Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Queen shook Martin McGuiness's hand

Letter to Irish Times: 

Sir, – I note that when the queen and Martin McGuinness shook hands, Belfast was struck by biblical level floods within 24 hours. – Yours, etc, EOIN HYLAND

Alex Woodcock-Clarke:

What I noticed was that she was wearing gloves. She takes them off for everyone else but not this time. Did she forget? He he. The old lady is cannier than most people credit her.

EU should 'undermine national homogeneity' in Southern Europe

The headline in the BBC was:

EU should 'undermine national homogeneity' says UN migration chief

The future of Romania is written here, I fear. Feminism and loss of faith in her future, or whatever the reasons are that Romanian women have fewer children, have done for her, unless something changes. 

Ceausescu's natality policy was considered by people in the West as very brutal though abortions and contraception were once outlawed almost everywhere but some kind of policy to encourage more children seems essential. As far as I know, only Russia is serious about this.

The 2011 Romanian Census, published this week, suggests that the population of Romania which has fallen to 19 million will halve on present trends in ninety years. But this means nothing, as present trends will not continue. Already Romania has more pensioners per head of population than any other country in Europe.
Peter Sutherland, the Southern Irish chairman of Goldman Sachs International, former chairman of BP, former EU commissioner and former head of GATT is an internationalist and a progressive, a man of the twentieth first century, used to seeing the world from the window of a jet not a bus. He heads an unpromising sounding body called the United Nations Global Forum on Migration and Development. Just over a week ago hd told a sub-committee of the British House of Lords Home Affairs Committee that migration was a "crucial dynamic for economic growth" in "some" EU nations, "however difficult it may be to explain this to the citizens of those states".

An ageing or declining native population in southern EU states, he said, was the 
"key argument and, I hesitate to the use word because people have attacked it, for the development of multicultural states... 

...The United States, or Australia and New Zealand, are migrant societies and therefore they accommodate more readily those from other backgrounds than we do ourselves, who still nurse a sense of our homogeneity and difference from others.And that's precisely what the European Union, in my view, should be doing its best to undermine."

So in other words the Romanians of our day must be replaced by a different, mixed population who will have enough children to pay for old age pensions. This is the unforeseen end result of the welfare state.

Mr Sutherland might care to study the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Article 8 states:

States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for:(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples.

Is there an alternative? The Japanese think so and prefer their race to grow old rather than be mixed but Japanese rely on families rather than the state for their old age. They may be proven right in the end but by then it might be too late for Europe to go back. 

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Dana Năstase, prison visitor, aged by ten years?

A typically frank Romanian headline says 

Dana Nastase has aged by ten years! See her on a visit to her husband Adrian Nastase! 

(Her husband of course is now in prison). 

Romanians are much more truthful than the English, in so many ways. They lie about trivial things because they know that time and space do not exist but in judgments on character and personal appearance they are horribly truthful. The English are very honest in business but too kind to be honest about these things.

I always thought Mrs. Nastase was rather attractive in a curious way but I have a penchant for tough, bad girls.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Bombo, Bombo, te duci la Congo!

"For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground. And tell sad stories of the death of kings."   Richard II, Act III, Scene II

'Bombo, Bombo, te duci la Congo' (Bombo, Bombo,  - homophobic nickname for Adrian Nastase - go to the Congo) shouted the crowds in the streets before Mr. Nastase was defeated by a whisker by the current President Traian Basescu in the 2004 Romanian presidential election. But now Mr. Nastase is at last actually in Rahova prison, for a crime everyone is sure he was guilty of, after a failed suicide attempt that looked like a bizarre ploy not to go to gaol, many people do not seem as pleased as you would think.

Most people, except foreign diplomats, believed former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase's suicide attempt was a sham to avoid prison (I am by not sure but what do I know?) But wonders never cease and I realise Romania has changed, thank God. As of last night, Adrian Nastase is in Rahova, after all, despite all the people, myself included, and it was all the people i spoke to, who expected the Government to use his psychological condition as a reason to keep him out of gaol. His party, the PSD, after all has just come to power. And - mirabile dictu - the doctors who attended him after the putative suicide attempt are being investigated by the authorities for their part in the strange story. 

And now Romanians are feeling sorry for him, even substantial political commentators who loathe the PSD, like Dr. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi. Why? 

To answer that would be to understand much. I can only try.

