A one upmanship tip that comes in useful this week

A quietly satisfying, though not entirely innocent, pleasure - when people tell you that Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine - is replying 'Malenkov, actually'.

I enjoyed saying this to an ambassador who had heard that allegedly Khrushchev gave Crimea to Russia when drunk. It seems however that my fact about Malenkov is entirely wrong and it was Khrushchev.
One-upmanship was invented by Stephen Potter and he defined it as
How to be one up - how to make the other man feel that something has gone wrong, however slightly.

For an example of one upmanship take the all-purpose phrase
"Yes, but not in the South"
This will do for any argument about any country, according to Potter, but he did not originate it - it was invented by Richard Usborne in an article called "Not in the South" published in the May 28, 1941 number of Punch magazine, where the phrase was described as "a formula that let me off the boredom of finding out facts and retaining knowledge".

"I hope I'm wrong but historians may look back and say this was the start of World War III"

This article by Edward Lucas about the invasion of Ukraine - for that is what it is - is worth reading.

I agree with him, in part. Of course NATO will not come to the military aid of Ukraine - nor should we, despite the fact that we guaranteed her borders when Ukraine foolishly gave up nuclear weapons. What is critical is the effect this will have on NATO's guarantee to the Baltic States which will also be bullied by Russia. This might effectively be the end of NATO.

What could be more British than to be ‘somewhat proud’ of our country? Honestly – it makes you somewhat proud

This beautiful, lyrical article about what makes the author love England makes me happy, and I agree with most of it, but also unhappy. It is the Englishman's proudest boast that he never brags, and being somewhat proud of ourselves sounds like the same thing.

And yet...

On the whole, I am ashamed that my countrymen are only 'somewhat proud' of our country. They seem to think loving ones country a lot is suspect.

Every European people should be very proud of their country, apart from one obvious exception. Two, in fact, including the Austrians.

At dinner recently with an English journalist who votes Labour, we got round to discussing the mass migrations that are changing the world. My friend was shocked that I said I wanted 'Europe to continue to have a white and Christian majority'. He explained it was 'white' he found shocking, not the Christian bit. Is he right that this opinion is tendentious and if so how did we reach this point? He is a 30 year-old Cambridge man (how I hate the unisex or bisexual Americanism 'alumnus') and represents the people who will rule England as well as the people who already do.

He said he would defend to the death my right to say what I said, which was comforting, and that he was a patriot. I did not doubt his patriotism. I never doubt Labour supporters' patriotism. Or rather I did not until a couple of days ago a left-wing poet, who is my Facebook friend, posted that he loved the word 'country' and added, for fear of giving offence perhaps, that 'I am not a patriot'. When I commented that I assumed everyone was patriotic it became clear that some of his Facebook friends were shocked to be accused of patriotism.

We live and learn.

An interesting view of life

Someone called Allie left this very charming message on the blog, which deserves, so I think, to be a post of its own. I am ashamed to say that I do not really 'content myself with little' any more these days.
I'm a Romanian currently living abroad. I've read a few posts of your blog and I wish I felt the same about my country as you do (that is, liking so many aspects of it). :-)

Indeed, Romanians are open and friendly towards foreigners (Romania not being a very touristed country, people are usually curious and enthusiastic about forming relationships with foreigners). So most foreigners feel very welcomed in Romania. I'm not so sure that relationships are of the same quality among Romanians themselves. 

Also, you have an interesting view of life, preferring to live in poorer countries, contenting yourself with little in order to be able to have more freedom in life, to travel and to interact more with people. 

Are you a freelancer, an entrepreneur, a pensioner? You seem like someone who has the maturity and courage to pursue the not-so-well-trodden paths in life, deciding to live a life in which you can enjoy the subtler things of it, and not having to work your heart out in order to pay high rents in expensive places.

I look forward to hearing from you.
Best wishes.

Men behaving badly

Romanian Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, has moved his office to another building to avoid being bugged by the secret service, which reports to the President, and says on TV 
“I am sure President Basescu will end up in gaol, he is a corrupt communist”. 
Nothing is more fun that watching men lose their temper. I suppose this is called checks and balances. When women lose their temper, for some reason, it is not funny, but then women are much less funny and much less absurd.

Lots of rich and powerful Romanians these days whom I never imagined would ever be arrested are in gaol or have been in gaol. Very many businessmen and politicians who are household names including Adrian Nastase, who was Prime Minister 2000-2004. I rejoice. I do notice that almost none of the people who get fingered belong to the parties that support the President but I rejoice anyway. People who are astonishingly well-connected tell me that the President is by no means a saint but I still rejoice. 

Many people who hate Victor Ponta's post-communist PSD, which is now in power, tell me President Basescu is worse than the PSD. Some people say he is evil. This might be true but I still rejoice at all the arrests. If, after Mr. Basescu stands down at the end of this year, the next president belongs to another party, I hope to see even more eye-popping arrests.

Love and marriage

Two wonderful quotations. The first is from Doris Lessing, whom I must read again.

