Saturday, August 08, 2015

A Short Thought On The Government's Language Concerning The Calais Migrancy Crisis

The degree of desperation felt by these poor souls is exemplified by one of them walking -walking - through the Channel Tunnel.

The government's language in response to this catatrophic human crisis has been, well,  interesting. Its primary concern seems to be stopping human trafficking. As Eric Williams describes in 'Capitalism and Slavery', this is precisely the approach taken by William Wilberforce; stop the slave trade, but not slavery.

If our government is opposed to human trafficking but not migrancy, it should do the decent thing,  and relieve undescribable human suffering,  by just letting in every migrant in Calais.

As Cobbett prayed, 'No more Wilberforces'.


Tuesday, June 02, 2015

A Short Thought On The Passing Of Charles Kennedy

Mr. Kennedy deserves very great credit for having worked very hard to ensure that human beings did not have to die in order to ensure the achievement of policy. Can't say better of anyone than that.


Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Conquest Of Men

(I am fully aware that one of my major faults as a student of history is to be deeply influenced by the last book I read. That trait might show up more in this piece than in others; if so, my apologies. However, as Roy Jenkins noted, Winston Churchill was sometimes prone to the same fault, so I may be in good company).

The earth shook last week with the news that Sandi Toksvig, a comedienne whose ubiquity has, in my opinion, always been directly proportional to her insubstantiality, was bravely giving up her slot on BBC Radio 4’s ‘The NewsQuiz’ in order to found the Women’s Equality Party.

No matter how urgently Miss Toksvig might feel the need for such a movement, one might wonder just whether or not it’s necessary in a country that’s already had a female Prime Minister. Across the bits of the world that do things, women hold positions of great responsibility in all walks of life.

I’m currently reading Hanna Rosin’s ‘The End of Men’. Its provocative title notwithstanding, it’s an extremely serious study of how women are, well, taking over; indeed in many sectors, such as American pharmacy, already have taken over.

While I’ve been working my way through it, a thought has occurred to me that I thought I’d like to share. As a now thrice-disabled retired professional male, for many years I’ve been kind of cheesed off with the media’s depictions of males in general. I may be many things; but I am not the stupid, incompetent, neutered non-entity best described as Goofball Sitcom Dad, and neither is any man I know. The lack of respect for males exhibited by many of Ms. Rosin’s interviewees is alarming. These ladies don’t know me, but they don’t seem to like me.

The thought that occurred to me is that the advance of womankind over the past sixty years has effectively been achieved not by a process of emancipation, but by one of conquest instead. The lack of regard that some of Ms. Rosin’s interviewees show for men is exactly congruent with the contempt that conquerors usually show for the conquered. The media’s almost universally negative depictions of lower and middle-class men are exactly congruent with the scorn with which conquerors treat the conquered.

The old and deeply unfunny Irish joke, ‘Sure now, sir, if I was going there I wouldn’t start from here’ has a basis in truth. It is a universal trait of conquered people that they will say anything that they think the conqueror/policeman/landlord/rent collector wants to hear, solely in order to get them off their back. This breeds dishonesty, and eventually a natural preference for lies over truth. In time, they also become stubbornly lazy and obstructive, passive resistance usually their only acceptable weapon.

In such societies, the males become deracinated; many take to drink and substance abuse as a means of coping with the lack of meaningful roles available to them. In turn, such societies often become matriarchies, with many of the matriarchs later exhibiting megalomania, usually expressed in the belief that they can do and say anything in the home without fear of consequences.

While this might not have been her aim, Ms. Rosin’s book suggests to me that the deracination and economic disempowerment of lower and middle-class American men over the past fifty years has been so comprehensive that the stage of the megalomaniac matriarch might already have been reached. This analysis might be wholly incorrect; but every time you see a lower or middle-class American male depicted in a movie, television show or advertisement as being stupid, incompetent and, most tellingly, dishonest for no apparent reason other than that he is male, you might just be seeing propaganda of the very same type that suggested my Irish ancestors were lazy and stupid, fit only to be the butt of jokes, merely because they were Irish; or, in a different degree, that the Third Reich used to churn out about the Russians and the Poles.

I find this thought disturbing. Sir John Seeley’s aphorism that the British acquired an empire in a fit of absent-mindedness really ought to be treated for what it is; an aphorism as ephemeral as it is misleading. The act of conquest is usually one of the coldest calculation; and when the ladies were out burning their bras all those years ago, I don’t imagine that the men who cheered them on thought that some of the incendiaries might resent their fellow-travellers as much as they did their perceived oppressors.

Being a good Erasmian liberal humanist, I really don’t have a problem with the idea of women’s rights per se; someone who’s written as much about civil liberties as I have is really just interested in human rights, with the chromosomal endowments of the human in question being entirely incidental to the issue at hand. What is seriously alarming is the idea of one group using the perfectly reasonable demand for equal treatment as human beings (which in my view does not extend to having the right to get a bullet in the head on the battlefield) as a means of achieving dominance over another; and that’s what seems to have happened to what might be quite large swathes of lower and middle-class American men.

There was, of course, no grand conspiracy for this to happen; it just did. As conquests go, it might be unique in not having happened as a result of calculation. Nor did it happen as a result of absent-mindedness, but really by accident. Feminism is sexual nationalism, meaning that its worst expressions are as bigoted and hateful as all other forms of nationalism wherever they’re found. There would no doubt have been some feminists at the start of the feminist era who would have been happy for all men to be actively subjugated. However, these would have been a crank fringe of the type that blights all movements. Everyone else just wanted rights, or perhaps more properly opportunities, that at that time were beyond their reach. The perpetual corporate desire to suppress wages might have had something to do with it, as might the desire for votes among politicians aware that women were becoming more vocal and publicly engaged. Yet as alarmed as many women might be at the thought of such a conquest having taken place, I find it hard to think that it hasn’t; and it might have unforeseen consequences.

Just this afternoon, I’ve finished Henry Kissinger’s ‘World Order'. It’s as scholarly and authoritative as you’d expect from Dr. Kissinger. I can’t help wondering whether, deep down, he really would have preferred to have been on the team that negotiated the Treaty of Westphalia, or been a delegate at the Congress of Vienna, rather than part of the Nixon White House; but we must all live in our own times. His non-admission admission that he struggles with modern technology shows that his diplomatic touch remains adroit in his nineties, and that he hasn’t lost his sense of humour.

He is also extremely candid in his admission of his initial support for the invasion of Iraq. On the subject of whether he supported arming the Mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan, he has nothing to say.

Al Qaeda is, of course, the child of the Mujahideen; the geopolitical equivalent of what might be described in feminist terms as an unplanned pregnancy caused by an irresponsible one-night stand with the loser down the street; he looked good in the bar, but not so good the morning after. The former, hostile organisation is the unintended consequence of Western support for the latter, non-benign one.

