Thursday 30 July 2015

The social media mob loves the hunt as much as Cecil's killer

People who are angry with the dentist who shot the lion think they are being compassionate and don't realise that in many cases they are consumed with hatred. Hatred is an interesting emotion which can be very deceptive, Pacifists, vegetarians, people who are concerned about animals and progressives are prone to hate without knowing it. 

Eighty or ninety years ago, Great White Hunters were heroic figures. Hunting or killing animals that are no threat absolutely does not appeal to me - unlike hunting foxes which is part of the English tradition and very useful but I wasn't aware that things had changed so much until this palaver about Cecil. I thought hunting lions was normal. And in fact it is. They are not a protected species and are killed all the time for sport.

But attitudes change and that's fine.

There is more kindness nowadays towards animals and in general than there used to be and this is good, but also a sense which is very worrying that the difference between man and beast is not absolute.

I feel very sorry for the man who shot Cecil. The internet is alive with whoops of delight from people who say his dental practice will disappear, has disappeared. Mia Farrow, the actress, has posted his address in Twitter and one can imagine him being killed by some American crazy.

The anti-hunters love the hunt as much as the big game hunters but they prefer hunting men not beasts.

Hemingway said, “There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.”

That's what the mob on the internet thinks.

I remember reading an Edwardian travel book about South America which referred to rumours that men, 'natives' or Indians of course, had been hunted on occasion instead of wild game. Murder as big game hunting. The book said these rumours were unsubstantiated, but I wanted to know more.

I hope it did not happen. But no-one can ever know.

There is an idea for a book or more probably a film here. Something like Heart of Darkness.

Wednesday 29 July 2015


The more I see of men, the more I admire dogs.
Marquise de Sevigne
If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.
Mark Twain
The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.
Andy Rooney 

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
Groucho Marx 

So what about Cecil?

The anguish all over the social media about Cecil, the popular lion who was shot dead in Zimbabwe with a bow and arrow by a dentist from Minnesota.

It is a non-story which soft hearted soft headed people care a lot about. And it is the silly season. Even so it seems inane. Had this dentist killed a dog would that be as bad? A fox?
Scratch people who are very concerned about animals, like Cecil the lion who was shot dead, and you often find people who don't like people. Hunting lions is permitted and so very many human beings are killed each day, so why the commotion over a lion?
So many people in Zimbabwe live in terrible circumstances, as they do throughout the world, even in Belgrave Square. Zimbabwe, by the way, has the 20th highest murder rate of the 190-odd countries in the world.
I suppose it's because animals are not self-conscious that many prefer them to men. That's the difference - animals, like children, have not eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

What is very important about this story - and oddly enough it is important - is not the death of a lion, painful and illegal though it was but the savage persecution of this man by the mob.This is not just about social media but about the way a mob mentality unthinkingly persecutes. As A.J. Balfour said, society is always persecuting but social media make it very easy to ruin people's lives. Every man his own tabloid newspaper.

In the 1970s and 80s most of the big game in the national parks in Mozambique was shot and eaten. This doesn't outrage me. War, hunger and communism were to blame. Everyone talks about apartheid, never about the suffering wrought by communists in Africa, which was much greater.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Paul Gottfried on U.S. presidents

Professor Paul Gottfried, the contrarian American political thinker, interests me.

He said that, unlike England, with its essentially medieval social structure, America was made by 
Protestant sectarians who neither had nor desired a medieval past and whose descendants have turned into celebrants of progress, commerce and human rights.
He thinks American historians skew their works to favour of modern political agendas. In The Managerial President he notes that 
All the major conflicts into which our leaders thrust us from the Civil War on, with the possible exception of Vietnam, are seen as morally desirable actions. … The U.S. is a land of morally driven, energetic presidents who have made us into the envy and dread of the world.
For such historians Lincoln is their great hero. Naturally they also like Franklin Roosevelt. This is the thinking that led to George W. Bush’s presidency and to Mr Obama’s domestic policy though not his foreign policy.

I have always liked Americans and admired very much about them - they are our children and their role in the world has been a very benign one on balance, but I have never liked American culture and Paul Gottfried explains to me why. 
 Progress, commerce and human rights depress him and depress me. Human rights used to be fine when they meant freedoms, the things protected in the first ten amendments of the U.S. constitution, but nowadays they are largely about restrictions on freedom. Age discrimination, forsooth!

For me, a sense of the past rooted in the middle ages or the ancient world are what makes daily life beautiful. Even in a country like Romania, where I live, which does not have old institutions or many old buildings and did not exist as a state till the 1860s. The absence of a tradition, the absence of a church, the absence of conservatism in the European sense and the absence of anything much to conserve make it very hard for me to love America. But I do love Frank Capra films and Garrison Keillor and the novels of Raymond Chandler.

