Thursday 28 June 2012

A Black Truth

If there is one place in the world best not to have a black face it has to be Libya.  This is a country, months after the fall and brutal murder of Colonel Gaddafi, where political power still comes from the barrel of a gun, and the guns in question belong to the numerous militia units.  Hundreds of Sub-Saharan Africans have been rounded up and held for months on no authority at all.  Why?  Simply because they are black and all black people are suspect.

Formerly people from Chad, Niger and Mali, countries to the south of Libya, were encouraged to come as a source of cheap labour.  Thousands arrived and of these thousands a few hundred were hired by Gaddafi as mercenaries.  They were among the last defenders of the regime. 

Because of this and because - as we all know - it’s impossible to tell one black face from another, all those who could not escape the mayhem of the brave new Libya were automatically assumed to be guilty.  They are being held, so the story goes, as ‘illegal immigrants’ awaiting deportation. 

Deportation, alas, is proving to be a particularly lengthy process.  Some people have been kept for months in particularly dire conditions.  Martin Fletcher, an associate editor of the Times, journeying through the country, found one such holding centre, a former police training camp, in the Sahara Desert near the town of Gharyan

There, in scorching heat, some 1250 black Africans are living in metal huts with no air conditioning.  Fletcher says that they have no contact at all with the outside world.  I assume this means that not even representatives of their own governments are allowed to see them. Neglect is one thing, but there is more than simple neglect here.  Many of the men, held in makeshift camps across Libya, have also been tortured, according to one western human rights official. 

Libya has a kind of government, if you can call it that, presiding over the anarchy, a particularly delicious oxymoron.  It calls itself the National Transitional Council.  So far as it is concerned there is no wrong done in the name of right.  It recently approved a law extending immunity for actions taken in ‘defence of the revolution’, just the kind of blank cheque the militia gangsters need.  Actually they probably don’t, but it’s there all the same. 

The ‘defence of the revolution’, incidentally, embraced the destruction of Mushashya.  This once prosperous community has been turned into a ghost town, inhabited only by scavenging cats and dogs.  Fletcher discovered that all of its 8000 inhabitants, men, women and children, had been driven out, denounced as “Gaddafi’s dogs.”  He neglects to say where these ‘dogs’ are now.  I’m guessing he simply does not know.  Does anyone, I wonder?

My attention was drawn recently to something G. K. Chesterton wrote.  It goes like this;

You can never have a revolution in order to establish a democracy. You must have a democracy in order to have a revolution.

It’s wonderfully ambiguous.  France, after all, had a revolution without a democracy.  But the attempts thereafter to give substance to the ideals of the revolution saw a descent into the worst forms of bloodshed and terror.  Chesterton’s words push at deeper realities beyond mere politics.  The real revolution has to be in attitudes and attitudes in Libya are clearly no different now than they were in the past.  Brutality walked out of one door and in through the other.  Brutality is the true king of kings in Libya.  Here it will continue to reign, no matter the outcome of next month’s planned elections.  The black detainees could tell you as much  

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Disagreement is Gay

There are only two things wrong with Britain’s Liberal Democrat Party – everything it says and everything it does.  In the past I never really paid that much attention to it, a sort of political version of Buridan’s Ass, a refuge for people who have neither the wit nor character to decide between the left and the right, forever locked in a mushy middle.  If I thought of them at all it was as the original purveyors of the European ‘ideal’, sufficient reason to dismiss them with condescension and contempt.

But now they are in government, a devil’s bargain sealed between David Cameron and Nick ‘the schoolboy’ Clegg.  Actually to refer to our benighted coalition government as a ‘devil’s bargain’ makes it sound far too exciting.  No, it’s the gay government, the Brokeback Coalition, as David Davis once referred to this particular civil partnership, after Brokeback Mountain, the movie about two cowboys who have a homosexual flirtation. 

A homosexual flirtation really describes part of our political culture at the moment, the pink tone being set by the Limp Dumbs, with gay marriage as one of their most cherished objectives.  As I wrote previously, it’s not an issue I can get worked up over, though I do consider it to be born of the worst kind of patronising gesture politics.  What I can get worked up over is the loud-mouthed, ugly and vociferous constituency that gay marriage has conjured into existence, people I would be glad to see back in the closet, the cottage, the tea room or wherever other habitat these types prefer. 

The gay lobby has a right to air its view but seemingly nobody else has, certainly if they express any disquiet at all over homosexual marriage.  A lot of Christians have because they consider it to be morally wrong, a caricature of genuine marriage as conceived for generations past.  The opponents include Dr John Sentamu, the black Archbishop of York. The colour of his skin is relevant because when he dared express his disapproval recently he received a number of racially abusive emails. 

Abuse as a mood of discourse; it’s rather the fashion in the internet age.  I stopped reading the comments section that newspapers allow to follow from articles because of the sheer malevolent stupidity of a great many people, people who simply drip venom.  I dare say the gay cowards who attacked Sentamu did so behind a cloak of anonymity, something else the internet allows for.  That’s right; read the Pink News and the Red Guardian at one turn; go online to call a man a Black Bastard at the next. 

The flash mob rose up again recently.  Yes, there they were, brandishing pitchforks and torches.  This time their outrage was directed against Rhys and Esther Curnow, a couple who have become the public face of the Coalition for Marriage campaign.  Committed Christians, they were recently seen in Downing Street, handing in a petition opposing same sex marriage to the Prime Minister.

Cue the hate.  Their Facebook details were circulated by, among others, one Kevin Peel, a Labour councillor in Manchester.  After receiving more than a hundred direct messages they were obliged to change their security settings.  Councillor Peel, when questioned on the issue, said that they should be prepared to hear the ‘opposite view’ from people who do not agree with them. 

Would you like to hear the ‘opposite view’?  Well, the ‘opposite view’ is that they should rot in hell; that they deserve nothing but sadness; that they should turn out to be infertile and die of cancer, which would be an occasion for celebration.  There were obscene sexual references and a suggestion that the recently married couple should be subject to “compulsory sterilisation.”  Now there’s an idea, clearly coming from the gay Nazi fraction.  Heil, sweetie! 