The possibility that the lower and middle-class men of America have effectively been conquered raises disturbing possibilities. One unintended consequence might be that some men will eventually start to resist. This is what some of the conquered always do. The man always portrayed as a slacker, glued to the couch with beer in hand, might in fact be an American Gandhi. However, another consequence, although one so extreme that it might be considered impossible, must also be considered.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read that one of the major reasons expeditionary wars start is because of a surfeit of young men with few sexual opportunities and a consequent need to blow off steam. In his book ‘The Templars’, Piers Paul Read cites this as a reason for both the initial expansion of Islam and the First Crusade. I’ve seen it written of the Conquistadors (O happy accident that delivered the Americas to Ferdinand and Isabella in the year of the Conquest of Granada, meaning they didn’t ever really have to deal with having an unemployed army on their hands!). In his very interesting book ‘Terror In The Mind Of God’, Mark Juergensmeyer alludes to this as having been one of the reasons behind the Second Intifada.

What is America going to do with an increasing number of young men living in a world in which they cannot succeed, don’t rate as potential marriage partners and perhaps can’t even get a date? With the greatest respect to America and my American readers and friends, I think it's a recipe for a dangerous world.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Only Solution To The Migrancy Crisis

Some time ago, I noted somewhere here that there is a precise analogy between the current migrancy crisis from the 'Global South' (a phrase that's more of a useful intellectual shorthand than anything really meaningful, but it fits the bill for these purposes) and the increase in the movement of people from Scotland to England after the Act of Union of 1707. 

The creation of a single trading unit caused it to develop a centre of gravity, London, where opportunities, and therefore employment, appeared more quickly than they did locally; and people therefore followed the money. 

These poor people risking life and limb to cross the Mediterranean in boats far too small for the numbers making the journey are behaving in precisely the same way as Scots who went south did, and still do. They are following the money, a state of affairs which has come about because of our grossly unfair system of world trade. The only way to resolve the migrancy crisis is a root and branch reform of the world trade system.

Forget fair trade. In my opinion, and I fully acknowledge it might be unfair, the fair traders are the intellectual heirs of those abolitionists whose consciences were bothered more by the slave trade than by slavery itself. 

Let there instead be truly free trade. Let them sell us their goods at a price fair to them as well as us. When they prosper and can invest in their own institutions, when their people are less likely to suffer the depredations of people-traffickers and less likely to heed the siren charms of religious extremists, maybe then we will feel that paying an extra couple of pounds for a pair of training shoes was a good investment. 

A long way back, my people were seafarers. One of them was a whaler, another was a stoker on the Atlantic convoys; the belly of the beast. God help and bless all those in peril on the sea.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Why The Tories Really Want Housing Association Tenants To Be Able To Buy Their Homes

To accept the proposition that housing association tenants be permitted to buy their homes requires that one accept that it is possible to privatise that which is already private.

This requires an even greater degree of mental discipline than that required to accept the privatisation of water;  a commodity which isn't made in any factory and which largely falls from the sky. Frederic Bastiat, the Charlie Cairoli of economic history, wrote The Candlemakers' Petition in support of free trade, complaining of the sun's monopoly on the production of light; the water privatisers went one better and privatised the rain. That might not have been the intention behind their actions, but it was certainly their consequence.

When one encounters such a determined opposition to ordinary people joining together to make their lives better, it's difficult not to conclude that what really animates such perverse and idiotic policies is mere abject fear of people acting together. That's it. That's all that floats their boat. That's why they continue to bait trade unions when trade union power is at its weakest in a century. It's nothing to do with the window dressing provided by arguments of left against right. Trade unions could do real damage to the false god called the economy: but nobody ever heard of a housing association bringing the country to a standstill. The hard targets having long ago been got out of the way, when they start hitting targets as soft as housing associations you can only imagine that they just don't like us acting together.

These boys are still fighting Jacobinism in the days of Islamic State. God help us all.

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On The Impending Retirement Of William Hague From The House Of Commons.

I'm quite partial to Hague, unusual among Tories if only because of his intellectual curiosity. However, perhaps two major observations can be made about his career.

The first is that he not merely proves the truth of Powell's maxim that all political careers end in failure, he takes it one step further by not having produced a single policy which can be associated with his name. Can you think of a single idea he came up with that's associated with his name in the public mind?  Me neither. He not only rose without trace, but stayed there without trace as well.

The second is that what his name should forever be associated with was his 2011 declaration that Gaddafi was believed to be on his way to Venezuela. Although presumably made on the best advice, it sounded so much like a neoconservative's masturbation fantasy that he did at least have the good grace to look as if he didn't believe it himself; but he still said it.

History may eventually judge him as being if not the Danny Bonaduce of British politics,  then certainly its Shirley Temple;  a child star who took a bit longer than usual to burn out.


A Thought Occurred To Me Today

Just why should I delete twelve years and seven months worth of work, amounting to millions and millions of words, a lot of which are crap but some of which are really quite good, for no purpose other than I'm afraid someone might try to use some of it against me? I am not one of life's natural heroes; but I'll be damned if I'll be thought a coward.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Great Big Richard The Third Love In

Given that the reinterment of Richard III, otherwise known as The Great Big Richard The Third Love In, is about to commence, I thought I would chip in with my thoughts on the matter.

The discovery of Richard III's remains in the car park of Leicester City Council's Social Work Department, as ironic a resting place for a child-killer as it's possible to imagine - and on the charge of child killing I'm inclined to think that the limping git was as guilty as sin - was easily the most important archaeological discovery made in the British Isles since Sutton Hoo. They found him within minutes of starting to dig their first trench on their first day. Richard was no Tut-Ankh-Amun, mysteriously evading grave robbers for centuries; Richard was found by the very first group of people who ever bothered trying to look for him. It was almost as if he was waiting for them. 

If you want another historical irony, an absolutely astonishing one that it has been our privilege to witness during our lifetimes, it was a team from the University of Leicester, the very same university at which Dr. (now Professor Sir) Alec Jeffreys established the value of DNA testing, that found England's most notorious king and identified him using a technique developed within five hundred yards of where he had lain for five hundred years. I was a first year law student when Alec Jeffreys, far younger then than I am now, worked his magic with his test tubes, his dyes and his centrifuges and caught Colin Pitchfork, a murderous Leicestershire cake-decorator who holds the gruesome distinction of having been the very first person in the world to be convicted of a crime on the basis of DNA evidence. No expert witness was ever more expert. When Richard III was found in what is quite literally Sir Alec's backyard, and was only capable of being identified through Sir Alec's technique, you have to wonder whether or not somebody up there really does like Sir Alec. Give that man the Nobel for Chemistry, quick as you like now, please.

DNA evidence is not perfect by any manner of means  - but whenever the DNA proves guilt to have been impossible, the previous suspect should breathe a quiet prayer of thanks for the life of Alec Jeffreys; a truly great British hero.

Richard Plantagenet died a lonely death, surrounded by enemies. His scoliotic spine spoke of a life of great discomfort, of never being able to sit comfortably on any chair never mind the throne, perhaps even a life led  in constant nagging pain. You can take it from me that the disabled are naturally crapulous; feeling ill all the time is great when your suffering's nobility gets you on to the Pride of Britain awards, enabling you to shake hands with Prince Edward and take a selfie with Phillip Schofield, but otherwise it doesn't do much for your mood. That Richard was what we now call disabled is now beyond doubt; yet being disabled myself, and taking into account the very substantial arguments of those who seek to point out the positives of his brief reign, I find it extremely hard to sympathise with him. The reason for this is the manner of his passing.

