Sunday, 7 May 2017

Tony Blair




 I met Tony Blair briefly, shortly before he became Prime minister. Only for a minute or two, but I was struck by the way he looked at life. And especially by his eyes ( not so much mentioned now as formerly). He seemed to be looking across the world, in a way that was dangerous. The solution also struck me at once - he should go every month to a Greek tragedy - Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, or a modern interpretation such as Strauss's opera Electra. Then in the words of Aristotle his emotions would have been purged with Pity and Fear, and he would have achieved a catharsis, and thus a more balanced and realistic view of the world. I did think of writing to him to this effect but I did not and regret my inaction - not that my advice would have been taken on board

I was perfectly serious about this and I still am. Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. This does mean mad in the sense of mentally unhinged but mad in the sense of seeing the world in the wrong way as Blair did from the beginning and still does

 One can see that as Prime Minister he imposed his world view on reality and came up with conclusions that were often highly unfortunate. His modes of thought have been demonstrated in the Chilcot Report ( well done - exactly how serious enquiries should be conducted) and also by his reaction to Chilcot. And as he was " modern" he preferred informality in his government ( "sofa politics") and did not use Parliament, his Cabinet, or his permanent officials in the way that leads to good government

 Of course he pulled the Labour Party away from the failed notions of socialism, for example in abandoning Clause Four which called for nationalisation ( The Social Democrats in Germany did that in 1959). Indeed Mrs Thatcher called Tony Blair her greatest achievement. But as result of his character defects and especially Iraq he and therefore the economic policies of New Labour have come under attack, particularly from Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour activists who yearn for the foolish and failed policies of true socialism. We hoped in 1997 that we could relax on the economic front whichever party was in power, and if now we cannot it is to a large extent Tony Blair's fault.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Society

In the church of St Lawrence Jewry, in London in March 1978, an invited guest set out the following analysis -

"Freedom will destroy itself if it is not exercised within some sort of moral framework, some body of shared beliefs.....It appears to me that there are two very general and seemingly conflicting ideas about society which come down to us from the New Testament. There is that great Christian doctrine that we are all members one of another, .....from this we learn our inter-dependence, and the great truth that we do not achieve happiness or salvation in isolation from each other but as members of society,   That is one of the great Christian truths which has influenced our political thinking; but there is also another, that we are all responsible moral beings with a choice between good and evil, .......You might almost  say that the whole of political wisdom consists in getting these two ideas in the right relationship to each other."

The speaker was Margaret Thatcher. Why then is this passage ignored, and why have  her critics  seized on another of her observations, when she wrote that  Society " is made up of individuals and communities. If individuals were discouraged and communities disorientated by the state stepping in to take decisions which should properly be made by people, families and neighbourhoods then society's problems would grow not diminish" - a passage which resulted in the accusation that  she  believed that there was no such thing as Society. And after all, only individuals can take decisions, even when the decisions are concerned with the interests of  Society

One reason for ignoring her other observations on society is that her critics have no knowledge of it. But more fundamentally they do not like the fact that she was moving the political balance away from the first of her two apparently conflicting ideas and towards the second, to release individual responsibility and encourage initiative.  There is no doubt that the post war consensus had cramped the freedom of the individual to create, and to act  freely, and that she was right to correct the balance.

 In the document "Who is my neighbour" issued by the House of Bishops for the General Election of 2015,  paragraph 59 remarks that " We are most human when we know ourselves to be dependent on others. That is something we first learn in families ....[and] they flourish best when there are networks of friendship, neighbourliness and mutual support around them."   Mrs Thatcher's views almost exactly. But the paragraph continues " Our society celebrates the autonomy of individuals but does too little to acknowledge that dependency on others is what makes human beings social creatures" -   This may be the case, but one sees here and in other paragraphs in the document that distrust of the second of Mrs Thatcher's ideas.  There is no distinction between  restoring individual responsibility  and selfishness. .  " Everything is what it is" said the philosopher Bishop Butler " and not another thing."