Romanians expect all their politicians to be corrupt and they are right to do so. Since at least the Greek Phanariot rulers in the eighteenth century, who purchased their thrones from the Sultan and got the money back from Romanian tax payers as quickly and unscrupulously as possible, most politicians go into politics to enrich themselves.  In any case, many of the Romanian public are corrupt too. In Romania, everything is seen in almost purely human terms rather than in terms of abstract principle. Abstract principles are so bloodless and ....well, abstract. I am sure this is how Mr. and Mrs. Nastase and their friends and enemies see things. 

And Romanians are very soft-hearted and sentimental, something that sometimes goes along with brutality. Goering wept effusively when his dogs died.

I remember teasing PSD princess and TV starlet Raluca Badulescu, spendthrift daughter of a senior PSD politician, about only donating 2 million old lei ($60) to the flood victims at a telethon and she said 'Yes and I wish I hadn't given them that much. They don't need my money. Other people give them money and anyway I don't care about them. I just don't care about them.' Here spoke the true Phanariot spirit. But when we turned to discussing the Nastases and whether they might go to prison - this was years ago, but the court cases had already started against the couple - she asked me, wide-eyed, 'You don't think they could go to prison do you? That would be horrible.' Her heart was soft where the Nastases were concerned even though she had gleefully told me incredible estimates of their defalcations. Some Romanians - quite a few - mostly, it is true,  with connections with the PSD - told me admiringly about the amounts they believed the couple had made. What belongs to everyone belongs, in post-Communist countries, to no-one. Someone else, an academic who dislikes the PSD,  explained to me in a matter-of-fact tone, 'They have to make provision for Andrei', meaning the Nastases' son.

My own reaction to the news about Adrian Nastase?  I am put in mind of the words of Viscount Whitelaw, Margaret Thatcher's long-serving deputy, who said at one point in the sorry life of the Callaghan administration, which preceded hers,

We should certainly not gloat. This is no time to gloat. But I can tell you, I am gloating like hell.

Nastase is the seventh former Prime Minister to go to prison since the war. I wonder if any went to prison before Communism. I am sure many ought to have done and that most politicians in Romania ought to now. Five Prime Ministers at least, by my count, were killed (Iorga, Duca and Calinescu by the Fascist Iron Guard, Antonescu and Maniu by the Communists) as was of course Nicolae Ceauşescu. King Michael was forced to abdicate at gun-point. 

Alison Mutler, the AP's woman in Bucharest, put it well when she told me:

Last night's shooting shows us that it has not been anaesthetised, globalised or gobbled up by the EU. It is still the raw, dramatic, painful Romania that has lured many of us over the years.

She thinks Monica Macovei, former Justice Minister and now MEP, chose the wrong word when she said the alleged abortive suicide (which she thinks was a set-up) was 'soap opera'. The correct description says Alison is simply 'opera'. Yes, quite, and Romanian history, whether recent or longer ago, is very operatic.

Going back to the eighteenth century, seven in all of the Phanariot princes of Wallachia or Moldavia were executed. I particularly remember the story of Constantin Hangerli, briefly and unhappily Prince of Wallachia.

In February 1799, the Sultan issued a firman or decree to execute Hangerli and an emissary was dispatched to Bucharest, accompanied by a negro servant who was, in fact, an executioner. Hangerli, after being read the firman in the Royal Palace, in the centre of Bucharest, was attacked by the two as he was attempting to call his guards. He was strangled by the negro, shot twice in the chest, stabbed once and finally decapitated with an axe that the negro carried for that purpose in his bagAccording to  R.W. Seton-Watson's magisterial History of the Roumanians:
'When some of the boiars rushed in, they found that the prince's head had already been hacked off and the room was deluged in blood. His naked body was then thrown out into the street and left there till evening.'
In the same winter, in Hampshire, Jane Austen was completing Northanger Abbey.

Many more Romanian monarchs were executed before the Phanariot period by order of the Sultan [1] or for other reasons, including such famous figures as Vlad the Impaler and Constantin Brancoveanu, whose martyrdom for the Christian faith was extremely operatic.   Being ruler of Romania is not a very safe job viewed in actuarial terms. And this is probably part of the reason why some misguided Romanians are now saying imprisoning former Prime Ministers is 'un-European'.

[1]This reminds me that one seventeenth century Sultan so disapproved of smoking that he would personally execute smokers on the streets of Constantinople if he caught them in flagrante delicto. This is much more extreme than the recent EU inspired legislation governing smoking in public places.