I am not an historian; I am a retired solicitor. This means that I labour under the burden of a technical education, albeit one dedicated to the development of the critical faculties;  but it does also mean that I have the freedom to depart from the reading list. When it comes to history, I'm what every professional hates. I'm an enthusiast.

One of the pleasures and privileges of being able to depart from the reading list is that if one reads enough, one can see the same things happening in different times and places throughout history. This is my thing in history; phenomenology, seeing the same things happening in different times and places, almost always proving that human nature isn't perfectible and doesn't ever change.

The main account of Richard III's death was written many decades after the event, yet it noted that after he died his corpse was slung over a horse and that someone then stabbed him in the buttocks. Nobody really took that seriously until his remains were discovered and, lo and behold, he had a stab wound in his bum.

History written long after the event should never be discounted; the classic example of which is 'The Twelve Caesars', the very first work of biography ever written, completed by Suetonius at Ephesus in 122 AD and which reports the neurological symptoms displayed by Claudius in Rome over fifty years earlier with baffling accuracy. Everything that Suetonius said that Claudius did is within what's now recognised as being the symptom range of either a Parkinsonian or a Dystonic.

That being the case, it was eerie to come across this passage in Jeremy Bowen's 'The Arab Uprisings' last night, describing the death of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011

"It was certainly true that he was not killed immediately, because there is more phone video of him being beaten after he was captured...(i)t shows crowds of men surrounding him, all armed with Kalashnikovs. Then a smaller group drags him about ten yards away from the camera. One of them bends down near his backside, and pushes somehing through his trousers...Gaddafi's assailant doesn't pull the trousers down. The seat of the colonel's immediately soaked with more blood" - (p. 253)

This proves nothing about the life and death of Richard Plantagenet. Gaddafi died before Richard's remains were discovered, so it's not surprising that nobody should have made that connection before. That's what I'm here for.

Yet while the almost absolute consonance between the injuries inflicted upon Richard Plantagenent and Muammar Gaddafi shows us that while human nature is unalterable, that Richard's killers sought to humiliate him in death in precisely the same way as Gaddafi's killers sought to humiliate him in death suggests that Richard might not have been as popular as his Ricardian supporters might like to imagine; if only because no figure aspiring to be either famous or popular these days can afford to be stabbed in the backside on the way out of the door. 

An appropriate verdict for history to deliver upon Richard Plantagenet might just be 'Sup with a long spoon'. 


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Was Jimmy Savile An Agent Of, Or Informer For, The British Security Services?

(Warning - the content of this post obvously refers to matters which are deeply unpleasant)

Wherever possible, I prefer to stick to the facts. Accordingly, this post might be considered an aberration. 

However, while I was watching a programme broadcast on Channel 5 last night entitled 'Jimmy Savile: Britain's Worst Crimes', the thought occurred to me that the degree of freedom to offend in multiple locations that Savile seemed to enjoy for decades, at a time when he was establishing relationships with both the Royal Family and Margaret Thatcher (for whose closeness to Savile I can't recall having heard David Cameron utter a word of concern), meant that he must have enjoyed some degree of official protection. 

One of the interviewees was Guy Marsden, Savile's nephew. In the late 1960's, Mr. Marsden apparently left Leeds for London. He was then aged fifteen, and was enticed into a circle in which he came into contact with paedophiles. He described having seen his uncle bringing younger children into 'parties' attended by men from all levels of society. These men would then take the younger children into bedrooms. Mr. Marsden returned to Leeds after a year, and now believes he was being groomed to become a procurer. 

Another interviewee was Paul Connew, in 1994 the editor of the 'Sunday Mirror'. That year, he was approached by two women who had encountered Savile while they attended Duncroft Approved School. They wished it reported that he had abused them. Mr. Connew indicated that he believed them. Eventually, neither woman decided to proceed with the exercise. Mr. Connew indicated that he later had a conversation with the late George Carman QC, during which Carman indicated that Savile was very grateful that the report had not appeared. Mr. Connew was surprised by this, as he had thought that the only people who had been aware of the matter had been the two women and himself. 

All of this is, of course, evidence of nothing. However, such events enable one to ontologically construct a version of events which may explain why Savile's offending went unhalted for so long, and why he was able to behave in the way that he did with apparent impunity.

The programme made clear that Savile was a thug and a bully. Even near the end of his life, during a 2009 police interview that was irregularly conducted in his office at Stoke Mandeville Hospital instead of at a police station, he was threatening to pursue those who had made allegations against him. Bullies can intimidate, but one bully cannot keep a country quiet for over forty years through the force of their own personality. 

If Mr. Marsden's recollections of the type of men he saw at the 'parties' he attended are correct, then men from the top end of society were abusing small children to whom they were introduced by Savile. He may have been the procurer; he may have been a lure; we'll never know. However, if the wrong type of top person were caught being involved in this activity at that time, the consequences could have been catastrophic. The ghastly Profumo affair was still fresh in the public mind, and nobody wanted to go through that again. The security services may have felt a need to keep in touch with someone who moved in those type of circles in order to keep them appraised of what was going on - and who better than Savile, like Rasputin an outlandish provincial non-entity, and one whose entire career was built upon him having a positive public image? In matters of sex, betrayal of trust was Savile's stock in trade. He betrayed those he abused - why would he not betray fellow abusers? He would have known full well that he stood to lose everything if exposed - so why did he seem to have no fear of exposure? 

The episode with Paul Connew and George Carman seems downright alarming. It might be the case that the very small circle that Mr. Connew thought was aware of the two women's allegations was not secure; careless talks costs lives, and all that. However, that the subject of a newspaper investigation should be aware that he was being investigated when the whole process was being conducted with great secrecy suggests another, more sinister possibility; that Mr. Connew was the subject of official surveillance, and that the news that the investigation was being carried out was passed to Savile.

Would the security services have conducted surveillance upon newspaper editors at that time? That's the wrong question. The right question is 'Why wouldn't they have?' The media world has changed dramatically since 1994. Facebook and Twitter have not silenced dead tree journalism completely, but by and large newspapers are vastly less powerful now than they were then. Being the editor of a national newspaper in those days was a position that held real power; and in a country so obsessed with the holding and wielding of power as the United Kingdom, anyone who wishes to challenge power must expect official attention. 

(It was striking that this event happened in 1994, the year in which Tony Blair became the leader of the Labour Party. Two things occurred to me; that Blair was notoriously keen on developing positive relationships with the media, and that although mobile phone technology was then still largely in its infancy it's unlikely that a newspaper editor who was the subject of surveillance would have dreamed of hacking voicemails). 