Poor Rhys and Esther are “shocked and saddened” at the reaction, though I cannot help but think them strikingly naïve, just innocents abroad.  More experienced hands would have been ready for the fallout, ready for the vile mob.  Still, I have to admire them.  Speaking recently Rhys said;

We’re at a loss to understand how people could be so vicious. All we did was hand in a petition at Downing Street. Surely there’s room for people to disagree without resorting this kind of hatred and abuse.  By all means let’s have a debate – especially as the public haven’t had the chance to vote on this issue.  But the bullies are trying to shut down the debate. We’re shaken and upset, but we won’t let them get us down

The thing is these morons do not want a debate; they want silent consensus…or else.  Debate and disagreement is – what’s the best way of putting it?  - , yes, I know: it’s just so gay.  

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Penis Power

I do try so hard not to be a ‘cultural relativist.’  I try so hard to be tolerant of others, of the customs and practices of other peoples and other nations.  But, alas, the demon of prejudice snaps even at my tolerant heels.  Where I fall down and fall down badly is over the marriage customs of South Africa’s Zulus. 

Actually I could not care less about the Zulus or how many wives they are allowed to take by tribal custom.  My problem is with Jacob Zuma, the country’s grinningly inane Zulu president, the butt of repeated jokes when he came on a state visit to London two years ago.  More than a few made me laugh. 

There he was with one of his four spouses, a more ridiculous sight is difficult to imagine.  Apparently they take turns deciding who is to travel with the polygamist president.  How do they do it, I wonder?  Is it a case of eeny, meeny, miny, moe; one wife, two wife, three wife four?  Just imagine the arguments over exactly who is the country’s first, second, third or fourth lady! 

Yes, I find him ridiculous but I’m not alone here: a lot of South Africans also think that he is ridiculous, even within the African National Congress, the corrupt ruling party.  Objections have been raised over the tax-funded support Zuma receives for his wifely quartet.  This is hardly surprising considering what’s officially referred to as ‘spousal support’ amounts to $1.6million.  Enough is enough, the cry has gone up; we are not funding this man’s sex life! 

His sexuality is rather the topic at the moment, raising other issues of concern in the tawdry ‘rainbow nation.’  The thing is, you see, South African’s have recently been regaled with something only Mrs Zuma One, Two, Three and Four normally see – the presidential penis!  Yes, they have, in the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, where a painting called The Spear was recently on display.  There he is, Mr President, in a Lenin-like pose with the, ahem, spear in question on prominent display. 

Poor man; he is not best pleased by this insult to his dignity.  He’s applied to the courts to have it removed, a challenge to the country’s liberal constitution which guarantees freedom of expression.  ANC thugs have already forced the gallery to close.  Though Brett Murray, the artist, has impeccable credentials as an anti-apartheid activist his work has been denounced as ‘racist’ on the grounds that he is white.  Some, though, have the wit to understand what it’s really about, including Mondi Makhanya of the South African Sunday Times.  Of Zuma he wrote;

It will be his sexual legacy that we will remember more than anything else. His sexual endeavours are therefore fair game for artists, cartoonists, comedians, radio DJs and tavern jokers.

I personally think he will be remembered for more than his spear; I think he will be remembered for presiding over the final degeneracy of the Mandela legacy.  My, oh, my, how far this nation has sunk in a bog of corruption, how far the ANC has embraced a culture of ‘bling’ in the most vulgar and rapacious forms imaginable. 

It’s gone beyond satire when they can’t even recognise it themselves.  Let me give you one tiny illustration.  At the end of a jamboree in January, called to mark the ANC’s hundredth birthday, Kgalema Motlanthe, Zuma’s deputy, proposed a toast to the plebs in the stadium below – “The leaders will now enjoy the champagne, and of course they do so on your behalf through their lips.” 

Vicarious luxury wine, vicarious jobs, vicarious opportunities and vicarious homes is the reality of the Rainbow Nation.  People of all colours unite; you have the sight of the nomenclature going past in luxury cars to witness.  The simple truth is that politics in South Africa is a racket, with the pigs of the ANC vying with one another to get their snouts in the trough.  I do not believe that this country has a happy future.  All the gold has gone from the end of the rainbow into the coffers of Zuma and his kindred.

Let me leave you on a slightly lighter note.  Let me leave you with another picture of the Spear in action, this time dancing at his nuptials to wife number four.  There he is, all kitted out in traditional Zulu costume, even so far as his traditional Zulu trainers.  

Monday 25 June 2012

Voices of the Past

Do you have a British coin in your purse or pocket?  If so take it out and have a look at the abbreviations around the Queen’s head.  Just before the date you will see the letters FD.  It’s a Latin abbreviation for Fidei defensor in the male and Fidei defensatrix in the female form.  It means Defender of the Faith, a title originally accorded to Henry VIII by Pope Leo X in 1521 after the publication of Assertio Septem Sacramentorum – Defence of the Seven Sacraments -, a treatise rejecting the reformist teachings of Martin Luther. 

Eamon Duffy, professor of the History of Christianity at Cambridge, mentions it in the opening paragraph of a polemic published by the Telegraph at the weekend (The Story of the Reformation needs reforming).  Since 1558, he writes, it has meant defender of the Protestant faith. 

What he neglects to mention is that the original title was revoked by Pope Paul III in 1530 after Henry’s break with Rome.  It made no practical difference, as the style continued to be used in official documents, and was formally ratified by Act of Parliament in 1544.  Rather ironically, though she never used the title, even Bloody Mary was FD by parliamentary grant! 

That seems to me to be the whole point of the English Reformation – it was about empowerment and national sovereignty, a contention I advanced in previous articles touching on the subject.  Above all it was about breaking free from the authority of Rome, as much a temporal as a spiritual power at the time.  It really is worth stressing that Henry never abandoned Catholic orthodoxy as a personal standard of faith.  His Reformation was based wholly on the rejection of papal tutelage.

Duffy proceeds, as polemicists are wont to do, with a one-sided and historically unbalanced argument.  He is quite right to point out some of the tragic consequences of the English Reformation, a lengthy process rather than a single event.  He is right to lament the cultural vandalism that accompanied the religious and social upheaval, in the course of which so much of England’s Catholic and medieval heritage was lost. 

But he is wrong to see a process which shaped a new and greater nation as a wholly negative event.  In my own polemical style I have no hesitation at all in saying that the Reformation was a great and necessary metamorphosis.  In the place of medieval mystery plays came the dramas of Shakespeare.  In the place of Latin bibles, read and interpreted by priests, came the vernacular translations of William Tyndale followed by the King James Version, great well-springs of our language and literature.  In the place of controlled thought came free thought, the greatest legacy of all.  As the sun set on Galileo and the Catholic south it was to rise on Newton and the Protestant north. 