Romania, like every country, needs an elite

Foreign rule of Romania by the E.U. is of course on the whole better than rule by the local political class although it brings all sorts things I passionately hate, rules about slaughtering pigs and riding horses and carts and a thousand other infringements on freedom and attacks on tradition including teaching in schools modish Western ideas about feminism and homosexuality. The problem is not only that Romania has such an execrable political elite but that it has an execrable elite - her elite was destroyed often literally by Communism. That is what Romanians have to rebuild starting with the intellectuals and the journalists and the historians many of whom are very compromised figures, inevitably.

Nowadays the elite in the West for some reason disapprove of elites and elitism and indeed they have have made the idea of an elite look pretty bad.

Epitaph on Martin McGuiness

Martin McGuiness, former 'Chief of Staff' of the provisional IRA, now a Minister of the Crown in Northern Ireland, will shake hands with the Queen today.

Here richly, with ridiculous display,

The Politician's corpse was laid away.

While all of his acquaintance sneered and slanged

I wept: for I had longed to see him hanged.

Belloc's epitaph fits Gerry Adams too, of course. 

Martin McGuinness is praised by Mary Kenny in today's Belfast Telegraph for having come a long way but he has not come nearly as far as Britain. He was always in favour of peace - on his terms.

The UK was finally winning when the peace process started, thanks to informers, and I believe it would have been better not to have had a peace process and to continue with some, perhaps few,  terrorist outrages rather than release the killers and allow the IRA a partial victory at the expense of the OUP and the SDLP. Importantly, after September 11th it would have been impossible for the IRA to raise money in the USA and as Deep Throat says, follow the money. The IRA was always an American-funded attack on the U.K. and without American money it was almost nothing. 

Another disastrous mistake for which Tony Blair must be blamed. Not so much John Major, though he started the ball rolling.


Biertan and its fortified church, not too far from Sighisoara or Medias, is one of the many lovely  fortified churches in Transylvania.

Not the undiscovered oasis of utter calm it used to be ten or fifteen years ago. When I was last there in 2007 postcards were on sale and there was a restaurant alas.

This weeks's quotations

Martin Amis

I don't think intellectual snobbery is too reprehensible, especially with the amount of attention given to people who haven't got anything to offer.

Cesare Pavese

A man is never completely alone in this world. At the worst, he has the company of a boy, a youth, and by and by a grown man - the one he used to be.

He knows not his own strength that hath not met adversity.

One stops being a child when one realizes that telling one's trouble does not make it any better.

Benjamin Disraeli 

But this principle of race is unfortunately one of the reasons why I fear war may always exist; because race implies difference, difference implies superiority, and superiority leads to predominance.  (In the House of Commons, 1 February 1849). 

Lord Salisbury

By a free country I mean a country where people are allowed, so long as they do not hurt their neighbours, to do as they like. I do not mean a country where six men may make five men do exactly as they like. That is not my notion of freedom.

Petre Ţuţea

I stayed in prison for thirteen years for a nation of idiots.

Diana Preotu

They say it is better to be poor and happy than rich and miserable. But how about a compromise like moderately rich and just moody?

Soren Kierkegaard

There is nothing with which every man is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much he is capable of doing and becoming.

Henry Miller ‎

Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music-the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself."

Ernest Hemingway

Never mistake motion for action.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Own only what you can carry with you; know language, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.

Alexandra Svet

Nothing is worth spending money on except books and travel.

Grumpy old man

It is not brains England needs or training but culture - and education in the true sense of developing ones true self. Everyone should have to study Shakespeare and the poets at university for 5% of their course. They have often not read them much before, though they should have, via second-hand bookshops, which are the best universities, where you can absorb learning for sheer love of learning, without exams, modish ideas or brainwashing. And no writings are ever too unfashionable, elitist or conservative for second-hand bookshops. As Dryden says of Chaucer, 'Here is God's plenty!'

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Books read (and films seen) this year of grace 2012

The High Window*, Raymond Chandler
The Long Goodbye*, Raymond Chandler

Muhammad, Karen Armstrong
Stalingrad Anthony Beevor 
Defying Hitler, Sebastian Hafner
Berlin at War: Life and Death in Hitler’s Capital 1939-45, Roger Moorehouse
This Business of Living: Diaries 1925-50* Cesare Pavese
Relapse into Bondage Alexandru Cretianu
Friends and Heroes*, Olivia Manning
Waugh in Abyssinia Evelyn Waugh

History of the Roumanians* R.W.Seton-Watson 
A History of Romania Kurt Treptow

Bold means I loved it. An asterisk means I have read it before. 

