Promoting women because they are women is not conservative

This is a good and much needed article by Jamie Delingpole on why Conservatives should avoid identity politics. Instead of which they are embracing them in a big way in the recent British cabinet reshuffle.

This drew a smile: 

"There are currently 256 male Conservative MPs and 48 female ones. If you're going to draw from the smaller talent pool just because it contains lots of breasts and vaginas and handbags why stop there? Paedophiles, for example. They're not nearly as well-represented as they were, apparently, in the glory days of 1970s politics."

No, promoting women become they are women is certainly not conservative but, on the other hand, conservatives - well, Tories, at least -  are not supposed to believe in meritocracy. Harold Macmillan, at any rate, certainly did not - he made the Duke of Devonshire Under-Secretary of State at the Colonial Office because 
'Cavendishes are always good with natives' 
and said
'Mr Attlee had 3 Etonians in his cabinet.I have six. Everything's twice as good under the Conservatives.'
He chose Lord Home to succeed him because he was an earl and complained, very wickedly, that Mrs Thatcher 
'has more Estonians than Etonians in her cabinet'. 
Behind a lot of Macmillan's jokes, especially the snobbish ones, one detects the bore who emptied the House when he was a backbencher and the sensitive middle-class intellectual who went to Eton, married well and hid his ambition and nerves with ham acting and a bottle of whisky a night. 

But no-one ever denied that he was a clever man and I like what he said when Mrs. Thatcher invited the Queen and all the living Prime Ministers to No. 10 to mark the 300th anniversary of the building of the house. As the photograph was being taken that appeared on all the front pages the next day, James Callaghan said,
I wonder what is the collective noun of Prime Ministers.
And Macmillan, who was 91, answered instantly,
A lack of principals.

The bombing of Gaza

Many people seem outraged that some Arabs would like Israel not to exist, but there are understandable reasons why they do, though I do not agree with them. On the other hand, Israel within the 1948 boundaries has been around long enough to have acquired legitimacy. In fact she acquired it when in 1948 the Arab countries expelled their Jews. Passage of time is the only thing that ever confers or removes legitimacy but you will never get people to agree on how much time it takes. And legitimacy does not decide things, force does. Have I said enough to make people on both sides of this question stop reading my blog? 

P.S. I do wish the Israelis would be generous with Abbas and stop building on the West Bank and I wish Hamas would stop fighting.

P.P.S. The last time there was fighting in Gaza I wrote this:

Less than five years after the (Byzantine) Roman Empire had won back Palestine from the Iranianson 4 February 634, Muslim Arabs defeated the Byzantine army, commanded by the candidatus, Sergius, at the Battle of Dathin, a village near Gaza. Sergius himself was killed. The Muslim victory was celebrated by the local Jews. 

This is the moment when Islam enters history. 

The fascinating Doctrina Jacobi nuper baptizatia Christian polemic against the Jews and one of the very few historical sources, records voices from an otherwise eerily silent period of Middle Eastern history:

When the candidatus was killed by the Saracens, I was at Caesarea and I set off by boat to Sykamina. People were saying "the candidatus has been killed," and we Jews were overjoyed. And they were saying that the prophet had appeared, coming with the Saracens, and that he was proclaiming the advent of the anointed one, the Christ who was to come. I, having arrived at Sykamina, stopped by a certain old man well-versed in scriptures, and I said to him: "What can you tell me about the prophet who has appeared with the Saracens?" He replied, groaning deeply: "He is false, for the prophets do not come armed with a sword. Truly they are works of anarchy being committed today and I fear that the first Christ to come, whom the Christians worship, was the one sent by God and we instead are preparing to receive the Antichrist. Indeed, Isaiah said that the Jews would retain a perverted and hardened heart until all the earth should be devastated. But you go, master Abraham, and find out about the prophet who has appeared." So I, Abraham, inquired and heard from those who had met him that there was no truth to be found in the so-called prophet, only the shedding of men's blood. He says also that he has the keys of paradise, which is incredible.

Thankfully Bucharest still does not get very many visitors

I am delighted that Bucharest is near the bottom of cities (90th out of 132) ranked in order of number of foreign visitors, according to the recent MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index.