There was nothing inevitable about the Reformation, Duffy contends.  True; for nothing in history is truly inevitable.  That does not mean to say that there was nothing necessary about a process that swept virtually the whole of northern Europe, a process that freed the imagination from the straightjacket of traditional dogmas, a process that transformed England from an outpost of the Roman-focused medieval world to a great outward looking imperial and seafaring power. 

The professor touches on past injustices.  He touches on the anti-Catholic narratives of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, which turned the faith into the malevolent doctrine of an obscurantist and foreign power, a view entrenched in popular consciousness after the Glorious Revolution of 1688.  Gilbert Burnet, the seventeenth centaury divine, earns his animus as the ‘chief propagandist’ of this event, the author of the History of the Reformation, in which he describe Catholicism as tyranny.  “They hate us”, Burnet wrote, “because we dare to be freemen and Protestants.”

‘They’, in a general sense, is certainly a bit sweeping.  There were many English Catholics who may have taken spiritual solace from Rome but whose secular loyalty was to the land of their birth.  But always, always, we have to consider the context of the times.  Louis XIV certainly hated freemen and Protestants, as the Huguenot refugees who flooded into London prior to the Glorious Revolution would have testified.  His imperial ambitions, moreover, were a serious threat to the integrity of Protestant Europe.  This was no imagined danger. 

The professor concludes his piece by saying that the slaughtered Popish martyrs look less like an alien fifth column than “the voices of a history that England was not allowed to have.”  Would the ‘slaughtered Popish martyrs’, I wonder, include the conspirators behind the Gunpowder Plot?   I think it best to let that pass.  What I cannot let pass, though, is an earlier suggestion that John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, detailing the horrors of Mary Tudor’s Catholic reaction, simply served as propaganda against Catholicism at home and abroad.  So far as Duffy is concerned it would appear that some martyrs are more equal than other martyrs, some voices more essential, some narratives more valid and some histories more complete.   

Sunday 24 June 2012

The Falklands for the Falklanders

The Botox Princess 

In the year that marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Falklands War, Argentina, rather than reflecting on its former folly, is being more than usually ridiculous.  Best not to recall past aggressions and past humiliations, no; instead let’s have a lot of childish gestures.  Let’s have part of our Olympic team train on the islands, an event recorded in a video ad, which concluded with the slogan “To compete on English soil, we train on Argentine soil.”

Yes, it is no more than a stupid and childish stunt, the sort of thing I would expect from this immature and petulant nation.  Here we have a propaganda jamboree in advance of the Olympics, a clear contradiction of the government’s claim that it would not seek to make political gains from the London games. 

Actually I’m not being entirely fair.  It isn’t so much that Argentina is immature and petulant but in Cristina Kirchner, the altogether ridiculous Madame Botox, it certainly has an immature and petulant president.  Who could possibly take this woman seriously?  Even La Nacion, a leading Buenos Aries newspaper, criticised the fatuous stupidity of the Falklands video, advancing nothing and getting nowhere. 

It’s been a season for farcical gestures.  Recently at the G20 summit in Mexico Madame Botox tried to hand a package marked ‘UN – Malvinas’ to David Cameron, the British Prime Minister.  There she was, a silly schoolgirl, reprimanded by the head prefect.  Not only did Cameron decline to accept the package but he told her that she should respect the wishes of the Falkland Islanders themselves, who next year will be holding a referendum on their own future. 

That’s the thing that Kirchner and the patsies of her Olympic squad will never understand.  They will never understand that the whole question is not about real estate but people.  Buenos Aries can bleat all it likes about ‘Las Malvinas.’  Kirchner and her crew can bleat all they like about nefarious English ‘colonialism’, another favoured tune in this anniversary year.  The simple fact is that these islands belong not to England or Argentina but to the people who live there, people whose antecedents have lived there for generations.  No matter how many lessons one gives a monkey in democracy and self-determination it will simply never understand.

Not long after Cameron snubbed Argentina’s fatuous president, Hector Timerman, the country’s foreign secretary, called an impromptu press conference in which he accused England of avoiding the opportunity to discuss the issue before a recent meeting of the UN decolonisation committee.  When challenged why the Argentine government would not accept the outcome of the Falklands War he said;

Thirty years ago there was a war.  One hundred and eighty years ago there was an invasion by the British of Argentina.  Great Britain invaded Argentina four times because the ones who are famous around the world for being colonialists are the British, not the Argentines.  Argentina has always opposed colonialism and it fought against it and won. 

I for one would like to know exactly where, when and how Argentina fought against colonialism and won! But never mind that.  Rather imagine returning all present political geography to 1832 or thereabouts.  Imagine the colonialists of Buenos Aeries deprived of Patagonia, the territory they stole from the indigenous inhabitants in the so-called War of the Desert that wasn’t a desert at all.  Maybe that’s an issue that should be placed before the UN committee on decolonisation.  Not something, I imagine, Cristina and Hector would be terribly keen on. 

Thursday 21 June 2012

Dreaming on a Midsummer Night

This has always seemed like a magical time of year to me, Midsummer, the Solstice, Litha, whatever one wishes to call it; it has ever since I saw a performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream when I was eight years old. The Sun is now in the sign of Cancer, my birth sign, the sign of the Moon. The magical forces are now at the height, and Robin Goodfellow puts a girdle round the Earth!

Midsummer Eve itself, St John's Eve, is a major holiday for witches and all who love them, all who love the old power and the ancient ways. Traditionally it was a fire and water festival, a central feature of which was ritual baths and bonfires. The bonfires themselves were closely linked with water, lit as they were on the shores of streams, lakes, rivers and oceans.

Midsummer marks the convergence of the Sun and the Moon. The Sun, now at its height, has entered Cancer, the great water sign, the only sign ruled by the Moon, the only sign ruled by Artemis, Diana and Hecate, the lunar goddesses. All those who share the sign of Cancer with me are collectively the Children of the Moon, hunters, witches, flyers and lovers.