What a masculine, middle-aged, philistine and shamefully short list. I am even reading military history, which is the last refuge of the middle-aged male. In fact I tried Beevor's Stalingrad on a recommendation from an aesthete friend but it bored and repelled me. 

I read Chandler for the prose style not for the plot, though he is  a good storyteller. I thought when 14 that The Long Goodbye was too long and too much trying to be a proper novel. Now I absolutely loved it except the ending with the silly twist which I merely skimmed without attempting to understand it.

Karen Armstrong is not worth reading as she does not mention that the evidence for her subject's life is extremely late indeed (two centuries after the event) but the new book by Tom Holland on the origins of the Koran sounds good. Holland apparently went to my college years after me and took a Double First in Classics and History and has many books to his credit. I try not to be jealous.

Hafner's book, to my great surprise, an account of his uneventful life in Berlin in 1933, found among his papers and published ten years ago, is absolutely wonderful. It is beautifully written and deeply horrifying because of the sheer normality of his life as he describes it in Berlin in 1933 and the ease and rapidity with which Germans accepted Nazism and Nazi indoctrination. I hope it becomes a classic and is read in a hundred years' time as it deserves to be. People follow like sheep. I saw a somewhat faint parallel with another totalitarian ideology with a whiff of sulphur, political correctness, which has made cowards of us all in recent years. 


The Moorehouse book is not particularly well written or strikingly insightful, but it efficiently covers the ground. The story of Stella Kübler, the beautiful blonde Jewess who was used by the Nazis as bait to uncover Jews hiding in Berlin, chilled my blood. One solitary Jew was permitted to survive in the Jewish cemetery burying Jews according to Jewish practice. He was still alive when the Russians came. This is what a friend of mine Madeleine Farrar-Hockley calls Hitler porn but my excuse is that I know very little about German domestic history during the Nazi period, the subject is important and I am interested in biographies of cities, writing as I am one a book on Bucharest. 

Olivia Manning's third volume in the Balkan trilogy, set in Greece, which I reread while spending the weekend in Athens and Hydra, inclines me to think that the reason I like the first two so much is because of my love of and interest in Romania not Manning's writing. She does not create characters. Her characters are clearly drawn from life in many cases and therefore do not come alive. It is the invented ones like Yaki who live, although Dennis Deletant tells me most of her characters were amalgams and Yaki is partly based on a free-loader in their set.

Please click here for my review of Waugh in Abyssinia which I strongly recommend to everyone who likes Waugh.

I am ashamed that only now after owning the book eight or nine years have i read Seton-Watson all the way through. A very good book which is still the leading work in English after Keith Hitchens. And written in clear prose as if for the intelligent layman not for other historians, as books were written in the 1930s. T.S. Eliot wrote in the 30s about the dissociation of sensibility that took place after the Renaissance when men were up to date on everything from poetry to astronomy but since the 1930s this dissociation of sensibility has gone a very great deal further. Reading Seton-Watson inspired these thoughts.

Keith Treptow gave me his History of Romania in 1999 and I never read it until now, thinking it looked light-weight, but on reading it I found it taught me a lot. it is disfigured by some big mistakes and bad proof-reading and sometimes by terrible prose but it is lively and stimulated thought. Dennis Deletant has explained to me that it was not really written by Treptow but a group of Romanian historians and was written in a great hurry for Adrian Nastase to be able to distribute copies as presents when the visited the USA as Foreign Minister in the 1990s.

This Business of Living: Diaries 1925-50 by Cesare Pavese, seemed to me at 23 a remarkably deep book but now I find it uninteresting and read it simply to understand his depressive psychology rather than to understand the world. He did coin some wonderful aphorisms but I did not find any of them in these diaries. Here are some:

A man is never completely alone in this world. At the worst, he has the company of a boy, a youth, and by and by a grown man - the one he used to be.

Artists are the monks of the bourgeois state.

He knows not his own strength that hath not met adversity.

Life is pain and the enjoyment of love is an anesthetic.
No woman marries for money; they are all clever enough, before marrying a millionaire, to fall in love with him first.

One stops being a child when one realizes that telling one's trouble does not make it any better.

'No woman marries for money; they are all clever enough, before marrying a millionaire, to fall in love with him first.' Thackeray said this before him, I am almost sure.