"Do you know what people really want? Everyone, I mean. Everybody in the world is thinking: I wish there was just one other person I could really talk to, who could really understand me, who'd be kind to me. That's what people really want, if they're telling the truth."

The second is from my neighbour Mr. Ursu, a very good Christian and staunch Communist, who told me,
'Marriage is like a besieged fortress. Those outside want to get in and those inside want to get out.'

It sounds like a wise saw. He is very happily married by the way.

The public space in Romania

A question I have wanted to ask for 15 years: why do many Romanians walk around the streets in their dressing gowns? Not, admittedly, Romanians from the best circles.

George Orwell on gun control

How much more free England was in the 1930s is illustrated by this quotation from George Orwell, who turns out to be no friend to gun control.

“That rifle on the wall of the labourer's cottage or working class flat is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.”


Does anyone care less about Oscar Pistorius? 
Why does he edge Ukraine out of the news?

The mystery of the missing plane no longer grips us

Isn't it a waste of taxpayers' money to continue looking for this plane? Though it was very careless to have lost it.

Admiral Zumwalt fought racism and sexism

This curious article about a battleship named after a retired U.S. admiral confirms me in my scepticism about the U.S. armed forces. When I saw them at close quarters in Berlin in the 1980s they seemed completely unwarlike.

The Admiral 'fought racism and sexism' the obituary begins. This reminds me of Oscar Wilde's line, 'The General was essentially a man of peace, except in his domestic life'. I am afraid I do not believe in sexual equality in the armed forces.

Working backwards to find a genetic basis for homosexuality

It should be obvious to a child that the people saying there is a genetic factor to homosexuality do so to strengthen case for social acceptance of homosexual acts. Try suggesting that there is a genetic factor in intelligence - which everyone knows is true - and therefore races have different IQ levels (not something I believe, by the way, before you lose your temper with me) and see the reaction. People start with a conclusion and then find a scientific argument to support it. When I see scientific evidence cited I always ask what political or philosophical position is it supporting - if it is supporting a fashionable one I make a rebuttable assumption that the evidence is flawed. A.J. Balfour pointed out that all the many philosophical arguments for why murder is wrong had nothing in common with each other except their conclusion. It is almost, he said, as if the authors started with the conclusion and worked backwards.

There was some preposterous scholar called I think Boswell who maintained that the third century church had no objection to homosexual couples and canonised a couple of saints who were homosexual lovers. Reviewers took this odd book very seriously

David Cameron does God

David Cameron has told us that he thinks he is doing Jesus' work and this has incensed the great mass of left-of-centre Godless people, the schoolmaster class. I rejoice. When the PR adviser Alistair Campbell said to Tony Blair
'We do not do God',
meaning Mr Blair was not to mention his faith again, another slender link between English public culture and Christianity was severed.

I remember Denis Healey saying socialism was founded when Jesus and the apostles preached in Palestine and nobody said he was crazy, though his remark was completely inaccurate.

On the other hand, though I like politicians to talk about and think about, and perhaps pray to God, God is used to justify every political position. Malcolm Muggeridge put it well when he said that Jesus' followers 

"have sent him on Crusades, made him a freedom-fighter, involved him in civil wars and conspiracies, sent him picketing and striking and leading cavalry charges, and finally made him a paid-up member of the British Labour Party, with the strong expectation that in due course he will be given a life peerage and take his place in the House of Lords. In the light of these aberrations I have sometimes asked myself how Jesus would have fared if he had been born into one of the points of conflict in our world as Galilee was in his - in South Africa, say. As a white South African he would assuredly have been killed by his fellow whites for insisting that they should love and serve their black fellow citizens; as a black South African, he would likewise have been killed by his fellow blacks for telling them they must love and serve their white oppressors. In neither case, it is safe to assume, would he have been a beneficiary under the World Council of Churches' munificence in providing financial support for African guerrillas aiming to achieve national independence by means of terrorism."

Once God was used to legitimise absolute monarchies and hanging sodomites, now to justify overseas aid, homosexual marriage and women's rights. And in the next age it will be something else.

Personally, I don't think Jesus, who never criticised Tiberius, Herod, slavery or crucifictions, had much interest in politics. I don't think He would care if there were more or fewer women or ethnic minorities on boards of directors or whether the National Health Service is privatised.

Jesus would not be protesting against the Israeli occupation of Palestine, any more than he protested against the Roman occupation of Palestine. That was Barabbas. One can imagine Jews, Muslims and Christians hating Him, plus the abortion lobby, feminists, most of the Left, much of the American Right. 

Thomas Carlyle said,

"If Jesus Christ were to come today people would not even crucify him. They would ask him to dinner, and hear what he has to say, and make fun of it" 

Today what would the Guardian or the Economist make of Him?

