Sunday, 29 December 2013

Rangoon jottings

Then, a golden mystery upheaved itself on the horizon - a beautiful, winking wonder that blazed in the sun, of a shape that was neither Muslim dome nor Hindu temple spire. It stood upon a green knoll…"there's the old Shway Dagon,"

Thursday, 26 December 2013

The King of Romania's Christmas message, 2013

Photo: The Message of His Majesty King Michael I at Christmas 2013


The year now drawing to a close has been a time of achievements, despite the effects of the economic crisis. The younger generation displays vigour and talent, and a large number of Romanians are studying or working honourably and skilfully in countries around the world. The private sector as well as the whole of civil society have consolidated themselves and developed with each passing year.

Our country is confidently moving in the direction of democratic values and freedom. Unfortunately, deeper Romanian society sometimes has a greater openness and understanding when it comes to such values than do society’s representatives.

Our family celebrated a number of significant anniversaries in 2013. On 10 June, the Queen and I celebrated our sixty-fifth wedding anniversary. We would both like the example of our life together to inspire our contemporaries, demonstrating the importance of the family in the present day. In September the Queen reached the beautiful age of ninety and was congratulated by the whole of Romanian society.

The affection and trust you have all shown us every day are a blessing to us. Although the years pass, and we are unable to answer every invitation we receive from all over the country, the Queen and I feel at every moment your devotion to the Crown.

This year the Royal Family visited countries in Europe and around the world, representing the Nation’s fundamental interests. After my visit to the Vatican in February, the Crown Princess and Prince Radu represented me in Chișinău, Bălți, Soroca, Orhei, and other places on the other side of the Prut, re-forging these regions’ historic link with the Crown seventy-one years since my last visit to Chișinău.

It has been a year since Prince Nicholas joined the family here, getting to know the country and its people and assisting our consolidation in the areas of the economy, education, ecology and national heritage.

Peles Castle is one more a place full of life, lending splendour to the present and consolidating the future. Sinaia is the Seat of the Royal House of Romania, a guarantor of our identity and symbol of the modern Romanian State. Each moment our Family spends there strengthens and inspires the Country. All those who have crossed our threshold, at Peles or Pelisor Castles, leave filled with pride and hope.

Year after year the Royal Family has looked after Romania’s senior and youngest citizens. The examples of volunteer work and social responsibility we set are important guiding principles of the present.

Over the past year we have received tokens of respect from the Romanian military. Thanks to their efforts to adapt to modern military concepts, thanks to their striving to respect the memory of the past, Romanian soldiers continue to do their country proud and defend its future, serving it worthily and courageously. I became an officer seventy-six years ago and since then I have never forgotten respect for the Romanian Army.

During these days, Savarsin House resounds to carols, bustle and preparations. At Christmas the whole of Romanian society views Savarsin as part of its own hearth and home. I am sure that from somewhere up in Heaven Queen Helen is rejoicing in all these things. Over the years, my mother was the heart and soul of preparations for Christmas and a parent to every Romanian.

I wish a happy holiday, spiritual peace and reasons for pride to you all, to children, parents and grandparents, to those in Romania and Bessarabia, to those spending Christmas in other countries around the world, and to those of you posted on missions that do honour to Romania!

So help us God!

25 December 2013, Savarsin House

King Michael of Romania is the last surviving head of state and commander-in-chief from the Second World War. It would be very disrespectful to describe him as a guest blogger on my

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas one and all!

'He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, He the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute' (St. Augustine).

Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas, season of faulty plumbing and e-card spamming

All man's problems are caused by his not being able to be happy alone in a room, said Pascal, but he forgot the many problems caused by plumbing. My existential problems were caused

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Oh no! Peter O'Toole has died!

Oh no! Peter O'Toole has died! And I realise I loved him. It seems he died of drink at the age of 81.

I bitterly regret watching him on the stage in Jeffrey Barnard Is Unwell and spending Act II

The earth was warmer in Roman and mediaeval times

"Les savants ne sont pas curieux" (Anatole France)
Very good news! The earth was warmer in Roman and mediaeval times, according to a
study. It is clear that the global warming myth is exactly that, a myth. Like many other
myths our rulers believe in. 

