Wednesday 29 June 2011

Thoughts on Times Past

Were you born in the wrong century? It’s a question I gave a little thought to recently. I was born in the twentieth century, in 1986, to be exact, and I'm now on the threshold of my quarter century! I shall be glad to be twenty-five, so I’m glad to be born when I was, possibly at exactly the right moment in history.

If I had been born significantly earlier I would most likely have been denied the opportunities that women have now. If I had been born, say, in Jane Austen’s England, no matter how wealthy and privileged, my life would been spent in speculations about marriage and romance, thoughts about Darcy or Knightly!

To be born now, in the early decades of the twenty-first century, so far as I can see, is to face a wholly uncertain future, arguably a little like those born in the Roman Empire in the late fourth century AD, a time of classical senescence, the Barbarians gathering on the border.

So, yes, the 1980s was the best time in the best century, the best of all possible worlds, a slightly odd statement considering how violent it was, how violent its history. Time and circumstances are always the thing; my time was good and my circumstances better. Others have been far less fortunate.

Still, in answering the question, I did alight on an earlier period when to be young and alive would have been very heaven – the 1920s, Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age. I see myself as a flapper attending Gatsby’s parties on West Egg! Or, out of the confines of fiction, as a habitué of the cabarets of Paris or Berlin.

Berlin now is something of a sad ghost, a place full of decaying memories, but that brief interval between the Great Inflation and the Great Depression seems magical to me, the place and the time to be by alive, young and wealthy. I can just picture myself – there, see, staying in a suite in the Hotel Adlon!

The other period I have in mind is England of the Restoration. I would, of course, have to be a great courtesan during the reign of Charles II, my favourite English king, perfectly imperfect in every way. Yes, that’s it, very much in the image of Barbara Palmer, Lady Castlemaine and duchess of Cleveland, a personal heroine of mine, an individual who might very well be said to have put fatale in femme.

Like Charles’ other mistresses she owed her position to her, ahem, personal charms, but she knew how to build on something that is subject to time’s short lease, and, oh my, how she built. She was, as I once wrote, the Enchantress, a woman who, second only to the king, set the tone of the early Restoration monarchy, an image of venality, bedchamber politics and sexual licence that persists even so far as today. In other words, she put the Merry in the Monarch!

Hmm, come to think of it, I might have done just as well as Valeria Messalina, the wife of the Emperor Claudius, though I would have been Messalina with brains, a fatal combination. :-)

Tuesday 28 June 2011

An Enemy of Political Correctness

The worst enemy of truth and freedom in our society is the compact majority. Yes, the damned, compact, liberal majority.

Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People

I was away from London, at school, on July 7, 2005, the day when the city was subject to a series of suicide attacks. In the way of such things, such traumatic events, I can remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the news, the precise context forever fixed in my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever been so traumatised, partially because I was away from home and partially because I could not make contact with some family and friends for hours after. I spent most of the day in tears.

That day fifty-two people died, killed by those who, on the face of it, were British, killed by their own fellow citizens. It’s one of the most awful news stories of my life, impacting in the way that it did. I expected it to run and run. But it didn’t. A few days after the police shot and killed Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian living in England on a temporary visa, believing him to be a bomber, a tragic act of mistaken identity, though understandable in the heightened tensions of the time.

At once the news focus changed, away from the outrage perpetrated on London by a group of Islamic terrorists, towards an accidental police killing. I remember being angry at this at the time, failing to understand this total lack of proportion. I confess that I even began to resent the unfortunate Brazilian and his family. I now know why the focus switched: the terrorist attack did not fit the politically correct agenda, whereas the killing of a vulnerable immigrant by a powerful police force did.

The latter point I picked up from my reading of The Retreat of Reason: Political correctness and the corruption of public debate in modern Britain by Anthony Browne. Published by Civitas, the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, this is not so much a book as a pamphlet in the best English radical tradition, a genre that I am particularly familiar with from my studies of the seventeenth century, when it was the favoured mode of political communication.

Retreat of Reason, at fewer than 120 pages, is brilliant little polemic, a sustained exposé of the practical and moral corruption behind contemporary notions of political correctness. The argument is not completely fresh and there is much here that people will be familiar with. But Browne still makes some trenchant points.

It seems obvious now that the Labour Government of 1997, which dominated our national life for thirteen years, was the first in history to come to power with an agenda based on political correctness, devoid, as it was, of any more meaningful philosophy. But it was only after reading Browne’s dissertation that the whole thing fell into place.

The author identifies what might be referred to as the pre-history of PC. Although Marxism failed in both political and economic terms it made significant advances in the cultural arena, through universities and opinion-forming bodies, to the point where ordinary debate was contaminated by a new orthodoxy, one which amplified the perceived injustices done to minorities, even so far as silencing debate over uncomfortable issues.

The most pertinent example Browne gives here is the public health campaigns over the rise in recent years of HIV rates among heterosexuals, put down to promiscuity, when in fact it was caused by immigration from Sub-Saharan Africa. The dissimulation here benefited nobody, least of all the sufferers, while distorting resource allocation by a politically correct rather than a factually correct truth.

Those who question the PC position are almost never attacked in the context of fact, no; they are most often anathematised for disrupting the official consensus, promoted most assiduously in England by such papers as the Guardian and the Independent.

It’s impossible to read this little book without a creeping sense of anger and frustration over the more ludicrous examples. The most ludicrous of all is surely an argument put forward by one Decca Aitkenhead. In an article headed Their homophobia is our fault, published in the sanctimonious Guardian in 2005, she said that homosexuals were hated by Jamaicans because of imperial sodomy!

Yes, it’s all our fault, the hand-winging lament of the PC liberal, fawning towards the ‘wretched of the earth’, vicious when their absurd nostrums are put to the test of fact. Paradoxically their arguments are also based on the worst forms of patronising condescension, a mirror image, if you like, of old forms of imperial and racial superiority they are so anxious to eschew. In rebutting Aitkenhead’s risible argument one black gay activist said that Jamaicans were not compelled by history or poverty to be homophobic.

Intolerance and sanctimonious moral superiority are among the defining features of the proponents of the politically correct, people whose chief response to criticism is ad hominem attacks. Still, there are hopeful signs. Multi-culturalism, once beyond question, is now increasingly under attack for the damage that it has done to a sense of a common national identity, allowing people to embrace alien ideologies at total variance with a British way of life.

Retreat of Reason is a bold and important riposte to stupidity, hypocrisy, dissimulation, cant and moral cowardice, a tool for all, myself included, who follow the path of FC – factual correctness- and despise the distortions of PC. It is we who are now the partisans of Enlightenment, rather a delicious historical irony.

Monday 27 June 2011

Inglorious Greece

Just imagine if the countries of North and South America joined together in a more perfect union. I give you the American Union, the AU. This borderless combination, allowing for a free exchange of peoples and goods, is based on a unified currency, let’s call it the Americo.

Now if you further imagine that this currency has the same exchange value right across the AU, that it is no different in, say, Guatemala or Bolivia than it is in the USA or Canada. Now imagine a central bank with low interest rates; imagine no detailed auditing of national borrowing and finance; imagine governments living on credit, endlessly beyond their means. Imagine American tax payers working until they are seventy to ensure that Guatemalans can retire at fifty. Do you think this is a nightmare? Well, then look across the Atlantic to see it in reality, look not at my chimera but at the real life European Union.

Greece is on the verge of bankruptcy, on the verge of defaulting on what is called sovereign debt, the liabilities falling to the state. The euro, the currency of a good bit of the European Union (not Britain, thankfully) is on the verge of collapse. President Nicholas Sarkozy of France is in a mood of high anxiety:

Without the euro, there is no Europe, and without Europe there is no possibility of peace and stability.

It’s a wild exaggeration, of course, clearly intended to propel Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, whom he met in Berlin recently for crisis talks, into a joint-effort to save an impossible dream. The language is clearly intended to hit the Germans at the most vulnerable spot in their national psyche, past unhappy memories, ever present dangers; it’s a form, if you like, of historical blackmail.

