Sunday, 31 July 2011

A powerful argument for referendums

I am not a theoretical democrat. I do not blame Lord Grey for not giving the working class the vote. That would be like blaming Henry III for not introducing the NHS. But I have come round to being a strong believer in referendums (never foresooth referenda please). I made this philosophical journey independently by the way of Daniel Hannan who takes the same view. But my views are bolstered by this which I came cross this thanks to Dr. Sean Gabb.


“…progressives should be very wary about referendums. They are rarely instruments for change – and almost never on the actual questions posed. If we had proceeded by referendum, most of the social advances of the past 100 years would have been stopped in their tracks.” (Julian Priestly, “Regressive referendum a rallying point for reactionary xenophobes”, Tribune, 22nd April 2011, p.19.)

Cardinal Newman on gentlemen.

It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain. This description is both refined and, as far as it goes, accurate. He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him; and he concurs with their movements rather than takes the initiative himself..


Very good, even sublime, definition. Someone said a gentleman is he who never intentionally inflicts pain, someone else he who never unintentionally inflicts pain. Hmm.


What is the way to avoid tactlessness? People say you should think before you speak.  But if you do that and still give pain then it looks premeditated which is worse. The minefield social relations are for people who did not learn the lessons of life at school. By which I mean on the school playground where life is learnt or not learnt.

Dr. Fagan on the Welsh

I just felt like copying this famous passage.  If you've heard this joke before, don't stop me, I want to hear it again, as Groucho said.

"The Welsh character is an interesting study," said Dr. Fagan. "I have often considered writing a little monograph on the subject, but I was afraid it might make me unpopular in the village. The ignorant speak of them as Celts, which is of course wholly erroneous. They are of pure Iberian stock-- the aboriginal inhabitants of Europe who survive only in Portugal and the Basque district. Celts readily intermarry with their neighbours and absorb them. From the earliest times the Welsh have been looked upon as an unclean people. It is thus that they have preserved their racial integrity. Their sons and daughters rarely mate with human-kind except their own blood relations. In Wales there was no need for legislation to prevent the conquering people intermarrying with the conquered. In Ireland that was necessary, for there intermarriage was a political matter. In Wales it was moral. I hope, by the way, you have no Welsh blood?""None whatever," said Paul."I was sure you had not, but one cannot be too careful. I once spoke of this subject to the sixth form and learned later that one of them had a Welsh grandmother. I am afraid it hurt his feelings terribly, poor little chap. She came from Pembrokeshire, too, which is of course quite a different matter. I often think," he continued, "that we can trace almost all the disasters of English history to the influence of Wales. Think of Edward of Carnarvon, the first Prince of Wales, a perverse life, Pennyfeather, and an unseemly death, then the Tudors and the dissolution of the Church, then Lloyd George, the temperance movement, Nonconformity and lust stalking hand in hand through the country, wasting and ravaging. But perhaps you think I exaggerate? I have a certain rhetorical tendency, I admit.""No, no," said Paul."The Welsh," said the Doctor, "are the only nation in the world that has produced no graphic or plastic art, no architecture, no drama. They just sing," he said with disgust, "sing and blow down wind instruments of plated silver...."
Decline and Fall (1928), by Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966)

My favourite Belloc ballade

I read all his ballades a hundred times at a young age. I almost started a Belloc Society when I went down from university- Lady Diana Cooper agreed to be President - and greatly regret not doing so.



Ballade of Hell and of Mrs Roebeck

I'm going out to dine at Gray's
With Bertie Morden, Charles, and Kit,
And Manderly who never pays,
And Jane who wins in spite of it,
And Algernon who won't admit
The truth about his curious hair
And teeth that very nearly fit:
And Mrs Roebeck will be there.

And then tomorrow someone says
That someone else has made a hit
In one of Mr Twister's plays,
And off we go to yawn at it;
And when it's petered out we quit
For number 20, Taunton Square,
And smoke, and drink, and dance a bit:
And Mrs Roebeck will be there.

And so through each declining phase
Of emptied effort, jaded wit,
And day by day of London days
Obscurely, more obscurely, lit;
Until the uncertain shadows flit
Announcing to the shuddering air
A Darkening, and the end of it:
And Mrs Roebeck will be there.

Prince, on their iron thrones they sit,
Impassible to our despair,
The dreadful Guardians of the Pit:
And Mrs Roebeck will be there.