Paul Gottfried also believes that America, which dominated Europe after 1945 from the military, economic and cultural points of view after 1945, gave Europe in the 1960s the idea that multiracial societies are good. If true it's odd since in the 1940s America was utterly white supremacist.

Professor Gottfried is a small government man. I don't know which side he prefers in the civil war but it seems to me that the USA stopped being a republic with very diffuse power with Lincoln.

Progressives admire Lincoln and think America's intervention in Vietnam was wrong, but the Northern states had a weak casus belli and could and should have avoided war, whereas South Vietnam was fighting something absolutely evil and was fighting in self-defence. But historians are like women. They are attracted to power and success. Had the Third Reich defeated Stalin and made peace with the USA and the UK, American and British universities would have had many fascist academics and very few Marxists.

Monday 20 July 2015

Who were the worst US Presidents? George W Bush, Lincoln, Wilson. Washington if you are British. Were there (m)any good ones?

I remember back in my first term at Cambridge studying US history noticing that American history unlike British history is largely mythic. We see this especially with Washington, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, FDR etc

The Second Iraq War has cast new light on the Civil War. There are many parallels between Lincoln and the younger Bush. Both launched unnecessary and from a legal point of view probably unjust wars that overturned the local elites and social structures of the conquered peoples, with disastrous short-term and long-term consequences. By his foolish over-reaction to the September 11th murders Bush handed the islamists an unimaginable victory. 
Lincoln and Grant are responsible for 100 years of racial disharmony in the South and a race problem that has still not been solved. Though had Lincoln lived he might have been much more conciliatory than the Republican zealots.

If only Lincoln had not won in 1860 but someone else - maybe poor, decent Buchanan - war would not have happened. Not for a while, at least. Buchanan said the Union had no right to prevent secession by force. I think he was right. In any case his view would have saved 800,000 lives.

Washington and his cronies, of course, were responsible for another unjust, unnecessary war. 

FDR I have to be grateful to, I know, as an Englishman but I don't like his domestic policy. Thank God he lived to start his fourth term and the world thus escaped President Henry A. Wallace. 

I believe people should submit to lawful governments, so I do not think the 1776 rebellion is justified, especially as George III's government was a benign one. I sympathise with the good, patriotic people who died or were ethnically cleansed because they were loyal to their King. 

Why do I not therefore think the South should have obeyed the federal government? Simple. Because how can a government that derives its legitimacy from a revolution in 1776 and the pooling of sovereignty between sovereign states then insist that as a legitimate government it is entitled to stop those states seceding. The constitution says nothing on the matter, which means, I think, that the states had not give away their essential right to join or leave but even if I do not persuade you of this, why wage a war to stop the Southern states leaving. As Gladstone said the Confederacy was 
a nation rightly struggling to be free.
I am a monarchist, a throne and altar man, an admirer of Clarendon and Metternich, a conservative in short. But, most of all, I think war needs a strong justification. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Lincoln WAS justified in making war on the South. Very well but how much infinitely more admirable he would be had he given them the right of self determination. If Americans disagree with me why do they approve of European countries giving their colonies independence?

Who were best? Truman was good, though I have never decided whether the Cold War was necessary. George Kernan opposed it for good reasons. Dr Tim Stanley thinks Calvin Coolidge was the best president ever. Dr. Ivan Eland thinks John Tyler was.

It's worth reading Dr. Ivan Eland's criteria for presidents. He's thinks John Tyler was the best. Eland has amassed a presidential ranking system that rewards such qualities as:
commitment to small government; 

faith in a limited role for the executive branch; 

ability to avoid war; 

yielding power to Congress.

I wonder if, apart from Truman and possibly Theodore Roosevelt and maybe Jefferson, there might not have been any, at least not by the standards of English Prime Ministers. There's no one to compare with the Pitts, Canning, Palmerston, Disraeli, Gladstone or Lloyd George. Wellington was not as good a political leader as Eisenhower, it's true, but no one pretends Wellington was much of  a statesman. Gladstone infinitely excels the wretched Wilson, who kept his bust on his desk. I suppose, if you are a socialist, Lyndon B Johnson is a great president.