The Greek crisis is a superb demonstration of the intellectual absurdity and institutional vanity at the core of the whole European maze. There it sat, right from the outset, a bit like a brooding Minotaur. The important thing here is that we are dealing with a political as much as an economic crisis, perhaps more of a political crisis. We are dealing more specifically with blindness, blindness and hubris caused by a combination of self-delusion and self-interest.

The euro itself, the single European currency zone, was always about prestige, a desire for the grand gesture. Looking at it in hard economic terms who would ever have agreed to allow the Greeks, or the Spanish, or the Portuguese, or the Irish to join the club? All it would take is for these fragile economies to come under sustained pressure for questions to be asked about the operation of a whole euro zone, combining rich and poor and supposedly treating them as equal partners.

The Greeks, the poorest of the European cousins, were effectively given a euro credit card, and they used it, without caution or reservation, almost as if they had won a lottery, which, in a way, they had. The Germans were paying, yes, but they also benefited with a massive trade surplus, another source of imbalance.

The Germans in particular are heading for the perfect storm; they have too much of their economic self-interest invested in the euro-zone to allow it to collapse altogether, but they are horrified of the consequences of countries like Greece riding on the prosperity of the old Deutch-mark, abandoned with considerable reluctance.

We know the Eurocrats are not fond of votes. After all, they have a tendency to go the wrong way. But the Germans are least fond of a particular kind of vote than any other European nation, so much so that referenda are actually banned by law because of the use they were put to by the nasty Nazis. Just as well for the Eurocrats, I suppose, because the Germans would never have abandoned the D-mark if they had been given a choice on the matter twelve years ago.

At the time the opponents of the euro ran a campaign warning of the dangers of being linked up with the ‘spaghetti money’ of southern Europe. So, poor old Angela finds herself in an impossible position. Pressures at home force her to talk tough. Auntie Angela does not come to the Greeks bearing gifts, no, she waves her Aryan finger and talks austerity. Think of tomorrow, she says.

Alas, the Greeks have been spending, as if there was, well, no tomorrow. But tomorrow is here and Europe has been wounded in its Achilles’ heel, the poison now spreading throughout the body. An ancient Greek myth thus becomes a practical reality. How the gods love irony.

Sunday 26 June 2011

Super Crab

My birthday fast approaches so I give you this.

Those born under Cancer will be gifted in many directions far above the average, if educated thoroughly. They have a very superior intelligence, and an apti­tude for learning new things and work­ing out new principles. They are gener­ous and full of sympathy for the public good, but they demand a full independence to develop the same. They are often capricious, and frequently change their occupation.

Notwithstanding their love and loyalty, those born under this sign are apt to change companions and friends very frequently, often becoming bitter ene­mies of those to whom they were pre­viously attached. They are tactful to diplomacy in some matters, and show their hands with painful clearness in others. Their powers of understanding are very quick and keen; and they have excellent memories.

The mind of the Cancer person is mechanical. The men usually succeed well in manufacturing business and ac­tive trade of all kinds. The women are intellectual, are often very logical writers and speakers, remarkably progressive in their ideas, and frequently found among the prime movers in great humane enter­prises.

They are fond of the beautiful and artistic, and like to be handsomely attired. They are neat and orderly, and expect everybody else to be.

This sign is called the paradox of the twelve. A few harmonious people are to be found in it, which as far as known have not given any especial attention to men­tal or spiritual development; but, gener­ally speaking, the genius of the Cancer sign is exceedingly difficult to explain. Those born under it have a persistent will, a clutch of determination, intuition, and purpose.

Cancer has a driving, forceful personality that can be easily hidden beneath a calm, and cool exterior. They have a deep psyche and intuitive mind that is hidden from the world

Cancer is very possessive, not just with material possessions but with people as well. Cancer will always want to stay in touch with old friends and anyone who has ever been close to them, because it is easier to maintain a friendship than attempt to learn to trust a new person. It is easier this way for them emotionally. If you befriend a Cancer, you will stay friends for a long time.

Cancer are very intuitive. Most of the psychics of the world are Cancer astrology signs. They have an excellent memory and are very observant and can read people very well. They can usually tell of other people's intentions are good or not. Never dupe a Cancer, they can see your motives.

There is practically nothing they can't do. With their strong intuition, sensitivity, powers of observation and intelligence, they will have great success in anything they undertake.

Writers and Poets

Petrarch, Pearl S. Buck, Neil Simon, Robert Heinlein, Irving Stone,
Ernest Hemingway, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Orwell, Saul Bellow,
Franz Kafka, Hermann Hesse, Jean Cocteau, Jean-Paul Sartre, Cordwainer Smith, George Sand, Marshall McLuhan, Marcel Proust, John Ruskin, Theodore P. Toynbee, Hart Crane, Iris Murdoch, Jean de la Fontaine, John Gay, Luigi Pirandello, Pablo Neruda, W. B. Yeats, Walter Benjamin, Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Artists and Composers

Andrew Wyeth, Marc Chagall, Rembrandt van Rijn, Edgar Degas,
Peter Paul Rubens, Jean Batiste Corot, Eugene-Louis Boudin, Camille Pissarro,
Max Liebermann, Joshua Reynolds, James Whistler, Amedeo Modigliano, Edward Hopper, Gustav Mahler


Henry David Thoreau, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jacques Derrida

Great Figures in History

Alexander of Macedon, Henry VIII, Julius Caesar, John Calvin, John Paul Jones.

And not forgetting Lizzy Borden, so best look out!

Thursday 23 June 2011

Introducing Doctor Death

Since Osama bin Laden has been dropped into history’s dustbin, we haven’t heard an awful lot about Ayman al-Zawahiri, the new head of al-Qaida, the new Doctor Death. I’m not being wholly ironic in according him that title – he really is a doctor, a graduate of the medical school at Cairo University.

There is not really that much joy in his life; no, that's not right - there is absolutely no joy at all. It was his sixtieth birthday at the weekend though it's highly unlikely there was much in the way of celebration, because birthdays are considered to be a 'secular distraction'. This wouldn't have been any hardship at all for a man who, when he got married, demanded that there be nothing in the way of singing or dancing at the ceremony.

As a student of seventeenth century politics people like al-Zawahiri remind me in some respects of the Puritans, especially in the bleak mid-winter of English history, when they ruled the country as a kind of Islamic republic, no singing, no dancing, no theatre, no Christmas, no 'secular distractions' of any kind, just a heavy and deadening religiosity. Actually, on reflection, some of the puritans were not that bad, certainly not as bad as Sheik al-Qaeda. Oliver Cromwell, to be fair, was rather a jolly sort in contrast.

Does al-Zawahiri have any hobbies, I wonder, things he does when not planning mega-death? Oh, probably not; planning mass murder and martyrdom is such a full-time occupation. Apparently even bin-Laden liked time out now and again, watching off-duty militants play football when the two were together in the Sudan in the early 190s.

Not al-Zawahiri. He, as the Observer reported, preferred to organise a spot of murder and mayhem in his native Egypt, arranging for a series of bombings in the country. As you can imagine this was not at all popular with the recipients, especially after a schoolgirl was killed, causing a major reaction against the militants. Of the murder of this unfortunate girl he later wrote "The unintended death of this innocent child pained us all, but...we had to fight the government, which was against God's Sharia law and supported God's enemies."

You see, when you have God on your side there is no crime that cannot be excused, no murder that can't be justified, even the murder of the innocent. But we are not innocent, you and I and almost everybody else who stumbles this way; no, we are guilty; we are targets, carefully selected by Doctor Death, to be murdered at his convenience. Amongst the senior leadership of al-Qaeda he was a key player in urging the attack on America which lead to the tragedy of 9/11 and the death of some 3000 people; not innocent, not guilty, nothing; just dead.

And so it went on, his fingerprints on one outrage after another. His wretched shadow was to fall across the people of Iraq, where that psychopath Abu Musab al-Zarqwahi carried out a campaign of such vicious intensity that it turned the country en masse against al-Qaida in much the same way as the people of Egypt were alienated by al-Zawahiri's earlier campaign. We sometimes forget that it is Muslims, not infidels, who have been the principle victims of these nauseating fanatics, who kill in the name of God, a greater form of blasphemy I find Impossible to imagine.