Patrick Leigh Fermor in 1966 lamenting tourism at its outset in Greece

It is the same everywhere. The Athenians look on this constant change with a mixture of abstract pride and private bewilderment. Much of this architectural restlessness may spring from the sudden boom in tourism. One's first reaction to this new windfall is delight: Greek economy needs these revenues; one's second is sorrow. Economists rejoice, but many an old Athenian, aware of the havoc that tourism has spread in Spain and France and Italy, lament that this gregarious passion, which destroys the object of its love, should have chosen Greece as its most recent, most beautiful, perhaps its most fragile victim. They know that in a few years it has turned dignified islands and serene coasts into pullulating hells. In Athens itself, many a delightful old tavern has become an alien nightmare of bastard folklore and bad wine. Docile flocks converge on them, herded by button-eyed guides, Mentors and Stentors too, with all Manchester, all Lyons, all Cologne and half the Middle-West at heel. The Athenians who ate there for generations have long since fled. (Fortunately, many inns survive unpolluted; but for how long? The works of writers mentioning these places by name should be publicly burnt by the common hangman.) Greece is suffering its most dangerous invasion since the time of Xerxes.

..In dark moments I see bay after lonely bay and island after island as they are today and as they may become … The shore is enlivened with fifty jukeboxes and a thousand transistor wirelesses. Each house is now an artistic bar, a boutique or a curio shop; new hotels tower and concrete villas multiply. (From Roumeli which I just read in memoriam and loved )

Friday, 29 July 2011

The passing of Vasile the porter

It is Vasile the porter's last day, aetat 77 (he looks 67). 'There are few things not purely evil, of which we can say, without some emotion of uneasiness, this is the last.' (Dr. Johnson.) No man is an island and every man's retirement diminishes me.
 Dr. Johnson also said: "All change is of itself an evil, which ought not to be hazarded but for evident advantage." Why do people no longer say things like this?

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Pray for the capacity to work and the capacity to love.

Inequality is not a problem

Inequality is not a problem. Poverty is a problem but not one governments can do very much to solve except by not making things worse.

Hari kari

I feel suddenly happy knowing that whatever terrible things the future brings at least we won't have to read Johann Hari's shrill outraged commentary on them. For example on the killings in Norway. I do feel for him, worry that I am being uncharitable and like the remark he made about being an idiot - but unfortunately he has been rather more than just that. For example I no longer trust anything in his piece on Dubai which made an impression on me. He might be the Simon Dee de nos jours - rising and sinking without trace, poor man. Simon Dee of whom it was said that he was remembered for having been forgotten.  




Hari spoke about the allegations in a talk he gave on free speech on July 7 at the Royal Institution in London. This time, Hari did not try to defend himself, saying, “I did something idiotic, and some people use their freedom of speech to point that out.”
“The real test of free speech is not to support it when people are saying you’re great, it’s do you support it when people are saying something painful and humiliating about you. And I absolutely do.”


But no second chance - I am not that compassionate. Or maybe he could do opinion pieces but strictly nothing that required quotations or reportage. He is the boy who cried wolf. Also I violently hate all his opinions including on Iraq where he manages to be even more wrong than even Bush or Cheney an almost impossible trick to pull off. Sanctions were wrong because they only hurt the poor and therefore war was right. This would be silly from an undergraduate. Damien Thomson brilliantly said it perfectly: his falsetto squeak of outrage when anyone said or did anything conservative.

The ideal restaurant

The ideal restaurant: no children. People texting or emailing below the table as Tony did for twenty minutes the other night  is the worst after children. And suddenly I slightly dislike people smoking near me which I never noticed before. The zeitgeist moves in mysterious ways.

On the positive side, good conversation, intellectual and playful and funny and anarchic. And pretty women and nowhere grand. Cheap restaurants have genuine character unlike the phony characters expensive restaurants have. In Romania they very often have better food.

Restaurants were such an expensive treat - just three or four times a year - in my teens and make me feel a bit guilty. As they should. Give your money to the poor, Paul.


(I knew a woman who used to say she gave her money to the poor by buying expensive clothes made in sweat shops.)

Black Mischief

I am rereading Black Mischief for the third time but the first time since school. 


What would Evelyn Waugh have made of 2011? He would have understood the Murdoch press,  Johann Hari and even Al Qaeda and had fun with women vicars, civil partnerships and paedophiles.


But the Second Vatican Council killed him and the modern Catholic Church would be unendurable for him.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

No-one ever understands a foreign country.


No-one ever understands a foreign country. 


Unless one moves there in adolescence or childhood. 


After the start of old fogeyhood which William James put at the age of 25 it is impossible. 


The longer one stays the more and the less one understands.