All Americans are liberals in a very important sense. The Declaration of Independence is a very un-conservative, very Whiggish document. Republics, as opposed to monarchies, are liberal and so is the ridiculous idea that all men are equal. Goldwater and Reagan were right-wing liberals, Mrs. Clinton is a left-wing one. Most presidents were also liberal and idealistic in foreign policy, including Ronald Reagan, although Nixon and the elder Bush were in foreign policy terms conservatives. But George W Bush, egged on by the neo-cons, ex-Marxists who never had a conservative bone in their bodies, was a consummate liberal in his idealistic, un-pragmatic foreign policy. He was very much the illegitimate son of the very disastrous Wilson.

Wilson's legacy was the disintegration of Austria Hungary, innumerable ethnic conflicts and the Second World War. Reader, if you seek George W. Bush's monument, look around you.

One more thing. It was George W Bush's talk about 'the Axis of Evil' (Iraq, Iran and North Korea) that led North Korea to get the bomb. 

Saturday 18 July 2015

Last thoughts on slavery, in the USA, Russia and Mauritius

The Comte de Tilly said that to begin ones life by being raped is a very poor school for virtue. Slavery is a very poor school too and it takes more than a generation for the descendants of former slaves to be able to overcome the lessons slavery teaches. 

I am not sure how long the effects of slavery will last or what exactly they are. Some blame slavery for the large number of single black mothers in the USA, for example, and others get angry at the suggestion. The area is a minefield.

Slavery was a thoroughly bad thing, even for its times - we can all agree on this, except the KKK and a small number of fascists. Some slaves in America were contented, some very unhappy, but all would have preferred freedom. Bad though slavery was, however, it cannot be compared, as liberal historians regularly do, to the Germans' murder of six million Jews in the Second World War. 

This comparison indecently belittles the Holocaust, but it explains the significance of the slavery in the modern American imagination. The attention paid to slavery is not primarily because of the very great cruelty with which many slaves were treated, nor even because of the wickedness in principle of slavery but because of the racial issue. Because white people owned black people and could treat them as they liked.

My ancestors were Irish peasants and lived through the Potato Famine of the 1840s -the Whigs were in power then and did nothing. Slaves in America were better off than Irish who starved to death. The Slave Narratives suggest most freed slaves in their old age did not complain about their masters, though even decent slave owners, such as Washington, had slaves whipped, which is very bad. In the 1820s, it is true, Englishmen were flogged for many things and hanged for stealing sheep or sodomy, but not without a trial or at their masters' whim. 

Slavery and serfdom in Russia - which Alexander II abolished in 1861 freeing many times more people than the Americans did - were very similar. 

Serfs were also liable to be whipped, but in America slavery was made worse because, unlike the Russian serfs, who were living in an essentially medieval word and owned by their own people, the American slaves were commodities in an advanced, capitalist society, foreign to them, and were owned by foreigners.

I stayed in Mauritius with a Hindu friend whose ancestor had made a fortune importing Indian indentured labourers into the island, after slavery was abolished by the UK in 1833. My friend told me there was 'almost no difference' between indentured labourers and slaves. He is vaguely a socialist and ashamed of his ancestor, though, as a Brahmin, he takes hierarchy for granted. 

I met a number of Mauritian Indians (Hindus make up 61% of population and Indian Muslims a further 25%) who told me how grateful they are that their ancestors came to Mauritius rather than stayed in India. I perfectly understood why - they have a far higher standard of living and live in a more civilised country. I wonder if African-Americans wish their forbears had stayed in West Africa.

Slavery brought Africans to America. They have enriched America in many ways - were it not for them America would be a duller country - but they do not seem, as far as I can tell, to live happily alongside whites. Thus are the sins of the slave-owning fathers visited on the sons. 

This was foreseen by Madison, Jefferson, and Clay who were in favour of deporting freed slaves to Africa. Lincoln also hoped they might be persuaded to leave.

In 1862, Lincoln invited a delegation of black men to the White House, the first time African Americans had been invited to the White House, to suggest that they should leave the USA for Central America. He told them:

You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. This physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think. ..

If this is admitted, it affords a reason, at least, why we should be separated.. 

Your race are suffering, in my judgment, the greatest wrong inflicted on any people. But even when you cease to be slaves, you are cut off from many of the advantages which the other race enjoys. The aspiration of man is to enjoy equality with the best when free; but on this broad continent not a single man of your race is made the equal of a single man of ours.

Go where you are treated the best, and the ban is still upon you.

I need not recount to you the effects upon white men, growing out of the institution of slavery. I believe in its general evil effects on the white race. See our present condition the country engaged in war; our white men cutting one another's throats, none knowing how far it will extend.. .

But for your race among us there could not be war, although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or the other. .

It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated. There is an unwillingness on the part of our people, harsh as it may be, for you free coloured people to remain with us.