One of the most bizarre revelations that came to light  after Savile's death was that he had apparently acted as a relationship counsellor to the Prince of Wales during his separation. Being a bachelor and a deviant, this would seem to have been a role for which he was even more grossly unsuited than usual; yet his attractions as a confidante might have been considerable. It seems to me that the only reason why the Prince of Wales would call upon him for advice was that he must have been the only person in his circle he could trust to be absolutely discreet. This should not be surprising; he was a lifelong keeper of secrets, and if he could carry his own he could carry those of the Prince of Wales. It is depressing to think that in time of crisis the only person to whom the heir to the throne thought he could turn was Jimmy Savile. In the high social circles in which he moved, Savile must have had a reputation for not talking; which might have been why Margaret Thatcher felt secure enough in his company to invite him to spend New Year at Chequers during every year of her premiership. 

Yet it surely cannot be the case that someone would be able to get so close to both Buckingham Palace and Downing Street, particularly someone of such little apparent accomplishment as Savile, a freakish figure in peroxide and gold lame, as effective a disguise as any found in nature, without the security services knowing everything there was to know about him. I cannot believe that this was not the case - if anything, his offending was often so flagrant that it must have drawn attention to itself. It may be the case that this is what the senior civil servant who suggested in the 1980's that Savile should not be awarded a knighthood was referring to when he described him as a 'strange and complex man'

As I've said, this is all conjecture. However, I cannot reconcile the idea of Savile being a predatory sex offender (and he was a predator; I recently saw some old footage on TV of him walking round a hospital ward, and it was obvious that he was hunting) with him being a friend of princes and Prime Ministers. The two concepts are irreconcilable; so attempting to reconcile them is fruitless. His behaviour was so bad that someone must have known about it; and if so, that person did our country a great dis-service. 

The UK's security services are a patriotic bunch, and one of the hazards of patriotism is falling into nation worship. It could have been the case that nobody knew, and that he breezed to the top of society without anyone noticing. However, if someone did know and did nothing, or did know and turned a blind eye in return for what Savile was able to tell them about what they thought they needed to know, then that person or those people are complicit in any abuse that Savile committed after he was discovered. They thought they owed a higher duty of care to the nation than to its children. Shame on them, 

If I am correct - and I acknowledge that I just might not be - it might be the case that the British security services, driven by their usual Faustian thirst for all knowledge, made a devil's bargain with Jimmy Savile; typically one-sided, and one that endured for decades. To my mind, the speed with which Savile's reputation crumbled to dust after his death was a testament to the control he exerted over his victims; it was only after his death that they felt free to speak, and then they all spoke at once. I think it unlikely that the British security services will ever publish their files on Savile; perhaps because, unlike him, they still have something to lose.


Friday, March 13, 2015

A Short Thought On The Resignation Of Chris Graham From The Board Of Rangers Football Club

The resignation of one Chris Graham from the board of Rangers Football Club a mere three days after his appointment, ostensibly for having Tweeted a sexually explicit cartoon of Mohammed to Anjem Choudary on the day of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, brought to mind the episode in which the same gentleman refused to appear on a radio programme with my late best man and dear friend Paul McConville. 

In light of today's events, it seems only fair to pay tribute to The Big Lad's generosity of spirit by posting his article defending Mr. Graham's right to freedom of speech


Sunday, March 08, 2015

A Short Thought On The Type Of People Who Join Islamic State

The last three movies I have seen at the cinema have been 'Postman Pat', 'Paddington' (which was dreadful), and 'Shaun the Sheep'. Thank God for TV.

I missed 'The Dark Knight' on its release,  but caught it when it was shown on ITV on New Year's Day. There was a line in that movie that perfectly expresses my view about those who join Islamic State.

When their characters are discussing The Joker,  Michael Caine turns to Christian Bale and says 'There are some men who just want to see the world burn'. That's all the white Europeans, the erstwhile Kurts and Olafs, in a nutshell, all the Europeans who would previously have been the Soviet Union's fellow travellers;  and a lot of the Muslim born ones as well.

It's one of the liberal, multicultural West's factory settings to assume that if someone doesn't like us it must be our fault. That's not always fair to us. We assume that if someone decides to make war on our values in the name of religion, their religious beliefs must be informed and sincere. That may not be the case, indeed for many of those who've adopted Islamic State I suspect it isn't the case. I suspect that Islamic State is a satisfactory flag of convenience under which they can do what they really want to do, which is wreak chaos.

And if it's chaos they want, it's chaos they should have.


A Quick Reflection On Anglo-Russian Relations

(I may assure Russophobic readers that I am not a stooge of the Putin regime,  nor have I received any money in a brown paper envelope for writing this. Should anyone wish to give me money in a brown paper envelope,  they're more than welcome to do so)

The relentless drip of anti-Russian comment that appears in British media makes one grateful that one wears one's hair short, if only because so much of what one reads makes one wish to tear it out.

Our policy makers never seem to give Russia, one of the most important countries in the world, the benefit of the doubt in anything it does. We behave towards the Russians like bullying, controlling, inconsistent parents; no matter what they do,  how hard they try, they can't do anything properly in the house and in any argument they're in, the other guy is always right.

In the past ten years,  we have sent them an 'ambassador' in the form of 'Sir' Anthony Brenton, in my opinion a diplomat in the mould of Sir Les Patterson, who attended anti-government events. The screams of rage that would have emanated from the FCO had any Russian ambassador endorsed Scottish independence would still be ringing in our ears.

After the death of Alexander Litvinenko, we called for Andrei Lugovoi to be extradited from Russia,  knowing full well that Russia's constitution forbids the extradition of Russians. We lecture them on the importance of adhering to the rule of law by telling them to break their laws.

The previous government of Ukraine may have been unsavoury and corrupt, but it did have the saving virtue of having been elected. We seem to have to get behind its replacement, regardless of the undemocratic way in which it came to power. I am deeply uncomfortable with this position,  as it indicates that British policy is more concerned with having the people we like  in power rather than the means by which they assumed it.

By that standard,  there should be no objection to Russia's annexation of Crimea; an act which, I admit,  does send ambiguous signals. Its justification was that the majority of the population, perhaps the vast majority, are ethnic Russians and wanted to be part of Russian; a suitably Wilsonian sentiment, albeit one executed with an unattractive muscularity.

The perpetrators of the Malaysian Airlines atrocity in Ukraine have never been identified. Until their identities are established, speculation regarding their identities is counter-productive,  if not fruitless.

I would dearly love to see Anglo-Russian relations conducted in a spirit of amity and mutual understanding. They don't seem to have been conducted in such a spirit for many years, and that frightens me.

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Friday, March 06, 2015

The Destruction Of Nimrud

The destruction of the artefacts of Nimrud by the soi-disant 'Islamic State' is not just a cultural tragedy. It's far worse than that.

When things get broken,  it's a shame. When things are vandalised,  it's a disgrace. When things are wantonly destroyed, it's an act of violence against history: an attempt not to rewrite history by changing the narrative but to obliterate it altogether and put precisely nothing in its place.

That is the aim of iconoclasm; to replace something with nothing. For nothingness to be more attractive than somethingness suggests a horrible inner emptiness. The hearts of iconoclasts are as blank as the walls they whitewash.


Back To Blogging

My apologies for having been away for a while. I'll be back blogging much more frequently in the future. Being created on a smartphone,  the text is less likely to be justified,  but from now on content's more important than appearance.

Where was I?