Meanwhile Egypt has had her first snowfall in a hundred years this weekend.

Christians continue to flee Iraq as well as Syria and Egypt

More news of Christians leaving Iraq. All this was caused by the Anglo-American toppling of Saddam. Saddam it is clear was  better at ruling Iraq than anyone is likely to be in the

Tony Blair and Rosia Montana

The Sunday Telegraph today says that at Nelson Mandela's interminable funeral Tony Blair introduced Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, whom the paper called Mr. Blair's prospective client, to Mr Obama.

Back in the summer, when Mr. Blair flew to Bucharest to dine with Mr. Ponta, I heard that Rosia Montana Gold corporation is Mr. Blair's client, which is why he met Mr. Ponta.  

It does seem some thing ignoble that former first ministers of the British crown make money in this way in matters completely unrelated to British interests. 

Nor is it necessary. Former prime Ministers have plenty of money. Mr. Heath lived in style on the money he accumulated over twenty years from his salary as cabinet minister, leader of the Opposition and Prime Minister. Mr. Callaghan saved enough from his pay to buy a farm. But Mr. Blair has always been fascinated by the very rich and aspires to be very rich himself. As Mr. Callaghan said of Mr. Blair when he first saw him at the  1983 Labour Party Conference,
I don't know what that young man is but he is not Labour.
This will probably be the puzzled judgement of history, with the caveat that not being Labour does not mean not being left-wing, if left-wing means promoting egalitarianism, along with marked inequalities of income, and a powerful state. Mr. Blair created a new kind of left that combines admiration for the rich and powerful with internationalism, enthusiasm for the EU and social liberalism. It should fit in well with Victor Ponta's ideas, and those of the PSD - a socialist party run by millionaires - except for the social liberalism, which will come to Romania only under pressure from the E.U. There are no votes in it.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Jacques Chirac on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square ?

I supposed they would put Nelson Mandela on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square, which seems to me absurd. I would give it to Jacques Chirac, though I have in general a very low opinion of him, simply because he pleaded with England and America not to go to war with Saddam in 2003.

But it seems I am out of touch and Mandela's statue is in Parliament Square not far from that other revolutionary Oliver Cromwell, erected from his own money by Lord Rosebery to pacify the Noncomformist vote - at the cost of, understandably, angering his allies in the Irish Home Rule Party. Washington for some reason is in Trafalgar Square.

Chirac, unlike Washington, tried to prevent war.

A world without Facebook is not imaginable

Will the day come when Facebook ceases to be popular? Logically the answer must be yes, yet it is impossible to imagine. I remember asking myself in 1984 if the Cold War would last forever and coming to the same conclusion.

Blonde tells children Santa Claus is white shock

'Be good sweet maid and let who will be clever.' 

This newscaster (newscastress is a word?) is in trouble for telling the children of the USA
that Santa Claus is white. Everyone who comments on the net seems to be furious and many of their denunciations of this pretty girl are blood-curdling and expressed in obscenities. The collective unconscious of America has been troubled by this nonsense.. She has touched off America's mental breakdown about race.

When I saw this story my urge was to protect this nice girl from the leftish goblins attacking her. Of course Jesus may have been, probably was, off-white but one understands what she meant. Then I read further and saw that Megyn was responding to this. 

In a column for Slate earlier this week, Aisha Harris wrote that she had always been confused as a child because the Santa in her home had brown skin like her, but the Santa in malls and on television was always white.
So Harris made the case “that America abandon Santa-as-fat-old-white-man” and adopt a penguin in his place.

“For one thing, making Santa Claus an animal rather than an old white male could spare millions of nonwhite kids the insecurity and shame that I remember from childhood,” she wrote.

Well I get her point too but it is a ridiculous one - perhaps we should be laughing at Miss Harris not the fair Megyn.

Actually, though she is amusingly misinformed not to know that Jesus was not, actually, very white, nevertheless at the risk of being called a Nazi, a black Santa does seem pretty odd to me. St Nicholas might have been beige for ought I know, though not if he was a Greek which I think he was, but, after all, if Santa lives in Lapland ...... 

What colour are Lapps, now I come to think of it? 

In America they think Santa Claus lives at the North Pole, so he might be eskimo, though I dare say only Nazis use the word eskimo these days. Perhaps I shall get away with Esquimaux.