Note.  The lack of understanding in the House of Bishops is also demonstrated  by the statement in paragraph 36, that Mrs Thatcher believed in unregulated markets. In fact the regulation of the activities of financial institutions was vastly increased over her period as Prime Minister. It is this sort of  uninformed and simply incorrect superficiality that makes one despair of any kind of moral leadership  from the Church. Do the Bishops ever read anything to do with the subjects on which they so freely comment? 

Monday, 8 August 2016

A catastrophe, but a character and an event



"Sir, there is no awarding of a precedence as between a louse and a flea"   -  Dr Johnson

It is possible to discuss Stalin rationally, but not Hitler. This  restricts  the analysis of one of the most important men in history, and certainly the most important man of the 20th century, without whom there would have been no World War II in the West, no holocaust, and Stalin's empire would not have imposed itself on Central Europe for forty years. We can take refuge in the remark of Thomas Mann, that the man was  "a catastrophe, but that is no reason why we should not find him interesting, as a character and as an event"

The discussion of Hitler is indeed difficult. In a recent year a commentator remarked that Hitler was a master of public relations - of course he was, that is how he came to power - and of putting on tremendous spectacles ; and as our ambassador Neville Henderson commented, even the  staging of the Russian ballet in its great years before 1914 was surpassed by Hitler's shows at Nuremberg. Yet this comment caused outrage and a demand for its withdrawal

Another example of the way in which Hitler's activities cannot be rationally discussed was revealed when David Bowie commented on the film of the 1934 Nuremberg Rally, a film by Leni Riefenstahl which was a remarkable  achievement as a film as well as of propaganda. Having watched the film  it is said 15 times Bowie commented

"Hitler was one of the first great rock stars"   And "He was no politician, he was a great media artist...The world will never see anything  like that again. He made the entire country a stage show. "

An expert view of the greatest interest. But Bowie was attacked for calling Hitler a star.

One problem is linguistic. In words such as "genius" or "great" or "star" there is not only a description of the (high) level of achievement but also an implied approval. If one takes out the approval element by adding "-minus"  one can say that Hitler was in his public appearances  very definitely a star-minus, and he possessed  political skills at the level of  genius-minus. But what we experience  at present is  the lowering of the voice, as if one was entering on  a forbidden topic, or a room dedicated to evil. This is not sensible and a greater service would be done to those who suffered from the actions of this evil man if he were analysed objectively

And what about Stalin? Within his territories he murdered millions, including the peasants who were forcibly deprived  of their land and killed in the imposition of collective farming upon them. And Stalin set up a regime of terror  with torture and deportation to camps so cold that the dogs froze if they stopped moving  -  a terror which applied to everyone, not just one race,  with more people in the gulags at his death than at  the initial height of his terror in the 1930s.

And there is also Mao -


 And his red guards - 

And Pol Pot....... I met a lady in Cambodia whose deadly calm was the result of having her husband and little boy cut to pieces in front of her.
Look again at Dr Johnson's comment at the head of this entry, Do not attempt a ranking, but discuss all of them including Hitler in an objective and informed way.



With what little wisdom.........

" Do you not know, my son, with what little wisdom  the world is governed"  So said Oxenstierna, the great Swedish minister of the 17th century, of whom Cardinal Mazarin ( no mean statesman himself) said, that if the statesmen of Europe were in a ship together, they would not hesitate to hand the helm to Oxenstierna.

 So many of the confusions in modern life follow from the inability of  almost everyone to look at the roots of the problems They discuss the events as appear before their eyes,  and do not ask why the  events are as they have become., And this is true of  many intelligent people in the media.





Bloody Sunday

The administrative and moral fault of the British army and the British government was small  - and such fault as there was should have been addressed. The significant fault was rather with the IRA which,  by trying to establish no-go areas which the British were bound to resist, caused a confrontation at which some soldiers lost their nerve. This was just what the British wished to avoid and which the IRA was trying to engineer. Who went to bed that night full of happy satisfaction? And yet for years it is the British who have the blame.