The Romanian capital is expected to receive at 928,028
in 2014 , and they are expected to spend US$391 million. I have no idea how they know since we are only in June but they seem very exact. I wish there were fewer but there we are.

The passing of William Hague

William Hague is one of the most brilliant people in politics. When he led his party he swept the floor with Tony Blair at question time every week, though the electorate didn't care.  But when have we had a more disastrous Foreign Secretary? 

Herbert Morrison and Selwyn Lloyd were only undistinguished - Lord Halifax was much better -  Robin Cook was no good but he must be remembered with respect because he resigned over Iraq. Sir Edward Grey who took us to war in 1914? 

Mr. Hague should have been sent to the backbenches for what he did in Libya and wanted to do in Syria. But Mr Cameron was equally responsible and should have joined him.

If only Alan Watkins were still alive. Michael White, whom I always love, sums up Mr. Hague and the rest of the victims of the reshuffle here. I like this comment:
... I was in the Empress ballroom in Blackpool – everyone's favourite conference hall – when he precociously entered politics at 16 by lecturing Mrs T on how to govern when she won the coming election.

Personally, I still think he never recovered from that debut – as Judy Garland once told the Queen Mother about 'Somewhere over the Rainbow':
"Ma'am, that song ruined my life."

Constanța is being tarted up

I went to
 the seaside at the weekend by train as far as Constanța and came back the same way. This is much more civilised than car, especially with the new rolling stock they introduced last week. My return journey took a mere two hours unlike the three hours it used to take before the seven years it took them to rebuild the railway. 

A friend of mine who studied geology before becoming a successful businessman and who knows how they rebuilt the track said they hurried it for political reasons (they had originally promised that it would only take on year). He told me not to travel on that line in rainy weather. I pass on the warning.

The old port at Constanța is now full of restaurants. Who knew? There used to be just one terrible fish restaurant that Romanians always recommended.

This is an example of Covent Gardenisation that I guardedly approve, on the whole, though I always liked Constanța's loucheness. It was always a wicked place - one half expected to meet Sydney Greenstreet and Humphrey Bogart in its broken streets - but the wickedness will remain even when they finish renovating Piata Ovidiu.

How exotic the mosque is, overlooking the port. How odd it is to think that England is now full of them. Romania's 20,000 Muslims, in the Dobrugea, which was part of Turkey until 1878, made me think Constanța Near Eastern when I first went there in 1999. Mine is the last generation of Englishmen that could forget that we have millions of Muslim fellow-countrymen - and we forgot it in the 1990s but not anymore

My taxi driver says that Mr Mazare, the 'controversial' mayor of Constanța, has done many good things and reels off a long list. Who guessed? One of the good things was to get EU funds to pay for the renovation of the old port.

A Constanțan waitress I once pursued was telling me about the smuggling mafias in the city and I naively asked her if Mr. Mazare knew about all the smuggling that went on. She said, with an innocent face,

'He has no idea.'

Back to Vama Veche

To my own surprise I decided to go to Vama Veche at the weekend and, not only that, I held to my decision.

I had a great time.

Vama Veche is where unconventional, open-minded people in a rather conventional, rather narrow-minded country go to let their hair down. In the 1980s it was simply a piece of empty beach between the last village in Romania, Doi Mai, and the Bulgarian border. it attracted nudists. Nudism was a way of asserting ones individuality in an oppressive totalitarian society.

It still is a place to escape convention and normalcy - if you want that go to Mamaia, which represents the polar opposite of what Vama is. When I got to Vama in 2000, though, my Romanian friends were complaining that there was no longer any point in going there because it was full of wooden buildings and had a concrete motel. But in those days 'the spirit of Vama' still existed.

I asked Beni who is one of the most famous Vama characters whether the spirit of Vama still survived. He said the spirit of Vama is what you make of it and this is true of course. For many Vama means beer, rock music, the famous bars on and near the beach - the most famous of all being Ştuf - even, it is rumoured, sex. It is also where a lot of young and youngish people, half of them students, some of them in their 50s and 60s, go to drink a very great deal. Much too much perhaps.

It is, I am pleased to say, not a place for people with children. Nor is it a place for television presenters, politicians or the rich. It is a place for camping or living in a caravan or slumming it in ricketty gerry-built digs. It is at once egalitarian and intellectual.

