Saturday 30 September 2023

The late Queen died one year and 22 days ago

Telegraph obituaries are the best, wonderfully funny and intentionally the nearest modern equivalent to John Aubrey's Brief Lives, one of my favourite books.

I suppose I read the Daily Telegraph obituary of Queen Elizabeth II or did I? I am reading it now anyway and thought these passages were interesting. 

I knew but had forgotten that Prince Philip was born in a house with the same name as many bungalows in the English home counties, Mon Repos. 

He had wanted his children to bear his name, of course, but to be the House of Edinburgh rather than the House of Mountbatten. I regret that this did not happen.

The future Queen Elizabeth II was born at 17 Bruton Street, off Berkeley Square, the five-storey London house of the Duchess of York’s parents, the 14th Earl of Strathmore and his wife. The child’s parents were then living at White Lodge, Richmond Park, a draughty, neglected royal residence without adequate heating or plumbing, too near London for privacy, too far for convenience. Nor was a maternity home thought suitable for the birth of a princess.

Even a generation later her father, who by then had succeeded to the throne as George VI, declined to undergo an operation on which his life depended except in the familiar but far from aseptic rooms of Buckingham Palace. Pressed by doctors and surgeons to change his mind, he declared: “I have never heard of a king going to a hospital before.”

Liquid modernity

I'd heard of Zygmunt Bauman but he hadn't registered with me until today. I have just read two essays talking about him.

This is from Mark Lilla's essay on Ukraine on November 5, 2022, which I read today:

It seems to me that the ultimate source of democratic erosion is the fact that our societies have become more liquid and less solid, to adopt the terms of the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. Bauman’s use of the term “liquid” was an oblique reference to The Communist Manifesto, in which Marx and Engels declared that under capitalism, “all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned”.

Elon Musk

"Like Gulliver, tied down by thousands of of little strings, we lose our freedom one regulation at a time."

"This is how civilizations decline. They quit taking risks. And when they quit taking risks, their arteries harden. Every year there are more referees and fewer doers.” That’s why America could no longer build things like high-speed rail or rockets that go to the moon. “When you’ve had success for too long, you lose the desire to take risks.”

Friday 29 September 2023

Disinformation comes from above


Glenn Greenwald
Nobody spreads "disinformation" more destructively than US corporate media. Those who said Saddam had WMDs; Putin blackmailed Trump with sex tapes; the Hunter laptop was "Russian disinformation": Have *no credibility* to accuse others of disinformation and conspiracy theories.

Thursday 28 September 2023

Yaroslav Hunka, war criminal or patriot or both?

When German forces invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 they were greeted, understandably, as liberators. 

Millions of Ukrainians, Russians and Balts welcomed them and large numbers of soldiers willingly surrendered to the Germans. 

At the end of the war those in areas occupied by the British and Americans were given to Stalin.

Soviet citizens and emigres from Communism made up as much as a fifth of the German forces in the Soviet Union. About half of them were ethnic Russians. 

Wednesday 27 September 2023

From Douglas Murray's wonderful piece about Teen Vogue

'Even earlier this year, in April, Teen Vogue published an article headlined “What ‘Capitalism’ Is And How It Affects People“. It was an explicitly anti-capitalist piece written by a campaigning anti-capitalist called Kim Kelly. On social media, the publication promoted this piece under the heading “Everything you need to know about capitalism”. A surprising claim, and – some might say – presumptuous. After all, is it really possible to write everything that people might need to know about capitalism in one article? And if so would the likely source of such an article really be Teen Vogue?' 

The BBC news is insufferable - and full of spin

John Simpson is shown in a clip every hour on the BBC World Service saying the BBC presents the news with 'absolutely no spin', but tweeted this, which he later deleted. 

Suella Braverman, who went to my college, seems to be a good thing

Twitter, now lamely X, sends me tweets (now Xes) unbidden and always ones expressing establishment views. I was presented with these two at the top of my feed this morning. 

Hugo Rifkind (is also on Threads as @hugorif)
Remarkable to hear Braverman say multiculturalism has failed. She's a British Home Secretary descended from Goan Indians from Mauritius and Kenya, married to a Jewish husband, in a government headed by Britain's first Hindu PM. What would successful multiculturalism look like?