Lincoln’s words provoked great anger among black leaders and abolitionists, who argued that African-Americans were as much natives of the country as whites. 

In an early draft of the emancipation proclamation colonisation was mentioned but it was quietly dropped. The war had a momentum of its own and by the end of the war Lincoln, who had originally been opposed to blacks being given civil rights, came round to thinking some blacks should have the vote. 

It’s interesting that the Fifteenth Amendment to the US constitution, which  gave the right to vote to black men, did so two years after Disraeli's Reform Act of 1867 gave the vote to most though not all working men in towns in England - a move by Disraeli that shocked liberal intellectuals.

Why I support the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War

In 1864, Confederate General Patrick Cleburne said that  if the South lost,
It means that the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy. That our youth will be trained by Northern school teachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the war; will be impressed by all of the influences of History and Education to regard our gallant debt as traitors and our maimed veterans as fit subjects for derision.
Of course this is what has happened, especially since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

The Second Iraq War, however, I hope has cast new light on the U.S. Civil War. There are many parallels between Lincoln and Bush. Both launched unnecessary and from a legal point of view probably unjust wars that overturned the elites and social structures of the conquered peoples, with disastrous long-term consequences. The Civil War was a terrible tragedy and could have been avoided, by statesmanship on both sides, but Lincoln could have allowed the South to secede. One therefore has to blame him mostly for this unnecessary and unjust war.

Half a million people died because of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Lincoln is responsible for a war in which 800,000 died. It was followed by a settlement which led to a hundred years of racial disharmony in the South and a race problem that has still not been solved. I hope the evil consequences of overthrowing Saddam do not last a hundred years or more. I suspect they will.

I have always unreservedly supported the Southern States in the Civil War and find it hard to understand how any informed fair-minded person can do otherwise. This is not because  particularly like the South or think their slave society was pleasant but because they had the legal and moral right to leave the Union. Reader, if you doubt this, imagine that the Scottish parliament were to vote to secede from the UK and the UK were to fight a bloody war for four years to prevent them doing so.

Gladstone, the great British Liberal, called the Confederacy

'a nation rightly struggling to be free'.
Lancashire mill girls, unemployed because of the Northern blockade of the South and consequent Cotton Famine, supported the North, but though poor people are usually wiser than rich ones Gladstone was right and the mill girls wrong.

The war by the north was not fought to free the slaves but to preserve the Union. By the South it was not fought to preserve slavery, which they could have preserved while remaining in the USA, but to gain independence. Supporting the Confederacy does not mean supporting slavery.

Had Lincoln let the South secede In time the South would have emancipated the slaves, though not, we can be sure, given them the vote. (Lincoln only came round to thinking some blacks should have the vote towards the end of the war, in gratitude for their military service.) The South might have had something like apartheid, which in fact is what they did have - after huge numbers of deaths [during and after the war] and years of conflict and misery. 

Stalin is supposed to have said 
'One death is a tragedy. A million is a statistic.' 
I very much doubt he said it but it is true that every single death is a tragedy. From what I can find perhaps 388,000 slaves were brought direct from Africa to North America, of whom between ten and twenty percent (but it's a guess) perished horribly in the voyage. Thousands more died shortly after landing. The numbers of slaves killed in coming to America, the unspeakable conditions in which they came and the numbers who died on arrival seem to have been the worst aspects of American slavery, whether measured in terms of loss of life or in terms of horror and suffering. In terms of deaths, the Civil War which killed 600,000 was therefore the worst consequence of slavery. In addition to those 600,000 very many former slaves died of hunger after emancipation. 

What certainly perished in this dreadful war was the idea of the original USA with a weak central government, strong states, diffused power and social cohesion. I suppose Switzerland is the one country that lives up to some extent to republican ideals. The South did exactly what the American rebels had done in 1776 and Lincoln reacted to secession exactly as King George III did. The difference is that Lincoln, unlike George III, won. But by the time Lincoln did so the USA had changed in its essence. It was no longer a republic but an empire under the form of a republic. The same thing happened with Rome.

Lincoln was the USA's Cavour or Bismarck. I regret his success as I regret theirs. Lincoln's war cost far more lives than theirs and left scars that still haven't healed.

Since the recent massacre of blacks in a church in Charleston by a young white man there have, unfortunately, been many killings of blacks by blacks in the USA and even at least one massacre of blacks by blacks. These did not attract much attention. Racist murders of blacks by whites in the USA are, fortunately, very rare - but the massacre was important for what is symbolised, the memories it stirred, the deep wound it re-opened. I wonder when or whether blacks and whites will live together in amity in the USA and why they do not do so 150 years after Lincoln's famous victory.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

The three worst US Presidents of all time

I often heard that Grant was the worst US President, or Buchanan or Andrew Johnson or Harding but none of these were the worst. The worst was George W Bush, very closely followed by Abraham Lincoln, closely followed by Wilson.

