Monday, 31 March 2014

A monarchist praises republics

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

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

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

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

Friday, 28 March 2014


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

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

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

Before the Internet

What is wrong with prejudice against atheists?

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

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

For my view on human rights please click here.

Enjoying war

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

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

Whiskey (or whisky) is not a Protestant drink

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Cream Tartary

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

Mr. Obama's speech at Brussels yesterday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A good curry in Bucharest

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

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

All real communication is psychic

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

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Life is not a science but an art

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

Boris Johnson had another insight that deserves to be disseminated.

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

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

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Irresistible Ronald Firbank

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

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

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

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

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

'I adore italics, don't you?'

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

The Crimea will vote today to become part of Russia

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

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

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

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

Friday, 14 March 2014

Best opening lines from books

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

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

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

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

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

Malcolm Muggeridge on Jesus

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

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Missing Aeroplane

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

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Russia has a case for intervention in Crimea, but is making a great mistake by doing so

I dislike very much Vladimir Putin and what he stands for, though he has done a great deal for Russia as well as much that is bad. As always Russia seems to need a strong man, an authoritarian. But though I am so sorry that Russia is intervening - still covertly so far - in Ukraine, it is very hard to frame reasons why they should not do so that distinguish this behaviour from that of the USA and the UK.

This article from Slate is hard to rebut. So is this scholarly argument in favour of Russia. How do we justify intervention in Libya and Kosovo and not Putin's actions? I dislike saying this, but it is so. 

My original legitimist philosophy that all revolutions are always wrong, which I feared was reactionary, looks more plausible day by day. Revolutions seem almost always to do very little good and very much harm. This is also Christian doctrine, though many people have forgotten it. Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.

What is clear is that Mr. Putin, if he annexes Crimea, will thereby lose Ukraine, however disastrous the next Ukrainian government will be, and it will be. As will be the one after. Mr. Putin had enough levers with which to influence Ukraine without seizing part of the 

Mr. Putin is making a huge mistake, whether or not he is justified in what he is doing. By doing this he is losing Ukraine, I am pleased to say. The EU is ghastly, I agree, but it is a lot better than Russia and it is a lot better than where Ukraine is now, ruled by crooks and thugs. What is sad is that Eastern Europeans do not do anything to change the statism and social liberalism that the EU embodies or try to prevent mass migrations from the Third World.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Reflections on the Revolution in Ukraine

