I am obliged to my e-pal, 'JK', for pointing me in this direction where confirmation is to be had that the bastion of the Free World upon whom we all depend utterly, is now in the hands of complete morons. Read it, and weep!
I am obliged to my e-pal, 'JK', for pointing me in this direction where confirmation is to be had that the bastion of the Free World upon whom we all depend utterly, is now in the hands of complete morons. Read it, and weep!
I ask the question because I do not think such a thing exists but my e-pal, 'Bongers' (see the thread to the second post down), thinks that it does and, moreover that it conveys a "truth" concerning reality. Before I go further I should draw attention to the capital letter 'A' in my word 'Art' in my title, because I think there is a difference between 'Art' and 'art'. The latter, which I do believe exists, is probably best described as 'decoration' to the eye or the ear, where-as the former defies definition, in my view.
Consider what happens when you view or hear a work of art (small 'a'). If, and I cannot stress that little word too hard, if it touches your personal 'aesthetic' (mis-using that word as a noun) then you feel a heightened emotional response. If it fails to touch you then you simply ignore it because it has produced no such response in you. The problem is that the process is entirely personal. Art schools and musical academies (and critics!) might try and teach certain aesthetic rules, but no sooner are these laid down than some rebel comes along and turns the whole thing on its head by producing works of art that produce tremendous re-actions from many people. To complicate matters further, I might receive a terrific emotional jolt from listening to Beethoven's 5th where-as you will be intensely moved by a bunch of head-bangers torturing sundry innocent guitars to a slow death. I am frequently faced with raised eyebrows, rolling eyes, pretend yawns by my friends when I attempt to play them some music from the MJQ or the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. In fact this happens so often that I wonder I have any friends left, but the fact is that it just doesn't do it to them the way it does to me. In reverse, a very good friend of mine sings in a choir and, I reckon as some sort of revenge for having to listen to my MJQ, he insists that I attend his choir's concerts in which they usually sing an oratorio, a style of music which, if I die before I hear another one at least I'll die happy!
To sum up, 'Art' (capital 'A') assumes the existence of a sort of universal mould into which any new creation either fits and thus earns the title, or not. I maintain that there is no such thing and that all art is personal and visceral. What I feel listening to a Shostakovich string quartet (sublime!) is probably what others feel listening to the Rolling Stones (they deserve death by stoning!) Of course, it goes without saying that one is infinitely more complex than the other but the end result will depend entirely on the personality of the individual listener.
What do you think? Tell me, but do not expect an answer until Thursday when I return from deepest, darkest Devon!
Oh, how I laughed, and I bet you did, too, seeing our Home Secretary trying to explain away the fact that her husband rents dirty movies and that she claimed for them on her parliamentary expenses. Well, in a grim week in which the president of the United States appears to be green not black, and our very own prime minister is obviously suffering with psychological delusions, not to mention the strong possibility of war breaking out in the north Pacific, the sight and sound of Jacqui Smith's husband, Richard Timney, complete with puffy eyes and trembling hand, reading an apology to his wife - not us, mind you, even though we pay him (via her) £40k p.a. - for trying desperately to, er, stiffen his resolve by watching porno movies at our expense, was indeed a spectacle of great comic potential. In its pathetic way it certainly raised a bigger laugh than Nigel Griffith MP attempting to bluster his way out of a classic 'News of the Screws' sting in which his photos of a sexual encounter in his parliamentary office hit the front page and which a High Court Judge refused to enforce a legal gag, or, "Writ Hits Fan", as the NoW wittily put it. There was certainly nothing much to smile about with Harry Cohen MP, a Left-winger whose favourite song is "Big Spender", particularly at other people's expense including, of course, many of his poorer constituents who find themselves on exceedingly lean and hard times. All of this after the revelations concerning Tony McNulty MP, a minister of the Crown, no less, who has bilked us all for £60k or there-abouts.
And so the miserable litany goes on and on, and whilst I always insist that I only ever write for myself, I suspect there are an increasing number of people like me who are sick to our stomachs with these crooked, corrupt, degenerate poltroons milking the public purse. The very title 'member of parliament' is enough to induce a hawk and a spit, if not outright nausea. However what makes me fearful is that when a general population loses all respect for its democratic politicians, and I do not mean their politics but their personal integrity, then there will be a huge temptation to turn to outsiders who may not be at all democratic but will appear to be squeaky clean. Once again Cameron is faced with an open goal. All he has to do is offer up a stern, strict re-arrangement of MPs' pay and perks which would not only be fair but be seen to be fair and which, in these straightened times, leaves MPs poorer than they were. In my opinion it would clinch several marginal seats.
Here are four pictures and I would like you to look them over and come to a conclusion. For myself, I thought they were rather charming and attractive; apprentice pieces, I suppose you could call them, but even so, I do like them, despite the fact that . . .
. . . they were painted by Adolph Hitler. Now there is no doubt that fact gives one pause, but even so, I still like them. For example, I would rather have one of those hanging on my wall than almost anything by, say, Picasso in his later years. It comes down to that hoary old conundrum about whether or not one's knowedge of an artist should, or shouldn't, affect one's response to his art. It is a constant irritation to a Shakespeare fanatic like me that we know so very little about the man himself but part of me likes it that way because I fear to know too much! I wonder if Adolph, alone in his bunker in 1945, ever muttered to himself similar words to those spoken by the rueful Sir Andrew Aguecheek which I have made the heading to this post?
I've never heard the like of it in all my born days, really I haven't! Absolutely disgraceful, and even worse coming from a man who has been knighted by her right, royal Maj-ship, herself. I really don't know what the world is coming to when people like that, who should know better, tell jokes about Pakis. It's outrageous! Just read this and shudder:
What do you call a Pakistani cloakroom attendant?
Me hat, me coat.
Now I ask you, isn't that the most pathetic, unfunny joke you ever wished you'd never heard - and it came from a man who is a supposed master of comic skills. Honestly, I've had better jokes from Christmas crackers. Apparently Sir David told this one on live radio and, of course, there was instant outrage - er, but - it was only when I read the story properly that I gather the uproar occurred because some people possessed of less than three brain cells decided it was racist. I can't see it myself, and even if it was, so what? The real crime is that it is the world's worst joke, the sort of joke that leaves you feeling more depressed having heard it than you were before. Now, if he'd re-told that true story concerning the unfortunate complications that ensued from the name of a Turkish diplomat during the war - Mustapha Kunt - then he'd have had us rolling in the aisles.
At last, a Tory who tells it precisely and exactly the way it is - and straight into the Prime Minister's stupid, grinning, embarrassed face. I woke this morning feeling out of sorts but after watching this I was immensely cheered. My thanks to Guido. It only takes a few minutes so do yourselves a favour and watch it:
Why isn't this man leader of the Tory party?