Anyway, Santa was certainly white when Coca Cola invented him.

If Miss Kelly said these words on British television she would probably be fired, by the way. And that, to my mind, is not amusing at all.

I have just remembered that I caught sight of Father Christmas leaving my bedroom once and I am embarrassed to say I refused to disbelieve in his existence until my parents told me he did not. This might weaken my credentials for persuading people to believe in Christianity but in fact as Cardinal Newman said, a Catholic is required to believe in seven impossible things before breakfast. I was simply being a good conservative.

Nelson Mandela, the great conservative

The endless threnody for Nelson Mandela continues to make the front pages for yet another day and this I hope justifies me in writing about him again.

I admit I feel a certain desire to deride Mandela just to show we still have some degree of

freedom left. The ludicrous Mandela cult is linked to this dreadful thing which is taking over the Western world. It's like an invasion by aliens.

Still, Mandela was in many ways admirable and is not responsible for most of the bad things that have happened to South Africa since he came out of the jug. They would have happened without him, when whites ceded power. Let us hope things do not get worse, though they may well do. It was inevitable, sooner or later, that whites would cede power. This is why De Klerk did.

Ian Smith put it best. He said 

'I was right about Mugabe but wrong about Mandela'.

(Is is significant that Mugabe was educated by Jesuits and Mandela by Methodists? It is in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, anyhow. Mandela might have been a Marxist but he was a Protestant Marxist.)

F.W . Klerk comes out of it all best, I think, Mandela very well but the apartheid regime deserves credit too. Unlikeable though the National Party were they saved South Africans, of all races, from Communism. F.W. Klerk  in today's Times gave some of the credit for avoiding civil war to Margaret Thatcher. I think this is fair.

This article by the (former?) Trotskyite Brendan O' Neil, describes how the ANC were taken by surprise by the township violence that started in 1976. In fact if the role of the ANC was to tame the angry young black men this is to the ANC's credit. The ANC is often blamed by right-wingers for the horrific 'necklacings' and other killings and torture that took place in the 1980s but they are fingering the wrong people. The ANC leaders believed in violence in theory, but were not instigators of it or even prepared for it. 

I was particularly struck by this passage: 

The youthful Black Consciousness movement, as it called itself, was centred around university campuses and was also influential among black schoolchildren and teenagers. Its spokespeople were individuals like Stephen Biko, a radical student union and community activist whose contempt for white liberals who pitied oppressed blacks immediately set him apart from the ANC old guard. (Biko would be murdered by Apartheid prison guards in 1977.) As Alistair Kee argues in his essay, ‘Redemption of the Poor: South Africa’, these radical black students of the early 1970s launched a critique not only of ‘liberal white analysis’, but also of ‘the analysis of the ANC’ (1). They were anti-reform, anti-assimilation and impatient. Mandela’s shock at the radicalism of this new cohort of agitated black youth was summed up by his response to the ‘insolence’ their leaders displayed when they were sent to Robben Island in the 1970s: ‘These fellows refused to conform to even basic prison regulations’, he wrote. Asked to remove his cap in the presence of a prison officer, one Black Consciousness leader respond: ‘What for?’ Mandela was shocked: ‘I could hardly believe what I had just heard. It was a revolutionary question: “What for?”’

It has been the fate of many radicals, from Cromwell to Lloyd George and Ramsay Macdonald, to end up conservatives. Even the Communist Tito in his later years slightly resembled the Emperor Francis Joseph, in whose army he had once been enrolled as a private. If Mandela ended up as a curiously conservative figure, that is something truly worth celebrating. 

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Genetic differences account for 58% of the differences between pupils' exam scores

An interesting item in today's Independent reveals what the journalist calls 'a bombshell conclusion.'

Researchers from King's College London found that genetic differences account for 58 per cent of the differences between pupils' GCSE exam scores - while environment (home or school) only accounted for 29 per cent.

I would have thought it was no surprise - and only a bombshell to people who have not thought about how much they and their family owe to genes. It has of course great implications for education, psychology and politics but these implications are unwelcome to opinion-formers.