The radiant intelligence of the child

“What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant intelligence of the child and the feeble mentality of the average adult.”   Sigmund Freud. 




Not all children. He met only the children of intelligent parents. Some children are dull little people alas though at puberty the dull ones get infinitely worse. Still on the whole he is right. Children ask searching questions which is a good definition of intelligence.


But thank God I am no longer surrounded by 17 year-olds as I was at 17.

Dread words - gender equity

The most depressing English word is shopping. Gender (except in its grammatical sense) and equity (not in the financial sense but meaning justice, while intended to smuggle in the idea of equality) come close behind. 

Monday, 18 July 2011

Southern Europe: Beyond a Demographic Point of No Return



This came swam into my ken just now. The author  David P. Goldman was global head of debt research for Banc of America Securities and earlier global head of credit strategy at Credit Suisse. He is a columnist (under the byline "Spengler") for Asia Times Online.




There’s plenty of fat to cut from Southern European government budgets. The fiscal crisis of the PIIGS will leave the peoples of those countries poorer and unhappier on a permanent basis, and the political parties who must impoverish their constituents require time to posture before getting down to the grim business at hand. The old expedient of devaluation was easier, because it effectively imposed a wealth tax on the entire country across the board (by reducing the real value of everyone’s savings) without the need for detailed negotiations. The absence of the devaluation option within the Euro mechanism requires a great deal more theater on the part of feckless and incompetent politicians who made their careers by dispensing borrowed money to their voters.


That is true for the moment, when the elder dependent ratio for Southern Europe stands at around 25%. Between 2020 and 2045, however, the infertility of Southern Europe will catch up with it, and the elder dependent ratio will rise to over 60%–an impossible, unmanageable number. At that point the character of these countries will change radically; they will be overwhelmed with immigrants from North Africa as well as sub-Saharan Africa, who will not have the skills or the habits of civil society to maintain economic life. And their economies will slide into a degree of ruin comparable only to that of classical antiquity. Perhaps the Chinese will operate Greece as a theme park. Spain, which can draw on Latin American immigrants, is likely to be the least badly off.


Strictly speaking, Ireland should not be included among the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain). Although post-Catholic Ireland has lost its famous fecundity, Ireland’s fertility rate still hovers around replacement. The Irish economy was far too dependent on offshore finance as a source of employment and suffered disproportionately from the collapse of the credit bubble in 2008. But this small country also has high-tech manufacturing and other industries, which make the eventual restoration of prosperity possible. The southern Europeans are doomed. They have passed a demographic point of no return. There simply aren’t enough females entering their child-bearing years in those countries to reverse the rapid aging.


Why would anyone buy a 30-year bond from any of these countries? By 2041, there won’t be enough taxpayers left to pay the coupons. And that raises a related question: what is time horizon of an equity investment in those countries? Although Standard and Poor's calculates the duration of equities at somewhere between 20 and 30 years, that is a somewhat dubious estimation of interest sensitivity, not a measure of the horizon of expectations. Markets are notoriously short-sighted. But at some point markets must recognize that companies that have a rapidly-shrinking pool of workers as well as customers are in no position to earn profits. The real demographic crunch will start to hit in the mid-2020s, and it is possible that markets will ignore the inevitable demographic doom until then.


There’s little reason to expect European contagion to blow up the financial system today. But there’s also no reason to invest in those countries, except on a very opportunistic 

Sunday, 17 July 2011

'Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.'

‎'You look as though you wished the place in Hell,' My friend said, 'judging from your face.' 'Oh well, I suppose it's not the place's fault,' I said.
'Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.' 


Larkin's lines on his home town Coventry (of which his father a Nazi sympathiser was Town Clerk during the war) apply to my home town Southend-on-Sea but also alas to Cambridge. Not to Bucharest thank God. But entropy is the default setting of mankind, I suppose.


Derek  Turner has sent me this wonderful article about Coventry. He is clearly a true conservative of the right sort, guided by love of his country and of the past. It does repay reading even though I did not like poor crucified Coventry on my only visit.  



Charters and Caldicott arrive in Bandrika


Image result for Charters and Caldicott arrive in Bandrika
Charters: If only we hadn't missed that train at Budapest. 

Caldicott: Well, I don't want to rub it in, but if you hadn't insisted on standing up until they'd finished their national anthem... 

Charters: Yes, but you must show respect, Caldicott. If I'd known it was going to last twenty minutes... 

Caldicott: It has always been my contention that the Hungarian Rhapsody is not their national anthem. In any case, we were the only ones standing.


The Lady Vanishes is one of the small number of films which is deeply engraved on my soul. 