No, don't bother looking it up, I'll tell you:
For with what judgement you judge, ye shall be judged;
And with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
And here beginneth the first lesson, not endeth! I had intended to write a brief but brilliant/long-winded and tedious (delete as necessary) essay on Shakespeare's teasing, tricky play Measure for Measure but in order to double-check my biblical reference - I know what hungry pedants there are, waiting out there for my first mistake - I reached for my Bible. After blowing the dust off it - oh dear, the shame - it fell open because a folded sheet of paper had been placed in the pages. Now, I should explain that this is quite an old Bible given to me as gift some years ago. I am unable to give it a publication date but according to a hand-written note inside the cover it was used at the wedding in Fernhurst, Sussex, of Richard and Jane Lee (nee Mosley) on 28th September 1871. According to later entries, this couple went on to produce five children between 1872 and 1883, four girls and one boy, to be exact, all of whom were baptised at Chobham in Surrey. The loose-leaf paper that fell out was a hand-written copy of their wedding hymn. Inside another page there is a shred of tissue paper with no writing on it, presumably a bookmark of some sort, but amusingly, and intriguingly, it opens the Bible on Numbers XXXVI which has an end reference at the top of the page: The inheritance of daughters. Hmmn, thereby hangs a tale, perhaps!
I can't explain exactly how, or why, or even what, I felt reading that fading script and wondering whatever became of them all, except to say that it was deeply unsettling. Old books, or indeed, old anything, have that power to make you wonder, briefly, about les temps perdu, but when a very personal message reaches you from nearly 140 years ago it is, well, just slightly disturbing and a reminder of that uncomfortable truth, et in Arcadia ego - even in Arcadia, there am I - meaning death.
And just to really cheer you up, I'm off to see a production of Measure for Measure on Thursday and I will almost certainly Bore for Britain on the subject afterwards - you have been warned!
Via Alex Massie at The Coffee House, a cool, detached look at the 'what-to-do-about-the-Iranian-Bomb' problem from James Fallows in The Atlantic. Massie agrees with Fallows that 'not much' is the only answer. The problem is that if Netanyahu succeeds in establishing a very Right-wing government in Israel, will there be any chance of a 'not much' policy? After all, from Israel's point of view, when Bush was in command there would have been no doubt concerning American support in the event of a critical nuclear stand-off which would have kept Iranian minds very concentrated indeed, but with 'Oprah' in charge can Israel depend on that level of support? Remembering that it would only take one 'nuke' to, in effect, obliterate Israel whilst the reverse is not true of Iran, then the leadership in Tehran might be tempted if they thought that American retaliation was unlikely. All the more reason, then, for 'Oprah' to back up loudly and clearly 'Hillbilly's' threat to hit Iran hard in the event of any nuclear attack on Israel. Sending 'sweetheart letters' to the likes of President Ahmadinejad is not worth the postage, I feel.
Too much, probably, has been seen and written of Jade Goody and I would not normally add to the pile but the fact is that I do admire courage, or to use a rather old-fashioned word - gallantry - that is, the ability to laugh in the face of death. Born, as she was, to useless, drug-addicted parents she rapidly became the housekeeper to her family at a very young age. Later, her steely determination, forged in the fire of a domestic hell-hole, drove her to the heights (depths?) of modern-day celebrity fame. She was loud, she was stupid, she was offensive, she was ignorant - but what else would she be given her background? However, in the face of imminent and certain death, and in her own way, she did the equivalent of the mythical English gentleman and opened the last bottle of champagne and smoked the last decent cigar. She milked the publicity machine for every last penny to ensure some funds for the future of her two children and I can only fervently hope that they escape the worst clutches of their remaining family circle. Anyway, farewell, Jade Goody, of whom it can be fairly said, "The girl had guts", or perhaps to paraphrase, 'There was nothing so became her life as the leaving of it'.
Additional: My e-pal 'Sister Wolf' is slightly harsher towards Jade Goody than I would be. The following, from the Telegraph obituary explains my softer feelings on the life and death of this young woman:
Jade Cerisa Lorraine Goody was born in Bermondsey on June 5 1981. Her father, of mixed race parentage, was a heroin addict and small-time pimp turned career criminal who spent most of his life behind bars, eventually dying of an overdose in the lavatory of the Kentucky Fried Chicken in Bournemouth. Her paternal grandmother, who once ran a brothel, had a crack habit. Her mother, Jackiey, the daughter of a market trader, was described in her daughter's autobiography as a petty thief and "clipper" – a woman who pretends to be a prostitute but runs off with the money instead. Jackiey threw Jade's father out of the house when Jade was 18 months old, after discovering that he had hidden guns under her cot. To add to the confusion, Jackiey herself later came out as a lesbian. Jade rolled her first joint for her mother when she was four and she took her first puff aged five, an event celebrated by her mother in a family photograph. At about the same time Jackiey was seriously injured in a motorcycle crash and lost the use of her left arm, as a result of which Jade spent much of her childhood in the role of carer. Not that Jackiey appeared grateful. She once beat her daughter so badly she ended up in care.
Jade Cerisa Lorraine Goody was born in Bermondsey on June 5 1981. Her father, of mixed race parentage, was a heroin addict and small-time pimp turned career criminal who spent most of his life behind bars, eventually dying of an overdose in the lavatory of the Kentucky Fried Chicken in Bournemouth. Her paternal grandmother, who once ran a brothel, had a crack habit. Her mother, Jackiey, the daughter of a market trader, was described in her daughter's autobiography as a petty thief and "clipper" – a woman who pretends to be a prostitute but runs off with the money instead. Jackiey threw Jade's father out of the house when Jade was 18 months old, after discovering that he had hidden guns under her cot. To add to the confusion, Jackiey herself later came out as a lesbian.
Jade rolled her first joint for her mother when she was four and she took her first puff aged five, an event celebrated by her mother in a family photograph. At about the same time Jackiey was seriously injured in a motorcycle crash and lost the use of her left arm, as a result of which Jade spent much of her childhood in the role of carer. Not that Jackiey appeared grateful. She once beat her daughter so badly she ended up in care.
Well, as mistakes go, this is a whopper! The large upward projection to the upper right in tasteful pink (it should have been scarlet with embarrassment) represents the, er, 'forecast' of the IPCC as to future global temperatures. The red dot pointed to by the green arrow shows the actual temperatures as of now.
The graph forms part of a paper issued by a Japanese/American brainbox of formidable reputation, Prof. Akasofu, who begins his paper with these crisp, succinct words:
The global average temperature stopped increasing after 2000 against the IPCC’s prediction of continued rapid increase. It is a plain fact and does not require any pretext. Their failure stems from the fact that the IPCC emphasized the greenhouse effect of CO2 by slighting the natural causes of temperature changes. [My emphasis]
The global average temperature stopped increasing after 2000 against the IPCC’s prediction of continued rapid increase. It is a plain fact and does not require any pretext. Their failure stems from the fact that the IPCC emphasized the greenhouse effect of CO2 by slighting the natural causes of temperature changes. [My emphasis]
The good Prof is obviously a man of few but well chosen words. His final comment is a beauty:
It is advised that the IPCC recognize at least the failure of their prediction even during the first decade of the present century; a prediction is supposed to become less accurate for the longer future. Anthony Watts provided the ammo, I merely fired it off!
It is advised that the IPCC recognize at least the failure of their prediction even during the first decade of the present century; a prediction is supposed to become less accurate for the longer future.
Anthony Watts provided the ammo, I merely fired it off!
I know, I know, it's hard to believe but that Fraser Nelson in The Coffee House will have it so. I can put it no better than in his own words:
Cameron's original poster claimed a baby born in Britain is saddled with £17,000 of Brown's debt. Under the plans the Tories are pursuing - ie, raise spending regardless of the tax base - this figure would be £27,000 by the end of a Tory government. Cameron is right to campaign on Brown's debt, but he can't expect people like me not to point out that his plans would leave national debt at least 60pc higher than it is today (see graph below).