Bin Laden has gone but the cancer is now in the shape of the Doctor Death, lurking like his master somewhere in Pakistan. The danger is ever present but there is some comfort in the news that al-Qaeda appears to be fragmenting, with serious infighting at the top. Doctor Death, not being the man his master was, not having an ounce of personal charm or charisma, is unlikely to be able to hold things together.

It's best to be cautious, though. This man, as we know from the attacks on the Twin Towers and other American targets, likes a big show, and a big show is likely to be the only thing to restore the fortunes of an organisation badly shaken by the death of its former leader. Let’s hope that a drone, or the Navy Seals, find him first. That's the one thing I wish in all sincerity for Doctor Death - death.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Looking at a Star

I've not long finished Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde by Franny Moyle. The following review is offered in a slightly different spirit to those I've added here before. Moyle's book, which draws on over three hundred of Constance's previously unpublished letters, is an important work of scholarship, worthy of appreciation. But my review is also a personal apology, or a debt of honour, to a woman who was so much more than simply the wife of Oscar Wilde.

I've long been a huge admirer of the work of Wilde; of his plays, funny and subversive at one and the same time; of his short stories, clever and imaginative; and of The Picture of Dorian Gray, his only novel. My admiration, I confess, allowed me to overlook so much that was thoughtless and often callous in his nature. His precipitate and wilful actions, above all his pursuit of Lord Alfred Douglas, the narcissistic, manipulative and wholly loathsome 'Bosie', did so much damage to his reputation, did so much damage to those around him. Above all, the person it damaged most, apart from himself, was Constance.

Born Constance Mary Lloyd, she and Wilde married in 1884, going on to have two children together, Cyril and Vyvyan. To me she always seemed an incidental part of the Wilde story, somehow there and not there at one and the same time. It's a fairly common view, I think. In Wilde, the 1997 biopic with Stephen Fry in the title role, Constance is played by Jennifer Ehle, a bit part for a bit life. I was also convinced by the argument of Richard Ellmann in his 1987 Oscar Wilde, still the best biographical treatment of the subject, where he says that the marriage was simply one of personal convenience for the writer, throwing the sexual moralists off his trail.

It's quite wrong. Their union, at least to begin with, was based on mutual devotion. In writing of Constance Wilde expressed himself in the most gushingly romantic terms. She was “…a grave, slight, violet-eyed Artemis, with great coils of heavy brown hair which make her flower-like head droop like a flower.”

But Constance was no dropping flower. Moyle brings her out as a fully rounded human being, as innovatory and as revolutionary in her ideas as her husband. Clever, beautiful and determined, she was also an author, writing and publishing stories for children. Indeed Moyle makes out a convincing case that it was she, and not Wilde, who wrote The Selfish Giant, one of my all-time favourite stories when I was little.

Apart from being a writer she supported a number of progressive causes, including that of female suffrage. She was one of the founding members of the Rational Dress Society, set up to challenge the Victorian conventions which effectively entombed women in cloth. True to her ideas, she took to wearing loose baggy trousers, quite a shocking innovation for the times. She was also a popular platform speaker, talking about such subjects as home rule for Ireland. Her personal motto was Qui Patitur Vincit (Who Endures Wins), a clever play on her name, which was to prove prophetic, at least as far as endurance, was concerned.

The transformation in Wilde's relationship with his wife was gradual. The outward signs are there in letters that show more affectation than affection. It's impossible to be certain if she ever suspected her husband, prior to the revelations of the trials of 1895, of rent boys and sodomy, though her brother Otho suspected quite early on that all was not quite right.

Moyle gives Constance the benefit of the doubt, though there seems to me to be a strong element of denial here, evidenced, I would suggest, by the fact that she spent more and more time staying with friends in the last years of her marriage. She herself was unwittingly guilty of introducing the serpent into Eden, admitting seventeen year old Robbie Ross as a lodger into the home she shared with Wilde in Chelsea. Ross, quaintly described by Moyle a 'practicing homosexual' (when do they perfect the practice, I wonder?), no sooner moved in than he moved in on her husband.

When the details of Wilde’s sexual preferences finally broke in 1895, brought on by an ill-advised libel action, the work of Bosie, Connie was to be the chief incidental victim of the ensuing scandal. Not only was she forced to change her name and that of the boys to avoid the repercussions that followed from Wilde's disgrace but she also suffered some appalling and petty humiliations. Wilde's creditors seized all of the contents of their Chelsea home, including his letters to his wife and the children’s toys. But Constance remained constant, even visiting her husband in prison and supporting him financially afterwards, the only thing, and the only person, that saved him from abject poverty during his Continental exile.

She got a poor return for her loyalty. Wilde, who previously intrigued with his friends to get hold of a part of his wife's private income, agreed to meet her and the children in Genoa, only to run off to Naples for a liaison with Bosie, a man he vowed to reject, the man he condemned in his essay De Profundis - From the Heart. Connie, now seriously ill, with uterine tumours, according to Moyle, died in April 1898, after an operation to alleviate her condition went wrong. Even in her final extremity Wilde did not come. It was only in 1963 that the inscription 'Wife of Oscar Wilde' was added to her headstone, more a reproach from beyond the grave than anything else.

Moyle's book magnifies Constance, a brave and noble woman, as much as it diminishes Wilde, self-absorbed and self-pitying. He is said before his death in November 1900 to have been full of remorse for his treatment of Constance and his sons. If so, he deserved to be. He took himself into the gutter. If, once there, he looked at the stars there was surely no star greater than his wife.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Inharmonious fist

Liu Xiaobo, the winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, is an admirable man, a martyr to free thought in the way that Socrates was a martyr to free thought. But it’s wrong to assume that he somehow represents a huddled Chinese mass yearning to breath free. He is, in many ways, deeply untypical of the mood of his nation, deeply untypical of its history.

When it comes to history the Chinese have a particularly long memory; and one of the most abiding memories is that of national humiliation at the hands of foreigners. It’s a memory particularly strong among a section of the national community known as the fenqing – angry youth –, who have no interest at all in the values upheld by the Nobel Prize Committee, supporting, rather, a robust version of Chinese nationalism. Without too much exaggeration it’s tempting to see them as the modern Boxers, after the movement involved in the anti-foreign uprising of 1900.

This phenomenon is not entirely new. Unlike the Nationalists, who saw the Boxers as ‘bandits’, the Communists have always taken a more positive view. During the Cultural Revolution Mao’s Red Guards occasionally referred to themselves as the ‘new Boxers.’ Though the Boxer-style violence of the Red Guard has been eschewed by the ruling Communist Party, the original movement is increasingly promoted as an example of anti-imperialist patriotism. In 2009 The People’s Daily published an article praising the Boxers for the panic they had caused among the foreigners trying to carve up China.

It’s all very well, of course, to try to harness into a patriotic tradition but there are dangers here for a regime not always that certain of its continuing hold on power. I can understand that, in a mood of national pride, the Chinese may wish to reinterpret parts of their history. But Boxer violence was not exclusively directed against foreigners. Indeed, far more native Chinese died in their excesses than outsiders. The government of the day, headed by the Empress Dowager Cixi, originally gave encouragement to the movement before they realised the dangers of the dragon. The Communist Party might choose to think that patriotism begins and ends with itself. It does not, as it might eventually discover to its cost.

Monday 20 June 2011

Jubilant Jubilee

We do not run away from history. We know what the present crisis of capitalism demands of us...we are in the death-throes of late capitalism, which threatens to inflict even greater violence on mankind than it has done before, we must make our stand with the oppressed, with the movement for liberation throughout the world.

Who do you think wrote that? The content and the tone might give you a clue. Could it possibly be Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, something from The German Ideology or The Communist Manifesto perhaps? It has all the passion of those early works, the eagerness and the anticipation, the determination to surf on history's next big wave.

