Thursday, December 13, 2007

Black Thursday - The Curse of Von Esens

The leaders of the EU countries have signed something called the Lisbon Treaty. It's an unreadable document, rejigged from the draft constitution so humiliatingly rejected by French and Dutch voters two years ago. Containing the same key elements as the rejected constitution, it creates the EU as a sovereign state, and claims for the EU Commission (the nominated body which rules the EU) a scary range of powers - including the ability to claim any new powers it wishes.

This time round Dutch and French voters will not be asked to vote. Nor are referenda planned anywhere else aside from Ireland. Another humiliation would be too painful for Europe's self-appointed leaders. So apart from in Ireland, the constitution will be ratified by national parliaments. It will then come into force on January 1st 2009. That will set the seal on a quiet, almost invisible revolution in the way European citizens are ruled - replacing the more-or-less democratic system of "elective national oligarchy" with one of "unelected supranational oligarchy."

What's happened isn't remotely recognisable as representative democracy. The fact that the EU's leaders seem likely to get away with it, for now, shows how disconnected from its citizens European democracy - or the political system that masquerades under its name - has become.

The Curse of Von Esens, which has lain dormant for some time, is therefore called down on the wretched document and its creators.

The saddest thing is that the new anti-democratic system is programmed to self-destruct. Hopefully this falling-apart will happen soon and bloodlessly. Given current apathy, however, the problems are likely to lie dormant for a while before coming to a head.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Words of Wisdom (6): Nigel Lawson

"The more one examines the current global warming orthodoxy, the more it resembles a Da Vinci code of environmentalism. It is a great story and a phenomenal bestseller. It contains a grain of truth and a mountain of nonsense. And that nonsense could be very damaging indeed."

Nigel Lawson (Chancellor of the Exchequer in the UK under during Margaret Thatcher's premiership) addressing the New Zealand Business Round Table, November 21st 2007.

Words of Wisdom (5): Richard North

"People need to wake up to the fact that government – any government – is their enemy.

"It should be tolerated only because the alternative of not having one is worse. Furthermore, the one we have should be kept tightly restrained, lest it slip its leash and take over our lives."

Richard North of EU Referendum.EU Referendum: The authors of our own misfortunes

Friday, November 16, 2007

Words of Wisdom (V) Vaclav Havel on Climate Change

"What is at risk is not the climate but freedom…

"I see the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity now in ambitious environmentalism, not in communism. This ideology wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central (now global) planning."

Vaclav Havel

Bearded Red Flails Helmut Kohl

Wolfgang Thierse is the ex-DDR Communist functionary who is now Vice President of Germany's Bundestag. His trademark is his bushy red beard, hallmark of the revolutionary firebrand, even if, as his government colleague Glos once observed, Ein roter Bart macht noch keinen Barbarossa (A red beard alone doesn't make you Barbarossa).

In his Vice President of the Bundestag role he's meant to be impartial, rather as the Speaker of the House of Commons, in the UK, is meant to be impartial. But being VP of the BT isn't as important as being Speaker.

Thierse once said he wouldn't allow the demands of the job reduce him to a "political eunuch." He has now demonstrated this in a most repulsive way.

His socialist colleague, the scourge of capitalist locusts Franz Müntefering, yesterday left the German government to look after his ailing wife. Responding to this, Thierse remarked, "Leaving your wife sitting in the dark in Ludwigshafen, as Helmut Kohl did, is not ideal." The dig was aimed at the ex-Chancellor and his wife of 41 years, Hannelore. She suffered an allergy to light and committed suicide in 2001.

It is perhaps the final installment of a long-running animosity between the two men. Back in 2002, Kohl was quoted as saying of Thierse, Das ist der schlimmste Präsident seit Hermann Göring (He's the worst president since Hermann Goering - Thierse was parliamentary president at the time).

Now everyone is calling for Thierse to resign. But the thick skin and indifference to human suffering which doubtlessly stood him in such good stead during his successful DDR career will probably prompt him to cling on to power as long as he can.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Neanderthal Feminists

Maybe it's down to the long bloodlines, but the blog's always had a soft spot for the Neanderthals.