So by the end of a Tory government, about a £200bn of the £960bn national debt would have been run up by a Tory government that refused "to live within its means" (as George Osborne said yesterday). Does it make it any difference to that baby to know that the Tories saddled him with debt with a heavier heart than Brown would have done?
I suppose moving to Zimbabwe is out of the question . . . ?
Only two months in and 'Oprah' is giving every sign of being an almost total disaster. His madcap spending spree makes 'ur wee Gordie' look, er, prudent by comparison. However what really concerns me are the first indications of his foreign policy. First of all there was that naive letter he sent 'secretly' to the Russian mafia (aka: their government) offering to withdraw the missile shield sites in eastern Europe if capo Putin would only be nice enough to help out with those mad mullahs in Tehran. Naturally, and as surely as the sun rises in the east, the letter was leaked, the Russians said 'nyet' and as a result the east Europeans who had, against the wishes of their own electorate, agreed to accept the sites, are now having second thoughts not least because it is obviously not that important to the Americans anymore.
The next thing he has done is to send a 'nicely-nicely' video message to the Iranian people. Now to be fair, there are very few operations as duplicitous as diplomacy and it may well be that he is simply going through the motions so that in a few months, when it is obvious that the nasties in Tehran are never going to stop their quest for a bomb and a delivery system (and why would they?), he can zap the hell out of them, or help Israel to do it for him, and at least claim that he tried but his peaceful overtures were rebuffed. It's a possibility, but the fact is that I don't believe it. I don't know what it is with so many American presidents that they cannot see an obvious enemy at two paces on a sunny day! I am reminded of Roosevelt's simplicity in cutting out Churchill and cosying up to Stalin as though their personal chemistry would soften the old monster. And before him there was the sanctimonious old hypocrite, Wilson, who thought that all the ills of the world could be solved by being 'nicely-nicely' - not, actually, that he was particlularly nice!
Finally, there is the release of the 'Gitmo' detainees which the former vice president, Dick Cheney, has described as placing America in peril. 'Oprah's' response is that 'Gitmo' made America unpopular - "What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment." So what? America is, has and always will be, unpopular. It's even unpopular here in the UK when we have relied on them time and again during our recent history. If you are a global power you will always be unpopular - it goes with the territory. He seems not to care too much that some 60+ released detainees have returned to the fight in Afghanistan, just as he seems unaware, like most of the American people, that whatever President Bush's faults might have been, at least there have been no terrorist attacks in the USA since 9/11.
I suppose, grimly, that we will all have to wait and hope that he learns on the job - and that he is a quick study! However, something tells me that he is congenitally stupid and so I fear the worst, and in this day and age, the worst is barely to be contemplated.
Additional: Here's what strikes me as a shrewd comment by Tim Shipman of The Telegraph in a commentary headed "Tongue-tied Barack Obama is Turning into Jimmy Carter":
Obama has never run anything other than his presidential campaign. He doesn't know the difference between governing and campaigning and he's sticking with what he knows.
Obama has never run anything other than his presidential campaign. He doesn't know the difference between governing and campaigning and he's sticking with what he knows.
I note with slight interest that a constable with the Merseyside police force has been fired because it transpired that he was a member of the BNP which is, I would remind you, a perfectly legal political party. Now, I am happy to have my self-confessed ignorance rectified by anyone because I do not know whether or not it is forbidden for police officers to be a member of any political party. If that is the case then at least the Merseyside Police Authority are applying the rules properly if, as I assume, they are also sacking any policeman who is a member of the Labour or Conservative parties - although I cannot recall that ever happening.
If, in fact, no such rule is in existence and the Authority acted simply because they thought, rightly in my view, that members of the BNP were exceedingly unpleasant and that one would look askance at the prospect of one's sister marrying one of them, then I hope that 'Adolph Plod' sues their collective arse off!
I gave my two Waterloo talks recently which entailed a certain amount of 'brushing up' on the more arcane details of what was, by any standards, quite the most extraordinary four days in European history. Bonaparte, faced with two Austrian armies and one Russian army plodding their way across Europe to the French border where they would link up with the existing Prussian and British/Allied armies in Belgium, took the correct strategic decision to attack the two armies in Belgium first and either annihilate one, or both, or drive them both away so that he could capture Brussels. Any of those outcomes would give the oncoming Austrians and Russians who had suffered so much in the past at the hands (Austerlitz - whisper who dares!) of his miltary genius that it would, at the very least, give them pause.
All of that, of course, was at the level of strategy, that is, the decisions taken as to where and when to deploy your military resources. However, what fascinates, particularly at the human level, is the tactics, that is, the doctrine which governs how troops conduct themselves on the battlefield. Bonaparte once said, famously, that "the morale is to the material as three is to one". He understood, and who better, the psychological dynamics of soldiers in battle in the age of the musket. Unfortunately, his wise words were taken up by the French army without caveat nearly a hundred years later in the age of the machine gun and high explosive and led to their foolish reliance on elan as the single most important criteria in war.
Tactics evolve mostly from the characteristics of the weapon system being deployed which, in the case of Napoleonic infantry, was the smooth-bore musket. The main characteristic of this weapon was its almost hopeless inaccuracy! Armed with a Brown Bess musket you would have difficulty hitting a barn - from inside! Thus, it was neccesary to mass muskets together in long lines on the grounds that whilst it might be difficult to hit with one musket, with 500+/- you were in with chances, if (and I stress that if) you held your nerve and your fire up to the optimal moment which was only about 30 paces! If you were a defender you would have had to stand motionless for hours, taking casualties from incoming canon balls, and then even more casualties from skirmishers sent forward to pick you off as and when they could get close enough. Eventually, after what must have seemed like a lifetime of horror and suffering and fear, the enemy a few hundred yards away would form from line into massed columns of attack and march inexorably straight at you. You might not see them to begin with because of the dense smoke from your own neighbouring guns, but you would hear them because their drums and bugles would be sounding and as they moved closer you might even hear their cheers and shouts. The first real warning would be the sight of your own skirmishers running back into line followed by the gunners from the artillery to the front who would leave their guns at the last moment and seek shelter amongst the infantry. Then, suddenly, the smoke would clear and there in front of you, perhaps a hundred yards away, you would see a French column of anything from a thousand to five thousand men heading straight at you. For you, the defender, this was the moment of psychological crisis - do you stand, or do you flee?
However, matters were not very much better, if at all better, for the attackers. They, too, would have taken long-distance damage from the defender's guns as they moved forward. Before moving off, they would have to change from long thin lines which are difficult to manouvre, into compact, massed columns for the approach to the enemy. However, this formation provides the enemy gunners with more than mere 'double bubble'. A canon ball passing through a three rank line might kill three men, but whistling through a column, say, thirty ranks deep would cause hideous casualties. Probably, they, too, would not see their enemy until the last moment - and here, at this point, say, a hundred yards from the defender's front rank, they now have a decision to make. They know that if the defender fires at them at a hundred yards it indicates his panic because the effect would be derisory, they would have wasted their first (and therefore most effective volley) and they would need time to reload. So, perhaps the best tactic for the attacker then is to increase the march speed, whilst the enemy is reloading, in order to close the range but halt and fire before he is ready and then go in with the bayonet. The fact that he fired too early indicates his nervousness and no-one in those days stood to fight bayonet-to-bayonet so the chances are that he will break and run. Of course, forming into column meant that, because only the first two ranks could fire, the actual number of muskets firing was very much reduced, but even so, the psychological effects were great.