There is not much that is truly Romanian except the villages and the monasteries but Vama Veche is absolutely Romanian. It is the, in a strange way, the heart of Romania, libidinous and drunken though that heart can sometimes be at four o'clock in the morning.

'Gay, Jewish, mentally ill and a sponsor of gypsies in Romania'

Andrew Solomons has written about his recent visit to Romania and wonders how his family would have turned out had they not left Romania for the USA. 

He came to Romania to publicise his book The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression but also wanted to talk about his homosexuality.

A lecture by him on the subject at the Central University Library in Bucharest was cancelled after the the library found out that he would talk about homosexual identity. Instead he gave the talk elsewhere. 
He publicly complained about the cancellation and it made a small item in the newspapers. Had it happened in England or America I suppose there would have been an outcry. 

I went to a talk Andrew Solomons shortly afterwards gave about depression, which is a desperately important subject. In it he announced that he did not believe in God and the Romanian woman I was with, herself suffering from a deep depression, thought the reason why he had no faith in God was because he had turned away from God by being a practising homosexual. I smiled when I heard this but on reflection she might be right. I like the Romanian religious sense, which is wiser and deeper than Anglo-Saxon Protestantism.

Mr. Solomons did not speak about his private life but I was astonished when he referred to 'my husband'. I wonder if one will get used to the idea of men having husbands and am pretty sure I shall not. He said that he and his husband have three children. I wonder where these children came from and hope they were not brought into the world with the deliberate intention that they would never know their mother or mothers.

Mircea Carturescu introduced him and apologised for the central library's behaviour. There was much clapping but I noticed that a fair number of people did not clap. I was one.

My opinion is that we should hate our own sins more than other people's, we should not throw stones when it comes to sexual morality and we should treat homosexuals with kindness, courtesy and respect. I think sexual morality is a long way from the heart of morality and everyone is fallible.  However, I approve of the Bucharest central library not letting Mr. Solomons give his talk. Romania is perhaps the most intensely Christian country in Europe. It is not the central library's job to lend their premises to people who hold views completely at odds with Orthodox Christian teaching (or the deeply-held views of most Romanians). The library have not rented their space to a theologian arguing on the other side either. 

I congratulate Andrew Solomons and Leslie Hawke who brought him over here, for having done very much good by drawing Romanians' attention to the fact that depression is a very serious disease. Anti-depressants should be made available for free to Romanians, as other life-saving drugs are. Something should be done to lift the stigma that attaches to depression and all mental problems here. The brain can get sick just like the body.

Andrew Solomons praised highly Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy but I was slightly disappointed that he had not read it until he researched his book on depression. The Anatomy of Melancholy is a book everyone should read, irrespective of whether they are interested in melancholy. It is not in the least a sad book but a masterpiece of English prose and a wonderful gallimaufry. If, reader, you have not done so i urge you to put it on your list. It is here.

Another writer I certainly must read, after hearing him speak, is Mircea Carturescu, who was absolutely magnetic and completely upstaged the American. Mircea Carturescu said some brilliant things, including that the universe is one being and all of us are all its eyes. 

I love this, even though I suppose it reminds me of the time I quoted Turner's last words 
The sun is God
to Monsignor Gilbey, as we walked down Pall Mall.
That is heretical
was the Monsignor's very reasonable reply. 

The World Cup is over for another four years

I wish I had watched some of it . Especially the match where Germany beat Brazil 8-1. 

I'm slightly surprised by how many women - judging from my Facebook friends - take an interest in football. 11% of Romanian viewers of football on TV are women and this in a country where women are women and men are men. It is not a complete surprise because my favourite great-aunt loved football and never missed a match. On the other hand, I thought female competitiveness usually took other, sometimes crueler forms.

The English journalist I dined with last night said she would expect in England the figure for women watching football on TV would be 40-50%. I never heard of any of my many women friends watching football on TV in my twenties. I don't think many of them in fact watched TV at all. It was the mark of Oxbridge people in their 20s in London in the late 1980s who considered themselves sophisticated never to watch TV. But I suspect that, over and above having no interest in TV they had no interest whatsoever in sport and wonder if there has been a huge social change of which I was unaware. 

If so I regret it. Women always seemed to me the superior sex because they did not take an interest in sport, cars, electronic gadgets and many other dull things like the best way to get to Luton.