Bush squandered the US's moment as global hegemon, began a seemingly endless war in the Middle East and, by over-reacting, turned the September 11th murders into a triumph for the Islamists. Lincoln made war on his own people for the offence of wanting national self-determination. His legacy was an America embittered on geographical lines for a century and on racial lines till this day. Wilson's dire legacy is the break-up of Austria Hungary and the Second World War, though, to be fair, the latter would probably have happened even without his help.

Some old-fashioned people consider Hoover the worst, but in fact Hoover was better than but rather similar to Franklin Roosevelt, whom people rate very highly, or used to.

Hoover was not a laissez faire man like Coolidge. He effectively started the New Deal. Rexford Tugwell who helped invent the New Deal said: 
“We didn’t admit it at the time, but practically the whole New Deal was extrapolated from programs that Hoover started.” 
On the other hand, I doubt whether the New Deal under FDR was effective. Under FDR, unemployment averaged  18 % from 1933 to 1940. The policies of the British government during the depression, once considered a by-word in myopia, are now thought to have been more effective.

Someone recently said Tyler was the best. Perhaps. Though if I were Texan I would regret the annexation of Texas. As a free country Texas could have avoided the Civil War and avoid an awful lot of things that the North forced on the South from 1860 till the present day. But this was not a possibility, unfortunately for the Texans. Texas was broke by the time Tyler annexed it.

Truman was good but to rate him one has to decide whether he was right to wage the Cold War against Stalin and keep American troops in Europe. I have always been grateful for the troops but never sure the Cold War was necessary.

Hoover’s history of his times was published only fairly recently and blames FDR for much from prolonging the depression to Pearl Harbor and war with Germany. One of the very few reviews it got is here.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

226 years today since the fall of the Bastille

It’s 226 years today since the fall of the Bastille. By the time it 'fell' the Bastille had not been a political prison for years, but a sort of old people's home and lunatic asylum for a very small number of well-connected old and mentally ill people. The decision had already been taken to close down the Bastille to save costs. 

His relatives had placed the Marquis de Sade there but he was taken away ten days before the attack, by which time the Bastille housed seven old men (who were very disturbed by the events of July 14), four forgers, two lunatics and the Comte de Solages, who had committed incest and was placed there at his family's request. After the fall of the Bastille the forgers were free and the others were homeless. 

These things are a parable for progressive politics.

The Marquis De Sade helped cause the fall of the Bastille in that he shouted out from his chamber to demonstrators outside, using an improvised megaphone
'They are killing people in here!'
about 10 days before the storming and before he was moved out of the Bastille. This was a complete lie (De Sade was considered mad), but it got the crowd stirred up and from that day on there was a countdown to the eventual violent storming of the building on July 14th.

Alex Woodcock-Clarke explains De Sade's role in the revolution.

His atheism is one reason that a later class of French intellectuals led by symbolist poet (and pornographer) Guillaume Apollinaire resurrected his writings in the early 1900s. Another reason was de Sade’s ideas about political and, above all, personal freedom. A brief scan of his social works reveals that he was most ardent for man’s freedom to do whatever his nature inclined, even if that includes a little rape and torture, which puts him in the same class as political thinkers like Charles Manson. He was most coherent in his arguments against the imprisonment of for law-breakers, not surprising for a sex criminal who spent twenty-seven years in various jails and asylums.

His spells in behind bars in no way make him a martyr. Life in a royal prison for a nobleman was not too strenuous. He had his own food sent in and his own clothes. His correspondence to his long-suffering wife consists mostly of demands for money so that he can attend dinner soirees hosted by other prisoners. Not only was he allowed to write what he liked but, on July 2, 1789, he somehow got hold of a megaphone, and spent a happy afternoon shouting "They are cutting the throats of the prisoners here!" through the window of his cell in the Bastille, This inflamed the brooding Parisian crowd so much that a few days later, a huge mob stormed the fortress, marking the beginning of the French Revolution.  

De Sade would have been sorry to miss the fun. He had been transferred to the insane asylum at Charenton where he was permitted to stage his own plays using the inmates as actors. This was hardly a high security institution since, boring of the place in 1790, he waddled to the gates (he had grown morbidly obese on a diet of rich prison food), announced “I am the Marquis De Sade” and released himself on his own recognisances. When he was eventually brought back to Charenton, after a brief career as a Revolutionary Tribunal jurist dishing out death sentences galore, he was allowed to bring a 12-year old mistress with him who, perversely, was not allowed to leave until his death in 1814.