However, with Wellington's British army, the French came up against a different sort of tactic. First, Wellington always tried to place his men on the reverse slope of any ridge line he was defending, and encouraged them to lie down until such time as they were required. This saved an enormous number of casualties and helped keep morale up. Next, the British army, with its savage discipline, trained its infantry to remain absolutely still and steady under incoming fire and, above all, to hold its first volley until the last possible moment. A French column approaching this unmoving line would begin the approach with morale at its highest, but as it moved past the hundred yard mark and still the British held their fire their morale would begin to sink because they knew that the closer they came in the more terrible would be the carnage when the British eventually unleashed their first volley - and at thirty paces it would be horrendous. On top of that, the British nearly always charged in with the bayonet immediately after the first volley before the French could reform their shattered columns, at which point the French would usually break and run.
So the whole business was a sort of 'mass chicken run'. Each side had to face 'a crisis of confidence', I suppose you could call it, and one or the other would crack first.
Another somewhat arcane tactical controversy which was never fully laid to rest occurred in the cavalry with an endless dispute as to the pros and cons of the cutting sword versus the stabbing sword. By and large, the heavy cavalry went in for stabbing and the lights went in for cutting, although each individual re-acted according to events. Here is a description from Pte. Hodgson of the Life Guards (Heavy) in a melee at Waterloo:
"[He] took part in this whirlpool of thrusting and cutting just west of La Haie Sainte. The first enemy he encountered was an Irishman in French service. Hodgson described his opponent closing on him, yelling, "Damn you, I'll stop your crowing". He felt frightened, as he had never fought anybody with swords. The first cut he gave was on the cuirass [the metal breast -plate], which Hodgson thought was silver lace, the shock nearly breaking his arm. Watching the cuirassier he found he could move his own horse quicker so he dropped the reins and guided his own mount with his knees, waiting for the renegade Irishman to make a point (thrust). When he did so, Hodgson turned his horse, swung his sword and neatly chopped off his opponenet's sword arm. He then thrust his point into the man's throat and 'turned it round and round'." (1)
War is hell, I guess, anywhere, any time, but I suggest that in the age of the musket it was particularly 'up close and dirty'.
1: The Waterloo Companion by Mark Adkin, 2001. An indispensable book for any student of the battle. Beautifully illustrated and with all the relevant information, and the controversies, neatly and clearly summarised under different headings.
Oh my giddy aunt, it was exactly like one of those old Bateman cartoons with the title beginning "The man who said . . ." something absolutely shocking and the people around him are falling backwards in shock with eyes bulging, pipes falling from open-mouths and glasses dropping from suddenly nerveless fingers. Thus it was yesterday when the 'uber PC' president of the United States of America made - and here my fingers can barely type the words (because I'm laughing so hard) - a joke about cripples! And they thought Bush couldn't speak because his foot was constantly in his mouth. As I told my Lefty, American e-pal, 'Fallen Monk', "You ain't seen nuthin' yet!"
And whilst we're on the subject of the 'royal' couple, did you see Mrs. 'Winfrey' trying her hand at gardening yesterday. Apparently she was supposed to be turning a sod (you should excuse the gardening term, my life already) in a new, organic (natch!) vegetable garden in the White House. She appeared to have some difficulty manipulating a spade and a fork with which she made several despairing stabs at the earth to not much effect. Mind you, she wasn't helped by the fact that she was dressed elegantly and beautifully as though she was merely pausing on her way to lunch at one of Washington's finest eateries. There's nothing more amusing in these grim times than the sight of a rich socialist pretending to be a prole.
The first signs are that 'Oprah's' presidency is going to make Jimmy Carter's look, er, presidential, so we must all seize upon these nuggets of humour as this latter-day 'Mutt & Jeff' pair stumble-bum their way to oblivion - possibly taking the rest of us with them!
At least he has apologised for singing and dancing to Labour's tune for the last few years and a tiny bit of me became ever so slightly hopeful. I thought - I hoped - that it presaged an indication that 'Dave' would seize the moment; for he, and the next several prime ministers, I guess, will never again have such an opportunity to rewrite the whole political, economic and social agenda. 'That woman' half did it but she had to fight every inch of the way against everyone including most of her own party; but 'Dave', to mix my metaphors, has an open goal not least because the goalie is one-eyed, cack-handed and politically crippled! All he has to do is 'summon up the blood, stiffen the sinews' and go for it.
Well, he certainly took a deep breath yesterday but, alas, all that escaped was the faintest of squeaks. And his target was just about the biggest, softest and easiest in the political arena - the 'Bloated' Broadcasting Company. He could have asked his reseachers to run up a list of recent BBC boondoggles and on the back of it promised to privatise Radios 1, 2 and 5 along with all their TV channels bar 1 and 2, and then cut the TV licence fee (= tax) in half. Instead, all we heard was a promise to "freeze" the licence fee. Well, hoo-bloody-rah!
Again, a tiny part of me hopes that he is simply keeping quiet about everything in order not to frighten the horses, but a stonking big part of me suspects that he is a soft, gutless pillock!
Well, possibly, just possibly. According to Fraser Nelson in The Coffee House, Darling and his Treasury team are putting up stiff resistance to 'Bunker Broon' and his madcap, illusory dreams of snatching victory from the dustbin of humiliating defeat by throwing around huge tax cuts combined with eye-watering government spending in next month's budget. Politically, Darling has him at his mercy because 'Incapability Broon' cannot afford to lose a Chancellor at this stage of the end game. According to Nelson, Treasury officials have had enough after 10 years of being forced to operate 'Broon's' Ponzi scheme and are anxious to return to honesty. We can but hope . . .
Sorry, even more hectoring from me! What a dreadful old bossy-boots I am becoming - er, or already am? 'Whatever', as our cousins say, you really must go here and read Larrey Anderson's superb essay on the vice that is tolerance. Here is an extract (apologies for the varying font sizes but Typepad appears to be on the wrong day of the month!):
Unlike traditional moral relativism where the strongman rules because “might makes right,” politically correct moral relativism claims to be democratic. In truth, it is far from it. Tolerance, in its politically correct guise, is the imposition of a standardless standard upon the masses.
In a frightening way this standard is self-enforcing and self-reinforcing; i.e., the standardless standard. Political correctness reinforces itself by enforcing itself as the ultimate moral concept upon the masses. It does this by prohibiting the practice of any standard that challenges its legitimacy and its supremacy.
Anderson's prose is pellucid and very much to the point. I do urge you all to give it a read and say 'thank you' nicely to Alan Sullivan who pointed me in the right direction - yet again!
Additional: I forgot to quote the opening of Anderson's essay in which he, in turn, quotes the late but magnificent Alan Bloom - (where, oh, where did my copy of his book go?)
It has been twenty years since the late Allan Bloom shook the intellectual elite in this country with the opening line of "The Closing of the American Mind":
“There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student in America believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.”
In one sentence our dirty little secret -- we believe in the truth that there is no truth -- was out. Why do we believe this? Bloom had that pegged too:
"Relativism is necessary to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating. Openness -- and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of the various claims to truth and the various ways of life and kinds of human beings -- is the great insight of our times."
