites do not live together happily in the USA. I do know that American statesmen before and during the Civil War took it for granted that they could not do so. Lincoln took time off from the directing the war to urge a delegation of free black men that the blacks should leave the USA, where they could never be the white man's equal, and colonise Central America. Madison, and many others, argued for blacks to be manumitted and deported to Africa. Jefferson said

Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people shall be free, nor is it less certain that the two races equally free, cannot live under the same government.

Only the first half of that sentence is inscribed on the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Escaped tiger kills man in Tbilisi

It was announced yesterday that all the big cats that escaped from Tbilisi zoo were found dead except one jaguar, but in fact the authorities had miscounted. One tiger hid in a warehouse, escaped the citywide police search and survived to kill a man this morning. 

One thinks of Hilaire Belloc's Jim and Stanley Holloway's Albert (they were eaten by lions, not tigers) but this is very sad. The full story is here.

My story in my blog on Sunday about lions and tigers, wolves and a hippopotamus wandering the streets of Tbilisi is no longer funny. It never was funny, as at least sixteen people died in the flood. Nevertheless I was making people laugh last night at a dinner party telling them about the lethargic hippo wandering the flooded streets after receiving several darts intended to make him fall asleep. 

It is a terrible story but, without wishing to show lack of respect for the dead man's loved ones, it also reminds me of this story by Graham Greene.

Things I read over the last few days

So? If I die, then I die! The loss to the world won’t be great. Yes, and I’m fairly bored with myself already. I am like a man who is yawning at a ball, whose reason for not going home to bed is only that his carriage hasn’t arrived yet. But the carriage is ready . . . farewell!
I run through the memory of my past in its entirety and can’t help asking myself: Why have I lived? For what purpose was I born? . . .
There probably was one once, and I probably did have a lofty calling, because I feel a boundless strength in my soul . . .
But I didn’t divine this calling. I was carried away with the baits of passion, empty and unrewarding. I came out of their crucible as hard and cold as iron, but I had lost forever the ardor for noble aspirations, the best flower of life.

In life, you have to rely on the past and that's called history.

Donald Trump [reported in the Economist this week] 

Men who are unhappy, like men who sleep badly, are always proud of the fact.

Bertrand Russell - is this true?

Truth is a shining goddess, always veiled, never wholly approachable, but worthy of all the devotion of which the human spirit is capable.

Bertrand Russell - I hope we all agree on that.

Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.


It's odd how they name storms, but they don't name calms. There's a gentle breeze this morning. I think I'll call him Doug.

Dorothy Williams. My mother was outraged when I told her that they had stopped giving hurricanes only girls' names. I am too, even though I think it happened in 1978.

Do not marry a man unless you would be proud to have a son exactly like him.

Elissa Philips

Listen carefully to how a person speaks about other people to you.This is how they will speak about you to other people!

Elissa Philips

I look forward to the day when the Westminster Parliament is just a Council Chamber in Europe.

Kenneth Clarke, British Chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent of Minister of Finance), in the International Currency Review, Vol. 23, No. 4, Autumn 1996. This is why Kenneth Clarke wants Great Britain to remain in the European Union

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.

Oscar Wilde

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Storm and floods free big game to wander the inundated streets of Tbilisi

Never let it be said that this blog is late with the news.

Tbilisi is possibly my favourite city in the world. A freak storm last night led the River Mtkvari to flood, left 12 dead, twice that number reported missing and cut the two halves of the city off from each other

The Tbilisi zoo was in the path of the flood. The zoo's walls fell down and the cages were broken. Three zoo workers rushed to the zoo but were drowned as they struggled to save and contain the animals. Lions, tigers, bears, wolves and a hippopotamus escaped from their enclosures. 

The report I read stated:
Last night the escaped hippopotamus made its way to what was once one the main interstate hub of the city, known as Hero’s Square. The waters have rendered the entire highway system unusable. After taking several tranquiliser darts, the hippopotamus continued to walk lethargically around the area, even eating leaves from a tree with the darts still in its neck. It was then escorted back to the zoo.
Patriarch Ilia II of the Georgian Orthodox Church has said that the Tbilisi Zoo was “founded on sin”, having been built by the Communists with the proceeds of valuables looted from the church, and this is the reason for the flood. 