Charters and Caldicott who became the heroes of a television series years in the late 1980s are archetypal upper middle class chaste cricket-mad English bachelor clubmen, an archetype that exists in our national collective unconscious but not any more in real life. 

Later in the civil service I found chaste well-bred public school men who were confirmed bachelors and seemed to me to have something from black and white films about them but they preferred books to cricket. 

Bandrika I'd like to fancy is Romania but it probably owes more to Czechoslovakia or Jugoslavia (it has mountains and borders Hungary).

Cecil Parker is an appeaser avant la lettre and ends up dead. Even dear old Basil Radford tries to make up to the commandant who stops the train and discovers they were both at Oxford. 

When Michael Redgrave KO-s the commandant and says, nonchalantly, 'I went to Cambridge myself', the Cambridge Arts Cinema raised the roof.

In Night Train to Munich made during the war the pair are on a train going through Germany when they are told war has been declared and they have only an hour to leave the country. Charters and Caldicott look at one another sharing a silent sombre thought until Wayne says 'You know what this means.' And Radford replies, 'We'll never see those golf clubs we left in Berlin again.' Such things made the British laugh in 1940.

Basil Radford, who played the pompous Charters, was born in 1897. He was 41 or 42 when the film was made. I can no longer disguise from myself that I am middle-aged. And I am older than The Three Musketeers were in Twenty Years After and they seemed so very old when I read that book aged 11. Where did the last twenty years go? I seem to have mislaid them like an umbrella left behind somewhere. I remember a misty eyed man in his seventies whom I saw walking around Old Court at College deep in reflection. How very old he seemed then and how very far away his undergraduate years in the 1920s or 30s.

But I cheer myself up by calculating that D'Artagnan and the musketeers would have been my age when they restored King Charles II to the throne of England in The Vicomte de Bragelonne. I still have time.

Language of diplomacy

On the eve of the Polish EU presidency, a friend of mine is astonished to watch on France cable television a debate in which the Polish Finance Minister speaks in native-level French.

Selwyn Lloyd the future British Foreign Secretary when offered the position of Minister of State for Foreign Affairs by Winston Churchill at first wanted to decline because he spoke no foreign languages and had never, except for his war service, been abroad. Something not uncommon among upper middle class Englishmen in 1951. 'These are two excellent qualifications for the job,' said Churchill. 

Mr. Blair spoke very good French, to the annoyance of Foreign Secretary Robin Cook who did not. Mr. Heath spoke French too with an accent much ridiculed at least in the U.K. (the French were said to have thought it charming).

I think I remember that Margaret Thatcher spoke fair schoolgirl French. Did she? The Queen and Prince of Wales naturally speak French perfectly. Eden carried around a volume of Ronsard in his pocket. Macmillan spoke good French too. John Major and James Callaghan who left school young did not. Mr. Brown's French is execrable. Does David Cameron speak French?


Churchill is said to have begun a speech to the French National Assembly, wanting to say 'When I look back over my past', with the words 


Quand je regarde mon derriere, je vois qu'il est divise en deux parties egales”.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

“Otto — a mortal, sinful man!” “Let him be admitted."


I just watched these questions put and answered on television. They were very moving, from a religious and historical point of view,  though less moving to watch on television than to read.  The Capuchin monk looked nervous as he answered and glanced at the television camera. The end of a very old song.

FIRST KNOCK

Capuchin Friar : “Who desires admission?”

Leader of funeral party:  “Otto of Austria, former Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, Prince Royal of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia, of Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia, Lodomeria and Illyria; Grand Duke of Tuscany and Cracow; Duke of Lorraine, Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola and Bukowina; Grand Prince of Transylvania, Margrave of Moravia; Duke of Upper and Lower Silesia, Modena, Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, of Osweicim and Zator, of Teschen, Friaul, Dubrovnik and Zadar; Princely Count of Habsburg and Tyrol, of Kyburg, Gorizia and Gradisca; Prince of Trento and Brixen; Margrave of Upper and Lower Lusatia and Istria: Count of Hohenems, Feldkirch, Bregenz, Sonnenburg; Lord of Trieste, Kotor and Windic March; Grand Voivod of the Voivodship of Serbia” But in fact he skipped some of these and ended “etc etc”

Friar : “We do not know him!”

SECOND KNOCK

Friar : “Who desires admission?”
Leader  : “Dr Otto von Habsburg; President and Honorary President of the Pan-European Union; Member and Father of the House of the European Parliament; Holder of honorary doctorates from countless universities and freeman of many communities in Central Europe; Member of numerous noble academies and institutes; Bearer of high and highest awards, decorations and honours of church and state made to him in recognition of his decade-long struggle for the freedom of peoples, for right and justice.”