He would shock by his views on divorce, Hell, his lack of interest in fighting poverty or in dialogue with other religions. His celibacy would be the subject of ribaldry and innuendo, likewise his dislike of family values or respectability and his predilection for the company of rich crooks. His preaching the imminent end of the world would be greeted by laughter and if he condemned homosexual sex he would probably be arrested and put in the cells. The Church of England hierarchy in particular would find him quite outrageous. But perhaps so would most, except the poor and badly educated.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Odessa

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Odessa - not from the Nazis but from the Romanians. The Romanians are remembered by elderly Odessans for their corruption but were kinder rulers than the Germans or the Communists and, when the Russians started to defeat the Germans, the Romanian government stopped deporting the remaining Jewish population to extermination camps. Mr Putin seems to think that the Soviet troops liberated the city from the Nazis. 

Dylan Thomas on the Welsh language

Thanks to Hegemony Jones for spotting this.

Mickey Rooney who died on Sunday, with Jayne Mansfield

Photo: Mickey Rooney who died on Sunday.

Here is the clip: Ronald Reagan introduces Mickey Rooney and Jayne.

The game is up for climate change believers

Charles Moore writes in the Daily Telegraph about the philosophical underpinnings of the global warming fears - what he calls warmism.

"The origins of warmism lie in a cocktail of ideas which includes anti-industrial nature worship, post-colonial guilt, a post-Enlightenment belief in scientists as a new priesthood of the truth, a hatred of population growth, a revulsion against the widespread increase in wealth and a belief in world government." 

He might have added a belief in the power of reason rather than trust in providence, a faith in human nature. As I have said before, it reminds me of Whittaker Chambers's description of Communism as 

'in fact, man's second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: 'Ye shall be as gods.' It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision. Other ages have had great visions. They have always been different versions of the same vision: the vision of God and man's relationship to God. The Communists vision is the vision of Man without God. It is the vision of man's mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world."

York has been ruined .... like everywhere else

York was ghastly even when I was there in 1978. Just plant for the tourist industry, even then. I remember when in the 1970s they discovered a piece of Roman road at York and Michael Wharton said he wished they would leave it amid the Edwardian streets unmarked and unexplained. 

That is how it is in the Fatih district of Istanbul, or as I prefer Constantinople, where Roman triumphal columns stand in the back streets ignored.

Patriotism is always good

Why do many people, many conservative and Conservative people, think patriotism is alright in small doses? How can one love ones country too much? It's like saying loving your parents or children or Mozart is alright in small doses but shouldn't be taken too far. It is also a very telling sign of the decadence of the rich world. That wonderful play Oh! What a Lovely War is partly to blame and that dreadful era the 1960s. Thank God the 1960s didn't happen in Romania.

Wonderful spring weather and manele playing far away

The porter is playing manele downstairs and the music and the lovely weather are perfect. Manele so much better than Western pop music, but for some reason (I wonder what it can be) Romanians are very scornful of a great Romanian art form. 

Ioana Radu, though, is very much better, of course. Ioana Radu is here. 

What makes you happy?

Two or three people spoke to me recently about happiness and how to achieve it and I have decided to make a list of things that make me happy. Many of them are ones I have forgotten or ignored. What would be on your lists?

I did not think about happiness for years and encourage you, dear reader, to do so now..

My list would be: intelligent, bookish conversation; architecture; books, travel, living in Romania, food, wine, walking, history, politics, writing, religious faith, paintings, opera, black and white films, pre-war music, all things Victorian, friendship, lovely women. I am not sure in what order.

The Players' Theatre (early Victorian) pantomime but it went the way of all flesh. London clubs.

Shopping in Jermyn St. I know I mentioned food, but I wish to mention specifically suet puddings and dumplings, one of which I cooked and ate last night. And, though it is dangerously addictive, Facebook.

Women's rights and wrongs

"Nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little." (Dr. Johnson.)
This is one of his aphorisms which I do not agree with, though it contains a scintilla of truth, which it is why it is funny. Women had far too few legal rights in 18th century or until a few decades ago.

"It is the great achievement of Christianity in every place and every time to have raised the condition of women." (Mr Gladstone.)
This seems to me to be a profound truth.

I quoted this to a young, public school educated English priest 20 years ago and added
'But don't you think this process can go too far?' 
He smiled and said 
'It can go much too far.'
I wonder what I had in mind when I asked this. Legal abortion, probably. Women clergy in the Church of England, perhaps. The way in which women seem to be expected to behave like men, perhaps, and do not devote themselves to their children as my mother's generation did. 

I think I need to think about this and write another post when I have. I certainly think a world in which mothers are forced to abandon their children and do boring jobs in order to pay mortgages for dwellings with inflated prices is not freedom for women. We all need to think urgently about how to encourage women in the rich world to have more children and encourage many of them to stay at home with them.

How to start an email

Romanians seem nowadays to start every email in English with that awful word, 'Hi' with its ersatz cheeriness and Californian familiarity.

I hate the word 'Hi' and almost never use it. But in Romania 'Dear' seems to have gone out of fashion - Romanians are intensely fashion conscious. I also hate addressing a stranger by his first name (until a very few years ago I would have written Christian name) but my software makes me do so an awful lot. Romanians rightly hate it or used to.

I googled the question and was heartened to discover that in America, home of familiarity and egalitarianism, many authorities counsel starting business emails with 'Dear'. According to Forbes magazine - read more here.