I don't know about you, but I like it very much when clerics blame natural disasters on sin, even when I am thoroughly unconvinced. Too many British clergy, Anglicans but also some Catholics too, prefer to talk about global warming, rather than sin or divine wrath.

More rains are expected tonight. 

Saturday, 13 June 2015

How well or badly were slaves treated in the American South?

I have stumbled on a reference to the Slave Narrativesthe cumulative result of two years of in depth interviews surveying over 2,000 former slaves by the Works Project Administration under Franklin D Roosevelt. The historian Robert Fogel said that between 60 to 80 percent of the interviewees had only positive things to say about their masters and their life during slave days. I'd like to know much more about the subject. 

I remember my surprise, studying US history in my first term at university in 1980 (sooo recently), expecting historians to write about slavery in something like the spirit of 'Gone With The Wind', and finding that, though 1930s US historians did so, (I read and learnt much from Ulrich Phillips) 1970s historians compared slavery to Auschwitz and blamed slavery for black criminality and broken families more than a century later. 

Historians always write about their own age when they try to understand the past.
There were strong zeitgeist reasons for emphasising the ugliness of slavery in the 1970s, as nowadays, and strong zeitgeist reasons in the 1930s for doing the opposite. Those who espouse the spirit of the age are eventually widowed, but for Americans (and not only them) the time when they can be dispassionate about race is a long way off.

I am reading War and Peace at the moment and seeing that Russian serfs were apt to be beaten and punished (although not sold) as much as American slaves. Over a third of Russians were serfs until Tsar Alexander II liberated them in 1861. Yet we hear little of the Russian serfs or other European serfs. We hear little of the serfs and gypsy slaves in what is now Romania or of the vast numbers of slaves in the Muslim world. Slavery in America and the European colonies are at the forefront of our attention because of the colour issue, which so concerns everyone in our age.

I wrote in this post about how the former Governor-General of Jamaica, Sir Howard Cooke, who died last year, a black man, was thankful that slavery rescued Jamaicans from

Africa's black night
and gave them the benefits of British civilisation. My post links to a very interesting interview with Sir Howard Cooke, who was a truer British patriot than many or most British people, including the BNP and the fascists.

Here are some quotations from the WPA interviews with (very elderly) former slaves:
“I liked being a slave, our white folks . . . were good to us. . . . I had rather be a slave. . . . . I wish I wuz still in slavery.” 
“When I was three or four years old my mother was whipped to death by the mistress with a cowhide whip.”
“I’s heard dat some white folks wuz mean to der niggers, but our Old Masta and Miss wasn’t.”
“Give me freedom, or give me death.”
“I seed slavery from all sides. I’se seed ’em git sick and die an’ buried. I’se seed ’em sole [sold] away from der loved ones. I’se seed ’em whipped by de overseers, an’ brung in by de patrol riders. I’se seed ’em cared fo’ well wid plenty ter eat an’ clo’se ter keep ’em warm, an’ wid good cabins ter live in.”
“My white folks was good to me. I had a heep better time when I growed up than folks does now. . . . Shucks I was a heep better off.”
“Our white folks wuz rich folks. Dey live in a big white house wid roun’ posts in front. Dey give us plenty to eat and wear but dey beat on us a plenty. . . . Den one day . . . dem Yankee mens tole us de guvment would give us some land and a mule or some hosses to work wid, but we never did git nothing from dem. We wuked hard for whut we got. We wuz mighty proud of our freedom – but times is a lot harder now dan it wuz in dem times. Now we can’t git ’nough to eat and dere’s nobody to look atter us, but de white folks whut takes pity on us, and heps us sometimes. Times is gittin’ harder it seems to me.”
“After the white folks eat in the dining room, all us cullud folks eat in the kitchen, allus a plenty, which is more than we has now. Times was good then, I members back to it sometimes now, when I is glad jes’ to get a piece of bread. . . . Oh the sweet taters we did have! . . . great big winter cabbages. . . . [and] so many sides an’ hams of meat.”
Asking how well or badly slaves were treated touches a raw nerve with modern Americans. Most Europeans were serfs in the middle ages and long after in many countries. But for Americans slavery is a very emotional issue.