An article in the Boston Globe gives a glimpse into why our closest cousins may have died out.

It suggests that the equality-minded Neanderthal habit of allowing women to hunt alongside men may have led to lots of deaths among child-bearers - and thus caused the demise of the Neanderthals in about 30,000 BC.

Sexist Homo sapiens, whose women specialised in domestic gathering and home-making skills, was thus left in sole command of the world.

Stone Age feminism? - The Boston Globe

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Müntefering Resigns From German Government

Franz Müntefering, the socialist Employment minister and Vice Chancellor in Angela Merkel's coalition, has resigned to look after his wife who has cancer.

Müntefering has long been a bugbear of this blog's, mainly because of his posturing in Chancellor Schroeder's terrible government. Fulminating against the locusts of international capitalism (as was that government's wont), "Münte" blamed Jewish businessmen for Germany's economic woes. He might more usefully have looked at his own government's woeful 9 year record. Working with Chancellor Merkel has calmed him down as he has mediated between Merkel's centre-left CDU and his own socialist SPD parties. In comparison with the latter "Münte" almost resembles a man of reason, rather than the demagogue of limited brain he is.

Recently he was humiliated by his party's leader, a brutish, bearded mediocrity called Kurt Beck, in an arcane dispute about unemployment payments. Beck needed to improve his own profile within the party. He did so with a display of hard-left socialist rhetoric at Müntefering's expense. Now "Münte's" stepping down will give him a measure of revenge.

Müntefering's departure will destabilise the coalition. This could be good news for Angela Merkel, who leads in the polls, mainly because of her personal popularity. An election called soon would mean the end of this hopeless government, and a probable return to power for Merkel's CDU, supported by the centre-right FDP party.

For all the praise being heaped on "Münte" as he departs, this would be his only worthwhile legacy.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The End Of Freedom of Expression in Holland: Ayaan Hirsi Ali

In a deeply shaming decision, the Dutch Parliament yesterday voted 139-11 to discontinue protection for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch anti-Islamist ex-politician, when she is out of the country.

Ali, who co-produced the anti-Islamist film Submission with director Theo van Gogh (he was murdered for making it), has been repeatedly threatened by murderous Islamist bigots simply for expressing her views.

We used to be told that freedom of expression and freedom of movement were basic rights for each Western citizen. Those "rights", it's clear, have now been terminated in Holland. The Dutch government is no longer prepared to underwrite them. R.I.P. - The Curse of Von Esens is on the 139 MP's who voted for this betrayal.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The End Of Democracy In Europe

Perry Anderson, of UCLA, in a rather long piece about Europe, describes how the EU has drained democracy from European politics.

Democracy, he writes, has been replaced not with the politics of diplomacy, but a kind of unpolitical consensus:

The deadly conformism of EU summits, smugly celebrated by theorists of ‘consociational democracy’, as if this were anything other than a cartel of self-protective elites, closes the coffin of even real diplomacy, covering it with wreaths of bureaucratic piety. Nothing is left to move the popular will, as democratic participation and political imagination are each snuffed out.

Widespread and understandable indifference among Europeans has been the result. Voters can see their judgment and votes are irrelevant - and, worse, seen by the EU as distracting - to the shaping of policy.

In short, the EU is not merely passively undemocratic, it is actively anti-democratic.

Even avowed Europhiles have difficulty disguising their disgust at the way the EU moves to circumvent the expressed wishes of European voters. This has been especially obvious in the case of the European Constitution - a document resoundingly rejected by French and Dutch voters the other year, but now revivified, essentially unaltered, and up for ratification next year.

This obtuse self-satisfaction on the part of the EU's leaders is potentially dangerous, as any divorce between rulers and ruled has always been.

Anderson goes on to discuss how the public anti-Americanism of some European politicians masks collusion in torture of terrorist suspects and an indifference to the sufferings of European (German) citizens by such politicians as the unspeakable exhibitionist Joschka Fischer and Germany's current Foreign Minister, Walter Steinmeier. (Steinmeier actually refused a US offer to free an innocent German citizen wrongly imprisoned, the victim of mistaken identity.)

