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Saturday, 20 October 2012

2014: Norman Stone, not Eric Frogspawm

We've got a year or so to get straight what exactly we will be commemorating in August 2014. Over 5m men saw service in HM Armed Forces; 900,000 were killed, 1.7m bore physical wounds and many more were mentally broken. There's not a hamlet or settlement in the land that didn't lose a son to the war. 

The consequences of the war were epochal. 1914 marked the end of the 19th century, of a European settlement intact since Waterloo together with its opera bouffe monarchies, and the end of the Age of Empire; it marked the start of universal suffrage and cemented the all-powerful central State as the default model of governance. The gentle, blowsy chiffon portrait art of Sir John Lavery was out; the harsh metallic planes and angles of Wyndham Lewis were in. Grantchester was a misty remembered dream, and the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle echoed instead in men's heads along the Cam.

We each have our own watershed references. Peter Hall's 1974 film Akenfield is amongst mine, of an England not even then quite lost(1), for Julian Tennyson's Suffolk Scene paints vividly the places I also knew and deeply loved in youth, but he never to return, the victim of a mortar splinter in Arakan in 1945, aged 30, during the second-half.

So what exactly are we commemorating? Loss? Change? 

Before we decide, we need to do some serious thinking. The raddled cliches and over-simplifications of Eric Hobsbawm are really past their sell-by date, belonging with the muddled mantras of Socialist Worker in the early 1970s. Yet this is what we will get from the BBC and the Guardian. The clearest and most cogent account I've ever read is actually a thin volume by Norman Stone; in just 140 pages in World War One: A Short History Stone distils into almost footnote length the impact and causes of 1914 - 1918. In a review for the Observer in 2007 Robert McCrum wrote; 
Behind the jokes and the fireworks, there's a serious argument, though hardly a new one. For the British Foreign Office, the strategic choice in Europe has always been: Germany or Russia? Here, Stone wants to argue that, in the transformation of Europe from 1914-18, the deepest anxiety among the allies was that a disintegrating Russia would allow Germany to dominate the east. Simultaneously, he points out that it was precisely Germany's paranoid fear of Russia's potential strength that, in the run-up to hostilities, inspired Berlin to manipulate the European alliance system into war while time was still on the side of the German railway timetables.
BBC Editors please note. It was not a war of capitalism or colonial power, as Frogspawm would have us believe. Nor must it be a banal celebration of 'self sacrifice', for few of those 900,000 can have died willingly, and for most it was duty owed to their mates, their family and their own honour that drove them into a maelstrom of death and white-hot shell splinters. That men were sacrificed by their commanders for strategic reasons surely cannot be a cause of commemoration. 

We've got barely two years to work out what we're commemorating - and it needs to be something that the political spectrum can agree upon, that ordinary people can understand and that the media can articulate. And all as sombre as a scarlet Haig poppy. 

(1) Not that you'd want it back; as Leonard told Simon ' It was very hard living indeed... our cottage was nearly empty, except for people. There was a scrubbed brick floor, and just one rug made of scraps of old clothes pegged into a sack. Six of us boys and girls slept in one bedroom, and our parents and the baby slept in the other. There was no newspaper, and nothing to read except the Bible. All the village houses were like this. Our food was apples, potatoes, swedes and bread. Nobody could get enough to eat, no matter how hard they tried. Two of my brothers were out to work. One was eight years old and he got three shillings a week. Our biggest trouble was water. There was no water near... 'Drink all you can at school', we were told. There was a tap there.Our parents and all the cottage people were very religious and very patriotic. The patriotic songs and church hymns seemed equally holy. They took our breath away. It was all 'My country' - country, country, country. You heard nothing else. There was no music in the village then, except at the chapel or the church, and our family liked it so much that we hurried from one to the other to hear all we could. People believed in religion then, which I think was a good thing, because if they hadn't got religion there would have been a revolution. I want to say this simply as a fact, that Suffolk people in my day were worked to death. It literally happened. It is not a figure of speech. I was worked mercilessly. I am not complaining about it. It is what happened to me.'

Friday, 19 October 2012

Federasts dragging Europe to Doom

As the peoples and economies of Europe are sacrificed on the altar of federal integration by the deluded fanatics dominating the current 'summit' we can only stand by and watch. After the wealth of the US, through the Marshall Plan, and the shared burden carried by NATO maintained peace in Europe for more than half a century, it is all about to be undone by the same ideological zealotry that led to over 70m dead last century. As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote in the Telegraph
Indeed. "Entirely self-created". Repeat that a hundred times. There is nothing seriously wrong with Europe's underlying economy. It has magnificent companies, great creative skills, a global current account surplus and relatively low debt. (That is not a misprint. Europe does not have a debt crisis. It has a political crisis. It is so badly structured and so badly run that moderate debt has been allowed to mushroom into a crisis). Mr Soros says there is now a "real danger" that the euro will destroy the European Union...... This time citizens can expect no Soros Salvation Army. They themselves will have to rise up in revolt within the fortress. That makes the whole saga much more dangerous.
Our interventions to save Europe from itself have cost us incalculable losses over the last century. What is it with these bloody people that if you leave them alone for five minutes they'll have produced a flag, an anthem and a hunger for global-sized ambitions? What warped gene makes them so susceptible to such distorted ideologies? No doubt some documentary film to be made later this century will interview the elderly survivors who will say, as they did after the last time, "It seemed such a good idea at first. We didn't know what it would lead to ...."