This was a time when witch-hunters of the past claimed that witches rode out to meet Satan, whereas the real witches, not the monsters of imagination, simply gathered to renew their sacred bond with the earth, to celebrate its bounty and fertility. It was a time also for gathering magical plants, a time when they were at their most potent. Russian witches use to harvest those which grew on the top of Bald Mountain, considering them to be the most powerful on Earth.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is by far my favourite Shakespearean comedy, light of touch and light of heart, rich in all sorts of magic, a world of fairy visions.  And it just so happens that one of favourite paintings touches on the very same themes.  It’s The Fairy Raid: Carrying off a Changeling on Midsummer’s Eve by Joseph Noel Paton, a nineteenth century Scottish artist who painted in the Pre-Raphaelite style.  He is better known for The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania but for me The Fairy Raid is just sublime.  The technical proficiency is astounding but there is far more here.  This is a vision that could only have come of a true love of the Realm of Faerie. 

Magic, love and fruitfulness, these are the things Midsummer Eve and the Solstice are about; this is what they will always be about. All hail to thee, Children of the Moon.

Four days will quickly steep themselves in nights;
Four nights will quickly dream away the time;
And then the moon, like to a silver bow
New bent in heaven, shall behold the night
Of our solemnities.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Greeks Bearing Gifts

There is a wonderful, almost divine irony in the fact that Greece, of all places, turned out to be the Achilles’ heel of the European Union, the weak spot that may in the end lead to the death of the whole mad project of a one-size-fits-all currency.  So much nonsense has been written about the Greek debacle that is easy to lose sight of some basic facts.  To begin with it had nothing to do with international currency speculation and everything to do with Greeks bearing gifts…to themselves. 

It’s easy to understand the anger of the Germans, now faced with paying the bill for the way in which the Greeks have pampered themselves, effectively at their expense.  Greece created one of the most madly extravagant welfare and benefits systems in the whole Continent.  The working day often finishes at 2.30pm.  Retirement provisions are absurdly generous, with some people able to stop working at the age of fifty-three.  Add to that a culture of corruption, symbolised in the words “fakelaki”, meaning envelopes containing bribes, and “rousfeti”, meaning political favours, then a bad situation became cancerous.

The revealing thing in this is that many Greeks themselves, at least those who are not communists and anarchists, recognise the depths of their own blameworthiness.  Commenting on tax evasion, something of a national sport, one newspaper headline jeered with heavy irony: “No taxes – we’re Greek.”  In public hospitals doctors often refuse to treat patients until the “fakelaki” is forthcoming.  The private sector has all but been destroyed by an ever expanding bureaucracy.  Loukas Tsoukalis, a professor at Athens University, has said that Greece has a capitalist system with a Soviet state.

The fact that Greece was allowed to join the euro at all when it clearly did not meet the preconditions for membership can be put down to what I would call the ‘Byron Illusion.’  When Lord Byron went to fight and die in the nineteenth century Greek War of Independence he went not for a living nation but for a dead idea, an idea nurtured in generations brought up on the classics.  The Greeks continued to play on the romance of the ancient past in their application for euro membership, something that seduced Europe’s leaders, many of them also educated in the classics.

But Greece of the modern age is not the Greece of the ancients, not the Greece of Plato and Pericles.  Writing in the New York Times, Robert D. Kaplan rightly argued that it is far more the child of Byzantine and Turkish despotism.  The EU, preoccupied with balancing France and Germany, ignored not just economic facts in the rush into the euro but far deeper historical fractures between the north and the south.  Greece is not the ‘cradle of democracy,’ a label that is no more than a shallow pretence.  In the modern age it has more often been the nursery of despotism. 

So forget irresponsible bankers and wicked speculators.  The whole of the sovereign debt crisis was based on one simple truth: it’s impossible to overcome centuries of cultural, economic and political differences in the illusion of monetary and political union.  Europe is not one; Europe will never be one.  History is not fooled. 

Tuesday 19 June 2012

How Many Camels is Obama Worth?

Al-Shabaab, the Somali offshoot of al-Qaeda, has offered a bounty of ten camels to “whoever reveals the hideout of that idiot Obama.”  It’s their response to the US State Department's recent announcement of a reward of several million dollars for information on the whereabouts of the movement’s leadership. 

I wonder, perhaps, if the Somalis are being a little too generous in their assessment of the beleaguered President’s worth.  Ten camels seems excessive for a man who recently said that the American private sector was “doing fine”, an assessment, I would hazard, not quite in keeping with the experience of most people struggling with the economic realities of Obama World. 

I wonder also what ordinary Americans make of their president’s worth.  While pondering this deep question they may perhaps consider what they themselves are now worth after four less years.  Unfortunately I can’t give the depreciation in round camel figures but the dollar value is alarming enough.  The Federal Reserve report published at the end of last week shows that the net worth of a typical middle class American family has fallen from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 today.  I’m guessing that’s a heck of a lot of camels. 

The Dear Leader, struggling to turn attention away from the dire state of the debt-laden economy, says that America faces a straight choice between him and a return to the policies of George W Bush under Mitt Romney.  What would that involve exactly?  Why, spending trillions of dollars that the country does not have, open-ended, expensive and unwinnable foreign wars, an escalating economic downturn, slow job creation and ever more layoffs.  Wait a moment – I’ve just drawn a picture of the last four years.  Vote Obama and get Bush?  No, vote Obama and get Obama. 

The President’s negative campaigning calls to mind the concluding lines of Hilaire Belloc’s poem Jim.  Do you know it?  If not it goes like this – “And always keep a-hold of nurse for fear of finding something worse.”  Could things get any worse than they are at present?  It hardly seems possible. 

Just think about it, think about the last four years.  Obama’s attempts to stimulate the economy – more trillions in the black hole – stimulated next to nothing.  His health care reforms are of such prodigious complexity that they would even defy the intellect of Einstein.  He was awarded a peace prize for no peace.  His foreign policy initiatives have spluttered and died.  He has alienated Israel, America’s one true friend in a troubled region.  His Afghanistan campaign is creeping towards an ignoble end.  If that’s not bad enough I now understand that America has been covertly arming militants in Syria, seemingly blind to the fact that the Islamists among them have been involved in a murderous pogrom of local Christians. 

But it’s never Obama’s fault, oh no, it’s always somebody else.  His White House motto clearly has to be the buck stops anywhere but here.  Meanwhile on we go.  It’s never mind the economy, stupid - it’s legalising the residency of illegals; it’s gay marriage; it’s a kulturkampf with the Catholic Church; it’s all sorts of trendy liberal causes that are just so meaningful to Americans in the midst of their present presidential woes. 

Al-Shabaab should really devote those camels to better ends.  America, though, may feel it’s got the better of the deal.  