The politicians are often rewarded by public approval of their moral posturing and gushings. Their dangerous hidden moves are largely ignored.

It is another example of one of this blog's favourite themes - the unbridgable gulf between modern political speech in Europe and the reality of how Europe is ruled today. It's almost enough to make one want to do something about it. But the truly dangerous thing about the whole constitutional drift in Europe is that it is fatally boring to most people. It means power can be detached from the demos without sparking off anything much in the way of protest, beyond the efforts of the admirable EU Referendum bloggers, Christopher Booker and their ilk.

Link to Perry Anderson's article in the London Review of Books:
LRB | Perry Anderson: Depicting Europe

Friday, July 06, 2007

RIP: Gottfried von Bismarck

Gottfried von Bismarck was found dead in his flat in Draycott Place last Monday afternoon. He was 44. A coroner is looking into the cause which is likely to involve drugs. Those of a sensationalist bent will prefer to blame the family curse. We knew Bismarck, slightly, at Oxford, and even challenged him to a duel for "looking like a howling cad". The duel was slated to be fought at dawn on Christ Church Meadow, on bicycles, with broomsticks taking the place of lances. Fortunately, the duel didn't happen as mutual drunkenness intervened, we missed each other in the dark. This was probably just as well, for Bismarck's high-jinks had a habit of turning fatal.

Although an intelligent and sometimes convivial man Bismarck was best known for his association with two tragedies. The first was the death of the charming Olivia Channon (daughter of then minister Paul Channon) in his rooms in Christ Church in Oxford in 1986.

She died after taking an overdose of heroin, combined with a lot of alcohol, while celebrating the end of her Finals examinations. In Olivia Channon's case there was much ludicrous talk of a "Guinness curse" as she was related to the brewing family.

Although Bismarck wasn't directly to blame for her death, there was much scandal because of the drugs. Bismarck himself said, perhaps somewhat self-pityingly, that he was still being blamed, years later, for staining his family's name. He felt he didn't fit into Oxford having attended what he called "an aristocratic Borstal" in Swizerland and having worked on the New York Stock Exchange. Even so, he was a member of such exclusive and self-satisfied Oxford drinking clubs as the Bullingdon and the archly camp Piers Gaveston Society.

The second death happened last year when a man fell to his death from Bismarck's balcony during a party invariably described as a drug-fuelled gay orgy. Again Bismarck was not suspected of anything beyond being the party's host.

Bismarck combined pride in his ancestry (descendant of the Iron Chancellor) with contempt for conventions. This led him to a consciously "aristocratic" lifestyle of excessive self-indulgence and épater la bourgeoisie. He said, if he'd chosen to go for a job in competition with a Schmidt, a Muller and a Meyer, he'd get it jst for the name ( Gottfried Alexander Leopold Graf von Bismarck-Schonhausen). We question whether that is true, inverted snobbery being what it is. Anyway, he had the brightness, and the Prussian steel, to have succeeded in a more conventional way, whatever his surname, but he had little interest in such a path.

Update, 10th October 2007 - The coroner has found that Bismarck's death was the result of "reckless" cocaine use. Bismarck, we learn, had been injecting cocaine every hour during the day and night before he died. Reckless is about right. R.I.P.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

More Günter Grass, Alas

Günter Grass writing in the New Yorker to justify his Nazi past, puts part of the blame on his father for having audible sex with young Günter's mother:

The hatred of a mother’s boy for his father, the subliminal battleground that determined the course of Greek tragedies and has been so eloquently updated by Dr. Freud and his disciples, was thus, if not the primary cause, then at least one of the factors in my push to leave home, Grass writes with his customary restraint.

Later, he recalls how he rejoiced at the removal of an heroic pacifist, with whom he served, to the concentration camps, on grounds that the presence of the pacifist made life more difficult for him.