Films seen

The Blue Dahlia (1947)*
The Brasher Doubloon (1947)
Albert Nobbs (2011)
In a Better World (2011)

Women Leaders

I usually delete Cambridge 'alumni' (dread word) emails unread, but I am having fun writing anti-feminist remarks in a discussion unpromisingly entitled 'Women Leaders'. Childish, I know, but it amuses me.

I remember the factory foreman in Michael Wharton's Peter Simple column, ashen-faced when confronted by a piece of unsolicited mail about training managers, saying 'What do they mean, "He or she"? It's against nature, sir' and had to be calmed down.

I wonder if this blog is beginning to sound, to liberal readers, a little bit like the incomparable Squire Hagggard's Journal Squire Hagggard giving short shift to poachers, Papists, dissenters and foreigners made me fall around in fits as a teenager. Perhaps one becomes, as Evelyn Waugh did, what one laughs at.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Victorian joke

Mary, I can write my name in this dust.

To be sure, sir, education is a wonderful thing.

It is classist, sexist and anti-Irish I suppose. It would be funny to parody left wing feminist academics 'deconstructing' it. Actually, I forgot - it would not be funny because satire and parody have died.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

"By a free country I mean a country where people are allowed, so long as they do not hurt their neighbours, to do as they like."

"By a free country I mean a country where people are allowed, so long as they do not hurt their neighbours, to do as they like. I do not mean a country where six men may make five men do exactly as they like. That is not my notion of freedom."

Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury

This is why the Equality Act and all similar legislation is an infringement on freedom along with many other so called human rights laws which restrict freedom while giving entitlements.

Pola Illéry

Posting Ivor Porter's obituary reminds me I forgot to post this obituary of Romanian Jewess Pola Illéry, who died in February aged 103 and is thought to have been the last leading lady from the silent films. Even though tastes in beauty change over generations, her picture is still arresting.

The Daily Telegraph obituaries are the best things in that fine newspaper and probably in English journalism. They form a history of the twentieth century comparable with John Aubrey's Brief Lives, an analogy that was very much in the mind of the paper's great Obituaries Editor, the much-missed  Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd. I regret that I did not take the opportunity to work for him.

Pola Illery

Ivor Porter has died

Ivor Porter

I forgot to post here the obituary in the Daily Telegraph of Ivor Porter, an English hero who who died a few days ago, aged 98. He knew Olivia Manning and her husband, Reggie Smith, in Bucharest when he was a junior lecturer at the university and a few years back published a very good biography of King Michael, which I recommend. I had always hoped to meet him and Patrick Leigh Fermor but, as Gorbachev said, history punishes those who delay. The obituary is by Porter's friend, Professor Dennis Deletant.

Porter's nephew by divorce writes about Porter here. I look forward very much to Dennis's book on the SOE in Romania during the war where no doubt we shall learn more about Porter.

Nowadays the British Council which once gave paid employment to all sorts of odd people who needed to live now tries to sell language classes for a greater profit than its competitors. Such is the impression I have from meeting the head of the British Council in Bucharest the other day at the Jubilee Party. Ill fares the land...

Ivor Porter, Ramona Mitrica, London February 2009 

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Television is good for you

I switched the television on yesterday for the first time in three or four years, to catch up on the Nastase suicide attempt story. It is invaluable for breaking news stories but what is more  Euronews keeps me much better informed than the internet. I actually absorbed some news about the resignation of the Paraguayan President, I who was once au fait with every country in the world but who thanks to the internet am now very ignorant.

In a more general sense though, television keeps one in touch with reality or what passes for it. perhaps reality is a socially agreed construct and television is the instrument by which it is constructed. . The trouble is televison's so damnably passive and prevents you thinking - which is I suppose the point of it.

I had forgotten how delightful the folk music in Etno TV is yet unlike my neighbours I find after three or four minutes I want to switch over. I don't know why. I had also forgotten female Romanian television presenters and how many, in a country of brunettes, are blondes. And what blondes. They bring to mind the immortal words of Raymond Chandler:

She was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.

Adrian Nastase and the crucifiction

Someone just tweeted: 

In prezent exista mai multe dovezi palpabile ca Isus a fost rastignit decat dovezi ca Nastase s-a impuscat.

Currently there is more tangible evidence that Jesus was crucified than evidence that Nastase shot himself.

I think they meant there is more tangible evidence not that Jesus was crucified but that Jesus rose from the dead than that Nastase shot himself. But it seems that Nastase rose from the dead rather nimbly. 


Craig Turp thinks the PNL is committing suicide by being allied to the PSD. But isn't the PSD always in power even when not in power?