Monday 18 June 2012

Getting Ready for Zombie Armageddon

OK, then; you’ve covered every contingency for the coming zombie apocalypse.  You have a good supply of food and water stored away.  You have your armoury all prepared; a shotgun or several and perhaps a collection of power tools and other useful implements.  You are an island; you are Legend.  Stop; think again; this is not the best way to save yourself or humanity from the contagion!

If you are taking this threat seriously – and who does not? – you really should have been in the town of Cheltenham in the west of England last week to hear Doctor Austin, a Theoretical Zombiologist (yes, that’s right), speak at the annual science festival.  Dr Austin, head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies (ZITS), was most illuminating.  “There are a lot of misconceptions about zombies”, he said, “If a zombie does appear, people need to treat them as a person with an illness.”

Right.  There are other things that you might not be aware of; in fact I’m virtually sure you are in total ignorance, as was I.  Do you think that zombies have rotting flesh?  Well, you are wrong.  The thing is, you see, if they did they would, well, not see.  They would, in other words, decompose quickly beyond their ‘best before’ rampage date.  Dr Austin rightly pointed out a zombie whose eyes had been eaten by maggots would not get very far.  He went on to say that;

Once you become a zombie you will live for three to six months.  The time will vary depending on age weight and whether you live near people with chainsaws. 

The good doctor continued in this vein, explaining that the apocalypse will be spread by biting, a practice the scientific literature agrees that zombies are particularly keen on. There would seem to be obvious similarities to rabies.  Hey, but hold on a minute; other zombie symptoms, shuffling, moaning and generally not caring much about one’s appearance, suggests another comparison.  Yes, indeed; we are in the realm of Variant CJD, more popularly known as Mad Cow Disease.  In future it may very well be called Mad Zombie Disease, MZD for short.

Actually, all kidding aside, ‘Dr Austin’, who mostly lectures to schoolchildren, was making serious points about biological science.  The zombie format of his talk was really just a hook to get people interested in different aspects of virology;

Usually when you lecture on illness someone in the audience might have had it, or been affected.  Because there are no zombies at the moment, no one is going to be upset and say, “Oh, my mum died of that.”

At the moment?…hmm; what on earth is he going to talk about when they do appear?  I suppose werewolves or vampires might serve as a possible alternative.  On second thoughts it probably won’t matter.  After all, we will be far too busy careering through the streets or hiding away in attics to attend science festivals, no matter how illuminating.  

On further reflection I’m not at all sure about Dr Austin’s credentials, or with what authority he speaks on behalf of ZITS.  He says that there are no zombies at the moment, which leads me to suppose that he might very well be a zombie himself.  If I could only rid myself of that unhappy thought I would gladly take him by the hand and lead him through the streets of London.  I’ll show him something that’s bound to change his mind. 

Sunday 17 June 2012

Same as the old Boss

Egypt is moving forward into the past.  Yesterday and today the country has been voting in the final round of the presidential election, a sort of take it or leave it choice between two equally uninspiring candidates – Mohammed Morsy, a colourless brother of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Ahmed Safiq, a brother from the old Mubarak fraternity. 

Safiq, a former air force commander, is the favoured candidate of the state within a state that has governed Egypt for generations, no matter if the outward face was Nasser, Sadat or Mubarak.  We had a clear indication of the shape of things to come on Friday, when Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, a collection of Ancien Régime stalwarts, dissolved the country’s first freely elected parliament, claiming voting irregularities.  All at once power reverted to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). 

Actually it’s all a bit of a joke; they never really lost power in the first place.  What we have seen since the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year is a game being played out at the expense of the people of Egypt, with SCAF on one side, the Brothers on the other.  In terms of popular support the Brothers appear strong, but appearance is nothing in this land of the sphinx, a land where power comes not from a popular mandate but the barrel of a gun.  Last month I concluded an article (Old Soldiers Never Die, 13 May) with the following words;

Whatever the outcome of the election nothing much is likely to change.  The state within a state will continue to govern the state.  Old soldiers never die.  In Egypt they don’t even fade away.

They certainly do not.  There is Field Marshall Tantawi, head of SCAF and Egypt’s éminence grise, who will continue to exercise power regardless of any popular vote.  There is Ahmed Shafiq, a man who previously let it slip that he was the army’s preferred candidate, not at all reluctant to praise Mubarak and criticise protesters, not at all reluctant to scare Egyptians with the prospect of an Iranian-style Islamist state if the Brotherhood wins.  He has pledged to rule with an ‘iron fist’; he has pledged to defend what he calls the ‘deep state’.  He has pledged to be, well, Hosni Mubarak. 

My, how depressingly predictable it all is.  Even before the dissolution of parliament, a coup in all but name, SCAF issued decrees granting officers the right to try civilians in military courts, a return to three decades of martial law that was allowed to lapse for a mere two weeks. 

If Shafiq wins all well and good: it will just be business as usual.  But if Morsy comes top then we shall see; we shall see how the ‘deep state’ reacts.  It will not be with equanimity, that much is certain.  I can give you one possible scenario.  Parliament has gone.  The President can only be sworn in by parliament.  Without such affirmation he is powerless.  Egypt is in a constitutional deadlock.  Into the breach comes…I think it safe to leave you to draw your own conclusion. 

It seems obvious that the dissolution of parliament on the eve of the presidential election was really a cue for the Brothers to leave the stage, withdrawing in protest, allowing Safiq to walk in to office by acclimation, a new Pharaoh.  They have not, so stage two of the counter-revolution in the revolution that was never a revolution is already in preparation.  The reintroduction of military courts is a clear preamble to a general declaration of martial law.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. 

I'll Tip My Hat To The New Constitution
Take A Bow For The New Revolution
Smile And Grin At The Change All Around
Pick Up My Guitar And Play
Just Like Yesterday
Then I'll Get On My Knees And Pray
We Don't Get Fooled Again
Don't Get Fooled Again
No, No!

Thursday 14 June 2012

Lessons of History

Everything in history occurs twice, so said Hegel and Marx.  Actually history very rarely repeats itself, at least not in the way we expect.  One would be wise not to read the lessons of history because the lessons are invariably wrong. 

After the Second World War the politicians and bureaucrats, washed up on the shores of a European desert, thought that the best thing to do was escape from the past; to escape, as they perceived it, from the nationalism that had brought the Continent so low. 