Actually, the Bastille was not really "stormed" - the Governor was promised safe conduct for himself and the guards if he surrendered the arms stored in the place (the real reason the mob had been manipulated to go there). When he came out he was instead brutally murdered.

Today progressives celebrate this murder, along with the hundreds of thousands of murders (mostly in rural France) that they went on to commit. Lenin of course modelled the Russian Bolshevik revolution on the French one.

From the French Revolution a line runs to the Bolshevik revolution. Alexander Solzhenitsyn makes the point.
The French Revolution unfolded under the banner of a self-contradictory and unrealisable slogan, "liberty, equality, fraternity." But in the life of society, liberty, and equality are mutually exclusive, even hostile concepts. Liberty, by its very nature, undermines social equality, and equality suppresses liberty--for how else could it be attained?

Monday 13 July 2015

53rd anniversary of Macmillan's Night of the Long Knives

It’s fifty-three years today since Harold Macmillan’s Night of the Long Knives, when Macmillan dismissed a third of his cabinet.

Lord Kilmuir, the Lord Chancellor, who heard about his dismissal on the wireless, told the Prime Minister, 
'You have given me less notice than I would a housekeeper' 
to which Harold Macmillan answered,
'But good housekeepers are so hard to find.'

Jeremy Thorpe famously observed that
'Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his life.'
Jeremy Thorpe was to have experience in sacrificing friends' lives for his own political career, or trying to do so. Thorpe found he was a lot more brutal than Supermac.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

I like the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a compendium of invented words written by John Koenig.

Monsignor Alfred Gilbey would have been 114 today

My beloved friend Monsignor Gilbey would have been 114 today. Alfred Newman Gilbey pray for us.

At last this wonderful interview with Sir (as he then wasn't) John Mortimer is on the net.
Do read it.

Banning 'Gone with the Wind'

Mark Steyn is always worth reading. Here he writes about attempts in the USA to ban Gone With The Wind following the massacre in Charleston. Hitler also banned the book, even though it was Eva Braun's favourite.
Someone rang the police to complain about Confederate flags and Nazi helmets being sold at a flea market in Wallingford, Connecticut at the weekend, but the police said this market was on private property and permitted under the constitutional right to free speech.

I am angry on behalf of the Southerners. I think all intelligent people who think about the U.S. Civil War have to back the South. Even if a legal case can be made out for Lincoln there is no moral case for a war that cost 600,000 lives fought to keep a part of the country in the Union which wanted badly to leave. 

There is a strong prejudice against Southerners in the rest of the USA. This attitude is exemplified by an American who told me, 
I hate Southerners because I hate racists.
I replied that I hated racism but I didn't hate racists. 
I hate racists
 he said firmly and afterwards I realised it was he who was the racist. 

EU has made a deal with Greece - and presumably will achieve regime change

"There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt." 
(John Adams, the second U.S. President.)

The EU has made a deal with Greece. 

I always thought a deal was more likely than not. I am disappointed that Greece is not leaving the euro, which would have been an earthquake for the EU. Now the Greek parliament must vote on a far tougher proposal than the one the Greek government almost made before the referendum and which the Greek people voted against.

Presumably the EU will hereby achieve regime change in Greece (I hope so).

The Greeks would probably be better off out of euro - the UK would then be able to restructure EU. I was cheering Herr Schauble when he suggested Greece leave the euro. Germany has probably made a mistake backing down. 

Just to remind ourselves, the Greeks are in this mess because of the money they spent bailing out the Greek banks. Had they let their banks go bust and had Sarkozy and Strauss-Kahn let the banks take the hit on their loans to Greece all would (probably) be well.
I note Boris Johnson agrees with me but dislikes Herr Schauble. If only Enoch Powell, the great classicist, were alive to explain what's going on with Greece and E.U.

On the other hand, I don’t feel so very sorry for Greeks who have much better living standards than Romanians. As a Romanian said to me yesterday, Greeks have pensions of EUR 2000 a month and Romanians have pensions of EUR 200 
and yet Greeks want us to pay their debts.  
I thought that the average salary here was not much more than that but find it has just reached EUR 400 net monthIy.

It was a damned close run thing, apparently. Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, said this morning
A couple of times last night I would have laid bets on the agreement failing. But...we managed to stop just a few centimetres away from crashing.

Alex White,of the Economist Intelligence Unit, has said

We continue to believe that a Grexit is likelier to occur than not, although we are pushing back the time period in which we expect this to happen. We shift our call from Grexit within the next three months to Grexit before the end of our medium-term forecast period (2019). 