Actually, it was not the old bearded prophets of communism: it was Archbishop Rowan Williams, the bearded prophet of all sorts of nonsense, from socialism to Sharia. Yes, he co-authored this manifesto in 1974 with one John Seward, a Catholic priest, sitting anticipating the future in an Oxford pub, all dewy of eye and iron of pen. As soon as this pub closes, they sang together, the revolution starts.

Though never published, it was written for the Jubilee Group, a left-wing Christian organisation, which Williams helped found during his student days at Oxford. Alas, the other members, though broadly sympathetic to the view expressed in the Commie Christian Manifesto, declined to accept it, feeling, in the words the Reverend Dr Ken Leech, that it was "a bit of a rant."

Ranting was something Williams did rather well in his distant student days. In the original group manifesto, which was adopted, he said that capitalism "could inflict even greater violence on mankind than it has before". Than it has before what? Perhaps before Jacobinism, socialism and communism came into the world to show how violence was done properly.

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, as the Sunday Telegraph reported yesterday, Williams was a leading member of the Jubilee Group’s executive committee, alongside Tony Benn, now something of a political dinosaur, one Eric Heffer, then an MP, and Reverend Alan Ecclestone, a Communist priest. I'm sure it won't surprise you to learn that the jubilant Jubilees were to be found where the cause needed them, condemning the campaign to free the Falkland Islands from Argentinean generals who were not fascist. No, it was Margaret Thatcher, then prime minister, and the Tory Party who were guilty of "racism and creeping fascism." The Poll Tax was also a big no no, as was the US base at Greenham Common.

Christianity, too, was a bit of a no no, at least as far as the fascist Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan were concerned. In 1989 Williams gave a speech at Edinburgh University, where he talked of the "alarming religiosity of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher." Yes, it must have been absolutely terrifying to hear them talk of God.

Given his subversive activities it's not at all surprising to discover that Little Red Ranting Hood was put on a watch list by the intelligence services. He came to the attention of MI5 soon after the foundation of the Jubilee Group, principally because of his involvement with Marxist, Trotskyite and socialist campaigners of the usual fifty-seven varieties of the loopy left.

The Jubilee Group itself was identified as a "problem" neo-Marxist organisation in intelligence documents drawn up an MI5 officer named Charles Elwell. Elwell, who died in 2008, had a high profile in the intelligence community. Known as the Witchfinder General, he was the man who cracked the Portland spy ring, identifying the traitor in the Royal Navy who was passing secrets to the Soviets. He specifically highlighted the activities of Williams in a 1989 paper called British Briefing, circulated in secret to a panel of leading politicians, including Lady Thatcher. Soon after she was to say that the Jubilee people were "the most subversive group within the religious community in England.” A newspaper at the time referred to them as "a bunch of neo-Marxist trendy clerics."

Perhaps in years to come I shall feel ashamed of some of the things I say and write at this point in my life, my mid-twenties, my late salad days, when I am still green, actually blue, in judgement. It's not fair, perhaps, to hold one hostage to one’s youth. But that's the thing - Williams is still hostage to his youth, to a whole set of risible ideas; he is still the trendy Marxist priest, ready to attack the government at the drop of a manifesto, who now just happens, by the grace of Blair, another trendy of the day, to occupy the most important clerical office in the land. Dr Leech, his old jubilant comrade, recently said of him "I would not want to commit Rowan to the language of 1974, but it does really show the heart of the theological focus of the man and this has not changed."

I'm still torn between treating the Red Archbishop as a bit of a joke or a serious danger. On balance I think him more comic than serious, though his presence in the Church of England may be part of a deeply laid plan to infiltrate moles, thereby undermining it from within. Given the damage being done to the institution under Williams’ guidance his shadowy handlers must be well pleased. I might even go so far as to say that they must be jubilant.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Interesting Times

May you live in interesting times, some Chinese sage is alleged to have said at an indeterminate point in the past. It’s a kind of curse; for the time when history is at its most active is also the time that it is at its most dangerous. Actually I quite like the idea of living in interesting times, or at least in times more interesting than the present, a time of tepid mediocrity. I like the idea, for instance, of living in Weimar Germany.

I’ve been reading Before the Deluge: a Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s by Otto Friedrich. Oh bliss was it in that dawn to be alive but to be young, and visit exciting cabarets, was very heaven! I’m only half way through, so I’m not in a position to write a review at the moment. No, I just want to alight on one or two interesting snippets of information.

It’s the paperback edition I have with an introduction by the author written in 1995. However, the text itself has not been updated from the cloth version, published as long ago as 1972, when Berlin was still a divided city, when there were people still alive who could remember events in the 1920s; people who could remember the city of Gustav Kapp, Walther Rathenau and George Grosz, whose images of this time still make compelling art.

It’s the chapter headed A Kind of Madness that I find particularly compelling, that which deals with the post-war inflation. It did not tell me anything that I did not already know, that the mark was effectively worthless by the end of 1923, that savings had been destroyed, that printers were struggling to get an infinity of noughts on to paper that carried greater worth than the currency. No, it was more what people reported, more the practical implications of this human disaster. This was a time when whole apartment blocks could be bought in Berlin for a handful of US dollars.

One of the people the author spoke to was a seventy-five year old journalist who still lived in the city, though now long dead I imagine. “Yes”, she said, “the inflation was the most important event of this period. The inflation wiped out the savings of the entire middle class, but those are just words. You have to realise what they meant. There was not a single girl in the entire German middle class who could get married without her father paying a dowry. Even the maids – they never spent a penny of their wages. They saved and saved sp they could get married. When money became worthless, it destroyed the whole system of getting married, and so it destroyed the idea of remaining chaste until marriage.”

The point is here that while the upper class never lived up to their own standards, and the working class had standards of their own, the bourgeois had always obeyed the rules in outward respectability. One did not have to be a virgin when one married, though it was generally expected. Now the inflation effectively destroyed the price of chastity. In other words, virginity no longer mattered, a form of liberation for women, I suppose, at least Friedrich’s old lady thought so!

The events of 1918, the revolution that was not a revolution, is far from being the most important thing about this time. No, that was the inflation, that revaluation of all values which, as the historian Alan Bullock wrote, undermined the foundations of German society in a way that the war or the collapse of the Kaiserreich or even the Treaty of Versailles had not. The inflation was the real German Revolution, the most interesting time in the country’s history.

Thursday 16 June 2011

Iron in the Soul

I have one major failing: I simply can’t abide fools. It’s not a question of a person having a different viewpoint from me; that’s a part of life. I can deeply disagree with people while still respecting what they have to say. What angers me is ignorance and the wilful misinterpretation of words. Let me show you what I mean.

I took part in a discussion recently on patriotism, on the meaning of patriotism, specifically directed to one’s own personal feelings on the matter. My answer was simple enough: I said it meant exactly the same thing to me as it did to Rupert Brooke, that golden boy of long-gone golden summer;

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
that is forever England. There shall be
in that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
a dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
a body of England's breathing English air,
washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
a pulse in the eternal mind, no less
gives back somewhere the thoughts by England given;
her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
and laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
in hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

It’s a poem by a soldier in the midst of war, a soldier writing from one of the theatres of war, but it’s not about war, not about hatred, not about enmity, not about vainglory; no, it’s simply about home, what home means, what love of home means, the words and sentiments of a patriot. The difference between this and nationalism could not be greater. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, a patriot is a person who loves their country; a nationalist a person who hates everyone else’s country.