Thursday, March 05, 2015

A Short Thought On Pope Francis's Declaration That Not Visiting Elderly Parents Is A Mortal Sin

I cannot bless myself,  make The Sign Of The Cross,  while genuflecting.

The priest who trained me as an altar boy told me that to do so was a mortal sin. He was an otherwise nice bloke, but it was a Hell of a stupid thing to say to an eight year old in order to make your point.

It was brought to mind by hearing that Pope Francis has declared that failing to visit elderly parents is a mortal sin. OK, are victims of parental child abuse in a state of mortal sin because they refuse to visit their abusers?  People must enter Hell in eternity because they refuse to revisit Hell on Earth?

I am a great believer in the humanity of the elderly;  and as such, I also believe that the elderly are no different from anyone else in having to take responsibility for their actions. If you don't love your children when they're young,  it should come as no surprise to you if they don't visit you when you're old. But Jorge Mario Bergoglio's intervention into the theology of aging,  which strikes me as having come straight from the 'I'll open my mouth and see what comes out' school of theology, can actually be said to offer succour to child abusers.

If you're the type of authoritarian parent who weaponised God as a strategy to get your children to do what you want, who invoked the commandment 'Honour thy father and thy mother' as a means of controlling the gifts God gave you to love and nourish,  Bergoglio's words will be music to your ears. There will be people out in the world tonight who will be being made to suffer, whose abusive elderly parents will be citing his words 'mortal sin' at them and thereby abusing them all over again.

Well done, Holiness. More souls lost to the Church because you opened your mouth in front of a captive audience. Great headlines,  crap outcome. 


Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Way We Live Now

The human capacity for suffering is finite. When people are kicked again and again and again, those doing the kicking shouldn't be surprised when the kicked start to kick back. 

What's happened in Greece is the natural culmination of the austerity process that began six years ago. The politics of austerity are 2,000 years old; in 'The Annals Of Imperial Rome', Tacitus pulls out a marvellous quote from Tiberius in which that notoriously self-indulgent deviant stated that handouts to the poor should be kept to the bare minimum, if only because it wouldn't do them any good to be reliant on charity. Angela Merkel, the troika, whoever, are saying absolutely nothing new to the sovereign Greek people; and there is absolutely nothing new in the Greeks' response. The only thing that boths sides are doing is proving that they're equally human.

The end of history? The sky coming down? No, it's just human nature, keeping on making the same mistakes again and again. Prosperity would have returned even if everyone hadn't felt the need to kick the Greeks. That's what prosperity does. It moves, like fog. It goes away, then comes back. Some people who were prosperous before might not be prosperous again, and I for one think that the financial torture to which the Greeks have been subjected is in no small measure the consequence of the desire of some Europeans to stay prosperous at their neighbours' expense; but the price they demanded for their neighbours' discomfort was too high. They were too greedy and too harsh, and now it's over. Reckonings are going to be had, and not necessarily in the directions originally conceived.

The price of energy's going down as a result of American shale products flooding on to the markets. This has led to BP making 300 North Sea workers redundant. If ever you want a signal that things might be worse than they appear, it might be a major oil company laying off staff in a productive oil field. While it's kind of amusing for the student of history to see that the wheels keep turning regardless of how clever we think we are or how much we think we're in charge of what's going on, it is, of course, a personal tragedy for the workers who have lost their jobs. The North Sea is now in a 'Samnian ware' position. Two millenia ago, everyone ate off Samnian ware, and now nobody knows how to make it. When the Americans have fracked the continental 48 to nothingness and the country just goes 'phut' in the middle, we in the UK will not have the skills to get oil out of the North Sea anymore; and we will deserve everything that's coming to us. 

Nutters with Kalashnikovs, barbarian hit squads, are running round killing artists in one of the world's most beautiful cities, the capital of a great civilisation; an act which has led as politically neutral a figure as 'Oor Wullie' to declare 'Je Suis Charlie'. When the boy on the bucket speaks like that, we really all should be listening.

The theologians tell us that despair is a sin and that we have to hope. The Greeks are enjoying a hopeful moment, gleefully indulging in assorted heresies against the pseudoscience, the quasi-religion, called economics. Having thought for many years that economics is a pile of horse manure from start to finish, it is now gratifying to see that the country that gave the world the basics of its civilisation now thinks the same way too. Good on you, folks; give 'em hell.

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Sunday, November 09, 2014

World Government

The Scottish National Party's recent upsurge in membership is not a development which, in my view, should cause Unionists to lose much sleep. 

I might be wrong, of course, but it seems to me to be another expression of that devotion to a lost cause which led many Jacobites to follow Charles Edward Stuart in 1745, which led men to rally to the Stars and Bars as Sherman was marching through Georgia, and which caused Hitler's popularity to be at its highest as the Russians were moving on Germany. Some people are suckers for lost causes; and I will be surprised if one tenth of those who have joined the SNP in post-Referendum dudgeon will renew their memberships next year. 

The history of Scottish devolution since 1999 does, however, shed an interesting insight into how world government could grow by stealth. This might indeed be the most interesting thing about this phase in our history. 

I am not in the least suggesting that any Member of the Scottish Parliament is a 12 foot tall lizard in human form, although it is sometimes tempting to believe that that might explain why so many MSPs seem to struggle with English. 

In recent years, successive Scottish administrations have adopted policies, such as the banning of smoking in public interiors, the covering of cigarette displays and charges for plastic bags in shops, which have previously been implemented in the Republic of Ireland. While this betrays an extreme poverty of imagination upon the part of Scotland's legislators, what is interesting is precisely that they are the same policies. 

For what need would there be for a global government when all governments of the world are following the same policies? If every government in the world were to follow the same policies, you've got a global government whether you know it or not.


Saturday, October 04, 2014

Hong Kong

The thought occurs that the economic system used in mainland China is largely identical to that used in Hong Kong for decades. The parent adopted the ways of the child.

No matter what happens in Hong Kong, China's political establishment is going to be the loser; and that will be no bad thing;  and if it means the end of Cowperthwaite's disgusting and inhumane economic system, that would be no bad thing either. 


Friday, September 26, 2014

Islamic State Is A Barbarian War Band And Must Be Defeated

Today's vote in the House of Commons to authorise air strikes against Islamic State is most welcome. 

In my eyes, Islamic State is nothing but a barbarian war band of the type described by Arnold Toynbee in 'A Study Of History'; the type of force that appears on the edges of civilisations as they break down. That is all it is. Its association with a religion is accordingly irrelevant to its character. The tortuous nature of the mess along the Sykes-Picot line, arising from the mess that is Syria and the mess that we and the Americans have created in Iraq, has been an ideal breeding ground for such a group. The absolute failure of the United Nations to defend the sovereignty of Syria and Iraq against Islamic State is one of the most gaping failures in its history.

We should have seen it coming! One of the greatest historians who has ever lived spent fifty years creating a work that told us something like them would appear! But we don't know anything these days. As Tacitus wrote of the mindset of those now in charge of us, 'Actium was won before the younger men were  born'; not only do they nothing, they seem incapable of learning anything.