MPs expenses

This "scandal" was the result of the views of the electorate over the years that MPs salaries should not be put up -  best  not at all, or anyway by very little. So over decades MPs were told to use their expense accounts  in a flexible way.  And when they did and it came out the media ( although they briefly mentioned that point) moved in with serious criticisms and everyone understood that the MPs were fiddling their expenses. There were a few claims based on falsehoods, but most followed the flexible approach and duck houses should have been perfectly acceptable. This fault lay with the population generally for taking the constraining view to start with,  and with the media for reporting the matter in a corrupt way

Coal and steel industries vanishing

During the UK/EU campaign it was reported, as an example of those areas of the country that  had lost out in economical development in recent years, that 50 or 60 years ago there was a vibrant social  and economic life in South Wales, with an integrated working class community and culture. And now it has collapsed, much of it  has disappeared,  with sad consequences.  But one has to ask why this social and economic community was there 50 or 60 years ago. The basis was the coal and steel industries which should have declined years before. These were industries nationalised by the Attlee government ( to the considerable benefit of the coal owners etc). They should have declined over time, which would have been far less destructive, far more likely to enable a transfer of employment to more modern industries, and far less of a drag on Britain as a whole. But  they were kept alive by the idea that they were good in themselves, and  that they should  be subsidised to keep them alive, Also in these old industries the trade unions resisted change - as exemplified in extreme form by Arthur Scargill and the miners strike which aimed to keep open pits however unprofitable and used violence to support their view.. If Mrs Thatcher had met a Labour Party and a trade union movement looking to work with government in winding down these out of date structures things would have been less traumatic and maybe rather positive,  even with the wrong starting point. But the post war consensus which was bankrupting the country was too strong for a mild approach

Remain/Leave

There were more voters committed to Remain  than there were voters committed to Leave. The Leave vote was pushed to a majority by the protest vote of those who had not benefited from the economic developments of recent years, and felt it and resented it. So they voted against the elite, who supported Remain, and we got a foolish and dangerous result to the referendum. This revolt against the elite is world wide - anyway in the Western world  ( look at Mr Trump)  -  but it is exacerbated in this country by the constant attacks by the media on anyone in the so called Establishment, and especially MPs. The Today programme commented some time ago, in the person of Mr Humphrys, that his job was to get politicians to say things that they did not mean to say. This was to assume as a given that MPs are corrupt, whereas it is the position of the questioners that is corrupt, even though they no doubt think that they are doing a good job  -   as this is  also no doubt true of those that write for Private Eye, which takes a violently negative view of anyone they comment on.  Thus it is not only the Leave press that caused the Leave vote to rise - it was also the fault of the Remain press ( and other parties) which by their constant nagging and unblalanced commentaries  reinforced the anti-elite view

Saturday, 23 July 2016

The ruin of Champagne





Nearly all champagne today is  quite definitely ruined by the way it is served. - it is frozen out of any possibility of quality -  unless it is very cheap and inferior anyway, in which case its defects are disguised by the freezing temperature. Rather like one gets at wedding receptions in a tent on a cold English afternoon  (when a cup of tea is what is really wanted) and which is probably the reason why so many young people decide that they do not like Champagne.

As that authority T Earle Welby wrote in 1933    "No dry wine will bear much chilling, which is why the abrupt plunging of dry champagne into the ice-pail is an error. No doubt well-iced champagne gives one more tonic sensation than merely chilled Champagne, but this is largely illusion; it is quite certain that a sudden plunge into ice shocks the wine, and prolonged immersion [seen in many restaurants, even those of high repute] numbs a great vintage Champagne till it cannot be distinguished from a second zone Champagne of an ordinary year"     Professor Saintsbury and other authorities agree, virtually word for word.

Note two different points - the numbing of the wine by plunging it into ice, which cannot be put right for some time; and  the temperature of service, which needs to be nicely judged as merely cool. Yet there is little hope....if the wine is correctly served there will be cries for an ice bucket.......  as so often in this world of declining standards, it is the customers who determine these things, so that to get things right requires grip and determination in a restaurant where they know you, and is pretty well impossible in a restaurant where you are not known since you are being difficult. If the wine is numbed at  very low temperature the restaurants know that they cannot in the eyes of their customers be wrong. Also to give orders to get things right  is really a sad interruption of conversation and jollity if one is with guests.