I wrote a little about this here

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Saint Nelson? Or not? Peter Hitchens' view

The orgy of grief for Nelson Mandela reminds me of what Oscar Wilde said about the death of Little Nell. You would need a heart of stone not to laugh.

I was sick to death of the Mandela coverage the moment I heard the news - it brings back the double standards about South Africa in the 80s when the white regime was much better than any of its neighbours. This does not mean I liked apartheid - I loathed it - but I did like white rule - though I recognised it could not last. I liked colonialism and it is the history of colonialism which urgently needs to be understood in our day. Instead clever people of good will believe the white races have done terrible things to the brown and yellow races, when in fact on balance the colonial powers have so much to be proud of.
I never believed in the rule de mortuis nil nisi bono. I looked in vain for Peter Hitchen's comments on the death of Nelson Mandela but he seems to have written nothing. I am posting this link to his summing up of Mandela several years ago.


I just came across this published yesterday by Mr Hitchens, which I missed. It contains this:

Anyone looking at the world in the second half of the 20th Century could see that the harshest and cruellest regimes on the planet were Left-wing ones, in Moscow, Peking and Havana. But the fashionable Western Left will never admit that. They are interested only in ‘Right-wing’ repression and secretly think that Left-wing oppression might actually be justified. 

That is why there was nothing like this fuss on the death of another giant of human liberation, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn was at least as great as Mandela – and, in my view, greater. He never wielded anything more deadly than a typewriter, yet he brought down an Evil Empire, with all its concentration camps, tanks, guns and bombs. But when he died in August 2008, I don’t recall hours of eulogies on the BBC, or his face on every front page. Ask yourselves why.

Another of my recipes for happiness

I came across this by accident, that I wrote last April, and like it.

My recipe for happ
iness: trust in God; good health; a sense of beauty; a passion for books; friends; enjoying your own company; not caring about material things; a good sense of humour; a quick mind; a sense of history; being in Romania; glorious spring weather.

Friday, 6 December 2013

St. Nicholas in Bucharest

Saint Nicholas (Nicolae in Romanian) was a bishop in 4th century Anatolia who had a reputation for giving presents secretly. His cult spread across Europe with many charming legends attached. Today is his feast day and in Catholic and Orthodox countries children receive presents on St Nicholas's Eve, 5th December. 

Santa Claus is a Dutch phrase for the saint and the idea of Santa Claus was taken to North America. He now figures in the global post-Christian commercial hagiography along with St Valentine.

This summer Martin Harris, Mihai Ivanescu and I made a tour of Bucharest churches. The highlight was the church of Mihai Voda, one of the few Bucharest churches that I have visited fairly often. (It's a ten minute stroll from my flat.) 

A clever engineer, Eugen Iordachescu saved it and a number of others from destruction by Communist bulldozers and had it moved on rollers. It is now completely hidden behind apartment blocks. Thank God Eugen Iordachescu had the idea of the rollers and thereby saved a number of fine churches, at least until the next earthquake. Having no foundations they may fall to the ground like a deck of cards. 

But it was the highlight because Martin pointed out 'There is Santa Claus's hand!' and there indeed was St Nicholas's mummified hand. It is not in a very prominent place and I had previously not noticed it.

Is there a black market for stolen holy relics? If so, they should guard it carefully. Stealing holy relics sounds very mediaeval but so do lots of things that happen in this country, which, I suppose, is why I love this place.

Mihai, who once told me that he is not particularly religious, is quite certain that this is indeed St. Nicholas's hand and that someone tried to steal the relic from the church and died in prison on December 6, St. Nicholas's Day. 

I would like to believe that St Nicholas was involved in this death, and in fact can at a stretch, but I very much doubted if it really was the saint's hand and said I would look up how many of his hands are to be found in churches in Europe. 

Yet I was loath to do so. I decided to leave it that it is the saint's hand indeed. But, just as many towns claimed the honour of producing Homer, so relics of St Nicholas are widely distributed in Romania. In St. George's church, not far away, the saint's right hand is preserved in a glass case.

The mourning for Mandela feels almost like the mouning in the USSR for Stalin

I had Mandela fatigue as soon as I saw the news on Facebook last night that the great man had died. Today it reminded me a bit of the mourning in Russia for Stalin. I couldn't help