I remember coming across the word threnody and deciding it would find its way  into my Latin A Level paper. This is how A Grades are earnt. If only life were as easy as A Levels.

Was Oscar Wilde a paedophile?

I cannot quite understand why some people think of Oscar Wilde as a martyr. 

Certainly, what consenting adults do in bed should not be a crime. It's very difficult to understand why it ever was, though it was a hanging offence until 1861. Lord Byron and his friends, homosexual or bisexual themselves, would visit convicted sodomites who awaited execution and jeer at them, according to Byron and Greek Love: Homophobia in 19th-Century England by Louis Crompton Faber. I hope this is not true. This story made me suspect that there is a connection between homosexuality and sadism.

By the way, Muslims who formed a political party in England to make sodomy once more a capital offence were arrested by the police last year, which does not seem quite right in a democracy.

Oscar Wilde was a wonderful and very lovable man and one should not be self-righteous, especially about sexual sins, but nor should he be, or would he want to be, admired for his tragic flaw, which led him to be unfaithful to his wife and to sleep with young prostitutes. They became rent boys because of poverty and, as I imagine happens to all prostitutes except at the expensive end, had their young lives gravely damaged.

One of Wilde's rent-boys was 16 and a homosexual act with a boy under 18 was a crime until 1998 in England. On the other hand, after homosexuality was legalised in England in 1967 I don't think men were prosecuted because of 16 year-olds. But there were references at Wilde's trial to a boy who looked 14. The age of the boys was irrelevant in 1895 but it is reasonable to suppose that this boy was under 16.

If so, in our day one hopes Wilde would have been tried and convicted for child abuse. The whole scandal would have been comparable to the conviction of Rolf Harris and would have been as big a scandal in 2014 as in 1895.

British society, which is obsessed by paedophilia, still has very odd double standards. If you are a famous, long dead playwright sodomising minors is alright.

Wilde, for his part, would not want to be remembered as a martyr for homosexual rights. He became a Catholic shortly on his deathbed and therefore accepted that the sin of Sodom is a mortal sin. 

Wilde's punishment (hard labour) was terribly sad, but he brought the prosecution  on himself by perjuring himself when he sued the Marquess of Queensberry for defamation after Queensberry called Wilde a 'somdomite' (sic). Wilde was given bail and Arthur Balfour and others gave him the opportunity to flee the country but Wilde chose to serve his sentence. I feel very sorry for Wilde, who really was in that overused phrase a tragic figure, but since this, cruel and unjust as it was, was the law, there is no real reason why a man who was well connected should get off while working class men were punished. To think otherwise is outrageous.

In his biography Ellmann says this well-known picture is of Oscar Wilde in drag as Salome. It is not in fact Wilde but a mannish looking Hungarian actress who looked a lot like him.

Abuse of teenagers is not paedophilia and should not be confused with it but is equally damaging. 

Abuse is more than a matter of the age of the victim though - the age and sex of the adult is also relevant. I do not think a girl of nineteen sleeping with a boy of fifteen abuse.  I have known two beautiful women of thirty who slept with underage boys - that was not abuse either. When middle aged men sleep with thirteen year-olds or fourteen year-olds it is abuse, even if they are rock stars and the girls are willing.

I know an (English) woman who grew up in an orphanage. She told me that all the boys in the orphanage were buggered by social workers but none of the girls were touched. She added that she was herself pretty and therefore knew whereof she spoke. Some argue that it seems child molesters are disproportionately male homosexuals - for example among Catholic priests. I can only say that I have known about several women who were interfered with as young teenagers, with tragic consequences - one who was raped by her father and brother. She poignantly told me that she forgave her brother because boys can't help what they do when they read magazines but could not forgive her father.

I remember the Comte de Tilly, in his wonderful memoirs, said that to start ones life by being raped was no encouragement to virtue, by which he meant chastity or sexual restraint. It is much worse than that, of course. and child abuse is a crime which affects the victims' children and their children.


Literature and immigration

I love my country and much of what I love are her books - and the countryside and churches and London, of course, but most of all the books. Will the offspring of immigrants feel the same feeling about 18th, 17 or 16th century writers that I do - that we are all part of one extended family? Or will they feel more akin to exotic foreign writers whose names I haven't heard?