Is Ukraine a real country, even by the standards of Eastern Europe? We shall see. Nation-building is what the Ukrainian revolution is about.
Ukraine became an independent country in 1991 as a result of a deal between leading Eastern and Western Ukrainians. To be specific, between people in Western Ukraine, (which was once part of Austria and then Poland) who wanted independence and certain powerful Russian members of the nomenklatura running factories in the East, who wanted to keep control of them rather than ceding it to other Russians in Moscow. This uneasy alliance threatened to fall apart the last time Mr. Yanukovych was toppled in a revolution, ten years ago, and might do so again now.
I am told by reliable sources that the reason Viktor Yanukovych ordered the snipers to stop killing protesters on Friday is because the two richest oligarchs in Ukraine told him to do so, not because he got tired of wallowing in blood. They saw that a Yanukovych victory achieved through great bloodshed would lead Ukraine in a clear direction: Belarus. And Belarus was not a good place for their businesses.
The end of Communism was essentially a management buy-out and the new owners ultimately conduct things on business principles.
For an old cold warrior and Romanophile like me the defeat of Mr. Yanukovych is good news. He is recognizably like but much worse than the worst kind of Romanian politician. He is the Ukrainian equivalent of what Ion Iliescu would have liked to have been had Romania occupied Ukraine’s geographical and political position.
The demonstrators seem like the equivalent of the brave Golani (‘hooligans’ according to the Romanian Government) who were beaten up by the miners in University Square in the summer of 1990, revealing to the outside world that the Romanian National Salvation Front were not the good guys that the Western media had thitherto thought but the Communists.
But some points should be mentioned.
Mr. Yanukovych rigged the election that he won in 2004 but he won the 2010 election fair and square, so he was the legal and democratic president. He was dismissed on Saturday by parliament, it is true, but he was in effect overthrown by an uprising, a rebellion aided to some unknown extent by foreign powers. The EU has also been lending support to the protesters and to some extent (I have no idea what) the EU helped overthrow the government.
Mr. Yanukovych is nasty and corrupt. So are all other Ukrainian politicians who have so far held office.
In opinion polls I saw at the end of last year, he enjoyed the support of over 40 percent of the electorate. By contrast, Victor Yushchenko, who replaced Mr. Yanukovych in 2004 in the ‘Orange Revolution’, became more unpopular than any leader in any democratic country in history, since opinion polls began.
Of course Mr. Putin and Russia were interfering to impede and destroy the governments that held power between 2004 and 2010 and had many means to do so. But Putin has interfered in other countries far less than the USA and UK have done in his time. Remember Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya.
In the rebellion the lives of many protesters were lost, shot by snipers whom we can presume Yanukovych ordered to shoot on the crowd. These people were brave, heroic. But on the first day of bloodshed more police than protesters were killed. The demonstrators in University Square in Bucharest in 1990 did not attack anyone, let alone kill policemen.
When is it right to rebel against a legitimate government, however unsatisfactory? Never, according to the Orthodox Church, who nevertheless swung their support behind the protesters.
Russia has been smarting for a quarter of a century because the West took advantage of Gorbachov’s surrender at the end of the Cold War to unify Germany and later to incorporate Russia’s satellites including the Baltic States which were part of the USSR into NATO. They wanted Georgia in NATO and are now moving into Ukraine which Russians consider part of Russia. Kiev, after all, is where the Russian state originated.
Many social conservatives in Western Europe and elsewhere have decided that the EU is their enemy and Vladimir Putin their great white hope. This is partly Vladimir Putin’s strategy – gone are the days when American conservatives inveighed against ‘Godless Russia’. On the other hand, tn Kiev the Svoboda party, which the BBC calls far right, was fighting against Mr. Yanukovych.
Some say he originally helped create the party. If so it reminds me of how the National Salvation Front helped created the Romanian far right party, even financed a far right newspaper, thus making the government look moderate and statesmanlike. So Svoboda is lined up with those people – they are fewer than they were at the time of the Arab Spring, but include what is left of the the Neo-Cons (in fact Wilsonian liberals) – who think revolutions will make the world more democratic.
The BBC does not like Vladimir Putin – not so much because he is a former Communist and former KGB station chief, or alleged by Wikileaks to have salted away many billions, or even because of the brutal war he waged in Chechnya, but partly because he is alleged to have opponents murdered, partly because he gaoled Pussy Riot and to a large extent because he has made homosexual propaganda a crime. I think the BBC hates him for the reasons some right-wing foreigners like him – he looks like a sexist, racist homophobe, or in the words of Paul Gottfried, the paleo-conservative writer,
Putin gives the exhilarating impression of being a non-reconstructed, non-sensitized MAN.
But if the victors in Kiev include a party that contains anti-Semites and racists, this for some will make Putin seem the lesser of two evils.
I suspect that very few people under sixty in Ukraine are either genuine communists or genuine fascists and that most people in Ukraine are casual racists, homophobes and sexists in the way Romanians were in the late 1990s and the British were in the early 1970s. I expect that goes for people of all parties and none. I also doubt whether homophobia, sexism and racism are of pressing importance in Ukraine right now.
I hope the Ukrainians escape from a future as a satrapy of the Kremlin and become part of Europe and the European Union. This is, on the whole, the best hope for them and for us in the West.
I am sorry that this will mean they are forced to obey Brussels and the ruling human rights ideology of the West – but this is better by a long way than obeying the Kremlin and copying its affronts to human rights. Above all in a post-Communist country the EU means some check on the rule of the post-Communist ‘structure of power’. Let’s hope Ukraine can avoid having her agriculture destroyed by the EU as Romania’s has been.
The alternative is what Ukraine has had for the last twenty years. Putin has done some good things and some bad things for Russia, has above all restored her pride, but he cannot give Ukraine pride.
Ukraine, on the other hand, is just about small enough to be able to be one day absorbed by the EU. She is Western enough too, having Hapsburg Catholic and Polish traditions, as well as a Tsarist one. If Romania and Bulgaria can be part of the West, why not Ukraine?
The failure of the reformist governments between 2004 and 2010 was partly about Russian interference, partly about incompetence, partly about corruption, but partly a failure by the EU to make it clear that Ukraine’s future belonged in the Union. The deal offered to Ukraine by the EU at the end of last year did not offer Ukraine a path to EU membership but an existence outside the EU but closely connected to it. Russia sees the EU as being aggressive and not respecting the Russian sphere of influence but in fact EU has done that only too well.
There are a number of questions.
In 2004 the chanceries of Europe discussed offering Ukraine a path to EU membership and decided against it. Will they do so now?
If not, how can Turkey be considered European and Ukraine not?
What will Russia do now? So far, it is obvious that Mr Putin does not know what to do.
In 2004 Putin said a European Ukraine was good for Russia. He may well be right but he changed his mind.
Does the EU have the money to bail out Ukraine? Does it have the will?
What does this mean for Moldova’s chances of joining the EU?
Will Ukraine split in two? This question was asked in 2004 too. The authorities in Kharkov released Yulia Timoshenko from prison hospital on Saturday in obedience to Parliament, which suggested that Kharkov was not about to secede. Russia has many levers with which to influence Ukraine, without creating an enclave in the Crimea.
Will this revolution be a catalyst for a similar outbreak in Moscow? Probably not, I should say, but we shall see.
Can the next government, after fresh elections, succeed where Mrs Timoshenko’s failed and do better than Mr Yanukovych’s?
Why must Russia and the West be enemies? Russians and other Europeans want the same things: freedom, nice holidays, consumer durables, peace or whatever it is we all want.