This early pattern - blaming the blameless for his inner disgust at himself - became the trademark feature of the wretched Grass' subsequent career, as he lost no opportunity to castigate capitalism, Chritianity and democracy. The fact that space continues to be given to Grass to justify his deplorable convictions - at ludicrous length- is disgusting.

How I Spent the War, by Günter Grass: The New Yorker

Hero von Esens: Former Waffen-SS Man Has Book To Sell

King Edward of Estonia: A Missed Opportunity

The most important news today is revealed in the Daily Telegraph where it is tucked away in a feature on historian Simon Sebag Montefiore.

It appears that when he was in Grozny just before the Russian invasion, royalists asked him to offer Prince Edward the Estonian throne.

"It was treated as a jokey news story," says Sebag Montefiore ("a cross between Woody Allen and Biggles"), "but I think it was a missed opportunity."l

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

RIP: No More Immendorff

News trickles through to Esens of the timely death of Professor Jörg Immendorff, left-wing polemicist, Professor and sometime painter, scourge of the bourgeoisie and so forth. He died yesterday, a few weeks before his 62nd birthday.

This can only be seen as the action of a merciful God. Immendorff had been suffering an incurable disease for some years now, the effects of which were distressing in the extreme.

The Professor, always a party animal, persisted in indulging in coke 'n tarts orgies - most unsuitable for a man of his age and distinction, and incompatible with the socialist principles he clung to all his life. No longer able to paint, he entrusted his assistants with the labour of executing his visions. It was no kind of life for a socialist firebrand. The good news is that his pretty young widow will enjoy a state-sponsored pension until the end of her days.
Here's the blog's entry for his 60th birthday.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Dutch PM Wants Less EU

Prime Minister Balkenende of Holland (which last year decisively rejected the EU's proposed constitution) wants to limit the role and expansion of the EU saying the supranational body has moved too fast for a lot of voters.

In advocating a stronger role for national governments (allowing them to veto EU Commission proposals) aiming to curb the "growth by stealth" of the EU's unelected bodies, Balkenende is suggesting some commonsensical measures.

These may inject some democratic principles back into an EU whose more enthusiastic proponents are now dangerously isolated and insulated from the real world. Then again, they may not, if the weird, nakedly anti-democratic pronouncements of the Luxembourg PM are anything to go by.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Why Modern Novels Are Boring and Worthy

Julian Gough, writing in this month's Prospect, argues that the modern literary novel is boring and worthy partly because it's been professionalised, partly because these days the tragic is valued more than the comic. He says modern novelists should look to the "new" media and to TV cartoons like the Simpsons for their inspiration.

Link to Gough's article:
Essays: 'Divine comedy' by Julian Gough | Prospect Magazine May 2007 issue 134

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Words of Wisdom (4): Jenny McCartney

Jenny McCartney on the apotheosis of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness as, respectively, First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland:

"... Although I am certainly grateful that Mr Mc Guinness is no longer an active murderer and Mr Paisley no longer an active sectarian bigot, I cannot pretend that my heart soars to see them as joint leaders of the new Northern Ireland. They have abandoned their intransigence at the precise moment at which its shedding will deliver them the greatest political rewards."

(Jenny McCartney writing in today's Sunday Telegraph)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

NATO vs Taliban in Afghanistan - One-Sided War

Mark Steyn, writing in the Western Standard, revisits the difference between NATO countries willing to do "peacekeeping duties" and those who are willing to fight.

The latter group, he notes, is a lot smaller than the first, and in Afghanistan is composed of the English-speaking countries plus Holland.

Fighting against the Taliban is being done by soldiers from US, UK, Oz, Canada and the Netherlands. (In noting this, Steyn remarks that Holland "isn't officially an English-speaking country but speaks better English than most of the ones that are.") The photocopiers up north, he mocks, are manned by two dozen other NATO countries.

Even so, the fighting soldiers are hampered by bizarrely over-sensitive rules of engagement - aimed at minimising civilian casualties - which, claims Steyn, allow them to target only specifically-named Taliban fighters. This results in a one-sided war which is near-impossible for the NATO soldiers to win.