What would Lord Curzon have said? A stick-in-the-mud reads the English newspapers

The Guardian is beyond parody, is its own parody. Here George Monbiot worries that extending life expectancy will favour the rich and not the poor. 
'Longevity science may divide us into treated and untreated.' 
It would make a dog laugh. Scientists are making strides to keep us all alive much longer and Mr. Monbiot thinks it might be unfair. 

Already, on this planet of finite resources, rich and poor are locked into unacknowledged conflict, as hyperconsumption reduces the planet's capacity to sustain life. Grain is used to produce meat rather than feed people directly; the safe operating space for humanity is narrowed by greenhouse gases, industrial pollutants, freshwater depletion and soil erosion. It's hard, after a while, to see how this could produce any outcome other than a direct competition for the means of life, which some must win and others must lose. Perhaps the rich must die so that the poor can live.

This continual worry about 'fairness', which dominated thought in the West thirty years ago, when I was at university, is a very powerful and morbid intellectual  paradigm and has given birth to a thousand bad things. We have to be conscious of it and argue against it. It is the not so distant cousin of egalitarianism, puritanism and socialism. It is one of the various things that has taken the place of the sacred in Western people's lives.

Then Messrs Hague and Osborne want a statue of the overhyped Gandhi in Parliament Square to go with Nelson Mandela. (Mandela was for years a Communist and was  always on the extreme left but at least Mandela was not England's enemy, if only because white South Africa had been given its independence from Britain before his time). By agitating for independence from Britain, which would have happened at some point in any case, Gandhi must take some of the blame for the bloodshed at partition, when up to a million people were killed in intercommunal violence. That puts the Amritsar massacre, which made Gandhi lose trust in Britain, into perspective. Like Ireland, India was only ever united under British rule and when the British left both countries partition was inevitable .

I prefer to think of Lord Curzon's attractive statue in Carlton House Terrace, which I know well. What would he think of Gandhi and Mandela outranking him? I imagine Curzon would say it was 'ghastly', said with his characteristic short Midlands 'a' sound. He considered the long 'a' middle class. (Gladstone, by the way, also used a short 'a' - we know this because of his famous assertion, 
All the world over I back the masses against the classes.
He clearly said 'classes' to rhyme with 'masses'.)

George Washington, a traitor who fought an unnecessary and unjust war against his king, is in Trafalgar Square, for some reason. I try to avert my eyes from him and instead look affectionately at the statue next to his, of King James II. New York is named after James II but New Yorkers do not seem to care about him. Cromwell, shamefully, stands in front of the Houses of Parliament across the road from Parliament Square, erected at Lord Rosebery's personal expense. The statue pleased the Nonconformists and made the Irish Catholics, rightly, furious.

Finally, yet another story of high-minded people being persecuted for refusing to provide their catering services for homosexual marriages. In this case, some brave bakers refused to make a cake saying, 
Support gay marriage. 
This is about free speech, about an Englishman's (in this case a Northern Irishman's) right to write what he likes (or not write what he does not like) on his cake. Freedom of speech, however, is not given much protection in the UK. It is another illustration, if one were needed, of the truth of A.J. Balfour's observation,
Society is constantly persecuting.
It is too late to say that the UK is, by law, a Christian country, and, anyway, it is not true: this incident took place in Northern Ireland, whereas it is only England and Scotland that have established churches and are therefore officially Christian. The Churches of Ireland and Wales were disestablished a long time ago. Still, until very recently, say the 1980s, Christianity was the basis of British public culture. Now, as far as the question of homosexuality is concerned, it is actually almost illegal to uphold what was until the late 1970s unquestioned Christian teaching in all the churches. This is a remarkable development that has been little remarked.

After Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, Tony Blair is now advising El-Sisi of Egypt

After advising Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, the company promoting the hugely controversial projected open-cast gold mine project in Transylvania, Tony Blair is now advising General El-Sisi of Egypt, who has executed 2,500 opponents.

Actually, on balance, much as I am a great environmentalist and hate the thought of the changes it will necessitate to the landscape, I think I support the gold mine in Rosia Montana. Certainly I get very cross with some bad arguments used against it, for example by people who bang on about the cyanide. Cyanide is used everywhere in the world in open-cast gold mining. I also think General El-Sisi needs advice badly. But the impression one gets is that Tony Blair is doing these things to add to his fine collection of old English banknotes and this is not what England expects from her former Prime Ministers. 