Bucharest Saturday morning in the dog days

I did not go to the seaside (Vama Veche, where this conformist country becomes non-comformist) in the end. I did not go to the country and the true Romania. They joy of waking late and coffee. Dog day weather is so tiring.

Maybe later a croissant special at Gregory's but no need to hurry. A bath and then who knows? Saturday morning approaches the Platonic idea of life. All is potential, nothing actual. 

This suits my psychology only too, too well.

otiumCatulletibi molestum est:otio exsultas nimiumque gestis.otium et reges prius et beatasperdidit urbes.

Sloth, O Catullus, to thee is hurtful: in sloth beyond measure dost thou exult and pass thy life. Sloth hath erewhile ruined rulers and gladsome cities.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Imagine if the universe were a Jackie Collins novel

imagining an alternative universe in which Kim Karashian, Cheryl Cole  and the characters in the Daily Mail online were real and you met people like that. It would be like living in a novel by Martin Amis. Or much worse Jackie Collins. 

Imagine if the universe were a Jackie Collins novel.

My God, perhaps it is.

Bucharest, at any rate, perhaps the rest of the world too.

I usually find pulp fiction intolerably boring but I read a lot of Jackie Collins, I am ashamed to say, when I was at university. She can write. (So for example could Edgar Wallace.)  But at university I always thought how dull these characters were who I was sure had never read Elizabethan comedies or seventeenth century prose. The sports cars and big houses without any intellectual life seemed pitiable and I suppose it still does.

But Jackie Collins. whose characters are really North London Jews like the Collins girls, transposed to Hollywood, does a fine line in bosomy female psychopaths. Amis is good on those too. Cruelty is part of the appeal of both writers, otherwise so different. 

There is certainly a Jackie Collins novel to be written set in Bucharest but it must be written by a Romanian woman not by me.

A curfew in Bangor?

Another blow to a freeborn Briton's freedoms. A curfew in Bangor.

Bangor! What on earth has happened to beautiful respectable dull North Wales, full of temperance hotels and Baptist chapels?  

I remember it well from the age of 11 - a depressing little town and even the little cathedral depressed me.

The Queen smiling

This is an absolutely lovely picture of the Queen who we are always told has a marvellous sense of humour. 
Note how in the Queen completely eclipses the Duchess of Cambridge who is looking stunning but who looks like a television presenter rather than our future Queen.

I was at first slightly unsure about whether the Queen should smile so much in public though. Queen Mary never did.  Smiling seems rather American. 

The late Queen Mother was, I thought, the first queen to smile publicly a lot, which showed that she was not born to the purple. Charles Moore said during the Jubilee celebrations a couple of weeks ago that he had never seen any pictures of Queen Victoria smiling in public. This sounded probable, though I have seen at least one of her laughing uproariously in private, but I was wrong and Moore failed to search Google. 

Queen Victoria in an open coach, February 15, 1892. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

This reminds me of how Lord Mountbatten used to talk while smiling but without moving his mouth - like a ventriloquist's dummy.

Former Romanian prime minister Adrian Nastase shoots himself

  • Yesterday was a red letter day or red letter early evening.  Mr. Nastase sent to gaol and  Mrs. Udrea charged with plagiarism. The day before, the job of this month's Prime Minister became in jeopardy because he (allegedly) plagiarised his doctoral thesis. Could the whole Romanian political class be forced to resign and/or be sent to prison?

    The Romanian friend I had dinner with last night refused to believe the court had sentenced Mr. Nastase  to gaol. I did not believe he would stay in gaol more than a fortnight before falling ill and being released. 

    This morning I wake up to see Mr Nastase tried to kill himself. This is not just political smoke and mirrors. The blood is real.

    Which Prime Ministers killed themselves? The only one who comes to my mind is Count Paul Teleki after Hitler invaded Hungary's ally Yugoslavia. Castlereagh was never Prime Minister. Did Mubarak attempt suicide? He threatened it but he was a former President not Prime Minister.

    Even I have to feel sorry for him. This is not about a bad conscience but loss of face, which hurts much more in Romania and the Near East than in Western countries. 

    Nastase's suicide attempt will be a turning point in Romanian history, just when every cynic in Romania, which means virtually everyone in Bucharest, was saying of course he will not go to prison and it is all a farce for public consumption.