I have just noticed that the Globe is producing Troilus & Cressida (T&C) during this coming July, August and September. Order your tickets now, and my American friends, book your flights now! Shakespeare's plays are for all times and everywhere because they speak to Man of indestructible verities concerning the human condition. However, some of them, at different times, strike deeper; to paraphrase the well-know advertising jingle, 'they reach the parts other plays do not'; T&C does exactly that!
Shakespeare wrote two slightly different versions of T&C, one for the smart-Alec lawyers at the Inns of Court, and the other for the groundlings at the Globe. It didn't make any difference, the play 'bombed' and was never produced again for some 300 years. This alone makes one wonder! Seven years after his death, Hemminges and Condell, the two friends of Shakespeare who gathered together (there truly is a God!) as many of his texts as possible and published them all as the First Folio, were stumped when it came to deciding to which of the three categories if fitted - history, comedy or tragedy? Another reason to wonder! The Victorians hated it for its scabrous language and the (mis)behaviour of its heroine, Cressida, and perhaps that is another reason to spark your interest. It was only in the 20th c., particularly after WWI, re-enforced even more after WWII, that people, especially women, began to understand and appreciate a sharp-eyed depiction of the bleak realities of women in war, and the punctured, deflated ambitions of men in war. Thus, a play written in the early 17th c., set in the mythical(?) seige of Troy, that might have taken place 12 centuries BC, leaps forward and delivers a mighty punch to our 21st century sensibilities.
The play is not so much political as intensely philosophical. The great divide in human nature between Idealism and Realism is evoked by the Greeks outside the city who are cynical realists to the tips of their mailed fists. And yet . . . and yet . . . for all their supposed real-politik, here they are, year after year, spending treasure and spilling blood and all for the sake of a woman whom the French would describe, wittily, as une grand horizontale! The Idealists are represented by the Trojans in the city, especially in the character of Hector, their warrior prince who believes completely and utterly in the concept of chivalry between gentlemen at war - until he finds himself un-armed on the battlefield at which point the Greek prince, Achilles, promptly slaughters him!
The other Idealist in Troy is Prince Troilus who is desperately in love with the Lady Cressida. To him, she is perfection in womanhood, not because she is (no woman is) but because he is an idealist and so, if he believes something strongly enough, then that is how it is. Actually, she is a delightful mixture of realism and idealism, which makes her such a very human character. She is a very proper lady in all respects but she knows the way of men! When they are after the great prize that all men seek, all is sweetness and light, but once achieved, they change their tune. Even so, she loves Troilus and eventually gives in to his importunings. No sooner is their mutual love consummated than they are torn apart. She is sent out of the city into the Greek camp to follow her traitorous father but leaves a distraught Troilus promising him undying fidelity and love. However, once in the Greek camp, and realising that her chances of ever being re-united with her love, she finally surrenders to the lascivious approaches of a Greek officer. Unfortunately, she surrenders to him during a truce in which some Trojan officers have come over to the Greek camp, and the whole scene is witnessed by Troilus! (You can see why proper Victorian ladies were appalled.)
Throughout this bitter play, a sort of runing commentary on the foibles of Mankind is provided by a Greek servant called Thersites. Some of our contemporary, young, comic writers think they have invented hard-hitting satire - they should read some of the poisonious gobbets of bile spat forth by Thersites! The play has no proper ending. We never see or hear of Cressida again, and Troilus, his idealistic heart turned to ice, becomes a one-man killing machine on the battlefield. And the senseless, useless war goes on and on and on. Again, you can see why audiences after WWI began to appreciate this play, and how women, in particular, finding themselves alone, reverted to their inherent realism, and acted accordingly. To them, Cressida was a woman just like them, in a situation all too familiar to them.
Time and again I wonder to myself if, stranded on that mythical desert Island, which of Shakespeare's plays would I take with me? I would be distraught with indecision, but I rather think it would be Troilus & Cressida.
Today, the 13th March at 11.35 a.m., I spotted a pair of young girl's legs. They were not, alas, the finest pair of legs I have ever seen but even so, sheathed in nylon, with rather elegant semi-high heels, and protruding from a pretty skirt (I was almost tempted to say 'frock' but you might think me old-fashioned) of tasteful length, I have to say that not only was it a rare sight but also a harbinger of Spring, and in addition, of course, it added immeasurably to the young lady's attractiveness. These days the ubiquitous denim has made every young woman look either like a cowboy or a plumber's mate and driven the sight of young female legs from the Queen's highway. Thus, has another of life's minor pleasures all but disappeared.
Of course, Sir, you might be minded . . ."
I thought this might beat the usual "first cuckoo in Spring" letter which is such a feature of The Times, but alas, I found my letter so boring I actually fell asleep and missed the post! Even so, why the hell are young girls so stupid these days that they actually cover up one of their most attractive attributes in hideous jeans? Don't they know it pays to advertise? I blame Gordon Brown, and, no, I don't know why but I just know it's all his fault - like everything else in this bloody country!
Many years ago when I was playing at soldiers I met a very tough 'Scouser' (for the benefit of my foreign readers, a resident of Liverpool) and I do mean tough! From a very early age he had been part of the street fighting culture of Liverpool, in an era in which fists and boots were all that was needed, an interest in boxing only served to enhance his, er, skills in that department. He left school early and as soon as possible joined the merchant navy. Later, he joined the army and, I regret to say, died serving with the SAS in Oman. In the course of several conversations he imparted some useful pieces of advice on exactly how to damage an opponent without recourse to a weapon. As a hopelessly soppy-soft southerner I nearly passed out at some of his techniques but one, in particular, always stuck in my mind. He told me that if you found yourself squaring off to someone make sure that however you hit or kick them it is in a way that will ensure they fall to the ground. At that point - jump with all your strength and weight onto their ankles or shins! "That way", he said, "he'll never get up again!"
Now, dear reader, I know that you are possessed of the gentlest of natures and such behaviour is far from your mind but I want you to look upon it as - a political metaphor! In April, there will be local elections and I want you to think of them as the equivalent of your first punch at Labour. Make it a good one and send them crashing to the floor. According to Peter Hoskin at The Coffee House, Labour MPs have been warned that they face losing every county council in the country which is "a consummation(*) devoutly to be wished". However, and this is my stern injunction, come the general election next year follow up with a really high jump into the air and come down with all your weight onto their political shins so that they don't get up again for years.
(*) My spelling mistake, pointed out by Dave in the comments below, is heeby corrected. Oh the shame. The late Miss Woods, Eng. Lit. & Lang., will be pursing her thin lips in heaven!
"Do it, England!"