In another essay posted last October (England, my England) I defined precisely what England means to me, what it is that defines me specifically as English, in all my uniqueness and eccentricity;

Yes, I’m not British; I’m English. I cycle from my rooms to college most days. I go riding just about every Sunday along old bridal paths. I like gymkhanas and country pursuits in general. I go hunting in season. I have a passion for the history of my country, particularly for the England of the seventeenth century, which has done so much to confirm my belief in the importance of monarchy in our constitution. I enjoy such food as roast beef - though I have a preference for venison -, fresh salmon, scones with high tea and stodgy puddings. I like to be taken punting on the Cam on warm spring days. I like May balls and daffodils. I like strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. I love the plays of William Shakespeare, the poetry of John Donne and the novels of Charles Dickens. I like Tudor and Stuart dance music and the orchestral work of Frederick Delius, particularly Brigg Fair and In a Summer Garden. I like old churches and ruined castles. I have a tremendous affection for the Church of England and an even greater affection for old English folkways. I like Christmas carols, the more traditional the better. I distrust alien ideologies, like socialism, communism and scientology, any form of fanaticism, really, in politics or religion. I distrust political enthusiasm and hero worship. Or if I do like heroes it's historic fatties like Sir John Falstaff or Horace Rumpole! I dislike American spellings of English English words. I like to go to Henley for the regatta and I far prefer tea, English Breakfast, to be precise, to cappuccino!

I am what I am; a single-minded English girl, whose simple love of home entails no harm and does no harm. But then, oh then, came the stupidity, those who could not tell the difference between introspective patriotism and aggressive nationalism, those who persisted in seeing patriotism as a form of wilful ignorance, as a mood of superiority, as a rejection of other nations and other loyalties; that one somehow perceived these as ‘inferior.’ I let rip in my inimitable way, doling out in full measure the kind of response this deserved.

There are some people, sad to say, not just of limited wit but almost completely lacking in basic comprehension. I have no hesitation at all in making a fool look like a fool, condemned not so much by what I say as their own choice of words. I’m neither going to mention the context of this discussion or the people in question. There are those, as Plato says, who only have iron in the soul.

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd,
As home his footsteps he hath turn'd
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour'd, and unsung.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Three Cheers for Elitism

Universities are under tremendous pressure at the moment. Short of funds and with ever increasing demands for places, they have been forced to make hard choices, increasing tuition fees in some cases to the maximum allowed. This is absolutely necessary, especially as the top universities, always under some absurd social engineering imperative from government, no matter its political complexion, have to maintain standards.

The brutal truth is that we have too many students in too many institutions pursuing too many worthless degrees. The result has been the worst kind of academic inflation. We are sending people into higher education who should not be there, all in the name of equality. In present circumstances limited resources, too many bodies and too many third and fourth rate courses is a recipe for mediocrity and decline.

Above all the discrimination against the brightest and the best, those who are most able to make a meaningful contribution to university life, in favour of less well placed people, is disastrously ill-judged. Oh we mustn’t have elitism, the mantra goes. Yes, we must; the best must be allowed to be the best. I make no apology for embracing elitism. We are not all equal; we will never all be equal.

There is a terrible logjam in higher education, or better a Gordian Knot that needs to be cut. What better way of getting around spending restrictions and social engineering than founding a new university, one that will make no demands on the public purse, one based on private investment, one that can charge fees beyond present limits, one that can attract students, well-qualified in every respect, people who have been frustrated elsewhere but who can afford to pay for their education. Yes, an excellent idea, if only someone had sufficient vision and courage.

Someone does. Anthony Clifford Grayling, formerly professor of philosophy at Birkbeck, does. Last week he announced the creation of the New College of the Humanities in London, a venture which will be privately funded, where students will be charged double the existing fee levels allowed for by institutions beholden to government. It’s a bold, imaginative step, one which places particular stress on the humanities, under such pressure elsewhere. Boris Jonhson, the Mayor of London, has welcomed it, I welcome it and, as the Economist says, there is a market for the idea.

Some do not welcome it, including those who forced Grayling to abandon a public talk in Foyle’s bookshop in central London after smoke bombs were thrown. I can just imagine who it was, the same sub-literate oiks who despoiled the cenotaph last year in protests against the rise in tuition fees. Before this one shouted from the crowd “You have no right to speak”, then going on to demonstrate that he would have no opportunity to speak.

But the worst of all, the greatest oiks of all, are the academics who have condemned the New Humanities project as ‘elitist’, the horror, the horror. These include Professor Terry Eagleton, a Marxist literary theorist, who described it as a “disgustingly elitist outfit”, that Grayling had betrayed other academics by “jumping ship and creaming off the bright and the loaded.” This from a man who spends three weeks every year teaching at a private university in America which charges students £27,000 per annum, where he is paid a whacking great fee, as Grayling pointed out in the Times on Saturday. The stench of hypocrisy truly is overwhelming.

I hope the New College is a tremendous success. I hope it does attract all those people who can’t get places at Oxbridge because it upsets Nick Clegg too much, since they come from the ‘wrong’ background. We need an awful lot more elitism, the elitism upon which this country and its best educational institutions was built.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

No stomach to this fight

I voted Conservative in the general election of 2010. It wasn’t the first time I voted; no, that was in the election of 2005, just before my nineteenth birthday, full of passionate hatred for the warmongering Labour government of Tony Blair, full of hatred for any form of hard Labour, old or new. The outcome was a sad disappointment.

I was disappointed in 2010 also, disappointed that David Cameron had not won an outright victory. It was tempered with some pleasure that we had a kind of Conservative government but concerned that it had to be diluted by a bargain with the ghastly Liberal Democrats, the know nothing, do nothing party; the yellow party.

Now I’ve had enough; I’ve had enough of Cameron, this ‘heir to Blair.’ Actually he’s turning out to be part Blair – foreign war is quite the thing – and part Grocer Heath, Mr U-turn himself, the man who sold this country to Europe, the act of a political Judas. Cameron, too, is betraying the country in his abject cowardice towards Europe, something I’ll come to a bit later. First I want to say a word or two about Clegg and his gang, the tail wagging the Cameron dog.

No decent Conservative should put up with these people. They got a bloody nose in May, both in the local elections and in the Alternative Vote referendum. Hardly anybody wants them, this wretched party that belongs neither here nor there, neither of the left nor the right, but a soggy middle. If we had an election now I’m convinced that we would have another and more complete Strange Death of Liberal England, a prospect I wholeheartedly welcome.

Yes, they lost and ever since they’ve been desperate to ‘get it up’, to demonstrate a more ‘muscular’ Liberalism, with that grumpy old ass Vince Cable, a political Victor Meldrew, breaking solidarity that in the past would led to swift ejection from office. But he wants to moan from the comfort of a ministerial car.

Now Clegg and his gang are crowing about their ‘victory’ in making a mockery of the proposed reforms in the National Health Service. Paddy Ashdown, also known as Paddy Pants Down, a reference to past sexual shenanigans, says that Clegg, his fag, ‘played a blinder on this.’ Oh, in case of any misunderstanding here I should add that a ‘fag’ in this context does not mean what you may think it means. No, it’s the old practice in public schools of the younger boys acting as servants for the seniors!

So Cameron is made to look like a fool by these school boyish pranks, this laughable one-upmanship by Fag Clegg. He has little if any room for manoeuvre because his trick circus is all based on balance, the Limp Dumbs having marked out their pissing territory. This includes Energy and Climate Change, presided over by Chris Huhne, otherwise Windmill Man or Mister Hypothermia, who is likely to turn out to be one of the greatest mass murders of old people in history.

But let’s pretend that Paddy Pants Down, Vince ‘I don’t believe it’ Cable, Clegg the Fag Boy and Hypothermia Huhne are all a bad dream, that David Cameron won outright last year, as he should have against one of the most incompetent governments in history. Let’s pretend there is a Tory majority, dedicated to cutting the worst deficit we have ever accumulated.

What then? Drastic savings, a more realistic appreciation of our diminished role in the world? No, of course not: let’s bomb Libya, let’s waste more money, money we are being told we don’t have, on a futile foreign war. That’s the Blair way, after all. Oh, I almost forgot - let’s ensure that charity begins everywhere but home by ring-fencing the foreign aid budget.

The Heath way, the other Cameron route, is on Europe. There was an excellent letter in the Sunday Telegraph from one Charles Bell, pointing out the Prime Minister’s multiple failings on Europe. While an ever increasing burden is being placed on tax payers, no attempt has been made to reduce our contributions to the profligate European Union. No, pensioners will freeze this winter, unable to pay energy bills inflated by green taxes, while Herman van Rumpay, the risible Mister Euro Smurf, the make-pretend President, and Manuel Barroso, the other President, jet around the place in separate crafts because they are too jealous of each other to share!