I hate the idea of air strikes; yet what is worse, air strikes on a barbarian war band, or allowing them to behave like a barbarian war band, including conducting crucifixions? Really? That's the horrible nature of the choice. In this instance, while all choices of this type are terrible, the choice is clear. Civilisation must confront and defeat barbarism, or else it dies; and if it does die, it's deserved it.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

The King Over The Puddle

So it's farewell to Alex Salmond, whose leadership of the SNP to defeat in Thursday's referendum has proved that Enoch Powell's maxim that all political careers end in failure allows for no exceptions.

For many years, my perception that the SNP was a personality cult of Mr. Salmond's enabled me to refer to him as 'The Tartanissimo',  a neologism of which I am very fond and which I will now have to retire. I am very keen on the process of national healing, and I was prepared to leave the topic of Mr. Salmond well alone until I read in today's 'Daily Mail' that newspapers which had opposed independence were excluded from his resignation press conference.

I don't know whether he was directly responsible for this, but the event took place in Bute House, which is public property, not the dressing room of a football club. Those who desire to govern must be inclusive, and that last churlishness is conclusive proof that the SNP are unfit to govern.

The Tartanissimo will soon become The King Over The Puddle. In my opinion, it is a good thing that his time at the top of Scottish public life is now almost at an end.


Friday, September 19, 2014


This has been the best day that British politics has enjoyed since the defeat of the Third Reich.

The Union has been preserved, by a clear margin and on a massive turnout.

No form of devolution available to Scotland can now be refused to the English and Welsh. The tendency of devolved government to social democracy may mean that regardless of any attempt made to ensure a Conservative presence, at a level below the national our politics will take a decisive turn to the left.

Which may mean that while he was perfectly magnanimous when he spoke in Downing Street this morning, David Cameron was, as he said, ushering in a new era; it's just that the era he's ushering in may, and I think will, be radically different from the era that began with the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979. That time in our history ended this morning. It's over. Giving people powers to raise and spend money themselves will in all likelihood mean that they will be much more receptive to social democracy. People have had enough of austerity, of public services being made poor through being starved of funding, of the propagation of the idea that poor performance in the public services is the norm, and of the privatisation of services that can only be rationally and competently managed in public hands. They are tired of being told that they must always strive to be competitive when their hearts are aching and their feet are sore, and they are tired of constantly having to struggle in what's supposed to be one of the world's wealthiest nations. They will vote for redistribution. They have had enough, and the Tory ferals will be unable to stop them from voting themselves some relief from economic policies that belong more to the nineteenth century than the twenty-first. 

This morning has presented the British people with their greatest opportunity to achieve genuine social justice, a genuinely fairer society, since 1945. He might not agree, but the news that David Cameron was really proclaiming this morning was the death of the Conservative Party. And that may be no bad thing.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

My Last Word On Our Independence Referendum

Paranoia might be setting in, but it's my opinion that an independent Scotland would very quickly degenerate into as close to a police state as the Nationalists could make it.

But that's OK. That's what nationalists do,  and the well-informed man is ready for it.

In my view, Salmond doesn't have a clue about what to say to the people about their economy. Using the pound in the same way the Panamanians use the US dollar might be fine, but do you need capital controls, an effective defence against capital flight but unattractive to potential investors? No answer. Will we stay in the EU? They seem to say No,  no matter what Salmond says.

The Scottish people are enjoying their greatest degree of international political attention since 1745,  and some of us are just loving it. To those of my fellow Scots inclined to vote Yes, I have to say I think you would be making a grave and irrevocable error. If you feel exposed to the winds of the global economy now, in an independent Scotland it is very possible that your exposure might be a very great deal worse.

If you feel an atavistic attachment to the idea of being Scottish, I can't help you. All I can say to you is if you feel that way, you are the living proof of how liberal and tolerant the UK has been to its member nations over the course of its history. If you feel oppressed on account of your nationality, you should have tried being Yugoslavian.

But to my mind, there is one overarching reason not to break up the United Kingdom right now. It is that to do so would be, in my opinion, a gross weakening of international security. What could the world say to those who aspire to their own state, by any means they feel necessary and regardless of the consequences, if they knew the answer would be, 'But the British cannot keep their own country together!'

Vote Yes if you will, that is your right; but remember that more than beside your friends will be watching.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Death Of Robin Williams

When I was a wee boy, my quadrilingial and hyperliterate much beloved late maiden great-aunt  used to tell me a story about Joey Grimaldi.

A man went to see a doctor, and told him he was very sad and didn't see any point going on with life. His doctor tried to cheer him up, saying 'Why don't you go and see Grimaldi?'. 

The man replied, 'Doctor, I am Grimaldi'. 

Nice cheery story, that one (thanks, Aunty: God love her, she meant well and I'll always love her to bits, but the shackles of any culture can be bloody hard to throw off, even should you ever feel like doing so), but it was kind of brought back to my mind today by the passing of Robin Williams. 

That funny, funny wee man - a man who from, say, 1988 to maybe 1993 might quite easily have claimed the title of most famous man alive, even when the opposition was Mikhail Gorbachev and Nelson Mandela (the sheer extent, the width, breadth and height of Williams's fame during those years doesn't really seem to have been touched upon by his official obituarists)  - has gone. The manner of his passing is most sad. It's so sad to be reminded that someone who made it his life work to make other people laugh, a task to which Williams set his back to the wheel like a Stakhanovite and in which he actually bloody succeeded, could not find happiness of his own in the end. Depression is not an indulgence, it is an illness, and it is grossly inhumane to suggest otherwise. 

God have mercy upon his family. Having witnessed the irresoluble, unanswerable grief suffered by the survivors of suicide at the closest of quarters, it's something you'd never wish on your worst enemy.

There are at least three major wars going on in the world right now. Why should the death of a clown matter in the midst of all this? It matters a great deal. All those human beings involved in the commission of all that collective hatefulness in all those places are just being flawed humans. Williams was different. Flawed he might have been (I would prefer to describe him as frail; it seems fairer, for he was ill), but he expressed himself by trying to make other people happy for a while - and that's a damn sight more than most people do for their fellows throughout the course of their whole lives.

It isn't often one finds oneself in agreement with the minions of Rupert Murdoch, yet, being utterly selfish and self-centered, it was, well, kind of odd to see that of all the movies featuring the late Robin Williams that they could have shown as a tribute on Sky 1 tonight, the one that they chose to show was  - 'Awakenings'.

Goodnight, Euphegenia. RIP.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Some Thoughts On The Massacre Of Flight MH17

"When the Scyths came to Sparta on this errand Cleomenes was with them continually; and growing somewhat too familiar, learnt of them to drink his wine without water, a practice which is thought by the Spartans to have caused his madness. From this distance of time the Spartans, according to their own account, have been accustomed, when they want to drink purer wine than common, to give the order to fill 'Scythian fashion'."

Herodotus, 'Histories', Book Six. 

Alcoholism in Russia is clearly nothing new. 