James Callaghan, like Cincinnatus, retired to his farm, Harold Macmillan to Highgrove and Macmillan & Co, Lord Home became the Foreign Secretary who took Britain into the E.E.C., Edward Heath sulked on the back benches and in Salisbury cathedral close but none of them used their former position to make money, except from book royalties (royalties in Edward Heath's case for a book he never wrote).

At least Mr. Blair has not accepted a seat on the board of Gazprom.

An earlier leader of the Labour Party, the pacifist George Lansbury, departed from the job in floods of tears at the 1935 party conference, after Ernest Bevin famously accused him of 
"hawking his conscience around from body to body."
The suspicion must be that Tony Blair is hawking not his conscience but his advisory services from body to body and some pretty odd bodies. Or was he approached by General El-Sisi and Rosia Montana Gold Corporation?

Actually, much more than the unworldly Lansbury, Mr. Blair reminds me of Disraeli in his twenties, on a trip to Albania where he stayed with Ali Pasha, expressing his
"delight in being made much of by a man who is daily decapitating half the country".

I never get tired of Romania, despite the shopping centres

Princess Eleonore of Schaumburg-Lippe, who is a delightful ornament to Bucharest life, has written a lovely story about the frustrations Westerners feel living in Romania. 

She is the best kind of foreigner, the kind that goes across country by bus, is as happy eating in a cheap dive as in a fancy place and mixes with everyone. She even wrote very charmingly about how she tried to integrate in Romania here

The worst kind of foreigner works in a big international company, mixes only with other foreigners, except for his colleagues and girlfriends, and lives in a gated compound. Another objectionable kind is the kind that has gone native in a bad way and mixes with Romanians all the time but the ones who have a lot of money and very murky business methods. 

Eleonore says all expats feel frustrated and have to leave to recharge, but I, who am here for 15 years, don't, despite the satanic malls which have sprouted all over the place like a horrible contagion. In fact I find going back to Western Europe rather depressing. An Englishman who has been in the construction business in Romania since the mid-1990s, whom I had not thitherto suspected of being a poet, told me

I don't know how it is with you, Paul, but whenever I go to England I go by TAROM to continue the Romanian experience for another three hours but, as I walk down the steps of the plane at Heathrow, I become depressed and I don't feel happy again till I walk up the steps to get on the plane back.
Back in those days, ten years ago, I completely agreed with him.  Romania changed and modernised enormously since then, though, while now, when I go home, after half a generation away, I feel like a Martian.

I remember Marc Cannizzo, here since 1993, when asked what he liked about Romania replied,
I agreed with that. Another foreigner said he liked everything about Romania except the accounting system.  I agreed with that too. The grotesque accounting system, by the way, is not a Communist relic or a product of Romanian labyrinthine ingenuity, as you might think, but something copied from France after the revolution. After the Romanian revolution, not the French one. 

Every day every foreigner here is asked by several Romanians whether he likes it here, answers yes, very much, and is told he is crazy. And then, after two seconds, always, 
'Ah, yes, of course, the girls.'
Unless, that is, as in Eleonore's case, the foreigner is a woman.

This, you immediately understand as soon as you arrive, is a country with an incredibly low self-esteem. And this is why you get a certain amount of arrogant nationalism, because arrogance is a by-product of low self-esteem. I admit, though, that my theory does not explain why Hungarians really do consider themselves superior to their all their neighbours. 

Actually, you notice far less prickly national sensitivity here than in other Eastern European countries and when you do you are quite often talking to someone with personal problems about himself and his own life.

I do not say that age cannot wither nor custom stale Romania's infinite variety, because Romania isn't especially various, as countries go, - and certainly much less so than pluralistic, multicultural England. And passing years and the economic growth they bring are certainly withering many of the things I most like about Romania. I hate the shopping centres and cling to the alimentar, the local grocery shop, where in defiance of economics things are actually cheaper than at the supermarket. I don't like the way Bucharest markets, where everyone shopped when I came here in the 1990s, have dwindled, as people shun them for the hypermarkets. In any case, when, for some reason (so that some people could make money, I imagine) they were covered over the life went out of them, from my always aesthetic point of view. I miss the wonderful ecological fruit and vegetables that are being replaced by flavourless, brightly coloured imports, as the countryside dies. I don't like the clever boys in sports cars who think it cool to jump the lights and I certainly don't warm to the politicians. No, I do not warm to them at all. Still, I do love so much about this country, though now with the kind of love one feels for a wife rather than a girlfriend. It's a different love altogether, of course, from the love one feels for ones motherland.