Conservatism is love

Conservatism, as Roger Scruton said, is about love. Love of existing things and of tradition. Socialism and liberalism are also about love, but they tend to focus on what is unloveable about the world rather than celebrate what is to be loved. All political philosophies have their poetry and their ugliness. The poetry mostly comes out at elections.

The worst thing about being a conservative, though, is the other people who are conservatives. Grown-up, unromantic people who do not care about the poor and instead worry about their careers. But there are also bohemian conservatives like me and Michael Oakeshott, some of whose aphorisms I have just been reading. 

Not another book about Disraeli

This is a very interesting short review of yet another biography of Benjamin Disraeli. For some reason I mention him a lot on my blog. I never took a huge interest in him when studying history at school and university but now he seems crucial. I am not entirely sure why.

He had happy memories of 'the pleasure of being made ​​much of by a man who is daily Decapitating half the country' when he was the guest of Ali Pasha in Albania as a young man in the 1830s. Very, very funny and very remark Unpleasant indeed. He made ​​sure Russia got Bessarabia in 1878 as a punishment for rebelling against the Sublime Porte but he had good reasons to want to preserve the Ottoman Empire. Since it came to an end we have had the modern Middle East.

Bulgaria is a foreign country, they do things differently there.

At dinner last night a Romanian friend told me that Bulgarians, visiting their monasteries, behave like holidaymakers, unlike Romanians who behave like pilgrims when they visit theirs. Two Bulgarian academics told me recently that the Church is not liked and respected south of the Danube the way it is here. I wonder why. Are the centuries of Turkish rule the reason? I should have thought Turkish rule would have made the people like the Church more, not less.

A monarchist praises republics

The USA like Rome was for a long time a republic but became an imperial state while keeping the trappings of the republic. I am not a republican but I prefer republics to pseudo-republics. Switzerland seems to be the only true republic left and Switzerland is becoming less republican, less free and less democratic because of international law and, in particular, the deplorable European Convention on Human Rights.

I do remember that gallant little canton that year after year refused to give vote to women. I am sure Mrs. Clinton would have made them give women the vote, or the EU, or some body of the great and good, had they continued to defy the zeitgeist, but they held out through much of my childhood.

Charles Moore in today's Spectator makes the point that even in Switzerland the political class is attracted to the European project.

On the other hand, the Swiss people are stoutly sceptical and have become more so. In February, they voted for a referendum limiting the free movement of EU citizens into their country, and so their EU relationship is now in flux. In this remarkable country, only 5 per cent know the name of their president. This is not because they are indifferent to politics, but because most decisions are still taken at the most local level (the commune), and so the man at the top can be blessedly obscure.


Yes what did I do before internet at home? Watch Euronews and be kept up to date. Was I more spiritually alive? I doubt it but human nature changed when people used internet outside the office too.

As for the British Sundays, until the late 1980s, when almost all shops were closed and almost nothing happened...

I hated the old British Sundays. It spoilt Saturdays thinking about the next day but I did not want them to change and I do not approve of shops being open on Sunday except Jewish ones with special licenses. I have a conservative mind.

Before the Internet

What is wrong with prejudice against atheists?

The whole palaver of human rights, which seem mostly to be about restrictions on human rights, is slowly going to come to Romania, is already here, as this article from Romania-Insider suggests. The last clause of this sentence shocked me.
"The Roma minority, the Jewish community, the Hungarian minority, and the gay community are most affected by the hate speech in Romania, but so are atheists".
What is wrong with prejudice against atheists, for heaven's sake?

Anti-atheist prejudice is a mark of a devout country. Romania is the most religious country in Europe but religiosity and modern liberalism are uneasy bedfellows.

For my view on human rights please click here.

Enjoying war

The joy of war which Homer's heroes knew is out of fashion now, but this is surely the best opening to an entry in the whole of Wikipedia:

Photo: Quite simply the best opening to a Wikipedia article ever.

Whiskey is not a Protestant drink

I hate whiskey but it is not true, as Belloc says, that it is a Protestant drink. It is an Catholic, Irish drink and when the Scotch copied it they were a beautiful Catholic country. 

The courts found the Scotch had committed the ancient tort of passing off their drink as whiskey and ordered them to stop back in the 15th (?) century, hence the Scotch spelling, whisky.