Lake Voskhod, on Antarctica, is the largest body of absolutely pure water on the planet. Its preservation is deemed essential, as cosmologists think it is the nearest thing on Earth to the environment on Europa. A BBC science program broadcast some years ago reported the horror of NASA engineers on finding out that a group of Russian researchers had come with seconds of polluting the whole lake, having drilled to within six inches of the surface using a bit oiled with kerosene. 

The story may be apocryphal, but in the novel 'The Hunt For Red October' the late Tom Clancy recorded how a Kazakh cook on a Russian nuclear submarine attempted to clean his pots with the steam from the reactor's outpipe. He was vaporised instantly.

Those boozy thugs in balaclavas (a good Ukrainian word!) wandering through the wreckage of Flight MH17 may be willing to die for field, flag and fatherland, but whoever is responsible for massacring its passengers and crew made sure that three hundred other people with no real investment in their dispute can now be counted among their squabble's victims. Even before this, I found the conflict in Ukraine to be squalid and disgusting. It is heartbreaking that even in the year 2014 there are Europeans who cannot settle their cultural differences without resorting to guns and airstrikes. They kill each others' children with airstrikes; and now they have killed eighty children who might never even have heard of Ukraine. So many children. 

Whoever is responsible, I do sincerely hope that this event causes these people to take a very good, very long and very hard look at why they are fighting each other. I hope that this is found to be the consequence of some drunken incompetent using a weapon which, in any situation requiring an iota of sanity, they would never be allowed near. In the context of the culture which prevails in that part of the world, such an event would be understandable; disgraceful, for sure, but understandable. If it is anything else - if that plane was fired at deliberately, for whatever reason - whichever juiced-up berserkers are responsible should be on the first flight to The Hague, by mutual consent of Moscow and Kiev. The Dutch are a civilised people, and I'm sure that the Netherlands prison authorities would not afford their new guests the welcome they might deserve.

No liability should attach to Malaysia Airlines for this incident. Its pilot was flying its plane at what they had every reason to consider was a safe height, over what they had every good reason to consider was safe airspace. In such circumstances, the possibility of being hit by a surface to air missile must have seemed as remote as being hit by a meteorite. There is nothing that either the captain of Flight MH17 or his employers could have done to prevent this crime. They are all innocents. May Malaysia Airlines fly forever. 

Crimes have victims, and we should look forward to the perpetrators of this one, a crime of epic magnitude, being prosecuted forthwith. It is one of the very great tragedies of our time that we cannot consider the shooting down of a civilian aircraft and the three hundred consequent murders to be the crime of the century. Yet the perpetrators should be prosecuted, for if anything this is a greater attack upon our way of life, in terms of how we all actually live, than the horrible madness of that autumn morning thirteen years ago (God, it still seems like yesterday). The perpetrators of that crime were 'striking a blow', or some crap like that. The perpetrators of this crime weren't out for gain, or looking to make a point. Instead, their heads were full of the banality of nation-worship, making them reckless to a degree likely to be beyond the comprehension of psychiatry.

The sheer range of people from all backgrounds who have been murdered - members of the Toon Army going to see Newcastle United play in New Zealand; a florist (how Dutch!); a retired headmaster (bit close to home, that one); one of the world's greatest experts on the spread of HIV - remind one of how universal the ability to travel now is. Indeed, travelling isn't something we should consider ourselves as being able to do anymore, it's something one we should be considered as having the right to do, if we have the means. Both the nature of his work, and the degree of distinction he achieved within his field - evident from the regard with which he seems to have been held by fellow HIV researchers - has meant that the murder of Joep Lange has attracted more comment than most (I'm sure that the Internet's crackpot evangelical right will have had a field day celebrating the murder of someone who's alleviated the suffering of AIDS victims, but that's one sewer I have no inclination to trawl). 

Yet his murder shines the light of a perfect irony on the massacre of Flight MH17. His murderers may have murdered him thinking that he was an enemy of their village/tribe/oblast/volk*(*delete as applicable), but Joep Lange spent his working life fighting a virus, an organism with no respect for borders and nationhood; an enemy of all mankind - even of his murderers, the hateful, drunken, bloody-minded, bloody-handed, bloody fools.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

On The Death Of Gerry Conlon

The word 'iconic' is nauseatingly overused, and badly ill-used, these days; but if one single visual image which has entered the public consciousness as a consequence of the workings of the law of England and Wales within recent memory deserves to be regarded as being iconic in the the truest sense of the word, it is the image of Gerry Conlon walking out of the Court of Appeal through the front door. 

No image shows more clearly how the system can go wrong. 

No image shows more clearly how the system can go right.

The name of Gerry Conlon is a standing and immortal rebuke to all those who advocate the virtues of capital punishment. If the pea-brained hangers and floggers had their way, an innocent man would have hanged.

'In The Name Of The Father', indeed; by the grace of God, may the son now have joined his father in the reward of eternal peace they both so, so richly deserve. Eternal rest grant unto your children Guiseppe and Gerard, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them; may they rest in peace; and may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

On The Award Of A Knighthood To Professor Tom Devine

A bit behind events, I know, but I'm taking things at my own pace these days. 

I may have said this before - I know I am becoming repetitive - but in my view Tom Devine should be considered Scotland's most distinguished living man of letters.

If ever a knighthood awarded to an historian has been earned - in terms of hours spent in the library, in terms of productivity of output, in terms of consistency of output, in terms of incisiveness of insight and in terms of quality of prose - it's this one. My congratulations to Sir Thomas and Lady Devine. 


Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Cybernats' Attack On JK Rowling

If Oscar Wilde was correct to describe foxhunting as 'the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible', then the so-called 'cybernats' can best be described as the unspeakable in pursuit of the unthinkable. 

Yet this time the laptop lairds and keyboard kilties have excelled themselves. They have trolled JK Rowling - a unionist with more and better lawyers than they have.

Way to go, guys! That was really smart! Now, straight off to Azkaban with you!

God, the dreariness of this whole referendum crap thing is overwhelming.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

The Fire At Glasgow School Of Art

To us, this is what a fire at the Louvre might be to Parisians. It's that bad. We don't have much of a visual arts heritage in Scotland; we think we do, but we don't really, as the loss of patronage occasioned by the removal of James VI and I to London in 1603 upon the Union of Crowns retarded the production of visual art here for at least two full centuries (one of the great unanswered questions of Scottish history is whether the same retardation of visual art was a factor that led to our subsequent emphasis on technical education, at which we certainly did excel, but that's another story). The Mackintosh Building is very possibly the single most important piece of visual art ever produced in Scotland, made so that art could be made within art, and the thought of it being damaged is just so saddening. Your heart can't help but go out to students who've lost work.

We are all proud of that building, one of the most important and least contentious pieces of our common Scottish heritage; our own wee crown jewel. May it rise again, and, yes, flourish.

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Boko Haram Kidnappings

I can recall seeing fewer sadder sights than the image of those wee lassies being paraded by their kidnappers.

My heart goes out to them and to their parents. You can glue together any number of adjectives to describe it; hateful, barbaric, medieval, whatever. The bottom line is that it's just so sad.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Is The Referendum Over Yet?

I'm bored with it all now.