This call is based upon our view that the referendum, and subsequent events, have permanently changed the political dynamics in Greece and the wider region. If the Greek parliament does approve a deal, it will be implementing a package that 62% of the population explicitly rejected a week ago. The chances of successful implementation are low. There are particular questions around how Greece will find the required €50 billion in assets for transfer to the European trust.

Jonathan Loynes, the chief European economist at an outfit called Capital Economics has opined: 

Our first reaction is that this will merely delay the inevitable. With the crisis having done enormous damage to the Greek economy and financial system in recent months, it is impossible to imagine that conditions will now return to anything like normal. 
Capital controls are likely to have to remain in place and the additional austerity needed to build up the primary surpluses will weaken the economy further. In short, a Greek exit from the eurozone MIGHT just have been kicked down the road a bit. But unless the new deal includes a substantial restructuring of Greek debt – which is unlikely – Greece’s future inside the eurozone remains under huge doubt.

Robert Peston yesterday retweeted a tweet from Siegfried Muresan

But once principle of temporary exit is established, the euro becomes a glorified currency peg, and they never endure.
That's a very interesting point indeed. 

Sunday 12 July 2015

Free cities

I wish we had made Jerusalem, Constantinople and perhaps Smyrna free cities, under the protection of England and France, in 1918 and they remained free cities now.

Saturday 11 July 2015

Greeks are not Europeans

So Greece caved in and accepted harsher terms from Europe than the ones they had 98% agreed two weeks ago, when suddenly they put the deal to a referendum, advised the electors to reject it and won the vote. Is that clear?

Greece would be better out of euro, the euro wouldn't suffer much (though if it did that might be a good thing) but Greece doesn't want to leave Europe. So what someone called the lethargic dance continues.

Since Greek independence, the government has gone bankrupt six times and they have been in default, I read, for longer than they have been solvent. I think it would have been better had they defaulted years ago, while their debts were owed to private lenders like Goldman Sachs, before the French philanderers, Sarkozy and Strauss Kahn, had the public institutions take over the debts. The banks were foolish to lend to Greece, they should have lost their money but they are being bailed out, not Greece. And Greece, while she suffers, needs to restructure her economy and society, needs a Margaret Thatcher.

Here is an interesting analysis from the Washington Post. find these analyses convincing until I read the next one. Political analysis sticks in my mind, economics not.

The problem, of course, is that the Greeks are not Europeans. At least not in the sense that people in Catholic or Protestant Europe think of as Europe. They are Levantines. Greece, like Romania, is or was part of the Near East. Thinking about Greece I remember Graham Greene, as epigraph in his wonderful collection of stories May We Borrow Your Husband? quoted a Lebanese Prime Minister who said in a radio broadcast 

Let us always be guided by the virtues traditionally associated with the Levantine peoples.

In Homer's time Greeks were known for cunning and duplicity, but no doubt this was Homer's racism.

Friday 10 July 2015

Seven conservative principles and the tragic view of life

The common principles of the early Conservatives of Western Europe (roughly, from Burke to Donoso Cortes) listed by Robert Nisbet in his foreword to “The Works of Joseph de Maistre” (Schocken, 1971). 

1. God and the divine order, not the natural order, must be the starting point of any understanding of society and history. 

2. Society, not the individual, is the subject of the true science of man. 

3. Tradition, not pure reason, is the only possible approach to reform of government and society. 

4. Organism, not social contract, is the true image of social reality. 

5. The groups and associations of society, not the abstracted individual, are the true seats of human morality – and also of human identity. 

6. True authority springs directly from God and is distributed normally among a plurality of institutions – church, guild, social class, and family, as well as political state. 

7. A tragic view of man and history is required, one that sees the recurrence of evil and disaster in human affairs, not the kind of linear progress assumed by the Enlightenment.


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.

I love dingy Constanta very much

I spent the dog days sitting happily on the terrace of the Palace Hotel, Constanta, where I may continue to work on Monday or until affairs that can’t be conducted by telephone or internet require my presence in Bucharest. I always like to stay at the oldest hotel in town and rejoice when they are small and friendly and cheap. The Palace is wonderful, built 1914 when Europe was still civilised and a lift takes me from my bedroom to the port. I regret the chi chi little bars and restaurants on the 'port turistic' but they are practical, unlike the shabby slumminess that I used to like. 