Friar: “We do not know him!”

THIRD KNOCK

Friar : “Who desires admission?”
Leader  : “Otto — a mortal, sinful man!”
Friar: “Let him be admitted."





I might have been in Vienna today to line the streets for Otto von Habsburg's funeral. I remember Andrew Roberts making me very jealous by telling me he was there for the Empress Zita’s in 1989 just as Communism came to an end and now I have let a second chance slip by.






"In the hour of grief over this tragic loss, I associate myself with you and the entire imperial family in prayer for the deceased." — Pope Benedict XVI

Do not stay at the Hotel Del Mar, Sozopol


The Hotel Del Mar  opened a week before I arrived so I hate to be critical but don't stay there....


My shower did not have hot running water. When I told the manager he came to my room and told me three times that the shower was working fine before I arrived. I didn’t pay this remark any attention but when I went to pay he repeated this twice with the pugnacity that short men have. I said: 'Why do you keep saying that? Are you suggesting I broke it?'  'Yes!' And he told me he would charge me to have it repaired. I told him to call the police which he promised to do. He said that the maid cleaned the bathroom with the shower every day so it was certain it had been working without a problem until I arrived. Then he added a piece of clinching evidence that the  maid had told him there was water on the bathroom floor. To save time I condescended to explain to him that the shower emitted only cold water not hot. He vanished and after ten minutes returned and said without apology or explanation that I would not be charged for the damage.  


Rather unpleasant, actually.


I asked if there was someone I could write to to complain but there was not so I am writing this instead. 

Otherwise, depressingly tacky furniture and furnishings, a disappointing breakfast, good sea views. There are much better places in Sozopol to stay. Very much better to get a private room in a lovely old National Revival house with a vine-strewn garden as I had done the night before, for a mere 12 euros. I stayed in a lovely place with a lovely landlady and will post her address when I find the card


Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Romanian education


I wrote this in 2005. Much has changed since then.



Romania’s greatest resources are not her mineral or agricultural resources but her human resources. But like her physical resources her human resources are poorly developed

Before Communism, Romania was what would today be described as a Third World country, with a tiny rich elite, a small educated middle-class (many of whom were Jewish or belonged to other ethnic minorities) and a mass of impoverished and mostly illiterate peasants. Industrialisation was imposed from above, as a result of the application of Marxist-Leninist principles, rather than occurring organically and Romania today retains in many ways a pre-industrial culture yoked to an ill-conceived and chaotic industrial base. In common with most agrarian or industrialising countries with large peasant populations (Ireland springs to mind and many countries outside Europe) the key social division in Romanian society is between ‘intellectuals’ and the mass of the population. In the countryside, where life has not changed much over centuries, the status of the intellectual is particularly important. In the villages the priest, the schoolmaster and the doctor form the intellectual class, subscribe to magazines from Bucharest and are looked on by their neighbours as sources of guidance and illumination on most subjects.

The word ‘intellectuals’ was recently defined by the commentator, Mircea Toma, to mean ‘free-thinkers’ but it is usually used in Romania as a catch-all expression (Marxist in origin) meaning, essentially, graduates. Between graduates and those who did not attend university there yawns an abyss almost comparable with that between the races in apartheid South Africa.

Before the Revolution Communist doctrine emphasised the dignity of manual labour and the importance of vocational training in order to produce workers, technicians and managers as quickly as possible in order to build socialism. Romania therefore restricted the numbers receiving university education especially in arts subjects. It was difficult to be accepted to study the humanities at university without a satisfactory ‘file’. In other words in order to be politically correct university students were generally expected to be the children of Party members (usually both parents had to carry Party cards).

Partly for this reason, partly because investment in capital projects was at the cutting edge of the Communist economic policy and partly because the hard sciences were taught objectively without a Marxist slant, engineering was a highly popular subject, studied not at university but at the polytechnics. From this derives the old chestnut that Romanians fell into two categories: intellectuals and engineers. After December 1989 Romania lurched toward the modern world with great numbers of well-qualified and talented engineering graduates and little use to which to put them. Today engineering graduates dominate much of business and have amongst other things produced the ingenious IT professionals who are more plentiful here than in any other European country.