In case you have forgotten the passage from The Path to Rome:

"I knew a man once that was given to drinking, and I made up this rule for him to distinguish between Bacchus and the Devil. To wit: that he should never drink what has been made and sold since the Reformation--I mean especially spirits and champagne. Let him (said I) drink red wine and white, good beer and mead--if he could get it--liqueurs made by monks, and, in a word, all those feeding, fortifying, and confirming beverages that our fathers drank in old time; but not whisky, nor brandy, nor sparkling wines, not absinthe, nor the kind of drink called gin. This he promised to do, and all went well. He became a merry companion, and began to write odes. His prose clarified and set, that had before been very mixed and cloudy. He slept well; he comprehended divine things; he was already half a republican, when one fatal day--it was the feast of the eleven thousand virgins, and they were too busy up in heaven to consider the needs of us poor hobbling, polyktonous and betempted wretches of men--I went with him to the Society for the Prevention of Annoyances to the Rich, where a certain usurer's son was to read a paper on the cruelty of Spaniards to their mules. As we were all seated there round a table with a staring green cloth on it, and a damnable gas pendant above, the host of that evening offered him whisky and water, and, my back being turned, he took it. Then when I would have taken it from him he used these words--
'After all, it is the intention of a pledge that matters;' and I saw that all was over, for he had abandoned definition, and was plunged back into the horrible mazes of Conscience and Natural Religion.
What do you think, then, was the consequence? Why, he had to take some nasty pledge or other to drink nothing whatever, and become a spectacle and a judgement, whereas if he had kept his exact word he might by this time have been a happy man."

Cream Tartary

Talking of the Crimea, it is of course is Thackeray's Kingdom of Cream Tartary. I found The Rose and the Ring as unrewarding as everything by Thackeray except some of the non-fiction. Did anyone enjoy Thackeray in our time?

Mr. Obama's speech at Brussels yesterday

I am very heartened and disheartened by what Mr. Obama said. I suppose he was right to say it.

What Mr. Bush did in Iraq and Mr. Cameron did in Libya was far, far worse than what Mr. Putin has done, but what the West did was internationalist, Mr. Obama is saying, as if this makes it alright. 

I am sure no Russian will be persuaded by this passage, which is true as far as it goes -  think what it leaves out:  

“Russia has pointed to America’s decision to go into Iraq as an example of Western hypocrisy. Now, it is true that the Iraq war was a subject of vigorous debate, not just around the world but in the United States, as well. I participated in that debate, and I opposed our military intervention there. “But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future.Do not think for a moment that your own freedom, your own prosperity, that your own moral imagination is bound by the limits of your community, your ethnicity or even your country. You’re bigger than that. You can help us to choose a better history. That’s what Europe tells us. That’s what the American experience is all about.”

I will need to think what to think about this post-national version of American exceptionalism:

 “I say this as the president of a country that looked to Europe for the values that are written into our founding documents and which spilled blood to ensure that those values could endure on these shores. I also say this as the son of a Kenyan whose grandfather was a cook for the British, and as a person who once lived in Indonesia as it emerged from colonialism. “The ideals that unite us matter equally to the young people of Boston or Brussels or Jakarta or Nairobi or Krakow or Kiev.”

(The misspelling of Cracow is not Mr Obama’s mistake. I am sure he does not know which country Cracow is in.)

Mr. Obama probably believes that American and Western European twenty year-olds think like he does and perhaps he is right. Perhaps it is better so but Russians do not think like this and nor do Romanians nor most people in the world.

Can someone explain to me what the West should do? Keep out of the Middle East certainly, but we are talking about Ukraine. I suppose speak loudly and leave the big stick at home?

A good curry in Bucharest

I had a very good Sunday brunch yesterday with clever people at Kumar's new restaurant in Str. Mantuleasa, that poetic, even mystical street. Kumar's Lamb Madras was not metaphysical at all though. It melted in my mouth and I shall return for brunch most Sundays. On the other hand, George Butunoiu, who was also lunching there, did not like the food at all.

All cities are at their best in the rain. But Bucharest in the spring sunshine - it was over 70º on Sunday - is very wonderful too. Especially walking back to my home in those little streets between Mantuleasa and the Boulevard.

All real communication is psychic

I long ago heard Martin Israel on TV saying 
'I think all real communication between two people is psychic.' 
I think so too.

Russia, which was due to host the summit this summer, has been suspended from the G8

Why did they take so long to suspend Russia from the G8? I understand why Putin feels justified in annexing Crimea but think the slow, soft Western reaction worrying. We should not have provoked Russia, Russia should have resisted the provocation but now she has taken Crimea we should not show supine weakness. Confusing, I know. Can anyone make things clear?

Russia's path diverges even further from Romania's

Russians have taken a very different path to Romania. A Russian student said to me not long ago 'I have to admit that most Russians are extremely racist'. This might have been almost true here in 1990, though I am not sure, but certainly it is not now. Feminism has not yet come here, but to some extent it will. Homosexuality which used to be illegal is now becoming more and more accepted. 

I wish Eastern Europeans could fight back against many things coming from the EU while benefiting from many others. (Why should EU law decide if children in Romanian schools are caned or there are non-smoking areas in restaurants or horses and carts are allowed on roads? Etc., etc., etc., etc.?) But they will not.

Many on the right in the West admire the ex-KGB station chief as a real man and I see signs that the recent f
eminisation of Western  society is the reason why the leaders of the Western countries do not know how to deal with Mr Putin. John Kerry and William Hague poignantly told him that Ukraine is not a zero sum game, to use that dreary cliche, when for Mr. Putin all games are. EU leaders tell him the age of national assertion is over, but he knows it is not and will never be. He rightly sees expansion of Western interests in the revolution in Kiev, in the intervention in Libya and the putative intervention in Syria. Like almost all Eastern Europeans he is not aware of the genuine idealism that also forms Western policy, but there is no reason why he should be. It makes no difference to him why Western countries want what they want.