The usual glasses are also wrong....too narrow, and filled too full. The Chief Executive of the firm that makes Riedel glasses does not approve. The usual flute is " one dimensional, flooring the drinkers' ability to appreciate the full range of aromas and taste profiles on offer ".He was asked why in that case  did his set of glasses for sale has in the set the Champagne glasses he does not approve of. His reply was that that was what the market wanted. But he added that his aim was to make the usual flute obsolete in his lifetime.


The Internet - a new Pandora's Box



One cannot take a very positive view of the future of the world, starting now, and the main reason is the development of electronic technology - the mobile phone and the world wide web, and all the developments in these areas which will continue to accelerate. And everyone everywhere wants to be connected - look how Cubans pressurise to join in, how mobile phones are washing across India......soon everyone will be on net and for practical purposes the global reach is already achieved
Very wonderful as an aid to our personal lives and a tremendous assistance to economic growth and civilised working conditions. But there are two vast and terrible consequences.

First.  Anyone anywhere can now be a terrorist. An individual can be part of a religious movement, or of a group of discontents, or indeed just a loner.

Just such individuals killed in Australia and in Canada, and the question was asked, how such violence could occur in such peaceful countries. The question was inappropriate. The violence resulted from contacts with the world wide web, not from the host countries, and the contacts can now spread into the most remote areas on earth.  And as for the Islamic or other groups, they are enabled to organise electronically in complex ways, ever more violent, and ever more difficult to track down in advance. We are in any case the children of the forest, and evolution has given us a desire to belong, to identify with a group, with a mission.

How fulfilling,  and how difficult to stop more and more deluded people around the world from learning bloody instructions.

Secondly. There are still many poor countries in the world which,  whether because of a low level of economic  activity or because of despotic or foolish regimes, offer no hope to those living there. No education, no provision for health,  no careers. This was true for centuries, but now they know. One young man, warned that he might drown in his attempt to get from North Africa to Italy, replied that it did not matter if he lost his life, as at home it was not worth living. There are  enormous numbers of these potential or indeed actual immigrants and they will continue to pursue a better life, even if those fleeing from direct violence are accommodated in one way or another, which is anyway in practice impossible in view of the numbers involved.

The world wide web has opened a Pandora's box of misery and violence and, as in the original box, only Hope remains.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Frederic the Great ( II )




Frederic is called the Great as a result of his tremendous skill in warfare.As Napoleon said of Frederic's victory at Leuthen -

"The battle of Leuthen was a masterpiece. This battle alone would be sufficient to make Frederic immortal among the greatest field commanders in history"

[Frederic and his staff before the battle]

And one could add Frederic's extraordinary resolve and persistence,  despite some  battles which were lost  and  even though all the European powers   ( apart from England) were massed against him for seven years. As Macaulay wrote when peace was at last signed -

"Frederic yielded nothing.  The whole Continent in arms had failed to tear
Silesia from his iron grasp.

The war was over. Frederic was safe. His fame was beyond the reach of envy"





    Sans Souci




Yet his greatness lay in other areas of life also. He built Sans Souci - a house of extraordinary genius, where he entertained Voltaire....and where, to my great delight, the principal room in the centre of the line of apartments is the dining room, somewhat lushly portrayed by Adolph von Metzel in the nineteenth century. The rooms for visitors and for musical performances were in the line to the left as one looks at the palace.  The king especially played and composed for the flute, and Mozart commented that his compositions were such as to have serious content.


The King's rooms are in the line to the right, and when I visited Sans Souci I was struck by the fact that the two first rooms on the King's  side were of a different style, and looked as though they had been done over by an expensive but conventional interior decorator. In fact they were redecorated by Frederic's successor, Frederic William II. But the chair in which Frederic died is still there.

"I suppose that you have assisted many men into the next world" he remarked to the doctor

"Yes, but not as many as Your Majesty and with far less glory " was the reply.

As Frederic said, " My people say what they like, and I do what I like."