‘Multiculturalism has failed’ says Suella Braverman who is from Kenyan and Mauritian background and married to a Jew, serving as Home Secretary in a govt led by someone whose family came from India. Wonder what multicultural success looks like…..

The Home Secretary is provoking outrage (allegedly) whereas Lawrence Fox inadvertently threw away his acting career (his agent refused to represent him) when he denied, on the BBC TV programme Question Time, that Britain is a racist country. 'We're a lovely country' were his words and they have not been forgiven. 

Tuesday 26 September 2023


“I think unemployment is the great affliction of man. Even people with jobs are unemployed. In fact, most people with jobs are unemployed.”

Leonard Cohen

“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.” 

William Morris

"My advice to myself: Be yourself; there is no other you. Don't perform and achieve in order to accept and be happy with yourself. Accept and be happy with yourself and let your performance flow out of that self-acceptance and happiness. Don't hold yourself to an imaginary standard; the standard is you."

Michael Rectenwald

Tidying up my desktop, I found these


Monday 25 September 2023

Rameses II was Ozymandias

The past is another country. They do things differently there.

I refer to 2020-21. I went to Bodrum for a week in October 2020 and stayed for six months to avoid Covid nonsense, but finally and reluctantly returned to Bucharest to get vaccinated. I then had to go to Egypt in May to escape being confined to my Bucharest flat for a fortnight. 

I was a digital nomad but also had great adventures.

Everywhere in Egypt was empty and the guides at the Great Temple of Luxor disconsolately rested against monuments. I took Moses and he showed me round the sights jumping onto a bus or hailing down the most cranky taxi I ever saw. 

He took me of course to the Colosseum of Memnon and the Ramesseum early in the morning, before the heat became unbearable by half past 9. 

I only discovered after I returned that Ozymandias is the Greek version of Rameses and that Shelley wrote his poem after the British Museum announced that it had acquired a large fragment of a statue of Rameses from the Italian Belzoni.

Yanis Varoufakis's new book

"Imagine the following scene straight out of the science fiction storybook. You are beamed into a town full of people going about their business, trading in gadgets, clothes, shoes, books, songs, games and movies. At first everything looks normal. Until you begin to notice something odd. It turns out all the shops, indeed every building, belongs to a chap called Jeff. What’s more, everyone walks down different streets, and sees different stores because everything is intermediated by his algorithm… an algorithm that dances to Jeff’s tune.”
Varoufakis says that Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, doesn’t produce capital but charges rent, which isn’t capitalism but feudalism. Here he is interviewed by one of my least favourite writers Carol Cadwalladr, who owed a lot of money after lying about Aaron Banks and who repeats the CIA or MI6 line on Assange.

Sunday 24 September 2023

Democracy is impossible without a demos

"It seems, then, that the original reasons for favoring democracy don’t last forever. First, it depends on strong popular identification with the nation, which is vanishing." 

Saturday 23 September 2023

This is how I feel about history

"Philosophy was the mission of my life. I had to philosophize; otherwise, I was not able to live in this world." Edmund Husserl

“I don't want people who WANT to dance. I want people who HAVE to dance.” Choreographer George Balanchine

What is Biden going to do now?

A friend who's a retired academic just sent me an email.
What if the 'sides' in the Ukraine war are peaceful coexistence v. ruinous (except for a few, for whom it's highly lucrative) war?
I agree and have said this in this blog since last year. It's tiresome when I get attacked for being pro Putin and tiresome that there are people who are. They are as annoying as the ones who lose their temper if it's suggested that the Americans made mistakes which provoked Putin. 

Friday 22 September 2023

I am not interested in Ukraine at the moment - only Nagorno Karabak and Armenia

Dmitry Medvedev, the last Russian President and Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council said this on Telegram on the 29th talked about Nikol Pashinya, Prime Minister of Armenia.
One day, one of my colleagues from a fraternal country told me: “Well, I’m a stranger to you, you won’t accept me.” I answered what I had to: “We will judge not by biography, but by actions.” Then he lost the war, but strangely stayed in place. Then he decided to blame Russia for his mediocre defeat. Then he gave up part of the territory of his country. Then he decided to flirt with NATO, and his wife defiantly went to our enemies with cookies.
Guess what fate awaits him...