From 1990 the universities did an about-turn to serve the new Romania and lecturers who had taught Leninist economic theory had to reinvent themselves and their courses in a hurry. But the numbers of school-leavers who aspired to a university education or, at least, to a university degree, far outran the number of places available at the state universities. As a result, many people pay to study for degrees full-time or at night-school or by distance learning from the plethora of private universities that have been set up since the Revolution (with varying reputations, some cowboy outfits, others excellent, but all viewed as inferior by proud graduates of the state universities).  Some TV presenters and singers study at private universities, their fees sponsored by lovers of the arts, in something of the spirit in which they accept cars or diamond rings. In fairness, Romania is not the only country where students who are not naturally intended for academic education pursue degrees of questionable value. In Great Britain the trend has gone much further and graduates there emerge with far less general knowledge or high culture. And in Romania as elsewhere the wider availability of university education has made society less hierarchical than would otherwise be the case.

Partly because educational qualifications are seen as the key to a successful career as well as social status, partly because in the 1980s the country benefited from the inestimable boon of having only two hours television per day, Romanians are exceptionally erudite in contrast to their contemporaries in Western Europe and even more markedly in contrast with those in North America. They are highly cultured and excel at the art of conversation. They read a lot, know a lot of facts and absorb a great deal of technical detail. Unfortunately, the educational system can also tend to encourage rote learning and conformism at the expense of originality and independent thinking, rather as in Japan. This is reflected in marking students out of 10 in each exam. Exams are frequent from the age of seven until graduation at 23. Marks over 9 are a source of pride, 8s a cause for anguish, in contrast with the ubiquitous ‘2:1’s of British graduates. Although university teachers use seminars, the large classes and frequency of examinations put the emphasis on training at the expense of true education.


Very many young Romanian will have or intend to have two, three or more degrees, perhaps having studied for two simultaneously or taken further degrees while working. Students also frequently hold down demanding jobs while undergraduates. Very often they still manage to pass their exams with flying colours as a result of hard work and dedication. Where hard work and dedication are not enough sometimes a discreet present to an examiner can make up for deficiencies caused by lack of time for revision. But university in Western Europe is above all a time for personal growth, the only time in most people’s lives when one has (unless one is rich) freedom without responsibility. In the West that freedom is sometime abused and more often wasted but in Romania it does not exist. It is very difficult for overworked and hard-up students to pass the endless exams and gain a true education at the same time. Some female students even take the route of thinly-disguised prostitution to make ends meet. Many tens of thousands more simply do not take up courses in order to make a meagre living in jobs which do not utilise their potential.

Because the emphasis in Romanian universities is too often on training rather than education Romanian employers and employees alike expect the subject an employee studies at university to be directly related to the profession he chooses. But because in fact the teaching at university is theoretical rather than vocational, a graduate aspiring to enter his first job will be asked to show experience of the real world as well as high exam marks, a combination difficult to achieve. Romanian universities too often therefore fall between two stools. They are apt to fail both as genuine universities which exist to develop minds by the disinterested pursuit of truth and as effective vocational training institutes preparing their students for the challenges that will face them on leaving. However, cheating in exams and bribery of examiners, although the frequency of both can be exaggerated, will teach the graduate that there is more than one way to make ones career. In a job market dominated by personal connections and where in some sectors female graduates are routinely expected to have romantic liaisons with decision-makers  before they can be given an entry-level job, perhaps these lessons are a good preparation for the real world after all.


ASE, to  name the most distinguished teaching body in the sphere of business education, produces thousands of graduates with competent technical skills but the teachers often fail to teach students how to think for themselves, how to communicate ideas, how to solve problems and how to work as a team. Perhaps we should not judge the teachers too harshly as the older ones were teaching Marxist-Leninist theory until the Revolution and all the lecturers were themselves the products of Marxist education. Certainly things are beginning to change and educational ideas from abroad are beginning to oxidize the teaching system here at all levels. Nevertheless, the multinationals, for which the majority of good graduates aspire to work, can and do provide excellent vocational training on the job. What the Romanian economy urgently needs and lacks are creative and even iconoclastic minds.


Since 1990 marketing, economics and business administration are the most popular subjects at state and private universities alike for hard-headed economic reasons, along with law. MBAs abound nowadays but Romanian graduates are still often required to memorise what they are taught rather than question it. The result is that, as on previous occasions in her history, Romania tries to adopt the forms of Western behaviour without completely accepting or understanding the ethos behind them.   ©Paul Wood 2011





The Psychopath in the Office

The Psychopath in the Office
How many do you know?