He is as justified in doing what he is doing as the USA and UK were in Kosovo and the Russian people are naturally delighted. A comparable feeling of patriotism swept over England when Mrs. Thatcher launched the fleet to recover the Falkland Islands in 1982 from the Argentinians.

Both the right and the left in Britian see Mr. Putin as a right-wing conservative, rather than a Bolshevik. The social conservative right, including what the BBC calls the extreme right, admire Mr. Putin and contrast him with the neo-conservatives making war to instal malls and feminism in Afghanistan. His is untouched by concerns about feminism, race relations, transgender, whatever that is, and the caravan of modish ideas that trundles on in the West. Social conservatives hope his attitudes might rub off on the West. However,I do not see that Mr. Putin, by standing up to the EU and the USA, or by making it illegal to spread 'homosexual propaganda' will have an influence on what people think outside the former U.S.S.R. 

I wonder if the West will ever get away from social liberalism.  The Churches are riddled with it. But I am sure Russia will not help us do so. Once Communism represented a challenge to European civilisation and some of the greatest minds and bravest souls were converted to what we now see clearly was a secular religion. Even the ideas of Dr Salazar the Portuguese dictator, if they were to be reasserted by a powerful political movement  would represent a rival ideology, one that advocated, amongst other things, a one-party state, the abolition of divorce and abortion and discouraged married women from going out to work. Putin represents no alternative to the West. He is a liberal democrat with slightly old-fashioned opinions about homosexuality.

Social liberalism is spreading  to Romania, via the EU and via young academics educated abroad. To begin with it was mostly a way of making money in EU grants, but slowly attitudes are changing. Bismarck said that a country that copies another is lost but all countries seem to be copies these days.

Strangely enough it is another Russian leader, Stalin, whose great victory in 1945 (for Russia, not the UK or USA, won the war) made liberal-left ideas intellectually fashionable and the fashion never seems to change in the social and cultural spheres, though left-wing economics have long been out of fashion.

I think Russians are right to reject a lot of what is happening in the First World, but it will be interesting to see where their path takes them. It will not take them to a free, truly democratic and open society, but I wonder if that was possible anyway. Nevertheless, Russia is not a dictatorship like China, a country no-one seems to criticise. It is a sort-of democracy and that is a great thing, bearing in mind Russia's history.

I do not believe that parliamentary government and institutions work well in all countries. I wish they did in Russia, though, which is not a tribal society like Libya or Somalia but a great, Christian country.

Nick Paton Walsh, when he ceased to be the Guardian's man in Moscow in 2006  wrote a very interesting article about Putin and concluded:
"But this brings me to the real reason why I am a Putin fan: he has put Russia on a course that means it will soon no longer be his choice whether he, or perhaps his successor, stays in power. Commerce, not politics, will bring Russia round. 

We shall see.

Cri de Coeur

AJP Taylor was right that people learn from the mistakes of the past how to make new mistakes in the future. Never more right than about lessons from the 1930s which is completely misunderstood. Stalin was not Hitler, nor was Saddam, nor is Putin, nor were the people in the American South in the 1950s, nor are people who think married women should not go to work, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc..

It is fair enough to make an analogy between Putin annexing Crimea and the Anschluss, obviously - Putin has invaded a foreign European country and we have to react. But he is no Hitler, he has no plan to recreate the Russian Empire and the EU is to some extent at fault for 'dissing' him and for encouraging the revolution in Kiev. We did, as Nigel Farage said, poke the bear. And considering our behaviour in Iraq Libya etc we are in a glass house.

Thank God Putin and the House of Commons prevented an intervention in Syria. I do think Messrs. Cameron and Hague should resign.

Life is not a science but an art

I suddenly see why people who studied mathematics or science are not usually interesting when they talk politics - Margaret Thatcher being an obvious example. In their disciplines answers are either right or wrong. Life is not a science but an arts discipline where there are many right answers, though some much more right than others.

Boris Johnson had another insight that deserves to be disseminated.

Life is not course-work. It's one exam crisis after another.

Unfortunately course work has feminised our education system, benefiting girls at the expense of boys and hard-working plodders at the expense of the brilliant but lazy.

Another wonderful Daily Telegraph obituary - for Clarissa Dickson Wright

Clarissa Dickson Wright was after my time, which is to say her television programmes were, my time being when I started work and stopped watching television except for the news. This week, however, she was the subject of another great Telegraph obituary.

Some lives are picaresque novels, far more than careers counsellors and writers would have us believe and Miss Wright's was one of these. Not quite so much so as the life of the subject of the funniest obituary of all time, Denisa, Lady Newborough, but comparably interesting.

Her descriptions of Mr. Blair are priceless. 

She observed the budding union between [Cherie] Booth (“desperately needy”) and Tony Blair (“a poor sad thing with his guitar”). Later still she observed that the “wet, long-haired student” that she had known had been replaced by a man with “psychopath eyes. You know those dead eyes that look at you and try to work out what you want to hear?”)
I wonder what changed him. I know what she means about dead psychopathic eyes but I would not have fingered him for a psychopath.