In the most recent and commendable biography of Frederic Professor Tim Blanning of Cambridge opens for us aspects of Frederic's life previously only guessed at ( though Blanning could have recognised Frederic's military ability to a greater extent). Frederic was gay,and apart from the professor's detailed analysis I take as evidence a poem which was written by the King, ostensibly
to demonstrate the ability of  North Germans to show true passion, which Frederic's Italian friend Count Algarotti had denied.. Ostensibly. But no one reading this poem can doubt Frederic's true sensuality and his erotic attraction to Algoratti . I give some of the verses here, as translated (  from the  original of course in French) by Giles MacDonogh:

From Konigsberg to Monsieur Algoratti, Swan of Padua

La Jouissance

This night,vigorous desire in full measure,
Algoratti wallowed in a sea of pleasure,
A body not even a Praxitiles fashions
Redoubled his senses and imbued his passions
Everything that speaks to eyes and touches hearts
Was found in the fond object that inflamed his parts
Transported by love and trembling with excitement.......


Our fortunate lovers, transported high above
Know only themselves in the fury of love:
Kissing, enjoying, feeling, sighing and dying
Reviving, kissing, then back to pleasure flying.
And in Knindos' grove, breathless and worn out
Was these lovers' happy destiny, without doubt.
But all joy is finite; in the morning ends the bout.



Read that, and look at Algoratti's face 



And the face of the young Frederic

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The Very Great Alsace Puzzle

Alsace Lorraine was a part of the Holy Roman Empire ( which, despite Voltaire, was Holy, sort of, was Roman,, sort of, and was an Empire, sort of)  for many ages . Then " in the midst of profoundest peace " ( the phrase is Hitler's) it was seized by Louis XIV  "quel bel jardin" was his comment ( what a man! - can there be a proper biography? )

Then in 1870,  after the defeat of France by Prussia,   Alsace ( I will stick to the wines) was taken  into the united Germany.  I think that this  was because Germany's great general,  Moltke,  planned to stand against any future French attack by holding his magnificent army within Germany's borders -  that is, in Alsace  -  and let the French waste themselves against the German defensive stance. How wise, as compared with the foolish attacks his successors attempted in 1914. But  the Germans made France a perpetual enemy, as the statues of the lost provinces witness.

The Germans in 1871 then had the noble vines ( the Riesling) in Alsace grubbed up, so that the wines of Alsace,  being from lesser grapes, would not compete with German wines. An understandable policy even if hardly admirable

Then in 1918 as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, France got Alsace back again. The policy was, of course,  to restore the noble vines, but times were hard. Then the years from 1929 saw the international depression, so that not much progress was made in putting the Riesling back in its rightful place

Then in 1940 Germany defeated France and took Alsace back again  (Here we go again, the inhabitants must have thought) And a policy was imposed on the vineyards

THAT POLICY WAS TO RESTORE THE NOBLE GRAPE.......

........and so keen were the German masters of France that they sent in the Hitler Youth of Baden and Wurttemberg to cut down the other vines  and thus accelerate the transfer to Riesling

The question -  the puzzle - is WHY? Who made that decision , the very opposite of the decision of 1871?   I have asked many people who might have some insight, but apart from confirming the fact that they were woken up one morning by the sound of the Hitler Youth getting to work, I have had no explanation

I have one, just a guess. The overall command of economic exploitation in Europe was in the hands of the Reichsmarschall, Hermann Goering. Now Goering, alone amongst the Nazi leadership,  was a great lover of food and wine. It could have been his decision to go for the noble grape and to set this aim above all other considerations. Any insights would be tremendously  welcome

A note on the Reichsmarshall

Well into the war, Goering continued to eat extravagantly at restaurants, his favourite being Horcher. But after the horrors of the Eastern front Goebbels persuaded Hitler that Goering would have to give this up. Goering called Herr Horcher into his office,

"Herr Horcher, the Fuhrer has ordered that you close. I have spoken to the Caudillo [ Franco - before God and History ( but not the Spanish people )  Caudillo of Spain ] - here is a laissez passer for you, your family,your staff and your equipment. Travel to Madrid and set up your restaurant  there "

He did.  The restaurant is there to this day. I was kindly entertained to dinner there by the son of the relevant Herr Horcher, who confirmed the story

PS Alsace is now back in France, and this time one supposes for good. The rich Germans and their expensive wives visit the wonderful Alsace restaurants.

_________________________________________________________________

Horcher in Madrid - as it still is today.



All the elements were there........







All the elements  to expalin the support for Leave were there in the run up to the referendum. . See the entries in my blog in each case

The entry   "Tensions in the European Union."