Try watching the news from Ulster! In particular, the announcements of regret and sorrow emanating from Messrs. McGuinness & Adams, former Butchers-in-Chief to the freedom-loving peoples of Ireland, over the cold-blooded killing of two off-duty soldiers and a Catholic policeman. Everyone is rushing to repeat the mantra that this new bunch of psychos have no support in either Ulster or the Republic. I'm not so sure. Obviously they have sufficient support to pull off two atrocities and the confidential telephone lines to the Police are not, apparently, ringing of the hook. There were, and I guess still are, very many members of Sinn Fein/IRA who view with some disgust the sight of McGuinness and Adams wallowing in the trough of high office whilst Ulster remains stubbornly part of the United Kingdom. They must be asking themselves what it was all for? Global economic woes are hitting Ulster the same as everywhere else and there is nothing like unemployment and poverty to build resentment and thus aid the efforts of the new IRA's recruiting 'sergeants'. The fact that in a desperate attempt to pay the required blackmail to Sinn Fein/IRA, Tony Blair disbanded Ulster's Special Branch means that today the authorities will have to start all over again, and it takes years to build up the sort of networks that SB used to have running in the province. I have said it before, and I don't care if I bore you by repeating it, Blair was the worst prime minister in my lifetime - and that includes Harold Wilson.
The distinguished political commentator, Peter Oborne, can only add to his reputation by quoting me, er, even if it was inadvertant! In The Spectator this week he writes, " Never pay much attention to what a politician says: watch what he or she does." Couldn't have put it better myself, even if I have, several times over! He was referring to the career of the late Sir Keith Joseph, a politican who suffered with two fatal flaws, honesty and integrity, but whose reputation in retrospect shines all the brighter. It seems to me that in a time in which it is now obvious that we have been lied to over and over and over again ("prudence", "boom and bust has ended", etc.) it might be worth a shrewd politician's while to try some honesty for a change.
It is now clear that my worst forebodings concerning the bunker-mentality(*) of Gordon Brown are going to be exceeded as he demolishes the British economy in a vain attempt to save himself from
ignomy ignominy(**) but comforted in his failure by the fact that he will hand over to David Cameron a waste land far worse than anything imagined by T. S. Eliot. Alas, poor David, he is going to inherit a British economy and society in an appalling state of disrepair. Now is the opportunity to begin telling the British people the truth so that they are prepared. Offer no soft options, no false hope, no easy panaceas, just tell 'em the way it is - now! Above all, tell them that they can no longer rely on state bounty for the very simple reason that the state is broke. Absolutely the first thing he must do when he takes over is cut public spending. People may not like it but they will recognise honesty, even if it is brutal honesty. If he does that he will enjoy the feeling of the man who "in one bound was free". All the old nostrums will have been seen - and experienced - as failures. The slate is wiped clean. He can write his own message. What an opportunity! But will he take it?
* For an example of the "bunker-mentality", read this, and be afraid, be very afraid!
** Corrected 24 hours later! Why is it so difficult to spell check yourself? Indeed, why can't I spell properly in the first place? I don't know, but I think I should be told!
The threat from militant Islam is the most hideously difficult of the lot to counter. It is formed from two parts, that swathe of the Muslim population throughout the world prepared to take up arms against the West via whatever terrorist organisation is to hand, and those rogue states which have already fallen into the hands of Islamic extremists. Thus, the threat varies in size from pin-pricks to the potentially cataclysmic, by which I mean that if they continue their war using conventional means then the likes of 9/11 is probably the most they will achieve. However, if they have control of a state, or a state decides to use them as a proxy, then the threat will be very serious. If the state concerned has 'nukes' then it could be "Apocalypse Now"! Thus, the future of Pakistan, as my commenter, Jane, points out in the post below, becomes all-important.
But first the West (=America) must take a strategic decision. Should it revert to the post war practice that held sway up until 9/11 of having a re-active defence policy, or continue with the Bush doctrine of a pro-active strategy. To put it in a nutshell, do we wait to be hit and then counter-attack, or do we, so to speak, 'get our retaliation in first'? In the case of the Chinese threat it seems obvious to me that the first choice is the best choice. It worked well enough with the Soviets and it should again with the Chinese - but the key is that we should always be too strong to tempt them into taking chances. However, against the threat from militant Islam/rogue states then the Bush doctrine is best. There is now one rogue state, Iran, which gives every appearance of being likely to pass WMD to militant Islamists. This is unlikely to be nuclear because the 'bomb-in-the-suitcase' is exceedingly difficult (at the moment) for technical reasons. However, chemical/biological attack is very much easier. They do not have to be successful in the sense of killing millions, they only have to disrupt key centres. Keen observers will have noted how quickly HMG rushed to cut a deal with the IRA following bomb attacks in the City of London! Similarly, chemical and/or biological attacks in Wall Street, or major airports, or power stations and so on, would have effects far beyond their immediate damage. Another type of attack which would have even more of a disruptive result would be electronic in which entire networks and systems would be brought down with devastating economic results. Happily, so far, the Islamists do not appear to have the qualifications for such an undertaking - but if we continue to educate them in computer science at our own universities we are rather asking for it!
If a pro-active defence policy is the strategic decision, then the next decision is operational (or grand tactics, as they would have called it in the 19th c.) By what means do you act against your enemy? Put crudely, there are, it seems to me, three options. Use your mates, trash & dash, or boots on the sand! In dealing with Iran and its drive for nuclear weapons it is essential to co-operate with the Israelis by providing them with the necessary 'bunker-busting' armaments and intelligence to carry out the dirty work on our behalf. This should appeal to 'Oprah' who likes to be thought of as being, er, whiter than white! If Pakistan falls to extremists then the situation is much trickier. One might encourage the Indians to do one's dirty work but they may be less than eager to provoke an exchange of 'nukes' if the Islamists make clear that their main enemy is the USA not India. One might be tempted to back the Pakistani army with weapons and money (they are inordinately fond of money!) and thus drive Pakistan into a state of constant civil war. Unfortunately I have my doubts as to whether the Pakistani army, riddled as it is with Islamist extremists, has what it takes to defeat the Taliban or their equivalent. Also, the officer corps of the Pakistani army has become soft over the years as it has debauched much of the Pakistan economy for its own benefit. 'Boots on the sand' is not an option in a nation the size of Pakistan, especially as we are already mired down in Afghanistan. Thus, the only option is 'trash & dash'. That means using pinpoint bombing to take out any key targets, especially nuclear sites but also including government offices and military training camps. On the back of this, the Indians could be encouraged to keep up a certain amount of pressure in order to keep the Pakistanis off balance.
I haven't the time, or the expertise, to describe exactly how this policy should be put into practice world-wide. Suffice to say that all parties should be made quite clear as to American intent, that is, any threat visualised by the USA will be attacked unless proof positive is offered up by way of mitigation. The question of proof falls to the accused, not the accuser! Thus, UN resolutions and so-called 'international law' should be ignored.
Finally, I turn to the existing campaign in Afghanistan which is a classic case of 'boots on the sand'. We are where we are even if, in retrospect, a policy of 'trash & dash' might have been a better option, that is, air raids against training camps and even incursions by airborne troops to deal with specific problems followed by their swift withdrawal, if that was practical. It is now obvious even to an amateur like me that the problem in Afghanistan is that we simply do not have enough 'boots on the sand'. It needs an even greater 'surge' than ever before just to hold our own. This will cost us dear in blood and treasure but I think it is worth it, especially given the situation in Pakistan. In my view, even greater pressure should exerted against the frontier lands of Pakistan which are, to all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from Afghanistan. Such pressure would give the Pakistani army half a chance and force the extremists to fight a war on two fronts.
There is one last weapon we could use which would strike a deadly blow against our enemies in Afghanistan - we should legalise all drugs including heroin. If America and Europe did that the price of heroin would drop like a stone and, dare I say, 'at a stroke' the dealers would be out of business, or at least, put in very reduced circumstances. The farmers of Afghanistan would turn to other crops for a living and would be free of the drug cartels. If handled sensibly, the effects in the West would not, I suggest, be as difficult as might appear.