    But I hope very much that this does not get Victor Ponta off the hook by distracting us from the allegations of plagiarism. Is there any possibility that these could bring him down? People who know about these things tell me not but they said there was no chance Adrian Nastase would go to prison.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Why, when women behave like men, can't they behave like NICE men?

Why, when women behave like men, can't they behave like NICE men? 

Dame Edith Evans

Râmeţ scene, acknowledgements Lidia Nicoara

Plagiarism and Mr. Ponta

When Mr. Ponta formed his administration his first two choices as Minister of Education were forced to with draw after allegations of having in once case embroidered her academic career on her CV and in the second case plagiarising his doctoral thesis. For those who have no Romanian the caption on the photograph on the right above says 'Ministers of Education in the Ponta Government'. An Education Minister was finally appointed who seemed not to have lied but 
yesterday  the Prime Minister himself, the man Adrian Nastase called 'the little Titulescu',  is accused of plagiarising his doctoral thesis. This in a country of intellectual snobs who are only too well acquainted with crooks and imposters. Oh my fur and whiskers!

I am very doubtful about Romanian doctorates and also unable to imagine why I did not for one in my twenties. It is not only Romanian doctorates that do not impress me. In addition to the Englishman with a Ph.D, in history who had not heard of Carlyle I also know a Romanian Columbia graduate who was completing a Ph.D, in international Relations, whatever that means,  who had not heard of Harry Truman.

This is from the report yesterday in the British learned journal Nature, the grande dame of scientific scholarship:
Prime Minister Victor Ponta has been accused of copying large sections of his 2003 PhD thesis in law from previous publications, without proper reference. If the charges are substantiated, they could spark public pressure for Ponta to resign, say political insiders. The allegations are also raising fresh doubts about the government’s ability to tackle corruption in the higher-education system.Nature has seen documents compiled by an anonymous whistle-blower indicating that more than half of Ponta’s 432-page, Romanian-language thesis on the functioning of the International Criminal Court consists of duplicated text. Moreover, the thesis was republished with very minor amendments as a Romanian-language book in 2004, and also forms the basis of a 2010 book on liability in international humanitarian law. A former PhD student of Ponta’s, Daniela Coman, is named as co-author of the books.

“The evidence of plagiarism is overwhelming,” says Marius Andruh, a chemist at the University of Bucharest and president of the Romanian council for the recognition of university diplomas. If the allegations are borne out, “a serious discussion is needed in Romania and abroad to prevent this in the future,” says Andruh.Substantial sections of text in all three publications seem to be identical, or almost so, to material in monographs written in Romanian by law scholars Dumitru Diaconu and Vasile Creţu. They also feature direct Romanian translations of parts of an English-language publication by law scholar Ion Diaconu.
The whole report can be read here.
It therefore seemed timely to re-post my article of a month ago.

Victor Ponta’s first two nominees for Education Minister had to stand down after the much-maligned Romanian press exploded them. Corina Dumitrescu made several grammar and spelling mistakes in her CV and it came to light very quickly that though she claimed a diploma from Stanford University she in fact merely attended a two week course there (she misspelt Stanford on her CV). The second nominee, Ioan Mang, stood down after being accused of having plagiarised (and allegedly misunderstood) a doctoral thesis from the net. Children and students in every country learn from what they see adults do, not what adults say. Perhaps the two scandals will send the right message to the next generation, or perhaps not.

The position of Education Minister matters very much in Romania where, as in most developing countries, education is given supreme importance. If in America status is defined by money and in England by accent, vocabulary and clothes, in Romania it is education which cuts it. And this is not something that can be hidden, because Romanian grammar is astonishingly complicated and everyone is judged on how grammatical he is. The grilling of the gypsy politician Marian Vanghelie in a chat show on how to decline the verb to be (he couldn't get very far) seemed to me to be almost cruel but made the educated classes here laugh uproariously and, considering how powerful (and allegedly rich) he is, perhaps justly. On anther television show, Tourism Minister Elena Udrea encouraged Romanian scepticism about attractive blondes with successful careers (and Romanians are usually very sceptical) by not being aware that Norway was neither a republic nor a member of the E.U. I knew a pretty girl who rejected the advances of the fabulously rich politician and tycoon George Copos, not because he was married or much older than she was or even because he was bald, but because he didn’t have a degree.

Plagiarism, copying and cheating are rife in the educational system here where teachers often have to be bribed not to mark pupils down. Unfortunately cheating and bribing at school are a mirror of adult life.