This is because of the collective American nervous breakdown over race and Americans' collective need to see their country as a shining city on a hill. This Protestant sense of being a chosen people, which derives from 18th century English ideas about England, is tiresome but admirable and a great source of America's moral strength - along with religiosity, patriotism, lack of irony and the American inability to be embarrassed. Slavery and the elimination of the indigenous Americans is a problem for people who believe in America's divine mission to purify the world. (So is the invasion of Mexico and a few other things, come to that.)

I am not an apologist for slavery and am proud that Great Britain abolished it in 1833. I think Dr Johnson was the greatest Englishman after Shakespeare and I love him for saying, before the American rebellion,

How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?
Quite so. But slavery and things as bad as slavery unfortunately still exist.

What things do we accept for which our descendants will condemn us? 

Abortion? I hope so.

Falling birth-rates in European countries?

Child labour?

In the last fifty years blacks have largely stopped working in farms in the American South and Hispanic immigrants have taken their places. Children as young as twelve work legally and children as young as seven work illegally on farms, including the tobacco farms of North Carolina and Virginia, where they endanger their health picking tobacco that ends up in the factories of Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Lorillard, Reynolds and other big producers.

Children work in tobacco farms in Malawi picking tobacco for wages of less than $10 a month. The more you look into things you find slavery and things fairly close to slavery are easily to be found, hidden in full sight.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Things I read this week

In life, you have to rely on the past and that's called history.

Donald Trump [reported in the Economist this week] 

Men who are unhappy, like men who sleep badly, are always proud of the fact.

Bertrand Russell - is this true?

Truth is a shining goddess, always veiled, never wholly approachable, but worthy of all the devotion of which the human spirit is capable.

Bertrand Russell - I hope we all agree on that.

Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.


It's odd how they name storms, but they don't name calms. There's a gentle breeze this morning. I think I'll call him Doug.

Dorothy Williams. My mother was outraged when I told her that they had stopped giving hurricanes only girls' names. I am too, even though I think it happened in 1978.

Do not marry a man unless you would be proud to have a son exactly like him.

Elissa Philips

Listen carefully to how a person speaks about other people to you.This is how they will speak about you to other people!

Elissa Philips

I look forward to the day when the Westminster Parliament is just a Council Chamber in Europe.

Kenneth Clarke, British Chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent of Minister of Finance), in the International Currency Review, Vol. 23, No. 4, Autumn 1996. This is why Kenneth Clarke wants Great Britain to remain in the European Union

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.

Oscar Wilde

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Ron Moody has left us

I am so sorry that Ron Moody has died. As a boy, I saw him in his one man show at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff-on-Sea, the super theatre 400 yards from our house. He was unforgettably good as Fagin in Oliver, but most of all I loved him in The Twelve Chairs, Mel Brooks' second and best film. Here he is beating up Mel Brooks.

He made his name in the stage version of Oliver, but left it after a year and turned down the offer to reprise the role of Fagin on Broadway.

I didn't want to go. I was very patriotic.
Fortunately, he did reprise the role in the later film version, for which he will always be remembered.

BBC television offered him the role of the third incarnation of Doctor Who but he turned that down too, a decision he later bitterly regretted. The part went to Jon Pertwee, but Moody would have been better.

According to the Telegraph obituary, he said,
I have failed all my life, and I’m not ashamed of it. After all, what’s so good about success? It is unhealthy. It creates a completely false sense of values
Alastair Sim unsuccessfully sued him in 1959 in the High Court, claiming Moody had imitated Sim’s famous voice to sell baked beans. Sim claimed that as a result, when he dined out, he would be asked if he wanted Heinz baked beans. Fifteen years later they performed together in a West End play. What terms they were on while doing so the history does not relate.

He was diffident with women and lived with his mother, sister, brother-in-law and three nephews till he married at the age of 61. His wife survives him, with their six children.

It's interesting that he decided to marry late in life, because that is something that, playing Fagin, he had considered doing in his famous song, Reviewing the Situation.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Victor Ponta and the deep state

Yesterday the Romanian Chamber of Deputies, as expected, voted not to lift Prime Minister Victor Ponta's immunity from criminal prosecution. 