The word ‘psychopath’ instills a pleasurable ripple of fear into anyone who saw a conscienceless killer in a Hollywood film such as Basic Instinct or The Silence of the Lambs.  But psychopaths exist outside the movies. Only a fairly small minority are violent criminals, more are confidence tricksters but most are not criminals at all. Many hold positions of power (think of Saddam Hussein or Slobodan ). Psychopaths are also known as sociopaths and the syndrome is also named Anti-Social Behaviour Disorder. The Victorians used the term ‘moral insanity’ but in fact psychopaths are exceptionally sane. They simply have no consciences and no empathy. Every reader of this article has knowingly or otherwise met some. Long-term their goal is always to accumulate power or money by any means available and to damage and abuse those over whom their power extends.

 ‘Industrial psychopaths’ is the term recently coined by psychologist Paul Babiak, author of Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work,  for psychopaths who hold good jobs. They can be priests, academics, charity workers, actors or media stars, HR managers or accountants but very frequently  they are found in professions that enable them to have power over others: in particular, the medical and legal professions (they are especially attracted to becoming judges and prosecutors), the police and armed services and, most irresistible of all to psychopaths, in politics.
How do you recognise a psychopath in a social or business setting? You probably wouldn’t. They are pathological liars, masters of dissimulation and excel at interviews, the perfect theatres for their talents. In the West‘s increasingly atomised and competitive world, where ambitious go-getters are valued and efficiency sometimes prized above moral scruples, the psychopath’s qualities resemble those of the successful business leader. In developing economies where power structures are fluid and standards of business and political ethics are hazy psychopaths thrive. Present-day Romania is a perfect breeding ground for the species.
The psychopath thrives in situations of rapid change. The industrial psychopath identifies and ingratiates himself with the people whom he identifies as easily manipulated and those with power who can help him reach the top. According to Professor Babiak, 'During the manipulation stage, the psychopath spreads disinformation to enhance his image and disparage others. He is adept at creating conflict between those who might pool negative information about him. This is followed by a confrontation stage in which he abandons the pawns who are no longer useful to him and takes steps to neutralise detractors. Finally, the most successful psychopath enters an ascension phase during which he abandons his patrons - those who have helped his rise to power.' In the Romanian expression “treading on dead bodies to the top”.
No-one knows what are the causes of the condition although research suggests that the psychopath’s brain functions abnormally and that a lobe may be missing. There is no cure. No-one can be given a conscience transplant.
Professor Robert Hare, Professor of Psychology at Vancouver University, is the world’s  leading authority on psychopaths. He estimates that about 1% of the population are psychopaths. Hare says they are "amusing and entertaining conversationalists, ready with a quick and clever comeback, and can tell unlikely but convincing stories...They can be very effective in presenting themselves well and are often very likeable and charming. To some people, however, they seem too slick and smooth, too  insincere and superficial. Astute observers often get the impression that psychopaths are play-acting, mechanically ‘reading their lines.’  
Psychopaths are always highly intelligent (a parallel can be drawn with autists) and often possess photographic memories but their knowledge tends to be wide but superficial. They can be superb linguists and readily assimilate the latest jargon expressions as they emerge. Lacking normal human feelings, they are actors who learn how to behave by mimicking those around them. They may therefore come across as affected, insincere or false. Hare says they have a "narcissistic and grossly inflated view of their self-worth and importance, a truly astounding egocentricity and sense of entitlement, and see themselves as the centre of the universe, as superior beings who are justified in living according to their own rules.” They can seem very  charismatic but are rarely popular with those who work or interact with them closely. A few perceptive people sense at once that they are evil.
The psychopath will always prefer what he can gain by trickery, dishonesty or force majeure to the fruits of honest toil, which bores him. He  is usually lazy and unfocused where routine work is concerned  although at networking or marketing he can be a workaholic. As a boss he will steal his subordinates’ ideas, pick on victims to bully and very often sexually harass staff but also use manipulative skills to retain subordinates’ loyalty (Adolf Hitler remembering his secretaries’ birthdays).  In business psychopaths will take pride in using every dishonest subterfuge from bribes to blackmail to acquire mandates or retainers, happily getting away with  substandard work as a result. They are exceptionally astute at reading others and are adept at gleaning  information about those around them to feed their sense of power and enable them to exploit others. If they judge it safe to do so, they will delight in hurting those whom they can injure (I know of one HR Manager who framed a series of staff members with no ulterior object beyond the fun of sabotaging their careers). Psychopaths inhabit a Hobbesian universe where power is the only value and love of power means love of mischief.

The female psychopath (there are thought to be roughly two male psychopaths for every one female psychopath) is exactly as pitiless as her male counterpart but will use the advantages open to her as a woman to help her career path. If attractive she will exploits her looks, sleep her way to promotion or with clients to make deals happen, while at the same time she may be ready to concoct false charges that she herself is the victim of sexual harassment rather than the perpetrator. If appropriate she will cultivate the image of a devoted wife or mother as a useful cover.