I went in my youth to meet the deputy editor of the Telegraph and told him the obituaries were the best thing in the paper and he said he agreed. They are the best history of the 20th century - the John Aubrey's Brief Lives de nos jours. They outdo Anthony Powell, himself the biographer of Aubrey.

Much as one likes fat people in principal it is worth noting that they die in their fifties and sixties, so note this well dear reader before passing on. On the other hand, Kingsley Amis said that
'No pleasure is worth foregoing for the sake of 10 more years in a nursing home.'
You might decide this goes for steak and kidney pudding, trifle and other glories of English cuisine.

Irresistible Ronald Firbank

'O, help me heaven,' she prayed, `to be decorative and to do right'.

'I know of no joy,' she airily began, 'greater than a cool white dress after the sweetness of confession.'

"The world is disgracefully managed, one hardly knows to whom to complain."

Mentally, perhaps she was already three parts glass. So intense was her desire to set up a commemorative window to herself that, when it was erected, she believed she must leave behind in it, for ever, a little ghost. And should this be so, then what joy to be pierced each morning with light; her body flooded through and through by the sun, or in the evening to glow with a harvest of dark colours, deepening into untold sadness with the night....What ecstasy! It was the Egyptian sighing for his pyramid, of course.

Although there were moments even still in the grey glint of morning when the room had the agitated, stricken appearance of a person who had changed his creed a thousand times, sighed, stretched himself, turned a complete somersault, sat up, smiled, lay down, turned up his toes and died of doubts. But this aspect was reserved exclusively for the housemaids and the translucent threads of dawn.

'I adore italics, don't you?'

I really must get round to reading Firbank's novels. Apart from anything else, including the fact that he was Evelyn Waugh's greatest influence, how can one resist titles like Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli and Prancing Nigger? But I have had his books since Mrs. Thatcher was Prime Minister, I brought them to Romania with me in the late 1990s and until now I somehow did resist them.

The Crimea will vote today to become part of Russia

The referendum is taking place in Crimea today and it seems it will be fair if for no other reason than that there  will be no need to rig it.
"What's sauce for Kosovo's goose is certainly sauce for Crimea's gander," 
said Serbian-American writer Serge Trifkovic and it's hard to disagree with that. Recognising Kosovo was very stupid. 

Vladimir Putin is less justified in what he is doing than the UK and France were in Libya, because Putin was foolish enough to vote for a Security Council Resolution which the UK and France used to pretend their intervention was legal and also because they had a genuine humanitarian reason for doing so. This does not justify our intervention in Libya either legally, morally or most important politically. Putin is about as justified as the USA and UK were in 2003 in Iraq. 

Like England and France in Libya and like the Allies in Iraq in 2003 Putin is making a big mistake, for understandable reasons. He stands to lose most of Ukraine by doing this, even if he intends to annex more of the part where the ethnic Russians live. However the moral outrage I felt when he first intervened has entirely gone. I encourage you to read this excellent analysis of the situation, to see Putin's point of view.

I have just been rereading Neal Ascherson's wonderfully erudite and poetic 'Black Sea' which is very topical. I have wanted for years to get to the Crimea and had hoped to do so this year. i still do and hope the border between Ukraine and Russia is not closed by the time summer comes. But the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been closed for more than twenty years.

Best opening lines from books

Harriet Wilson had one of the best opening lines in literature: 
I shall not say why and how I became, at the age of fifteen, the mistress of the Earl of Craven.
My other favourites are, unsurprisingly,
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again
The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.

And, of course, though I feel it goes without saying,
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife
One more. As an undergraduate, I used to read a great many parodies. Two of the funniest I ever read were '"Summer at Blandings" as it would have been had it been written by Kafka' and '"The Castle" as it would have been had it been written by P.G. Wodehouse.' The latter began,
'''What ho" said K.'
This blog post was inspired by a long tweetfest (is that the word or did I invent it?) that the journalist John Rentoul has been having on this subject on Twitter, based on an article he wrote. Among the lines offered were this from Muriel Spark's The Girls of Slender Means, a book I wanted to like but couldn't.

'Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions'
This is Sylvia Plath, the opening of The Bell Jar:

'It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York'
And Ian Fleming, Casino Royale:

'The scent, smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning' 
 Please tell me your favourites. 

Malcolm Muggeridge on Jesus

Jesus' subsequent followers have been less careful. They have sent him on Crusades, made him a freedom-fighter, involved him in civil wars and conspiracies, sent him picketing and striking and leading cavalry charges, and finally made him a paid-up member of the British Labour Party, with the strong expectation that in due course he will be given a life peerage and take his place in the House of Lords. In the light of these aberrations I have sometimes asked myself how Jesus would have fared if he had been born into one of the points of conflict in our world as Galilee was in his - in South Africa, say. As a white South African he would assuredly have been killed by his fellow whites for insisting that they should love and serve their black fellow citizens; as a black South African, he would likewise have been killed by his fellow blacks for telling them they must love and serve their white oppressors. In neither case, it is safe to assume, would he have been a beneficiary under the World Council of Churches' munificence in providing financial support for African guerrillas aiming to achieve national independence by means of terrorism.