Cameron has done nothing, moreover, to reclaim our legal sovereignty, lost with the wholesale digestion of the Human Rights Act. We can’t deport foreign-born criminals because they ‘have a right to a family life’ here, as defined by the Act and as interpreted by the courts. Bit by bit our sovereignty dies while Cameron only has time to stand and stare.

Oh, but he can’t clear out the nonsense of human rights legislation because the Limp Dumbs would not like it, which brings me back to my essential point: this Coalition is a liability, it makes Cameron look more ridiculous by the day, makes the Conservative Party look inept, cursed with the awful Liberal albatross.

Now is the time to go for a general election: Labour looks more hopeless than ever under Ed Millipede and the Liberal Democrats will suffer a political Armageddon. But Cameron, I regret to say, has no stomach to this fight. I can only wish that he would depart. I would personally make out his passport and put crowns for convoy into his purse.

Monday 13 June 2011

The Strange Death of Socialist Europe

(With thanks to Nobby)

I have in front of me a copy of the Economist for 23 April, opened at page thirty one, a story headed In the red corner, about Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party. Anticipating the outcome of the May 5 elections, a future now past, the author writes:

…it is likely to be a good day for the leader of the opposition. In local elections…his Labour Party is likely to make gains at the expense of both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats…It may also return to power in Scotland and win enough seats to govern alone in Wales.

Oh, for the power of foresight! Rather than joy the May elections brought disaster for Mister Millipede, the biggest disaster of all in Scotland, ending decades of political thraldom to the Labour Party. Even in the local elections the gains were not that impressive, coming mostly at the expense of the Liberal Democrats, with the Conservative vote holding up well.

More important, we now know what a spineless traitor this man is, involved with a gang around Ed Balls in something laughably called Operation Volvo, a plot to stab Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, in the back and replace him with that gruesome old ogre Gordon Brown, whose time eventually came though most people wish it hadn’t! This is the Labour Party exactly – treacherous, backward, stupid and back-stabbing, totally unfit for government, totally unfit to govern itself let alone the country. It deserves to be led by an insect like Millipede.

It’s heartening to know that the debacle of 5 May is a symptom of the malaise of the left all over Europe, something highlighted by Toby Young in the Telegraph soon after Super Thursday. The traditional blue collar vote is drifting away. In Sweden the Social Democrats lost its second election in a row, with only 22% of people in work voting for them.

It goes on. In the European election of 2009 the German Social Democrats only managed 20% of the vote, their worst showing since the Second World War. In France the Socialists managed a derisory 16.5%. It will be interesting to see how they poll in future now that Dominique Strauss-Khan, their great hope for the next presidential election, stands accused on a charge of sexual assault.

The truly interesting thing is that the 2007-08 financial crisis and its aftermath has sent voters to the right, not the left, as Young points out. Old boundaries are melting. In France more and more working class voters are being drawn away from their traditional political attachments to the socialists and the communists, voting instead for the right wing National Front, something I highlighted in the Irresistible Rise of Marine Le Pen, an article I wrote for BrooWaha (

The common factor here is that the liberal elites who dominate the left no longer share the outlook of their one-time voters, who are more concerned than ever by the impact of mass immigration. It really does not matter how one cuts this up, economic migrants or bogus ‘asylum’ seekers, it means numbers and more numbers, particularly from places in the world alien to the European cultural tradition. In Sweden, for example, a million immigrants have entered the country since 1990, fully three quarters of whom subsist on state benefits, the welfare free-riders that the right-wing Sweden Democrats identified in the general election of 2010.

Come to think of it we have no need of a foreign aid budget, as across a good bit of Europe, Britain included, foreign aid is being paid in the form of public doles. There is no need to wait for it never to be paid in, say, Kenya, where it ends up in the pockets of kleptocrats; no, come to Britain as a welf…sorry, asylum seeker instead.

Immigration, bad as it is, is only one part of the equation, as Young says. There is the question of the European Union and European integration, much beloved by déclassé liberal-socialists, much hated by ordinary voters. Earlier this year the True Finns – the Finish equivalent of the United Kingdom Independence Party – polled 19% of the vote in a general election, a five-fold increase since 2007. In contrast the Finish Social Democrats saw their vote fall to just over 19%. This is in a country where immigration is not an issue but Europe is, particularly in the light of the Euro-crisis and the bail-out for countries like Greece and Portugal.

People are angry, angry at the anodyne formulas and the lies; angry at the dissimulation, at the betrayal of democracy and the betrayal of nations, angry that decisions are being taken for them by a cabal of corrupt politicians and self-serving bureaucrats; that aliens, terrorists among them, have been allowed to flood across porous borders, that communities have been destroyed.

The people most betrayed are the working class, people who have been shamefully taken for granted by tofu-eating lefties all over Europe. Ethnic identity, other older and more atavistic loyalties are beginning to re-emerge. The political right needs to have the imagination to capitalise on this, to confine cosmopolitanism, liberalism and socialism to the oblivion where they truly belong.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Archbishop Polonius

I begin by writing that I was reluctant to begin. Once again Rowan Williams, our benighted Archbishop of Canterbury, is in my sights, but as a target he is too easy, a slow, bovine and unimaginative beast. In hunting him there is no sport, no challenge at all; he is far too easy.

In the nineteenth century it was said that the Church of England was the Tory Party at prayer. I can make no general observation about the Church in the twenty-first century, other than to say that it is diminishing in painful stages, slowly poisoned by large draughts of liberal relativism, so much so that in another hundred years it is likely to be extinct. At the present it is being guided to that terminus by a prelate whose politics are more than obvious: he is the Labour Party at prayer, assuming he prays at all, other than to Tony Blair, who appointed him in the first place.

Comrade Williams at the moment is the guest editor of the New Statesman, a socialist weekly, which also happens to have Medhi Hassan as a political editor, a man who has likened non-Muslims to animals. He may have a point, because it’s clear that the red prelate is a bit of a donkey. He was braying loudly in the latest issue of this appalling journal, which itself is dying by degrees, braying against the government of David Cameron.

A climate of fear grips the nation, he wrote, anxiety about policies for which people didn’t vote, fear over changes in education and welfare policies. The free schools policy being advanced by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, is one of this “radical, long-term policies for which no one voted.”

Really; can he be sure of that? Perhaps he should pause for a moment and browse through previous editions of the New Statesman. I seem to remember a poll it published two weeks ago, in which it reported that 79% of respondents thought that free schools were a jolly good idea. The policy was actually included in the Tory manifesto, something else this muddle-brain clearly failed to check in questioning the democratic legitimacy of the government.

Welfare reform, that’s another thing that’s causing so much “plain fear”, this “quiet resurgence of the seductive language of the deserving and undeserving poor.” Why he should consider such language ‘seductive’, or just where it comes from, is a bit of a mystery. It has never been used by Iain Duncan Smith, the minister responsible for welfare reform, or anyone else in the government, either in plain or ‘seductive’ form.

The aim is simple enough: to break the dreadful cycle of welfare dependency which has condemned so many to a life on dire council estates, an endless round of fags, pot noodles and daytime TV, a more soulless life I find impossible to conceive. Once again, contrary to the red prelate’s musings, policies to lift people out of state sanctioned poverty were openly discussed prior to the general election. But he would rather see the continuation of welfare ghettos, as he sits in splendid isolation in Lambeth Palace, an unelected denizen of the Lords, with no legitimacy or mandate whatsoever, other than the Blessing of Blair.

It really is a waste of time writing about this pompous ass, this man whose intellect is clouded in a perpetual fog. We have seen him in every stage of his wretched metamorphoses. We have seen him as an advocate of Sharia Law, as a man who thinks that our ancient system of justice, of equality before the law, is a “bit of a problem.” This is a man who expressed his ‘discomfort’ over the death of one of the worst mass murders in history; a man whose grasp of history and theology is so weak that he thinks Shakespeare was probably a Catholic and that it is possible to pray for souls in hell.