Industrial psychopaths of either sex can be very effective at PR, at sales and marketing and their management techniques can be effective in the short or medium term but in the long term their business enterprises are likely to founder, their companies fail, their partners part ways from them or their employees vote with their feet. Psychopathy causes enormous damage in all our lives. We have seen in recent years the consequences when a succession of fraudulent businesses have collapsed. Who will psychoanalyse Enron or Worldcom, Bancorex or FNI?

So what should we look for as pointers to alert us against this dangerous breed of people when for example conducting interviews? The tell-tale signs include contradictory lies, oleaginous flattery, haughty body language, the penetrating and prolonged ‘psychopathic stare’ with which they fix their victims, poor spelling, an excessive interest in status and material things, their love of belittling others, boasting particularly about their lack of scruples and all sorts of unusual ways of talking, dressing or behaving, designed to draw attention to themselves.

Hare and Babiak have joined forces to create a new diagnostic tool, the “B-scan”  intended to help businesses keep psychopath- is a series of questions asked of referees rather than candidates, looking for sixteen key qualities including: insincere, arrogant, insensitive, remorseless, shallow, impatient, , unfocused, parasitic, dramatic, unethical and bullying.

How many do you know?

©Paul Wood 2011




Monday, 4 July 2011

Romanians in the museum

Andrei Plesu writing in Dilema in 2006: 

Much less numerous and not at all willing to invest their money into a paid visit, they organise themselves by criteria that are other than the usual ones. One of their characteristics is their interest in the other visitors; in what those wear, or how they behave, or what their taste options are. “Let’s see what those ones are looking at!” is a current strategic principle as well as, paradoxically, its opposite: “Quick, let’s go to Mona Lisa while there’s no crowd!”. Individualists, Romanians prefer the solitary visit or the small group (family or work colleagues), a situation in which hierarchies of expertise are born spontaneously and are as firm as they are arbitrary: one of the persons becomes, by some mysterious decanting of authority, the other ones’ guide.
Before 1989, I saw such a commando of my compatriots, made up of three of them, piously walking through the halls of the “Van Gogh” Museum in Amsterdam. Pleasantly impressed by their cultural zeal (especially since at the time, I wasn’t in too much doubt about their professional background), I followed them, discreetly and sentimentally, to enjoy their enjoyment. One of them promptly took up the role of the guide: in front of each work of art, he would take an efficient fencing-like lunge towards the label, to then communicate to his comrades the essential piece of information. For some reason, the fellow had decided that in the case at hand, the essential piece of information was the date. He would therefore lean over to read the inscription next to the image, after which he would reveal to his fellows what they were to retain: 1884! The fellows would nod meditatively, with a well-sensed mixture of comprehension and perplexity. In the next moment, the triad would take a lateral step to the right, our man would lean forward again, he would read the label and would whisper, troubled: 1884! The same reaction, the same manoeuvre to the right, and again: 1884! The coincidence started to be revealing. One of the other two couldn’t hold it within himself any more and, stolen by sublime effusion, he moaned aporetically*: “Did that man paint a lot in 1884!” At which point it was the consecrated “guide”'s turn to re-enter his rights: “What do you expect; he wasn’t a colossus for nothing!” This episode, just as our country’s entire history, is untranslatable!

I think Romanians - both rich and middling class - do like to go on holiday in often very large groups. This may be a transitory phenomenon. Until twenty years ago one only saw Japanese tourists in large coach parties but now solitary Japanese travellers are rather common and coach parties rare. Maybe it is  legacy of communism. Certainly looking at museums is about intellectual, social and racial hierarchy and could furnish material for a book. Anglo-Saxons are looking, Latins were previously looked at. The Japanese tourist is sub-consciously resented by Europeans because he looks at Europeans rather than is looked at by them, an inversion of the colonial order of things. 

A friend of mine was in the Louvre standing behind a couple from Northern England looking at a painting by one of the Impressionists. The man turned to the woman and said in a Yorkshire accent,  'See that painting? That painting's over a hundred years old.'

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Women tomatoes and the decline of the West

When I ate a tomato in Belgrade in 1992 I asked what the amazing dressing was on it - I said it was the best I'd ever tasted. I received no reply but later in the meal I repeated my remark and was told there is no dressing on it. It was my first real tomato. Real women and real fruit existed in Communist Europe long after they had disappeared further west and now both are being modernised.‎