Happily for you, my treatise on grand strategy, delivered with all the weight and expertise you would expect from an ex-Corporal, has come now to an end. Comments are welcome, unknown parcels in the post are not!
Having listed, in my preceding post, who I think are the enemies of the West, by which I mean the USA (but as we in Britain ultimately depend on the USA as our 'ally of last resort', then that includes us as well), I will try and put them into some sort of priority listing.
It seems to me that China is potentially far and away the most dangerous. It has a huge population and an equally huge army to match; an increasingly sophisticated and technologically educated workforce; it has 'nukes' and the means to deliver them - and it has ambitions. Worst of all, it has an autocratic government whose grip on power is less firm that it used to be and which will, therefore, be happy to use any pretext for a foreign adventure to distract its population. The ever-present centrifugal forces that have bedevilled China before, have arisen again in the provinces especially those under the rule of plutocrats who are only nominally members of the Party. It has an internal problem with a large Muslim minority in the north east; and two external problems, or potential problems, in the form of border disputes with both India and Russia. Finally, it has the equivalent of an unexploded 'nuke' over the border in North Korea (NK). Whilst at the moment NK is more concerned with its hatred of South Korea (SK) and its long term dislike of Japan and the USA, China can never be sure when it might turn against her. It cannot be comfortable with what I call a nuclear-armed 'psychotic state' as a neighbour.
As it stands, there is little that America can do about China, nor, it must be said, is their any necessity to do anything because China has yet to flex its muscles. For the present, it seems to me, the US should remain friendly but firm if the Chinese chance their arm. However, they should be prepared, eventually, to show flexibility when it comes to Taiwan. To put it in Bismarckian terms, Taiwan is not worth the death of a single US marine! However, that doesn't mean that it should be given up without a quid pro quo. In the meantime, America should quietly but definitely build up its friendships with India and Japan. Also, it should try to encourage the formation of as many South East Asian associations as possible and infuse them with as much strength as it can. Thus, if China moves against any one nation in the Pacific it will cause direct alarums to ring in every other nation. These alliances and friendships should include China when and where-ever possible. America should live with the fact that any huge regional power, like China, is bound to have its own sphere of influence. It should quietly encourage the Chinese to make moves on its Russian border with the promise that any protests will be verbal only. None of that, however, need stop America from making clear to China that there are limits in SE Asia. At the moment the USA has one ace in its hand - China is its Bank manager! We all know the old story that when you owe the Bank £100 they send you threatening letters, but if you owe them £1bn they always offer you a sherry! Thus it is between China and America with the former owning unbelievable amounts of US bonds, and in those circumstances they, especially the plutocratic and therefore influental Chinese, need to ensure that America thrives. Mr. Scorpion meet Mr. Frog!
America should maintain strong links with Japan (and SK). In the Pacific, Japan provides the USA with exactly the same strategic advantage that Britain does in the Atlantic - we are both off-shore Islands close to a huge continent that might turn nasty in the future. In addition, the US should, in my view, move ever closer to India. If any nation in SE Asia is going to challenge growing Chinese influence it will be India. They share a common border over which they perpetually squabble which should serve Western interests nicely in keeping Chinese eyes diverted from other mischief.
I find it hard to believe in an outright war between China and America provided the latter maintains sufficient strength to maintain our old friend of the past - MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). Those siren voices in the USA now calling for swingeing cuts in the military budget must be ignored because the one thing that would certainly tempt the Chinese would be a belief that they had an excellent chance of winning. In particular, it will be crucial that the USA concentrates on two critical areas of military expertise - electronics and space. The Chinese have already begun surreptitious attacks on American computer networks and I understand that their own electronics are protected against damage from a surge produced by a nuclear explosion. Without communications, armies and fleets are reduced to blundering about blindly without purpose. Similarly, space warfare will be critically important, not just for the purposes of missile attacks against earth targets but also against Western satellites in space upon which we all depend. Preparation for that sort of warfare is eye-wateringly expensive - but it must be undertaken!
I will deal with the other threats in my next post.
ADDITIONAL: I am grateful (again) to Alan Sullivan for pointing me to this article which demonstrates the way America should not conduct its foreign policy and confirms me in my long-held belief that all experts should be treated with caution.
Never one to pass up on the chance for a cheap play on words, I used the collective noun of 'the West' in my title, but of course, I really mean America, with us trotting along behind doing our best with what we have which isn't much! My post below on the subject of Afghanistan has set me thinking, and were I minded to slack, Mike Cunningham is there with an impassioned prod to my conscience (see comment to my post below).
The question whose answer I intend to grope towards is simply stated: What are the grand strategic imperatives that should drive America over the medium term future? I use my own definition of 'grand strategy' which I take to mean the decisions taken at the highest level of government as to the direction of America's resources, not just military resources, but political, diplomatic, financial, commercial and so on. The best example I can give is that of FDR in 1942 who decided in conjunction with Churchill that it would be Germany first and Japan second. Whilst that wasn't strictly adhered to, nevertheless, it resulted in a mind-boggling amount of men and material going in one direction rather than another. It is obvious that these sorts of decisions need not involve military resources at all to begin with but they do provide the military chiefs with a clear framework inwhich to make their plans. The problem facing America, it seems to me, is the multiplicity of actual and potential enemies, and the very different sorts of threats they pose. Let us consider some of them:
China looms as a huge future threat with its desire to retake Taiwan, to dominate south east Asia and eventually to make the Pacific a Chinese lake, and it has the manpower and the nuclear where-with-all to back up its desires and demands.
Russia is in an even more bellicose mood but probably lacks what it takes to confront the USA directly, but it will certainly test America's European 'allies', and will not fail to encourage third parties, like Iran, to chance their arm against Uncle Sam.
South America, by which I mean any nation south of El Paso, Texas. None of them have their own required weaponry to pose a physical threat, but those ruled by what I call 'gangster Lefties' will be more than tempted to act as proxies for others. Mexico, for example, appears to be on the verge of turning into a failed state whose entire economy is based on the drug trade and whose population has swamped the southern states of the USA.
North Korea and Iran I link together as examples of what I call psychotic states, that is, states whose governments are not necessarilly going to act on any sort of rational basis. The fact that one is, and one is about to be, a nuclear state is a terrifying prospect. Pakistan is hovering on the brink of following suit unless the army can try, yet again, to take over and contain the fanatics. I now doubt their ability to do so, and they, themselves, may have discovered that 'containment' is no longer possible against such a formidable foe. Whoever wins the oncoming battle and takes over has the keys to a nuclear armoury and a delivery system handed to them gratis.
Finally, there is militant Islam which is not a country but an idea. It transcends borders, its followers are fanatical and they will happily sacrifice their own and others' lives for their cause. Their hatred for the West has nothing to do with Israel, or any of the other spurious reasons they put forward as excuses for their war. The fact is that the 20th, and now the 21st, centuries spell the end of their entire culture. They are fighting so desperately because they are in the last ditch as modern technology invades the hearts and minds of their young and their women subverting a way of life and a hierarchical society that has lasted for over a thousand years. Quite literally they would be happier to turn the world back to the stone-age rather than allow their age-old, male-dominated societies to succumb to western ways.