Mr. Ponta, leader of the Social Democrats (PSD) has a skin as thick as a lizard's, that quality politicians most need. His unexpected defeat by a large margin in the Romanian presidential election last November meant most people expected him not to last long as Prime Minister. But he's still there. Now Mr. Ponta intends to carry on, despite being charged with 17 offences by the Anti-Corruption Authority (DNA). He pointed out that corruption allegations have been made by the DNA against leading opposition politicians too.

Klaus Iohannis, Romania's ethnic German President, had demanded that the Prime Minister resign for the sake of the country but I wonder whether the President really wants Victor Ponta to go. Romanian 
presidents have to pretend to sever all party ties when they take office but none do and Mr. Iohannis wants his 'former' party the Liberals to come to power. If I were in the President's place, I think I should prefer Mr. Ponta to remain, with the accusations hanging over his head like a sword of Damocles. If Mr. Ponta is still Prime Minister when next year's Parliamentary elections take place I imagine he has small chances of leading his party to victory. 

There is, I suppose a chance that enough PSD legislators will switch sides to enable an early election, but the legislators have paid large amounts of money to their parties for their seats and are very reluctant to pay again sooner than is necessary. Politics is very 18th century here, though Romanian politicians have much less Latin and Greek than the Whigs and Tories of Georgian England. A lot of them aren't even much good at the fiendish complexities of Romanian grammar, which is as complicated as most things in Romania.

The PSD is not really a national party. It is a confederation of local county machines, each controlled by so-called 'barons', popularly believed to be thoroughly corrupt. The party leader is leader so long as he can offer the barons a chance of winning elections and the fruits of office, particularly in the form of contracts. The PSD's only purpose is to win elections but it seems pretty bad at doing so. 
Mr. Ponta cannot offer them much chance of winning the 2016 election. 

If President Iohannis truly wants Mr Ponta to go I presume he will agree with the grandees in the PSD to replace Mr Ponta with someone else from the governing coalition. This would be good for the country but also good for the PSD, who thereby would be rid of an electoral liability. On the other hand, if President Iohannis wants to help the Liberals then he would favour creating a coalition from the opposition parties or leaving Mr Ponta in place.

As the Guardian in London picked up today, after interviewing Mr. Ponta (you could be forgiven for missing it if you only read the Romanian press) Mr. Ponta's immunity from prosecution only covers him for prosecution for conflict of interest while in office, not for forgery, money-laundering and tax evasion back in 2007 and 2008, the bulk of the DNA's charges. He can still therefore be prosecuted.

Ion Cristoiu, the political commentator, argues that the money with which the Liberal party paid for the demonstrations against Victor Ponta (demonstrators are often paid to demonstrate in Romania) is money that came from bribes paid in the EADS and Microsoft scandals. In fact, bribery in Romanian politics has two aspects: bribery to enrich politicians and bribery to pay the costs of running political parties. The public does not understand this distinction and in most cases politicians who receive money in bribes give some to their party and rake off some for themselves, so the distinction is unclear.

I think the young prosecutors of the DNA are doing very well indeed the job for which they are paid and uncovering corruption. They are engaged in cleaning the Augean stables. The secret service, an organisation which had immense power under Communism and still does, is the source of the information which leads the DNA to bring its charges. The secret service is, naturally, very secretive, highly political (they report to the president not the Government, an enormous source of power for the former) and pragmatic, not idealistic. 

The anti-corruption revolution which has led to so many politicians of all parties being accused of corruption and in many cases being imprisoned thus has a dual aspect. It is a very welcome sweeping out of a corrupt political class. It is also an assault on some politicians by an institution which is part of, perhaps is the centre of, what is called in Romania 'the structure of power' - the deep state that rules the country from behind the scenes.

But anyone who doubts that the DNA is a force for good should look at the other big news. Ovidiu Tender, one of the richest and most powerful men in Romania, has been sent to prison for twelve years and seven months and ordered to pay back EUR 41 million to the state. An associate has received a longer sentence. Someone else has received a lengthy term for huge corruption in the rail sector. 

The Mayor of Bucharest's personal adviser was arrested on Thursday for corruption. And so it goes.