Out of the ashes arose a new phoenix - the European Community, carrying on the wing the ideal of a more perfect union.  It was nothing of the kind; it was an arrogant fantasy from the outset, one that sought to turn a geographical expression into a political reality.  Nationalism, like a wicked genie, was forced into a bottle.  Latterly democracy, an embarrassment for the Euro elite, was likewise being forced into a bottle, but both have burst forth in springtime of anger. 

My attention was drawn to an article by Ed West in the Telegraph recently, with a particularly apt headline – Europe’s post-Nazi stress disorder has brought it to ruin.  It’s a timely reminder of the realities of history and the blindness of the architects of the grand illusion.  The military historian Anthony Beevor is quoted, airing the obvious;

The great European dream was to diminish militant nationalism. We would all be happy Europeans together. But we are going to see the old monster of militant nationalism being awoken when people realise how little control their politicians have. We are already seeing political disintegration in Europe.

In that same article a panicky open letter published in the Guardian is also quoted, written in the dawn of Golden Dawn, the fascist heavy metal brigade which is on the threshold of entering the Greek parliament.  It was headed We are all Greek Jews now, presumably meaning the readers of the Guardian and not the Golden Boys:

We invite all citizens, political parties, unions, civil society, intellectuals and artists to fight the extreme right by promoting and bringing to life the European dream. We must always remember that this dream was built on the ruins of Nazism. We must never forget about the Shoah. Our dream is of a continent free from racism and anti-Semitism. It is the project of a society based on "togetherness" – beyond boundaries.

Second, we must refute the dogma of "the European fortress", which favours the spread of anti-immigrant speeches and the lockdown of Europe's frontiers, especially when a core element of European post-war identity – its social welfare system – requires the economic input of immigration to remain sustainable.

Actually it’s this sort of meretricious rubbish that is responsible for the present malaise.  The authors simply cannot see that it was the attempt to promote and bring to life ‘the European dream’ which has turned out to be a European nightmare.  Yes, a nightmare, of nations and peoples with wholly different traditions and widely different economies being moulded into One.  The people of the Continent were kidnapped by Procrustes, who proceeded to cut or stretch them into shape.  Rather appropriate, don’t you agree, that a figure from Greek mythology, should serve as the supreme European architect? 

One Golden Dawn does not make a Nazi summer.  It’s the ignorance that strikes me, the utter incomprehension.  It would seem that the only way of guarding against the past is the ‘European ideal’, the only way of guarding Europeans against themselves.  But, as West rightly says, the ‘European ideal’ is not failing because of a collection of laughable Greek heavies; it’s failing because as a vision it’s totally unworkable.  It could only work in the absence of democracy, by new forms of centralised tyranny that the ‘European idea’ was set up to guard against.  Ah, there’s the rub, there’s the paradox. 

A Europe where centuries of difference and inherited tradition were conjured into nothingness, a Europe where uncontrolled immigration has threatened the livelihood and identity of its indigenous peoples, was heading sooner or later for a great fall, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men won’t put it back together again. 

Did you note that point by the Guardianistas about social welfare systems?  No, I don’t understand what they are on about either, unless they mean that it is a sign of economic vibrancy for a country to attract hordes of foreign welfare claimants.  The irony is that their dream of a Continent of unrestricted movement, without boundaries, a Continent of ‘togetherness’ is the very thing that has increased anti-Semitism and racism of all kinds.  When people are ignored, when their concerns are ignored, marginal views begin to move in from the cold. 

West mentions his grandfather, who fought in the Second World War.  Both of mine did, one in the Far East and the other in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean.  They had a clear idea of what they were fighting for; they had a clear idea of what was right and what was wrong.  West writes of his grandfather “I suspect that, were he to see Britain and Europe today, he would conclude that it was in the grips of collective insanity.”

I don’t suspect; I simply know all of my grandparents would be horrified by the direction that our history has taken; horrified by the insanity that grips contemporary Europe, as bad as past insanity, only different.  That’s the lesson of history.  

Wednesday 13 June 2012

China’s Well of Loneliness

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young, and a Chinese woman, was very heaven.  It’s not so hot, though, if you are male.  The girls in China are in a sellers market, with plenty of boys only too anxious to buy…if they can afford the price of entry.  The sad truth is that there are boys being born today in China who will never marry, who will never find the right girl, because there are simply not enough girls to go around.

For over twenty years the Chinese authorities have operated a one child policy as a way of controlling a burgeoning population.  When this is combined with a traditional preference for male children, thus ensuring the preservation of the family name, a preference that has seen the widespread abortion of female foetuses, a major demographic imbalance has resulted.  The sad irony is that family names will die out anyway in the absence of wives for only sons.

The shortage of women is bad enough.  What makes it worse is the ‘reverse dowry’ system that operates across much of rural China.  Bachelors are generally expected to have a minimum of 80 thousand Yuan (about $12000) to allow them to set up a home with their prospective wives.  In peasant communities few men can ever hope to command such personal wealth.  Inevitably this will draw more and more people towards the cities, there creating even greater social problems.

On the latest projections demographers estimate that there will be a surplus of 50 million men by the end of the present decade alone.  This will mean millions of lives unshared.  In the absence of the forms of social stability brought about by marriage crime and disorder are likely to increase to unprecedented levels. 

Commenting on this Li Jianmin, the head of the Institute of Population and Development Research at Nankai University, said that “The gender imbalance trend started showing in the early 1980s, and now we have just walked over the threshold.  In five to ten years, the high risk period will come.”  Andrea Den Bores, a demographer, also warned of the long-term implications of China’s new population crisis in her book Bare Bones:

It is difficult to be optimistic because while the China knows that this problem exists, it does not appear to have any plan.  There is a strong potential building for future violence and unrest and so far the Chinese authorities have not developed a response to these issues other than violent ones. 

Thomas Malthus, the gloomy prophet of population Armageddon, continues to be relevant, though not in ways that he had anticipated.  In his classic An Essay on the Principle of Population he talks of the unhappy people who, in the great lottery of life, have drawn a blank.  Many Chinese men are looking into a future that is no more than a deep well of loneliness.    Nature is finely balanced.  We interfere with its mechanisms at huge peril. 

Tuesday 12 June 2012

A Tale Unfolds

Keith Lowe’s Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II is an important book. Yes, yes, I know; you’ve heard it all before, the special pleading on behalf of some new publication or other, but believe me, it is. 