So, I ask again, 'whither the West'?
(Please feel free to comment here on the contents of this post, that is, on the possible/probable enemies of the West. In my next post I will try to place these threats in an order of priority and explain what I think are the complexities to be considered before decisions are made as to an American response.)
I have just finished a book which has hitherto sat unread on my waiting-to-be-read pile which threatens my health every time I pass by it so huge is the mass and so precarious the tilt. The book is "3 Para" by Patrick Bishop which I strongly urge you all to beg, borrow or steal - or even buy because you can afford the ultra-cheap prices being offered for the paperback by Amazon. From a slightly slow beginning the book becomes enthralling. It is the literary equivalent of Ross Kemp's TV reportage which I have praised so highly before. This was the Paras' first tour into the Helmand province of Afghanistan back in 2006. As always when the British army goes to war, just about everything that could go wrong, did; and the entire saga is a proof of the old military adage that no plan survives contact with the enemy.
In a way, I am glad I waited before reading it because the book describes precisely the same area that was covered by Ross Kemp in his first Afghan expedition with the Royal Anglians (the Vikings) who followed 3 Para about a year later. It is quite clear that lessons had been learnt because where-as the Paras had been almost literally locked up in their outposts for months and subjected to an average of 4 or 5 attacks a day, by the time the Vikings arrived they were able to project their power out into the countryside, so matters, in that respect at least, had obviously improved.
Bishops eschews histrionics and tells the story in a matter of fact way that serves actually to heighten the excitement of the various vicious and bloody engagements that took place. For those readers with regimental ties to non-Para units, Bishop details the terrific fighting abilities of both a Ghurka company who more than lived up to their reputation, and a company of the Royal Irish who exceeded theirs, and who were both attached to 3 Para for the duration. The exploits of the Royal Irish who fought so brilliantly provided me with a wry smile given that the squaddies were from north and south of the border, all of them fighting like tigers - for Queen and country! Only the Irish . . . show 'em a fight and then step back smartly!
Only a small part of the British army received the benefit and the impetus of, so to speak, 'on the job training' in the Falklands and anyway one tends to forget how long ago that was and how a whole new generation of soldiers had grown up with no experience of operational warfare with the latest complex electronic equipment. It is to the credit of the regimental officers concerned that even during the years of internal security operations in Ulster, the basic soldiering skills were not forgotten, indeed, they seemed to click into place effortlessly as the Toms hit the ground in Afghanistan. We civilians tend to forget just how unbelievably complex military operations have become with communications essential because of the absolute need to liaise with units around you - and above you, in the air. All this multi-dimensional activity has to be commanded and controlled lest either accidents or a shambles occur. In his book, Bishop describes corporals and sergeants laying down mortar barrages on a pinhead, or bringing in laser-guided bombs to within a few hundred yards of their own positions. It is quite incredible that the number of 'blue-on-blue' tragedies is not ten times greater than it is. It all speaks for an extremely high level of professionalism amongst all ranks.
Of course, courage is everywhere to be seen, not just amongst the Toms, but also amongst the Taliban whose casualties in those early days must have been enormous. If ever that old phrase about lions led by donkeys was applicable, it was to the Taliban in the beginning of the campaign. I gather that an influx of foreign fighters and advisers has since brought about a change in tactics which was sorely needed given their casualty rates.
Bishop is mainly concerned, like Ross Kemp, with the Toms up the sharp end, but even so, he provides a glimpse of the very messy command and political structure that has grown up like a malignant cancer above the fighting troops. In WWII, it was mainly the Americans and British who commanded the armies in Europe and even a bipolar command structure caused great problems of misunderstandings, rivalries, arguments and tension; but in Afghanistan you have several nations involved, each with different objectives, plus, on top of that you have the Afghan government, itself, corrupt and useless but which must be paid lip-service. Bishop is about to produce a follow-up book detailing the story of 3 Para's return to Afghanistan last year. I can hardly wait to read it.
I hope to ponder some more on the strategic pros and cons of this whole Afghanistan imbroglio which is costing us so much in blood and treasure. My gut feeling at present is that is a bloody awful necessity!
My God, I had no idea! 'Oprah' Obama is an A1 crasher of the first order! I enjoyed a little nap this afternoon, so, rested and refreshed, I watched a few minutes of his press conference with 'ur wee Gordie' - until I found myself nodding off again. He droned on and on and on and on and on, one narcoleptic cliche after another. I almost felt sorry for poor, old Gordie who kept opening his mouth and then closing it again rather like a double-glazing salesman trying to get his sales pitch in past a non-stop garrulous customer. I haven't experienced so much hot air since I last took a sauna! The only delicious moment was the very delicate way in which 'Oprah' put down 'cockie wee Gordie' who had referred to him by his, er, Christian(?) name, by referring back to him as "Prime Minister Brown". Score one for 'Oprah'!
I am obliged to the WSJ for that neat, little graph. At the risk of repeating myself, never pay too much attention to the 'yadda-yadda', just watch like a hawk what people do! I remember years ago listening to the likes of Tony Benn moaning and groaning about the 'exploitation' of poor Chinese peasants in the sweat shops of Hong Kong and very touching it was, too, until I thought to myself, hang on, why have we got all those watchtowers and barbed wire and police and Ghurkas guarding the border between Hong Kong and China. It wasn't to keep the people in, it was to keep them out! They were voting with their feet.
As the WSJ points out, on new year's day the Dow Jones, presumably buoyed up in hope for the 'new kid on the block', stood at its highest since the autumn panic. Since then, despite non-stop announcements and budgets, or perhaps, because of those non-stop announcements and budgets, it has fallen 25%. The people are voting, not with their feet, but with their wallets. The WSJ reminds us all that beneath the 'alarums and excursions' there is much good news:
The price of oil and other commodities have fallen by two-thirds since their 2008 summer peak, which has the effect of a major tax cut. The world is awash in liquidity, thanks to monetary ease by the Federal Reserve and other central banks. Monetary policy operates with a lag, but last year's easing will eventually stir economic activity.
Housing prices have fallen 27% from their Case-Shiller peak, or some two-thirds of the way back to their historical trend. While still high, credit spreads are far from their peaks during the panic, and corporate borrowers are again able to tap the credit markets. As equities were signaling with their late 2008 rally and January top, growth should under normal circumstances begin to appear in the second half of this year.
So what has happened in the last two months? The economy has received no great new outside shock. Exchange rates and other prices have been stable, and there are no security crises of note. The reality of a sharp recession has been known and built into stock prices since last year's fourth quarter.
This sort of scenario should presage the beginnings of a very gradual upturn, but what has happened is that financial investors have taken a long, hard look at the reality behind Obama's socialist programme and they do not like what it portends for the future. The merits or otherwise of the various bail-outs may be argued case by case but the budget is fixed and there for all to see. It is impossible to disguise it as anything other than a massive effort to turn capitalist America into a democratic(?) socialist state. I place a question mark behind the word 'democratic' because already, within the first two months, the appatchiks led by the dangerous Rahm Emmanuel are tinkering with the electoral system in order to gerrymander a permanent Democrat majority.
In addition, the first signs are appearing to indicate the true nature of the Obama foreign policy, towhich, all I can mutter is come back, Jimmy Carter, all is forgiven!