Mr Donald Tusk, President of the EU Council of Ministers, sets out very clearly how the elite of Europe have left many electorates behind in pursuing the European idea. And the growing distrust of the elite on these grounds  (but the refugee crisis also played a large part ) has led to the growth of anti-EU votes in many countries, Brexit has brought this fact to the fore.

The entry  "Jefferson and harmony, and immigration "

At the same time the elite in the United Kingdom have specifically encouraged the acceptance of more refugees,  ignoring the fact that it is not their streets but the poorer streets of the country which see their culture  threatened.

The entry   "Who will vote for Remain and who for Leave"

The result of these considerations ( but see below)  is shown in this survey -  an  overwhelming support by the less well educated  - and therefore less affluent -  for quitting the EU. It is noticeable also from this survey that the other group supporting Leave is the section of the population that is aging, As one of my correspondents in Germany has said, these two groups have nothing to lose.

The entry  " Most politicians are the same  -  but some are dangerously not"
                   [ Scroll down ]

People generally in all countries distrust politicians and all the elite. As a result the advice from nearly all expert opinion to vote Remain had if anything a contrary effect. This foolish attitude is the result of an apparent  transfer of responsibility - the problems facing the United Kingdom and many countries have no solutions, they can only be managed, and they run on  and on and on. The politicians are blamed for not delivering - but they cannot deliver, and it is not their fault.. Intelligent people who pay attention to the problems can see that, but many cannot. So even without the specific distrust of the elite on the grounds of EU ambition or immigration the referendum was an opportunity to register a protest against the world and against the elite who were ignoring them.

Conclusion

The majority for Leave was achieved by  a protest vote. Protest votes can be useful in many contexts in reminding our leaders of the views of ordinary people. - but not in a vote which has dramatic consequences . If the result had been decisive one could have said that there was a genuine view in favour of Leave as well as a protest. But as it is with such a narrow result the protest element can only be regarded as an invalid contribution to the victory of Leave. It is essential that the House of Commons uses its constitutional powers ( the referendum is not binding) to upset the referendum's conclusion. If the Commons were to use the vast majority it has for Remain to over ride the referendum result there would be cries of dissent. A second referendum would mostly avoid that reaction and might be the most democratic way to proceed. Staying with the results of the first referendum is on the other hand a corruption of democracy.


Friday, 17 June 2016

Jefferson and harmony, and immigration













When President Kennedy entertained the American winners of Nobel prizes  at the White House, he remarked that there had never been such a brilliant assembly in the room  since Thomas Jefferson dined  alone. Jefferson was indeed a brilliant polymath, as one can see from the house he built., and  in his first Inaugural Address he set out his views on human society, a society ( one can add) based over the years on the arrival of immigrants from many countries.

"Let us, then, fellow citizens,unite with one heart and one.mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things"

High flown language, suitable to an Inauguration Address, but true. True for high intellects and people of adequate substance,  for whom such harmony and affection are most usually in their own hands. But for those more constrained let us look at the way immigration can affect a society,  in an analysis by Professor Putman of Northwestern University

" Increases in ethnic diversity lead to collapses of civic health. Trust amongst neighbours declines, as does voting, charitable giving and volunteering........As community cohesion weakens, moral norms change. What would have been unacceptable behaviour in a more homogenous national community becomes tolerable when a formerly ascendant group seems itself at risk from aggressive new claims by new competitors"

The aspirations declared  as so central by Jefferson are also there in lives in the poorer streets and in  the less upwardly mobile. The advent of people of other kinds and cultures  makes it difficult to unite with one heart and one mind as Jefferson recommends. And if such people have not yet arrived in every street those living there can imagine what will happen if they do.

The so sadly late Jo Cox MP in her  splendid Maiden Speech painted a picture of multiculturism that has worked. So it can. But the problems need to be understood and overcome.  I am not impressed when Bishops and Barristers and Actors preach that the Government should be humane and welcome more and more immigrants. One could say that they will benefit with better servants and waiters and barmen. That will assist their pursuit  of Jefferson's harmony and affection in their lives, but they should not preach without considering the need to pursue harmony and affection for all of us.