I used to think that in Romania you either got to like constant problems or you went mad. But now I find there are not so many problems. Partly this is because life is much easier these days than it used to be and perhaps because I have now come ashore on the broad complacent shoals of middle age. For many many years I found it a constant delight being in Romania, but now I am used to it, it seems normal and, alas, the country has become much more normal. A bit boring in fact - for what is normal but another word for boring? - but then something happens to remind you of how special this place is.

In no other country in the world do people have such distrust and lack of respect for their countrymen, but I love Romanians, starting with the people who suffered under communism, the intellectuals, the people who try to preserve the good things about the past, the people who go on pilgrimages and love their country's medieval history (but that last item encompasses almost everyone here who can read and write, thanks to Communist history teaching). 

I am not undiscriminating. In fact, I love to discriminate. For example, I much prefer the people who holiday in Vama Veche or Doi Mai to those who like Mamaia. I like the people who hike in the mountains or go to the delta or to look at monasteries best of all. I was told when I first came here in 1998 that all nice Romanians are monarchists and I have found it to be true, with a very few exceptions. 

Romania's great quality is how human she is - which is another way of saying how old fashioned she is, because modernity is, of course, an essentially dehumanising process. What is human can never be boring or predictable.

People find in other people the things they are able to find, the things they have in themselves. They recreate other people in their own image. The same applies to countries too. When one goes abroad, whether to travel or to live, one is looking for a country in which one finds oneself, that reflects ones soul.

I am very lucky in having found in Romania almost exactly what I want.

Britain should resile from the European convention on restrictions on human rights

Legislation relating to unpaid work schemes is ruled "incompatible" with the European Convention on Human Rights. (News item)
Very few indeed of the human rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights are indeed rights. Most seem to be restrictions on rights if by rights is meant freedoms. Here is yet another example, in this case a restriction, yet again, on employers' rights.

If I had my way most employment law would be scrapped. This is not because I like employers more than employees, or because I think a bonfire of red tape would be good for the economy or anything of that sort but simply because I believe in freedom as vastly important value, closely linked to my idea of justice. Because 'they' shouldn't have the right to tell people - in this case employers - what to do. These things, when you come down to it, are about a priori principles which resist argument. 

Freedom is one of my two guiding political principals, the other being tradition. i hope those two things are very important to everyone else too.

On the other hand the Convention does, on the whole, a good job in countries as corrupt as Romania  where, until ten years ago at least, many or most judges were venal and almost all did whatever the government told them to do. The good that it does outweighs, at the moment, the bad things that the dirigiste human rights laws are doing here, though there is, of course, very much that is authoritarian about EU law and EU law is an instrument pushing a social conservative Romania in a socially liberal direction.

Ilfov living standards are 105% of EU average

I just came from a meeting with Irish diplomat David Costello, who told me that the standard of living of Ilfov, the county that surrounds Bucharest, is an astonishing 105% of the E.U. average.

Foreign investors, he says, should not pay attention to the average wage statistics in Romania because they take into account the many millions of extremely poor people, the peasants who are impoverished subsistence farmers. David might have added that in any case in the countryside a real cash economy scarcely exists, neighbours barter things and few declare their incomes to the taxman.

David is busy setting up the Romanian-Irish Business Association which will open with a party in September. No doubt that will be good craich.

Let's leave Russia and Iran to deal with Iraq

Vladimir Putin agrees with me that he would be very cunning if he took over the USA's role as protector of the appalling Mr Maliki and his Iraqi government. Russian jets and pilots arrived in the region on Saturday, along with trainers who will teach the Iraqis to fly the planes.

I had dinner on Monday with an American friend who ran a telephone company in Iraq in the days when things were very bad in Baghdad. He said all wars are caused by about fifty men - they are usually all men - who are interested in money or power. In the case of the invasion of Iraq the US military wanted money, several emigres wanted power and money, and DIck Cheney, my friend thinks, was motivated by desire to make money for his friends and for himself.