I could go on but there is really not much point. He has simply added another link to his chain of absurdity, a process that I expect will continue long into the future, doing untold damage to the Anglican Church, as he embraces one fashionable left-wing or politically correct cause after another.

Since he saw fit in one of his previous outings to pass judgement on Shakespeare I think I shall conclude by allowing Shakespeare to pass judgement on him. One does not have to look too hard to find Williams in the plays. There he is, in Hamlet. Who is he? Why Polonius, of course, the royal counsellor whom the Prince taunts as a “tedious old fool.” I’m sure that Shakespeare would have been delighted by this wonderful example of life imitating art - Archbishop Polonius, pompous, garrulous, pettifogging and fatuous, a man who has no method in anything, not even his madness.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Finding Ophelia

The first story that caught my eye yesterday morning when I glanced through the days reports was one concerning Shakespeare, still making the news hundreds of years after his death! Actually the story concerns one Jane Shaxspere (sic), who was found drowned when she was just two years old, her body floating in a pond in Upton Warren in Worcestershire, just twenty miles from where her near namesake lived in Stratford.

The details of Jane’s death were discovered by historians from Oxford looking at sixteenth century coroners’ reports. She died in 1569, when Shakespeare was approximately five years old, accidentally falling into the pond while picking marigolds. The suggestion is that she was the bard’s cousin. It’s certainly possible, given the near similarity of their names and the proximity of their locations, at a time when people did not travel much, and extended families could be found across a fairly limited area.

It’s further suggested that Shakespeare, many of whose characters and plots were based directly on his own experiences, may have used this tragedy as the basis for the death of Ophelia in Hamlet, one of the most haunting scenes in his whole canon. There the Prince’s former lover, driven mad by the death of her father, falls into a brook, floating for a time before being dragged down by the weight of her saturated clothes;

There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

Hitherto academics believed that the inspiration behind this scene came from the death of Katherine Hamlet, a friend of the Shakespeare family, who fell into the River Avon and drowned when she was sixteen years old. It was believed by some at the time that she had committed suicide because of the breakdown of a relationship. Ophelia in Hamlet is certainly mad, though it’s uncertain if she committed suicide or not, at least by Queen Gertrude’s account to Laertes, her brother, softened possibly to spare him the full horror. In the play the church is under no doubt that she took her own life, denying her a full Christian burial.

The whole thing is certainly quite intriguing, though a precise link is almost certain to prove elusive. Though the researchers have enthusiastically embraced little Jane, there is no need for the tragedies to be mutually exclusive. The drowning of Katherine may very well have resurrected memories of the earlier event, linking possible death for love with death for love of flowers.

The researchers are looking for further clues that might possibly identify Jane as the original Ophelia. Dr Emma Smith of the faculty of Language and Literature at Oxford has said that “It’s interesting to think of Ophelia combining classical and Renaissance antecedents with the local tragedy of a drowned girl.” Yes, it is, though I would hazard that it’s never likely to be much more than that. But it’s comforting to believe that Jane, and Katherine, have been transfigured and immortalised in great art.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

I hate Liberty

In discussion recently my attention was drawn to Thomas Jefferson’s Adam and Eve Letter, in which he extols the virtues of republicanism and liberty, specifically in relation to the events of the day in France, the unfolding Revolution. A particular passage was quoted, which proceeds as follows;

The liberty of the whole earth was depending on the issue of the contest, and was ever such a prize won with so little innocent blood? My own affections have been deeply wounded by some of the martyrs to this cause, but rather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated.

The contest being referred to here is the constitutional struggles which saw the Jacobins emerge as the dominant political force. As I said in the original discussion, I am about to commit a cardinal sin, namely I am about to penetrate the semi-religious veneer which surrounds the American Founding Fathers, all the more outrageous because I am an Englishwoman, a Loyalist and a Royalist. So, if you find this shocking, please read no further!

To begin with I have to make it clear that Jefferson’s letter was written in January 1793, before the onset of the Reign of Terror, before the Jacobins had revealed themselves in all their horror as some of the worst political thugs in history, by far the most murderous exponents of ‘liberty’ that France or any other nation has ever experienced. Still, January 1793 was the month that Louis XVI was done to death, a sign of things to come. Putting that to one side, there are other issues, broader issues specifically concerned with Jefferson and ‘liberty’ that deserve closer examination.

Jefferson was obviously a craftsman, a craftsman in words, in grand and noble words, sentiments robbed of practical meaning. Rather than see ‘liberty’ fail he would have seen half the earth desolated. Did he have the first clue, I have to ask, over the precise meaning of this word? What a pity it s he did not stay in Europe to see half of France and then half of Europe desolated in the cause of ‘liberty.’

Take one example. When the people of the Vendée in the west of France, a peasant community wedded to their traditional Catholic faith, rose against the excesses of ‘liberty’ in early 1794 they were treated with such inhuman savagery that there have been moves to have the repression – which embraced the wholesale massacre of men, women and children – declared an act of genocide. This is hardly surprising when one reads the report that General Francois Joseph Westermann sent to the Committee of Public Safety in Paris;

There is no more Vendée... According to the orders that you gave me, I crushed the children under the feet of the horses, massacred the women who, at least for these, will not give birth to any more brigands. I do not have a prisoner to reproach me. I have exterminated all.

Clearly Jefferson can’t be blamed for this. I have not the least doubt that he would have been horrified by this ‘desolation’, by this particular definition of ‘liberty.’ So, yes, it’s possible to excuse him. What is not possible to excuse is his personal hypocrisy, hypocrisy that allowed him to laud grand abstractions like ‘liberty’ while keeping black people in servitude.

Oh, I’m fully aware of his sentiments on the evils of slavery but that only seems to compound his offence. I know all of the additional platitudes he mouthed; but it did nothing to stop him relying on servitude, freeing only two of the hundreds of human beings who were his personal property. Dr Samuel Johnson in Taxation no Tyranny, his 1775 answer to the addresses and resolutions of the American Congress, posed one central and uncomfortable question: "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" There is really no answer to that.

I can only take so much hypocrisy, so many empty platitudes advancing 'liberty' where there is no liberty. But I shall withdraw, a Tory, a Royalist and a Loyalist, a hater of 'Liberty' and leave the last word to an American;

Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except Negroes." When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Wormtongue and the Arab Spring

Peter Mandelson, Lord Mandelson of Foy, Business Secretary in the last Labour government, is possibly the most repellent and reptilian figure ever to have occupied high office in this country. For me this seedy and disreputable man seems to have all of the character attributes I associate with Shakespeare’s Iago or, better still, Grima Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings.

This particular Wormtongue enjoyed the company of the great and not very good. In his toadying style he enjoyed the company of Saif Gaddafi, with whom he had a jolly good time not so long ago at a private villa on the Greek island of Corfu, all chums together. But that was then, a time when he was falling over himself to do deals with Gaddafi senior. Things change; the Colonel is now the Beast of Tripoli and Lord Wormtongue welcomes the Arab Spring.

Indeed, he goes out of his way to welcome it in the latest issue of Prospect, a monthly political journal, saying that nerves over the great upheaval are misplaced, that the people want democracy, not extremism. He should know; he goes to the Middle East, he knows exactly what the people want, Colonels at one moment, freedom at the next. “I have recently made a return visit to Kuwait and, for a longer period, to Qatar”, he writes in his inflated and pompous style. Yes, democracy is what the people want; Mandelson says so.

I myself have recently not made a return visit to Tunisia, the country which saw the beginning of the end of the Arab Winter. I do keep an eye on things, though; keep an eye on press reports a lot more trustworthy than Mandelson’s musings. I read that Nouri Bouzid, the Tunisian director and prominent secularist, recently honoured at the Cannes Film Festival, was equally honoured in his own country when he was stabbed in the head by an unknown assailant. He survived, only to find that a speaker at a rally organised by Ennahda, Tunisia’s largest Islamist party, called for him to be “shot with a Kalashnikov.”