A snobby Romanian-American woman friend expressed horror that I could enjoy being alone for days or stay at a hotel that only costs EUR33  a night, including (a splendid) bedroom. Gosh how far the leu has fallen recently. Actually the hotel is probably the nicest on the Romanian coast. It feels like a good hotel should - has an internal courtyard, high- ceilinged bedrooms and a terrace overlooking the sea. It is full of nice families, nice people (snobbish people go to more expensive places, unimaginative people avoid Constanta for places with more beach and less town). There are thankfully very few children but those there are make the place feel like an Edwardian novel. Seaside holidays are always Edwardian but here more so than elsewhere.

I first came to Constanta in 1999 and felt it belonged to a black and white film - you expect to see Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet playing backgammon outside a shop. But it is only sixteen years later that I finally am smitten. And it's not because of the tarted up restaurants and bars on the port. It's not because of the beach which I haven't visited nor the National Archaeological Museum - ditto, alas. It's the dusty tree-lined broken streets. Exactly the Balkan dingy disreputable charm I seek in Durres, Burgas or Edirne but which is here two hours now by fast train from Bucharest.

Why I like it so much more may be because in 1999 I thought of 1880s buildings as recent - my home town is full of them - and because I didn't yet know that much of the middle East feels a bit like this. I get into trouble with some Romanian friends by comparing Romania to the Arab world (it's to do with the Romanian formality and attitude towards power, mostly) fact I do so to persuade myself that Romania is the Near East, not really European. here in Constant though it does feel that Romania is the Middle East dream that it is France.

Here is what I wrote about Constanta after a a fleeting visit here last year.

Thursday 9 July 2015

Can Orthodox or Muslim countries be modern liberal democracies and successful economies?

I always thought Greece should not have been admitted to the EEC and made Romanians cross by saying so back in the late 1990s. It seems I was right.

Marx of course got it exactly wrong. Culture determines economics, not the other way around. And culture is determined by religion much more than anything else plus climate, history – genetics? We shall see if extending the EU to cover Orthodox countries will prove a good idea.

Greece is an agricultural country given an artificially high standard of living by the Americans and then the EEC and EU for geo-political reasons. Nothing wrong and everything right with agricultural, conservative countries but things are arranged in such countries by connections and families and clans, unlike in atomistic Protestant societies like the UK and USA. Plus you have the Byzantine tradition of the powerful autocratic state.

Can Orthodox or Muslim countries be modern liberal democracies and successful economies?

It’s simply a question, but a very good one. Some people mention Malaysia and Indonesia but it's early days with those two as far as democracy are concerned and it's the Chinese who drive the Malaysian economic miracle. Where else? Turkey was for long secular and undemocratic - now it may be becoming Islamist.

Obviously 'human rights' - some of which I love and some I don't - are a product of enlightenment which is a product of western Christianity, Protestant and Catholic.

This morning a friend who's a high up in EBRD told me his friends in the negotiations with the Greeks thought the Greeks would probably leave the euro.

Is this best for everyone? I suspect so but really I don't know and these matters are above me. This evening it seems like the Americans and French will force Germans to cave in.

Russia: we are not enjoying the spectacle of the Greek crisis.

This headline reminds me of Lord Whitelaw saying: 

We must not gloat. It would be wrong to gloat. But quite frankly I am gloating like hell.

Meanwhile a bigger problem might well be the stock market crash in China and certainly a very much bigger problem yet is the vast influx of asylum seekers rushing into Greece and Italy To this the solution, unfortunately, is not to admit any into Europe. But the EU does nothing.

Thursday 2 July 2015

Advice for tourists intending to holiday in Greece: Albania is much more interesting

My friend Alexandra wants advice about whether to go on holiday to Greece this summer. I said holidays should be cheaper if bought at the last minute, especially if bought in drachmas, but what do I know about economics? A Greek friend has decided to cancel his annual holiday in his native island for fear of  lack of food, fuel or supplies.

I was pleased to find this discussion in the Daily Telegraph today. British Chancellor of the Exchequer (Minister of Finance) George Osborne told the Commons yesterday that 150,000 British people a week usually go on holiday to Greece.  (What an off-putting thought - I infinitely prefer Albania).
They must, he said, “take sufficient euros in cash to cover the duration of their stay”, plus any “emergencies”. At the same time, however, they should “take sensible precautions against theft”.

Personally, I’d have thought that the most sensible precaution against theft would be, “Don’t go to a country on the brink of economic disaster, especially if your pockets are stuffed with large sums of money.”

But then, I’m no expert in financial stability and the Chancellor obviously is, so I suppose I’d better defer to him.
I intend every year to go to Albania and never get there but this year I hope to. I was at Palermo castle on the Ionian coast in August 2008 and was the only tourist. On the horizon was Corfu. I was the only tourist in Gjirokastra too.