Like Japan, Romania is an intensely hierarchical society and teachers, doctors and priests, who in the countryside form the elite, expect a great deal of deference and obedience. Yet for all the defects of the education system here and the problems with poorly paid teachers and the old-fashioned educational methods which reward rote learning (students have told me they were failed because they repeated their professor’s ideas but not in his own words) nevertheless Romanians seem to be (much) more erudite and more informed than Englishmen are. I cannot believe how many English people, whom I asked recently, said they had not heard of Hengist and Horsa, the Jutish chieftains who landed in Kent and are the first Englishmen whom history records. Those who had not heard of them included a retired schoolmistress, a partner in KPMG and an Oxford history graduate of above average intelligence for Oxford (I am not being sarcastic - he was very intelligent). Another Englishman with a doctorate in history had not heard of Carlyle when I mentioned him, nor an Englishman with a Ph.D. in political science of Dr. Johnson. Incredible, but true.

In Romania everyone reasonably intelligent (everyone, in Evelyn Waugh's snobbish phrase, who comes to the front door and most people who do not) knows about Burebista and Decebal, Dacian kings in the pre-Roman period, and the Romanian mediaeval kings who fought against the Turk. They know their poets too and love them. I wonder how many Englishmen and women with degrees know in what order the Kings and Queens of England reigned or even know much about Crecy or Agincourt. Churchill when asked how to make children proud of their country replied, 'Tell them Wolfe took Quebec.' I am not sure how well known this is any more and if children, after being schooled in the orthodoxies of modern liberalism, do know about Wolfe they probably look on him very coolly, as an imperialist whose victory resulted in the oppression of the Quebecois. No-one in England can be a true hero who does not measure up to early 21st century notions of morality and of being progressive.
Digressing from Romania to England, it is not brains England needs or training but culture - and education in the true sense of developing ones true self. Everyone should have to study Shakespeare and the poets at university for 5% of their course. They have often not read them much before, though they should have, via second-hand bookshops, which are the best universities, where you can absorb learning for sheer love of learning, without exams, modish ideas or brainwashing. And no writings are ever too unfashionable, elitist or conservative for second-hand bookshops.  As Dryden says of Chaucer, 'Here is God's plenty!' 

On the other hand, though they know a very great deal, Romanians are maddeningly not taught to think and to question authority. Perhaps the result is that Romanians, who are certainly clever and well-educated, are stuffed with facts like geese being fattened to be turned into fois gras and tend, to quote the unkind judgement of a character in Olivia Manning’s The Balkan Trilogy, to be 'ingenious but not creative'. They are often not good people to have an enjoyable argument with, sometimes preferring just to say no, that doesn't work. When you press your point they tend to say something like, 'My cousin tried it - it doesn't work.'

Medieval history (and in a sense the middle ages lasted here until the end of the 18th century) was very important for inculcating patriotism under National Communism in the Ceausescu years but is not really particularly useful for a modern economy, which needs to turn out white collar employees for the private and public sectors in a world of constant change. Problem solving and team playing may be more valuable to society than people who can recite Eminescu and have read Schopenhauer. Probably Western educational methods are better but it is a great joy to live in a country, like America but very unlike England, where people are proud of their country’s history, her traditions and religion.

Even students for doctorates have to attend classes (including a Russian lady I know who does not understand Romanian but is still required to attend lectures in Romanian, even though her doctoral thesis will be in English). In Russia she says as in England students argue with teachers but in Romania students are expected to learn what they are taught and repeat it verbatim in examinations. This, my Russian says, shows how passive Romanians are compared to Russians, who she says with pride are a race of fighters.

Doctoral students are treated in exams with great suspicion, she tells me, have to sit apart from each other and are required to empty their pockets to show that they do not have calculators or mobile telephones to enable them to crib the answers. Yet cheating even at doctoral level is very widespread. Treating students like cheats encourages cheating perhaps.

I read of an Albanian taxi driver in London who paid to send his child to Albania to receive a better education than he would get in a London comprehensive and I can imagine a Romanian parent in London sending his children here (though I meet numbers of Romanian parents who are saving to send their children to school in England).

In many ways I suspect it makes sense to send your child to a state school here rather than a private school. There are problems with either choice and the teachers in the state system are corrupt but I hear dreadful stories of the bullying and bad behaviour of the children of the Romanian rich, who apparently are spoilt, ill bred and who cannot be expelled because the school needs their parents’ money.

If you want to supplement the school curriculum with tutors (in English, German, Greek and Latin, for example, which would be my choice were I a parent), tutors are very cheap.