I really don’t want to rain on the Arab Spring but Tunisia is now showing every sign, as I wrote on a previous occasion, of the season turning to autumn with no summer in between. All over the country, with Ennahda on the rise, women, who previously enjoyed rights almost unparalleled elsewhere in the Arab world, are being forced to wear the veil. Forced praying and condemnation for apostasy are also on the rise. Moderate imams are being ejected from their mosques, too afraid to complain to the authorities because of the perceived weakness of the provisional government.

Hmm, a weak provisional government with a radical opposition busy organising among the grassroots, does this not remind you of something, another time and another point in history? Oh, there are all sorts of professions to ‘moderation’ and to ‘pluralism’…for the time being. As a Tunisian liberal leader said recently, there is a huge gap between what the Islamists say and what they do. February is past; the revolution heads towards October, guided there by the Bearded Bolsheviks.

You can safely disregard all that, disregard my Cassandra-like pessimism. People in the Arab world want secularism and democracy as a check on theocracy and extremism. Of course they do; Lord Wormtongue says so.

Monday 6 June 2011

Neither a girl nor a boy be

Do you believe that there is a limit to stupidity? I do, at least I used to, coming across some absurdity or other, saying things can’t get any more ridiculous than that, surely they can’t? But they can. There are no absolute limits to human stupidity; it expands ever outwards like the universe!

My attention was drawn recently to a story that appeared in the Toronto Star. It concerns a Canadian couple – people I decline to name – parents of a baby who decided that it should grow up genderless. Oh, they know the baby’s sex alright, as do the child’s older siblings, but the rest of the world is to be kept in the dark, and the rest of the world includes the child’s own grandparents.

So, I ask myself, do the grandparents refer to it as it? It's too young at present to have a view but how will it feel in years to come? Will it feel that it would have been better to have been born to parents who were not such stupid morons, parents who have taken political faddishness to the ultimate level: blaming God - and grammar - for creating hes and shes!

When it was born the couple sent an email to friends and family, saying that they had decided not to share its sex for now. “…a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand for what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime.”

Yes, Storm is its name, rather appropriate considering what it is likely to face at the hands of people who believe that parents making choices for children is “obnoxious”. Really? I rather thought that guidance and making choices was what responsible parenting was all about. Ah, but think of the freedom it will have, to live if it wants on a diet of chocolate bars and cookies!

My parents never imposed any kind of gender identity on me, whatever that is meant to imply. I was simply Anastasia, their daughter, valued as a girl and a daughter, never limited in any way, never taught to believe that there were restrictions on what I could or could not do simply because I was female. To that extent I suppose I, too, must have been a ‘genderless’ baby, inasmuch as I was always free from preconceptions, no limitation at all being created by the proper use of language and the rules of language. Oh, perhaps we should abolish pronouns also, along with gender!

It might give you some idea who these people are, what their mode of thought is, if I tell you that, when not working or ‘unschooling’ their older children (apparently it’s a offshoot from home schooling), they wander from place to place, spending time with the Zapatistas in Mexico at one moment, spending time with families in Cuba, learning about the ‘revolution’, at the next. Oh, brave new world that has such left liberals in it, people who turn the world upside down, formless freedom for some, abject tyranny for others!

That’s just the thing, isn’t it; this child of the revolution is not an individual; it's not a girl or a boy or genderless or a unique human being; no, it’s an experiment, an experiment in the most deluded forms of political correctness and liberal faddishness. It will not grow into freedom; it is likely to grow into neurosis, especially when it becomes aware that there is a wider world beyond the cocoon spun by its loopy parents; especially as the wider world has been made aware of it.

What these people are doing is encouraging the worst forms of voyeuristic speculation and curiosity, which effectively turns their baby into a sex object, not an individual who happens to be a girl or a boy. It is not a person; it’s an either or set of genitalia; for that’s what these publicity hounds have created. Setting out to do one thing they have achieved not just the contrary but the contrary at its most refined.

Oh, well, some folks are wise and some are otherwise, as Roderick Random says.

Sunday 5 June 2011

Mao denounces Mao

A petition carrying some ten thousand signatures was handed in to a police station in Beijing recently. It calls for the arrest of Mao. No, no, it’s not that Mao; he’s beyond arrest, just resting in hell. The Mao these people want arrested is Mao Yushi, the eighty-two year old economist who heads the Unirule Institute of Economics. He is accused of slandering the other Mao and attempting to overthrow the Communist party itself.

It does not stop with the petition. The Maoist websites are all incandescent, with comments like “The whole nation is waiting for the dawn, the dawn of the day when Mao Yu-shit (sic) and other anti-Mao reactionaries who vilify Mao are annihilated.” He’s also received abusive telephone calls from people threatening to beat him up.

So, what’s brought on this flood of hate? Simply that Mr Mao published an article in late April on a blog hosted by Caixin, a Beijing-based media group. The article is called Restore Mao Zedong as a Man. The report I read in the Economist says that it was subsequently removed from the Caixin site, as well as from several others that reposted it. But it must have been restored, because I was able to find it earlier today simply by Googling the title. Don’t wait too long. A second purge may be in the offing!

There it is, the original Chinese followed by an English translation. It’s a computer generated translation, so the sense, structure and syntax is abysmal, but it’s still possible to garner the basic meaning. Actually, the author, who is calling for the end of the deification of Mao, urging that he be judged in the light of his actions, goes that one step further. He does not just restore Mao as a man; he shows him as he really was – a beast, one of the worst criminals in human history, who brought nothing but misery to China and the Chinese people.

For those who have any knowledge of Chinese history there is really nothing new here, but for a Chinese audience, brought up in a tradition of political amnesia, it’s really quite devastating. The takeover by the Communists in 1949 did not bring happiness to China: “On the contrary it plunged the Chinese into the abyss of misery for thirty years.” Mao is responsible for the death of millions: “…for which he felt not the slightest remorse.” It is a matter of regret that the portrait of this “backstage boss who wrecked the country and ruined the people” still hangs in Tiananmen Square.

The catalogue of crimes goes on, personal as well as political. This was a man who, in the style of one of the more degenerate Roman emperors, forced people to commit suicide, one who raped numerous women. The man’s “cold-blooded nature is unsurpassed”, his “dark psychology” his lack of “basic humanity.”

There is the abuse and destruction of people. But the article also touches on the abuse and destruction of China’s ancient civilization. Chinese people are want to recall the abuse they suffered from foreigners in the nineteenth century, a period which saw the Old Summer Palace of the Emperors, the Yuan Ming Yuan, a great cultural treasure, destroyed in an act of gratuitous vandalism by British and French troops in 1860 during the Second Opium War. But that was nothing compared with the vandalism of Mao, worse than any hairy foreign devil. It all went during the so-called Cultural Revolution; ancient monuments, artefacts, antiques, sculptures, paintings, “several thousand years of accumulated culture…were all negative.”

Mr Mao is certainly to be commended on his honesty and his courage. So far he has suffered no repercussions, at least from the authorities, who presumably want no airing of the past in any public trial. The late Chairman is their legacy and their liability. Bringing too close a light on him is likely to undermine the whole ethos of Communist rule. Better if he remains in heaven, a god to whom lip service is paid, one whose scripture is ignored by all those who are not politically or clinically insane.

Still, nothing is certain. The Party is in a nervous mood as it approaches the ninetieth anniversary of its foundation. If you want to really put the wind up a Chinese apparatchik just shout ‘Jasmine!’ Yes, they are terrified that the Arab spring may sweep its way east. Apparently the word ‘jasmine’ has effectively been banned, as has the inoffensive little plant, disappearing from all the markets, something of a problem in a country that consumes so much jasmine tea!

The simple truth is that everyone in China, from the highest official to the humblest peasant, everyone beyond the Maoist fringe, is aware that the people suffered more dreadfully as a result of the appalling Chairman’s ‘mistakes’ than the Arabs ever did at the hands of their own dictators, most of whom are relatively benign in contrast. Perhaps the time really has come to let a hundred – jasmine – flowers bloom.