"Strive not to be a success but rather of value".
Albert Einstein

Thursday 21 September 2023

"It will end with everything that is Armenian gone." The fall of Nagorno Karabak makes me even sadder than the invasion of Ukraine

Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyn came to power in "a colourless colour revolution" in 2018. The previous government which had been friendly to Armenia's protector, Russia. He has brought irremediable catastrophe on Nagorno Karabak by cosying up to America when Armenia depends on the protection of Russia.

In an interview with DW, Armenian analyst Styopa Safaryan accused Russia of trying to "punish Armenia for the so-called disloyalty, and it's doing with Azerbaijan's hands. This absolutely resembles the attack, the aggression of Russia in Ukraine. It's absolutely the same situation." The second sentence, I am sure is not true. Azerbaijan has agency and has chosen her moment carefully. The parallel with Ukraine is a close one, however - both Armenia and Ukraine relied on America and thumbed their noses at Moscow, with what results we see.

Researcher Ruben Enkopolov from the Barcelona Institute of Political Economy and Governance told DW:
"The only scenario [for Nagorno-Karabakh]is the full transfer under Azerbaijani control. It will end with everything that is Armenian gone."

This seems to show beyond doubt that the threat of NATO expansion is the reason why Putin invaded Ukraine

“President Putin declared in the autumn of 2021, and actually sent a draft treaty that they wanted NATO to sign, to promise no more NATO enlargement. That was what he sent us. And [that] was a pre-condition for not invade [sic] Ukraine. Of course we didn't sign that. He went to war to prevent NATO, more NATO, close to his borders. He has got the exact opposite.” 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this to committee of the European Parliament on September 7.

And yet many people get angry when this is suggested by people who are not Secretary General of NATO. 

There was never a time when there was less respect for freely exchanging opinions than now, except perhaps in wartime - but only Russia and Ukraine are at war. 

Tsarist Russia, unlike Russia or the rest of Europe today, had free speech, more or less. I thought I'd mention that.

Sunday 17 September 2023

The decline of the West - I could give this title to half my posts

A German intellectual told Douglas Murray that "the German people were anti-Semitic and prejudiced and deserved to be replaced."

A young Romanian woman friend, who went to Yale on a scholarship, told me that "I hope that in my lifetime the majority of the Italian population will be African, as a punishment for colonialism". (Italy had five African colonies and held the oldest one, Eritrea, for only 65 years. I know from going to Ethiopia that most good things there are thanks to the 5 years of Italian occupation.)

Day in Autumn by Rainer Maria Rilke

After the summer's yield, Lord, it is time
to let your shadow lengthen on the sundials
and in the pastures let the rough winds fly.

Friday 15 September 2023

Thankful I live in a country that is not modern

I very thankfully live in Bucharest. The horrors of modernity are for me almost entirely confined to what I read on the internet.

The only exceptions that come immediately to mind are altar girls and I have I escaped them by attending the Greek Catholic instead of the Roman Catholic cathedral.

Nowhere in the world is nicer than Bulevardul Unirii in September, with fountains plashing. I can't imagine why I ever leave, but last month I spent a frenetic time in Great Britain.

Tuesday 12 September 2023

The wisdom of Burke

I always intended to buy a leather bound collection of Burke's works I eyed every Saturday aged 16 or 17. I so wish I had. I am sure I agree with him on everything but ought to read him.

This passage from an essay by Madeleine Armstrong that I read today seems very topical and made me think of the American empire spreading human rights and American hegemony. It makes me think that freedom and mass immigration are hard to reconcile and that globalism is the enemy of democracy.

"Burke drew his idea of the platoon from the Roman historian Tacitus. Following his remark on the little platoon in the Reflections, Burke criticised the National Assembly for dividing France into départements. He described these new divisions as ‘colonies of the rights of man,’ and compared them to ‘that sort of military colonies which Tacitus has observed upon in the declining policy of Rome,’ citing the following passage of the Annales:

"‘Not, as once, were entire legions with their tribunes, centurions, and privates in their proper ranks all settled so as to make, by their unanimity and mutual concern, a civil community; but unknown to each other, from different platoons, without leaders, without mutual affections, as if from a different race of beings, unexpectedly drawn together in one, more like a plurality than a community.’ 

Sunday 10 September 2023

American jihad

Lewis Lapham, editor of the American monthly Harper's Magazine, said in 2002, “The makers of America’s foreign policy over the course of the previous fifty years have embraced a dream of power almost as vainglorious as the one that rallied the disciples of Osama bin Laden to the banner of jihad.”