In fact, there was a complicated tangle of reasons for the invasion and I doubt if anyone knew why they invaded Iraq - these things develop a momentum of their own. In the same way the acceptance of Romania into the EU in 2007 began as a way of thanking Emil Constantinescu for backing the USA and UK in their adventure in Kosovo but by the time Romania joined the EU no-one remembered that that was the reason. Certainly Saddam's supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were not the reason - and they should, of course, have been a reason for NOT invading. 

Perhaps the clearest explanation for Iraq was Dick Cheney's:
We did it because it was doable.

My friend said that he never met an Iraqi, whether Sunni, Sufi or Christian, who did not say things would have been much better were Saddam still running the country. And who doubts that or that they were very right? But no point in rehashing this very sad story, as we all know it so well. 

On the other hand perhaps we don't. When people on the American right complain about Mr. Obama they should do so while acknowledging his clear superiority over his predecessor and with deep humility if they supported the invasion of Iraq.

The only lesson history teaches is that the wrong lessons are always learnt from history, and so I suppose it will be again, but it is hard not to see an obvious lesson, that wars hardly ever achieve their objectives and are very rarely wise, just or necessary. Yet this obvious lesson did not stop England and France overturning Gaddafi. They would have intervened in Syria too, with disastrous consequences, had the House of Commons, in its decline, not found the courage to prevent it. And so it goes.

Thank God for Ed Miliband. I know those words don't sound right but thank God that he saved us all from getting into Syria. Unfortunately, the people who egged us on to intervene in Iraq, Libya and Syria are now telling us that an islamist statelet in Iraq represents a serious danger to Britain. It reminds me of the absurd suggestion that Saddam might use his WMD to hit our base in Cyprus.

No, islamists in Syria are not a particular danger to Britain. (In any case, if they were, why does the British government want regime change in Syria, from which islamists would greatly profit?) 

Let's leave Russia to deal with Iraq. And, necessarily, Iran too, which in any case now dominates the country thanks to our toppling their enemy, Saddam. Iran is one of the two winners from George W. Bush's wars, the other of course being Al Qaeda and the islamists. The Kurds have also won. Everyone else, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Britain, America,  most of all the ordinary Iraqis and the Afghans, lost badly and will continue to lose for many years to come.

Islamists in Western Europe are a very great danger, on the other hand, and one way to contain them is very sharply to reduce further immigration from outside Europe. After that, it gets harder to know what to do. 

A new caliphate arises in the east

Finally, thirteen years after terrorists attacked the USA to restore the Caliphate, someone announces that he is Caliph. It all reads like a sequel to Greenmantle. I imagine thriller writers are busy trying to emulate non-fiction.

Can anyone declare himself Caliph? 

Is there a job description?

The Janissaries used to choose them, or rather used to choose the Ottoman Sultans. Many of these were half-Albanian as Albanian wives were esteemed for their beauty and I think an Albanian Caliph might be nice. Albania could do with a boost and an Albanian one would probably drink wine. And Albania hopes to join the EU. On the other hand, if being female and Christian were no bar, Queen Elizabeth II is said to be a descendant of Mahomet, by way of King Peter the Cruel of Portugal, though this is not certain.

Actually, what is happening in Syria and Iraq is another act in the tragedy. Nothing is funny about it or rather the humour is black. It drips with Gibbonian irony.

This very informative link says that the Ottoman Sultan's claim to be caliph was very slight and the Sultan only claimed to be Caliph as late as 1880.  I've read quite a lot of books about Ottoman history without realising this. The Mahdi and other Muslim leaders, despite their providential claims, bit the dust and few take seriously Mullah Omar's claim to be caliph, wherever he is.

This latest pretender seems like a true psychopath, who kills household pets for fun. As I write this it occurs to me to wonder what the press, had it existed in their day, would have made of the 'four righteous caliphs' who spread Mahometanism across the Middle East and North Africa after Mahomet's death. They were certainly Islamists and fanatics, without a doubt. They created the Muslim world. That is if we believe the traditional account. A few revisionist scholars have suggested that the empire came first and the religion later.