Actually, no, don’t believe me; don’t take my word for it; read it and find out for yourself. If you think that the Second World War in Europe ended abruptly in May, 1945; if you think that VE Day brought peace then you are in for a surprise. I was reminded of some words from the Book of Jeremiah;

They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people lightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.

Considering the important weighting I’m giving here it’s a book that I almost did not read. A few years ago I read Giles Macdonogh’s After the Reich: From the Liberation of Vienna to the Berlin Airlift. I rather assumed that Savage Continent was essentially covering the same territory, namely the post-war trauma of Germany. It does; it touches on the savage expulsion of millions of Germans from the eastern territories handed over to the Poles at Potsdam and Yalta, and from their former homes in the Czech Sudetenland. But Lowe deals with so much more, not just a traumatised people but a traumatised Continent; he deals with the traumas of places as far apart and as diverse as Estonia and Greece.

We are dealing here with political, social, economic and moral chaos; we are dealing with the abyss, the nadir of human civilization. We are dealing with starvation, lawlessness, disruption, homelessness, rootlessness, alienation, murder and rape on an unprecedented scale in all of history. We are dealing with racial wars and ethnic cleansing that did not end with the Nazis. We are dealing with an ugliness of unbelievable intensity. 

In some places the hatred and violence that emerged in the war and immediate post-war period never really went away. The former Yugoslavia is a case in point, where ethnic and racial tensions engendered by the conflict were submerged for decades, only to break out once more with unrestrained ferocity in the 1990s, a reminder of how difficult it is to escape from the past.

It’s not all about statistics and numbers, not all about mass suffering; there are also some sobering personal anecdotes. There is the story of an eighteen-year-old Polish Jew by the name of Roman Halter. He had survived Auschwitz. It’s May 1945; the war is over; the danger is past; he is free, emaciated, but free. He began a long walk east, leaving from Dresden, hoping to find others of his family who had survived the Holocaust. 

On the way he met a Russian soldier, whom he greeted as a comrade and a liberator. The friendly gesture was not returned. Instead the Russian ordered him to take his trousers down. Having ascertained that he was a Jew he put his revolver to Halter’s head and pulled the trigger. The gun misfired. The memory of this incident stayed with Halter for the rest of his life. Anti-Semitism had not died with Hitler.

The sad truth is, as Lowe shows, that hatred of the Jews actually increased after the war, leading to murderous pogroms in Hungary and Poland. It wasn’t the industrial scale, biology-based mass murder of the Nazis, but rather a return to more atavist and medieval forms of Jew-hatred. It was this, perhaps even more than the Holocaust, which led many Jews to conclude that they had no future in Europe. 

There are other stories which, in their own way, are just as shocking, because they are less expected. There is the story of the Norwegian children, some three thousand of whom were born to women who had relationships with German soldiers during the occupation. Afterwards the assumption was that the women must have been mentally sub-normal and the soldiers they attracted also mentally sub-normal. For years afterwards the children born to these people were subject to levels of ostracism and discrimination that had a severe impact on their life chances. Compared with some of the other horror stories detailed in this book it amounts to little, though it tends to undermine one’s view of the seemingly limitless nature of Scandinavian tolerance.

There was so much in Lowe’s account of Stunde Null (wrongly given as Stunde nul) – Zero Hour – , as the German referred to the end of the war, that I had no knowledge of at all. I knew nothing of the vicious racial war between the Poles and the Ukrainians, pursued both during and after the war, with consequences even so far as today. I knew nothing about the struggles of the Forest Brotherhood, the freedom fighters in the Baltic States, who went on to resist the Soviet occupiers for years after the war, people who were still being killed as late as 1978. 

The author’s whole account us tremendously illuminating, as the dust settled and the great post-war divisions between the communist east and the free west began to take shape. It’s as well to remember that for many in the east the story of oppression and occupation did not end in 1945; rather one tyranny simply took the place of another. 

Communism has gone now. We have a Brave New Europe that has such free peoples in it. Ah, but that’s just the thing. Our Europe, the Europe of the European Community, is driven more by fear of the past than hope for the future. Recently we have had all sorts of dire warnings over what might happen if the euro collapses. Hence we have a bureaucratic, post-democratic New Order. It is the architects of this New Order, in their distrust of the people, who are paradoxically recreating forms of popular discontent that led to disaster in the first place.

So, yes, this is an important book, important if you want to understand the European present as well as the European past. It is cogent, well-written and well-argued account, if over-reliant at points on anecdotal evidence. The only thing that irritates me is the author’s tendency to drop into the first person singular. It is as if he is a tour guide taking us on a journey, a technique which for me is wholly out of place in a sober historical narrative. But if it is a journey we have come far. If you want to know how far, come and see; come and read.

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part,
And each particular hair to stand on end
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.
But this eternal blazon must not be
To ears of flesh and blood.

Monday 11 June 2012

IL Magnifico

If you come to Florence for the first time, a city you may have visited previously in art and imagination, there is one supreme moment of epiphany.  It is not a place that surrenders easily, unlike Rome and Venice.  But there you are, right in the centre, walking along narrow streets unknown to you.  

It's the evening of your first day.  You have not long arrived, driving up from Rome.  You are tired.  But life is short; you want to explore before going to bed, using every drop squeezed from the fruit of time.  You turn into a narrow and rising alley for pedestrians only.  On both sides are goldsmiths’ shops, so close together that you almost feel that you could reach out and touch both sides.  You reach the top of the incline.  There are no more shops.  The vista is free.  There is the River Arno.  You are at the top of the Ponte Vecchio - the Old Bridge.  This is your A Room With A View moment!  

This is the city of Dante, of the Medici, of Botticelli, of Donatello, of Machiavelli, of Savonarola, of Michelangelo and so many others.  It's a city of poets and painters, of soldiers and bankers, of prophets and outcasts.  It's where the Renaissance was born, in a place still suffused with its traces.  There is a romance to Florence, sensual, yes, but something else, something divine.  Here Dante saw Beatrice (say it in Italian: bet-reach-eeh.  It's so much more beautiful than the English pronunciation) He fell in love with perfection, and perfection was what she remained, near yet distant, adored yet unattainable.  It was by the banks of the Arno that they met for the last time, the briefest of brief encounters.  She died eight years later, aged only twenty-four.  She was his salvation, destined to live forever in one of the greatest poetic epics ever penned.