Thursday, 18 October 2012

MPs thrust snouts back into trough

Several words re-occur frequently in the comments on the Telegraph's piece on a new expenses scam that MPs and the Squeaker are trying to keep quiet; 'scum' and 'thieves' are among the more printable. Their expenses claims are back up to pre-scandal level, but thanks to new secrecy rules we no longer have access to the details of all those duck islands, grapefruit bowls and plasma TVs. 

At a time when public perceptions of politicians are at a nadir, when as a class they are loathed more greatly than ever before, come proposals to increase their wedge by 50%. Cameron is also reportedly dangling the prospect of 'state' funding (there is no such thing - it's taxpayer funding) to the bankrupt LibDems. What is it with their cavalier attitude to our money? What do they imagine gives them the right to secure their own enrichment from our hard-earned incomes? 

Perhaps they simply don't believe that public patience will finally snap. The comments in the Telegraph demonstrate that our patience is wearing dangerously thin; it's almost past time for them to really listen, and really understand.   

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

More rubbish science from the BBC

The BBC's Michelle Roberts, who it seems has reprinted a press release from the zealots at Aberdeen University without asking a single significant question about its balance, verity or probity, is probably happy in her ignorance should she live in one of the UK's congested cities. She's lapped-up the 'smoking in cars must be banned' message without even bothering to look at the basic flaws in the scientific reasoning.

First, she mentions the WHO guideline air quality level for PM2.5 of  25 μg/m3 as a 24-hour mean. Then she identifies Aberdeen's background level for PM2.5 at 7.4 μg/m3. Ok, fine so far. Then she notes that particulate levels in a car with a smoker on journeys lasting from 10 minutes to an hour reached up to 85 μg/m3. R i i g h t. So if a child spends an hour a day in a car with a chain-smoker in Aberdeen, Michelle, what will its 24 hour mean exposure level be? And will this exceed the WHO recommendation?  (The answers are 10.6  μg/m3 and 'No', Michelle) 

And astonishingly for the 'Health Editor' of BBC news online she appears wholly ignorant of background levels of  PM2.5 in places other than clean and airy Aberdeen. In London, if you walk or cycle near Marylebone Road, the Blackwall Tunnel or Woolwich Flyover, you'll be exposed to 24 hour mean PM2.5 levels of up to 86.5 μg/m3, 69.6 μg/m3 and 38.3 μg/m3 . Not hourly peaks, 24 hour means. 

So Michelle, the science really 'proves' that a child in North London in a non-smoking house is exposed to over 8x the particulates level of a child in Aberdeen who spends an hour a day in a car with a chain-smoker. 

(London particulate levels from London Air Quality Network site maintained by KCL at  

To be read in context with my response in the comments (clicky to make big)

Dan Hannan's opt-outs

In the Mail this morning Dan Hannan sets out how he would revise the terms of our EU membership. Let's leave aside for a moment Richard North's key point that technically the UK needs to have given notice to leave before we can re-negotiate terms, which would require an in-out referendum. Hannan writes:
What should Britain ask for in such negotiations?

There is little doubt that we’d want to opt out of the non-economic aspects of membership. We’d want to settle our own human rights issues. We’d want to control our own borders, deciding whether or not to allow unrestricted access to EU nationals. We’d want to determine our own employment legislation. We’d want to set our own welfare rules. We’d want to run our own foreign policy, separate from the new EU diplomatic corps, the Common External Action Service. We’d want to control our own agricultural policy, instead of being forced to subsidise our farmers’ Continental competitors as we have for so long. We’d want sovereign control over our own fishing grounds, out to 200 miles or the median line between our coastline and a neighbouring state’s, as allowed by maritime law. We’d want our Euro officials, including our MEPs, to be released into more productive jobs. (Speaking personally, I will breathe a deep sigh of relief on the day my job disappears.) And, of course, we’d want to stop paying for the whole EU racket.
And this is how Hannan's re-negotiated treaty would impact on the EU's competencies (clicky to read);

Hmmm. That still leaves an awful lot; it could be that Hannan included them in his submission but they were chopped by a zealous sub. 

Or maybe that's just official Conservative policy? Personally, I'd push for a revision that, for the UK, pushed every single one of the listed competencies into the 'Supporting Competence' box. Or be rid of them altogether. Why not? 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Bart takes Antwerp

Normally Belgian local government elections aren't the subject of much interest to anyone really, least of all the Belgians. But Bart De Wever's victory this weekend in Antwerp, Belgium's second city, will have the benefit of causing Herr Von Rumpy a few sleepless nights; the Flemish separatist mayor is set to spearhead a campaign culminating in Belgium's 2014 elections intent on stopping wealth transfers from Flemish areas to French-speaking Wallonia. Just as soon as the colleagues have countered one threat, it seems, another appears. 

De Wever's N-VA, a conservative and liberal party strongly supportive of civic nationalism and influenced by both Burke and Theodore Dalrymple, has stolen votes from the right wing Vlaams Belang. As the respectable face of Flemish nationalism he resists attempts to pin far right associations on him, and indeed promotes a curious blend of Flemish nationalism and support for a united Europe. 

Still, my enemy's enemy and all that. He's whupped the socialists who have held Antwerp since the war, and if his party gains in 2014 could well succeed Di Rupo as Prime Minister - and split the Belgian state at a critical stage in the making of a new Eurozone treaty.