Wedgie Benn and Eric Heffer

Tony Benn, whose death was just announced, was a foolish, foolish man and much worse. But he was right on this: 
"Britain's continuing membership of the Community would mean the end of Britain as a completely self-governing nation" 
May he be in heaven. 

He was kinder about Lady Thatcher when she died than I have been about him and recorded:
"I remember her at the funeral of MP Eric Heffer. I was asked to make a speech and as I was waiting, there was someone behind me coughing. It was Mrs Thatcher, and at the end I thanked her for coming and she burst into tears. She had come out of respect for someone whose opinions she disagreed with.

Though I do not observe the nil nisi bono rule, most on the right do. The internet is littered with tributes from conservatives to their fallen arch-foe, as it was earlier this week with Tories praising Bob Crow. But then the Conservatives have many strong reasons to be grateful to Mr. Benn. He and General Galtieri won them the 1979 and 1983 general elections, though in 1983 Michael Foot could also take much credit. 

It is Mr. Benn's real foes, in the Labour Party, who have reason to shudder at his memory. People like Denis Healey for example. Healey and the Labour Right of the 1970s were way to the left of people nowadays, on economic  matters - the SDLP were too. Everyone even the loony left look right-wing now on social issues. Even Ken Livingstone did not contemplate homosexual marriage.

The best remark I read was made by someone I don't know called Paul Shankland on Facebook:
"Dear Tony Benn, rest in peace and thank you for so many years of wisdom. Anyone looking at Concorde or the Post Office today would agree that you were indeed a visionary."
I do not have time to offer original insights into the man, but here is an earlier short post which says a lot.

He wanted to nationalise a High Street bank I remember and Harold Wilson joked that he wanted to bring Marks and Spencer's up to the standard of the Co-op. I only learnt today that he very nearly got the telephone boxes of England painted yellow. It would not have mattered much, though, as under Margaret Thatcher the lovely red ones disappeared anyway and today such red telephone boxes as remain are mostly used as improvised urinals.

I had a liking for old Heffer, Benn's lieutenant, who had difficulties in speaking intelligible English. Heffer was a devout Christian and once began a speech with dissolved the House in laughter with the words:
 'My father, like Jesus Christ's, was a carpenter.' 
I liked this as I can say the same thing. We were even in Happy Families, Mr Wood, the carpenter, Mrs Wood the carpenter's wife, Miss Wood, the carpenter's daughter and I was Master Wood, the carpenter's son. I suppose Happy Families is now considered sexist and homophobic.

The shape of things to come: 236 new skyscrapers will be built in London

" London’s skyline is set to change dramatically over the next decade. According to a report out today, 236 towers over 20 storeys are being proposed, approved or [are already] under construction – more than double the number of high-rise buildings estimated to be in [the] capital today. " 

Read more here.

Bob Crow is taken from us

I had never heard of the British trade unionist Bob Crow who died aged 52 this week and think I lost nothing thereby.

Looking at his picture it is terrible to think he was the same age as I am. Youth's sweet-scented manuscript has indeed 

A friend of mine, whose judgement I trust, said he was personally greedy and avaricious, did nothing for the wider working class he claimed to care about and in the long term - when driverless trains take over - will be seen to have done his members as much of a disservice as Arthur Scargill did his.

What I do not understand is how or why the English, in their great national kindness of heart, can mourn people for whom very little good can be said. Yet they do. Bob himself did not have this odd compulsion. About Lady Thatcher's death, he said: 

"I won't shed one single tear over her death. She destroyed the NHS and destroyed industry in this country and as far as I'm concerned she can rot in hell."
But my objection to this man is not so much the misery he caused his fellow Londoners but the fact that he was a Communist.

My first boss, the sainted Maurice Macmillan, the son of Harold Macmillan, shocked me by saying many union leaders were Communists. Very true and they included Jack Jones, Hugh Scanlon and Scargill.They were our Ceausescus and Honeckers. Now we face the Marxists of the universities and the left-wing press.

It is a very terrible thing to be a Communist and this man Crow was one in Brezhnev's time and remained one till his death, so why is he forgiven? Were he in the BNP he would be a pariah. Lord Justice 'Fred' Lawton was a blackshirt as a youth. He was forgiven but he is an exception.

I remember the BBC fawning over Jones in old age when he met his fellow veterans of the Spanish Civil War, no doubt mostly Communists and the rest fellow travellers. Exactly the same people who took power in Eastern Europe but they are seen as romantic, the Francoists not.

Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Missing Aeroplane

The Malaysian airplane that has disappeared reminds me of 
'the cutter Alicia, which sailed one spring morning into a small patch of mist from where she never again emerged, nor was anything further ever heard of herself and her crew', 
a mystery that defeated Sherlock Holmes.