Florence is an impossible place, impossible to absorb in a few days.  I think perhaps it would take a lifetime to experience and understand all it has to offer!  I can only give you a small sampler.  Once again I visited the two Davids, Donatello's in bronze at the Bargello Museum, and Michelangelo’s marble giant in the Academia Gallery.  The later is an expression of power and virtue, a political statement, a symbol of the Florentine Republic after the Medici were temporarily cast aside.  I love it but it has an intimidating quality.  I far prefer Donatello's much more intimate creation.  Yes, I know the two are not comparable in terms of size, technique or purpose, but the bronze David, free of politics, is just so sensual, so beautiful, so superbly and simply erotic!  

To the Uffizi now, principally to see the work of Botticelli, my favourite Renaissance painter.  You've probably seen illustrations of Primavera and The Birth of Venus, but how marvellous it is to stand before them, captivating, sublime and mysterious.  I'm not presumptuous enough to hazard an interpretation of Primavera; I leave that to others.  It just thrills me.  I think the figure of Flora, off to the right, is another dimension of perfection and sensual beauty, this time in a female form.  

We had a room with a view, a view of the Duomo, the central cathedral, topped by the magnificent dome designed and built in the fifteenth century by Filippo Brunelleschi.  It was a reflection of his talent and of the grandeur of Florence.  There is another view, right at the top, a God's eye view of the city, all laid out before you.   Be warned though: the ascent from the inside of the dome is not for the feint of heart!  From the gallery I looked down to the interior far below, the place where Savonarola once preached to a congregation of thousands at the height of his power.

Not far from here is the Baptistery, the oldest building in the city, dating back to the sixth century.  Enter through the wonderful east doors, by long tradition known as The Gates of Paradise, only to be confronted, looking up to the ceiling, by the Gates of Hell!  It's breathtaking mosaic in a medieval Byzantine style, dominated by the central figure of Christ.  This is the Last Judgement, with a fearsome demon consuming the damned.  The place is busy but try, if you can, to lie on your back looking up, even only for a moment or two.

Of course it wasn’t all art and culture.  We picnicked in the park.  We dined by starlight.  There is a wonderful restaurant not far from the Ponte Vecchio where I had wild boar served with polenta, soft and succulent, complemented by some local wine.  Alas, all dreams end.  We flew back this afternoon from Pisa, back to grey old London making ready for an Olympic party.  I feel, though, that I have just descended from Mount Olympus!  

Sunday 3 June 2012

Vivat Regina!

She was only eleven years old when she was confronted with her future destiny.  It wasn’t something she wanted or welcomed, a little girl interested in the things that little girls are interested in.  For many nights thereafter, as she told her grandmother, her mother’s mother, she prayed for a little brother, someone to come and relieve her of the burden.  Her prayers, thankfully, were not answered.  She was Lilibet; she became Elizabeth; she is our Queen.
England is having a party.  This week we celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, sixty years on the throne, only the second time in our history that we have seen such an occasion, the first being for Queen Victoria in 1897.  But then Victoria, for so long in morbid isolation and declining in health, was the ghost at the party, the ghost of a passing age.  Not so Elizabeth, as active, as involved, as committed and as dutiful as ever. 
It was in 1947, when she was only twenty-one years old, that she made a promise to Britain, to the Empire, to the Commonwealth and to the world.  She was in South Africa at the time.  With the radio microphone before her she said “It is very simple.  I declare before you that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.”  It was five years later she came to the throne, suddenly and unexpectedly, following the death of George VI, her beloved father. 
And so it has been.  The Empire has gone, falling away bit by bit, but for the most part without bitterness or acrimony.  One by one former colonies emerged as self-governing republics, though still bound together with Britain in a Commonwealth of interest and affection for the Queen, a rock and a symbol above all petty politics.  I remember when I was in Uganda, there told of a past state visit, when the people of Kampala came out to greet Her Majesty in thousands. 
We should be grateful for all that she represents, for her continuity and for her strength.  I have the latest edition of the Spectator in front of me.  There, on the front cover, she can be seen in an illustration by the cartoonist Peter Brookes,  She is looking at portraits of all of the Prime Ministers of her reign, right back to 1952.  There are twelve in all, counting Harold Wilson’s two ministries as one, beginning with Winston Churchill (he headed a post-war ministry) and ending with David Cameron.  I say ending but I am convinced she will see more before the day is done!
The Queen quite simply is the Queen, recognised as such across the world.  Even in the United States, where she has never reigned, she has an approval rating of over 60%, far in excess of the President, having long since made up for the perceived misdemeanours of her ancestor George III.  Even in England, as we have moved from an age of deference to an age of vulgarity, she has stood like a rock, one upon which every republican tide has broken.
We challenge the institution of monarchy at our peril.  It defines who and what we are in this country.  I revere Queen Elizabeth not for what she says, or what she believes, or what she does – it’s simply for who she is and what she represents.  She is consistency and stability in the midst of change.  We have come to despise politicians as much as we revere the Queen.  The very idea of a republic with an elected head of state, a Tony Blair or a David Cameron, would, I imagine, give most English people nightmares.  It certainly gives me nightmares. 
Yes, we challenge monarchy at our peril.  I was eleven years old when Princess Diana died.  I still remember the mawkish outburst of sentimentality; I still remember the displays of emotion that shamed this nation, shallow, gay and fey.  I still remember my grandfather’s comments on the irresponsibility of the press, voicing gratuitous criticisms of the monarchy in general and the Queen in particular.  Once again it exercised the prerogative of the harlot throughout history: power without responsibility.  Elizabeth II survived it all; she survived the fashions of a season, growing stronger, the People’s Monarch in a deeper sense than the ghastly Tony Blair could ever comprehend.
I’m under no illusions about our present condition and future predicament.  I do not share the sentiments of Boris Johnson and others in the press in their over-the-top celebration of a new Elizabethan Age.  This is an age of decline; we have, with the brief intermission of Margaret Thatcher, been in decline as a nation for decades.  The future does not look good, shackled as we are to the Sick Man of the European Union.  But, for a moment or two, we shall take time out; we shall enjoy the spectacle of a wonderful pageant on the Thames. We shall fiddle while Europe burns! 
Anyway, I am getting set to carry the good news from England to Italy.  I leave tomorrow morning, spending my Jubilee week in Rome and Florence.  Have a super time, one and all, and declare with me, Vivat Regina! Vivat Regina Elizabetha! Vivat! Vivat! Vivat!