Link to article: Western Standard

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Globalisation Hurts USA, Says Ex-IBM Man

The Nation discusses Ralph Gomory's take on globalisation. "What countries want and what companies want are different" is the ex-IBM staffer's starting point.

US Companies who move jobs and production offshore are benefitting themselves and the host countries, but not the USA. The conventional globalisers' idea of "win-win" is naive, he reckons. There will most certainly be "losers".

Gomory proposes two courses: cap the US trade deficit and use the tax code to incentivise multinationals to keep added-value jobs and production within the USA.

Gomory isn't aiming at wholescale protectionism, but he's persuasive enough to make that a possible outcome of the debate he wants to start.
Link to Nation's article: The Establishment Rethinks Globalization

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Ijtihad vs Jihad

Johann Hari, writing in Dissent, argues that the focal point of current Islamic conflict is not one between jihad and western values, but between jihad and moderate Islam.

Hari points to the spread of Islamic liberalism and Islamic feminism amongst immigrants in Europe. He sees this as an opportunity to help reintroduce ijtihad (the use of reason to reinterpret the Koran which was abandoned in the thirteenth century) in preference to jihad. This could lead to an Islamic Enlightenment.

Link to Hari's article:Islam in the West :: Dissent Winter 2007 Issue

Friday, March 30, 2007

Words of Wisdom (3): Spark on Woolf

Muriel Spark on Virginia Woolf: "A spoilt brat. All right, she committed suicide, but she didn't have to take the dog with her."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Words of Wisdom (2): Albert Einstein

"The scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation.…His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. This feeling is the guiding principle of his life and work, in so far as he succeeds in keeping himself from the shackles of selfish desire. "

Albert Einstein
The Religiousness of Science

Friday, March 23, 2007

Words of Wisdom (1): John Prescott

"If you set up a school and it becomes a good school, the great danger is that everyone wants to go there."

John Prescott, British Deputy Prime Minister.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Dalrymple OnThe Delusions Of Neuropsychiatric Triumphalism

Theodore Dalrymple has been to an inspiring neuropsychiatry convention where he learned about the latest dramatic advances in the fields of neuroimaging, neurochemistry, neurogenetics and so forth.

But he was bothered by the triumphalism he detected among some speakers. They implied that neuropsychiatry might soon be able to give a scientific explanation for all human actions and motivations.

Scientific self-knowledge, rejoins the ineffable ex-prison doctor, is neither possible, desirable - nor, if achieved, sufferable.

Link to Dalrymple's article: Do the Impossible: Know Thyself - New English Review

Do the Living Outnumber the Dead?

No, we don't. The claim you sometimes hear - that the number of people living today exceeds the number of people who ever lived - is a myth, according to the linked article in Scientific American.

Apparently some 100 billion people have lived since mankind first emerged around 50,000 BC. Today's global population of 6.5 billion is thus about 6.5% of people who ever lived.
Fact or Fiction?: Living People Outnumber the Dead: Scientific American

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Profitable Gossip

A PR report (by social studies group SIRC) finds that mobile phones serve a key therapeutic role in our fragmented society, enabling us to gossip with each other. Gossip is, apparently, an endorphin-building "grooming" activity essential to our mental and physical health. Good to have that spelled out.

The report was sponsored by a company which will be especially delighted with the findings - BT Cellnet, the UK's leading supplier of mobile phone solutions. It is BT Cellnet themselves who make most profit out of mobile-phone gossip.
Mobile Gossip

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Murder in Putin's Russia

Anna Politkovskaya, "Russia's dead Cassandra" was murdered in Moscow last October, four weeks before another dissident, Alexander Litvinenko, was murdered in London.

"We are nobody," she'd said, "while he whom chance has enabled to clamber to the top of the pile is today Tsar and God."

Michael Specter, in the New Yorker, shows how Russia's pockets of stability and prosperity have come at a price few in the West would be willing to pay.
The New Yorker: PRINTABLES