This is true.

America expected to withdraw from Europe at the end of the second world war, remained because Stalin seemed a second Hitler, remained after the end of the cold war and now see themselves as fighting a long cold war against Russia and China.

Saturday 9 September 2023

Mike Yarwood has died. The papers have to explain who he was.

Such is the nature of fame. 

His 1977 Christmas show had more viewers than any other television programme in British history before or since.

He impersonated famous people on British television in the 1970s and was a household name, but he could not do Margaret Thatcher and better impersonators, who'd been to university, came along. The age of working class comedians, actors and journalists was starting to pass.

The people he impersonated, such as Harold Wilson, Edward Heath and Enoch Powell, great men in their day (all of whom I met after their day, when I was an undergraduate), are also forgotten.

I remember when I was at Cambridge reading a letter Tennyson wrote from Cambridge in which he reflected that everyone would be dead in one hundred years' time. 

Thursday 7 September 2023

The left has been in power in England since 1997

Allister Heath in the Telegraph today says the British political elite has given up on Britain.
'Sunak has largely refused to diverge from the EU; conversely, Starmer has promised not to rejoin the customs union or single market. The Brexiteers will be betrayed under Labour, but it is not clear by how much more than under the Tories. Legal immigration has surged dramatically; both parties are united in a technocratic belief that the public is best ignored on such matters. On Channel crossings, Labour may ditch Rwanda, but it will end up having to take drastic action, too.

'The Tories’ Left-wards drift continues to shock. Michael Gove is citing the Marxist economist Thomas Piketty and calling for “extracting what we need for public services from those who operate in a rentier fashion”. Jeremy Hunt, whose big idea was to lower the threshold at which the 45p tax rate kicks in, has resumed Sunak’s policy to appoint Left-wing, Remainer economists to top positions, including to the Monetary Policy Committee. Sushil Wadhwani, a member of his advisory council, wants a 100 per cent tax on pay rises above 3 per cent.

Tuesday 5 September 2023

Was Ukraine’s 2023 counteroffensive inevitably going to fail?

Looking back with hindsight, but also at the time, the Anglo-French declaration of war on Germany in 1939 was a mistake. The Americans bear much of the blame, surprisingly enoughaccording to Neville Chamberlain. 

As George Kennan argued, the cold war was also a mistake - it was a response to Stalin taking over Eastern Europe which made him seem another Hitler. Kennan had recommended containment of the Soviet bloc but not an arms race.

For years American foreign policy aimed at containing Iran.

That's why Hillary Clinton and Boris Johnson wanted to intervene in Syria to overturn Assad, something as illegal and foolish as the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Yet Iran is probably not a threat even to Israel and certainly not to the Nato allies. 

Monday 4 September 2023

Saturday 2 September 2023

“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue"

“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.” Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, The Lancet, April 11 2015

"When did your childhood end?"

Edith Eger, who was a prisoner in Auschwitz and still works as a psychologist at 95, considers this question the most important to ask clients with depression or anxiety.

What I did in my holidays

Wow! From 15° (59°) in Edinburgh to 37° (99°) and the last days of the long hot Romanian summer. I had an amazing holiday, met many great people and saw many beautiful places, but it is always wonderful to return to Bucharest. Deep joy, as Professor Stanley Unwin would say.

In sixteen days in my beloved country I saw these cathedrals: St Alban's, Exeter, Rochester, St Edmundsbury, Ely, Peterborough, Lincoln, Glasgow and two in Edinburgh. I forgot to go into Oxford and only walked past Westminster hurrying for my train. I wasn't trying to see a lot of cathedrals but am delighted I did.

I'd been to them all before, all but Peterborough, Glasgow and Lincoln several times, but I had seen Lincoln in 1997 in semi-darkness.

The best was either Exeter or Ely, probably Ely, but Peterborough and Rochester are absolutely wonderful. Lincoln disappointed except for the west front, visible for the first time since last year after decades of restoration.

They took the crazy golf course away from the nave of Rochester and replaced it with an exhibition on astronomy. One Glasgow church is a café but also a church and an Edinburgh church is a jazz club but is also a church. The sea of faith has ebbed a long way.