On Mountaineering - 'Into The Silence'

This is a truly marvellous book of incredible range and scope. Davis has a wonderful turn of phrase, and his description of the British Army of the era in question as being 'militantly anti-intellectual' is just about the last word that really should be said about that particular civilisational dead end. Since having read that one of the reasons why the bridges of British naval vessels were less well-fortified than those of their German counterparts was that a British naval officer was expected to have more pluck than his Teutonic opponent, I have regarded the cult of pluck as being a death cult as beastly as any human sacrifice cult in pre-Christian Central America; and the comment of Arthur Hinks, long time London frontman of the Everest Committee, that 'only rotters use oxygen' did little to dispel that view.

Yet what was really striking about the book was that absolutely none of the Englishmen who went to climb Everest in 1921, 1922 and 1924 seemed to possess the slightest degree of humility in the face of nature. The Tibetans did - that's why they didn't climb the mountains. It really got me wondering about what motivates people like that to do that sort of thing, and the only cogent reason I could come up with as that at bottom they are as empty as the spaces they try to conquer. If you have a hole in the middle of yourself, nothing can fill it - not the sound of your own voice, not drink, not even the tallest mountain in the world. This is a question of very great importance in the here and now, because in 2014 we have become a full twelve-sevenths more efficient at enabling the deaths of Sherpas on Mount Everest than we were in 1922. The journey to the top of Chomolungma does not therefore seem to be taking us very far if enabling greater numbers of Sherpas to die is the only metric by which we seem to measure progress. The mountain isn't going to get any bigger, and lots of people have been up there already, with far too many not coming down again afterwards. Why, therefore, do we persist in putting ourselves and, more importantly, the Sherpas through this? 

I think it's because we don't really want to conquer it - it's because we want to consume it; and all too often, it consumes us instead. A giant lump of rock that stands over 28,000 feet tall cannot be consumed, it is too much for anyone to swallow; and maybe it's time we stopped trying.


On People Who Moan About How Bad Their Well-Paid Jobs Are

If they so wish, they can always apply for posts as street sweepers instead.


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

A Short Thought On The Death And Career - The Two Having Been Inextricably Intertwined - Of Margo MacDonald

De Mortua Nil Nisi Bonum, I suppose, the deceased having done a Tony Nicklinson and presumably died in her sleep (if one should ever go out of one's way to try and look for proof of the existence of God, then totting up the number of right-to-death campaigners who, like MacDonald, like Nicklinson, like Ludovic Kennedy, die in their own beds might be a good place to start; never let it be said that God does not possess a sense of humour). 

What we can do is analyse her achievements. She was an MP for 112 days, forty-one years ago. Wow. She was an independent MSP, meaning that she represented a constituency of one. Nice work, if you can get it. The only significant impression I gained from those tributes to her which I saw is that the upper reaches of Scottish public life seem to be claustrophobically small in scope, with everyone knowing everyone else and all of them apparently suspicious of outsiders; a village, in every sense of the word. No matter what else she achieved, what she really was was a consummate insider, as all the best 'independents' always are.

However, speaking subjectively as someone whose hands now tremor not only in different directions but also at different speeds, her most lasting achievement might have been to lodge the idea that Parkinson's Disease is a death sentence into the Scottish public consciousness, in my view undoing the great deal of good work done by the health authorities to normalise the Parkinson's experience with what can only be described as ruthless selfishness.

And during the last years of her life, she might have done irreparable harm to the cause of life rights in Scotland - other people's life rights, mind you, not, as it turned out, her own; and that is one helluva legacy for anyone to leave behind them.

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A Short Thought On The Power Of The Google Algorithm

(Dedicated to the memories of Peaches Geldof, Freddy McConnel, Michael Suchar and Burton Wragg; the bravest, most selfless headmaster of a primary school who ever drew breath).

Given the nature of the terribly sad event which was the lead item on yesterday's news, it came as no surprise that this was my most viewed item today. 

God rest her soul. 


Tuesday, March 04, 2014


I'm sorry if I've written this before - I am becoming more repetitive - but one of the most illuminating aspects of reading Orlando Figes's 'Crimea: The Last Crusade' was seeing what Russian diplomats had to say about their country's security at the time of that terrible and wholly unnecessary war.

They complained about British complaints about them trying to strengthen their position on the Black Sea when the British were ensconced on their southern flank in India (if memory serves they were also being pestered by one of the nuttier, more bloodthirsty Transcaucasian warlords at that time, so they weren't naturally in the best of moods). 

What was fascinating - what made the hair on the back of my neck stand up - was comparing what they said in their despatches and communiques in 1854 with what they said at the UN Security Council in 1962, at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. One hundred and eight years later, they were saying precisely the same things, the only difference being that in the nuclear age they were complaining that the USA was preventing them from installing defences in Cuba while itself installing missiles directly to the south of them in Turkey. 

(Two points - firstly, I may be mistaken, but I don't think Professor Figes undertook this exercise in his own book. Secondly, like just about every other right-thinking person I am very grateful that Soviet missiles were removed from Cuba).

To  my mind, the very sinister events which have taken place in Ukraine are cause for the greatest concern. A democratically elected government has been overthrown, and London or Washington are mute in the face of the putsch, indeed endorse it by the laying of flowers; the banal and sentimental act of those with no cogent response to events. This has happened while the local regional power has been otherwise engaged - would this have happened had the Winter Olympics not been taking place in Sochi? I very much doubt it. The timing of these events are the biggest two fingers that anti-Russian elements in Ukraine could have elevated to The Kremlin. This is not a pro-Ukrainian event. It is an anti-Russian event, deeply unpleasant Russophobia currently being sanctified by the words, actions, money and floristry of the British and American governments.

The people who are fronting it seem to include ultranationalists, among whom are some very unsavoury characters whose only distinguishing features are their penchant for carrying weapons and their need to wear distinguishing clothing and regalia - two of the hallmarks of classical fascism, wherever it is found -  and criminals. One of the most disturbing aspects of the reporting we receive from that part of the world is that anyone who opposes Russia within its sphere of influence and who ends up in jail is somehow automatically and unthinkingly elevated to the status of martyr. I don't know why the political loser Yulia Tymoshenko was in jail - for all we know she could have been in there because she's a crook. Is it still OK to say that in this country these days? 

Russian military activity in Crimea seems to be directed solely towards the protection of ethnic Russians who actively want them there (shades of Northern Ireland, at least in 1969). This is not a popular revolution, not by any manner of means. Could it the case that the Russian military presence on the peninsula is actually necessary, in order to protect ethnic Russians? It doesn't seem to be the ethnic Russians who are wearing the SS armbands. Just saying. 

And of course, we have William Hague and Barack Obama and Uncle Tom Cobley and all all talking cobblers at the Russians about the need for them to show restraint, when they seem to have shown and seem to be showing nothing but restraint. The Russians are not the ones who overthrew the government of Ukraine - Ukrainian putschists did that. What has happened in Ukraine has been an assault on democracy everywhere. An unintended consequence of failing to address that might be that public opinion in a country whose recent experiences of dealing with democracies include swapping tyranny for penury starts to lose interest in democracy. 

And that would be a tragedy not just for Russia, but for the world.

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