Monthly Archives: August 2007

NeoCon tricks

“Anarchy in Britain”! But who’s to blame? Well, try this, it’s straight from the same “shock jock” cesspool as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and the benighted Ann Coulter. So, welcome Phillip Blond:

Blame the killer kids on the middle classes
Meddling liberals have destroyed working-class culture


After that headline, it takes Blond a while to really get the boot in. He even starts in the same ball-park as some sort of reality:

Mrs Thatcher created an economic underclass in the 1980s…
Despite the endless targets of social programmes, it is harder now to climb up from the bottom than it was in the Edwardian age. Far from securing the benefits of economic growth for the working class, Labour has abandoned its original constituency for the 100,000 middle-class voters that can turn a British election. The fact that the bottom 50 per cent of the British population own less than five per cent of the wealth has not troubled Gordon Brown one bit.

Where to start?

Well, let’s work from the top.

Malcolm will not apologise for the Thatcher government’s economic policy, except that its cardinal error was to start a class war at the very moment Britain was hit by economic recession, the concomitant of the oil-price surge. Result: three million unemployed. In effect, Thatcherite economics were a frenzied response to that first miscalculation. This was compounded by the neglect of education and training: an essential area where the private sector could not or would not make good the lack of direct government action, and essential to re-skilling and raising productivity.

None of that, however, is anywhere near relevant to Blond’s hysterical headline.

The Edwardian myth

Next that nonsense about the social movement of Edwardian society. How can such a gross generalisation be proved or disproved? All Malcolm will note is that he had an aunt who went through life with the name “Minima”, because she was born in the 1912 Yorkshire Miners’ Strike. The issue of the strike and the basis for her name was the demand for a “minimum wage” of 12/6 a week (the younger element may need that explained: 62½p a week).

For comparison, the second Duke of Westminster inherited his title in 1899 and “a guinea a minute” from his London rents. He was a serial adulterer with fascist sympathies. Malcolm notes that the present Duke of Westminster is worth £6.6B, well sufficient to support his taste for call-girls, is still the country’s biggest landowner, and a very close associate of the Prince of Wales. So no similarities there, then.

The second Duke’s contemporary, the Earl Fitzwilliam died in 1902, worth the modern equivalent of £3.3B: his heir inherited a million a year from coal royalties alone (and still was not accounted in the same wealth league as Londonderry or Newcastle, those other noble coal-owners).

What price social mobility, then or now, in that lot?

Labour’s “original constituency”

The barb in Blond’s outburst starts about here.

We should start by recognising that the Labour Party was never the party of the most deprived tier of our society. The Party was the creation of, and for a long time the creature of the craft trades unions. Since crafts are less significant in modern business, Labour’s present natural “constituency” is the aspiring technological classes as much as skilled labour. That is recognised by any analysis of voters’ behaviour. NOP and ICM suggest that C2 voters (the traditional “blue-collar” workers) went Conservative by a significant margin in 2002 and 2005. Labour’s strength, and present “constituency” has been among mortgaged house-owners. There has also been a greater acceptance of Labour among women, the so-called “school-gate mums”, liking the social policy, childcare, health and education.

The underclass

Blond’s Parthian shot is that bit about:

the bottom 50 per cent of the British population [who] own less than five per cent of the wealth [which] has not troubled Gordon Brown one bit.

Malcolm does not want to quibble, but the National Statistics table he is looking at says half the population share 7% of the wealth. That figure been pretty stable for at least 30 years. However, that share was worth just £19.6B in 1973, but is worth £265B now. There is a difference (for us ordinary folks) between wealth and income: we accumulate wealth in our working years, but inevitably expend it in our retirement. Our income is often at its highest when we have least disposable income (thanks to children, mortgages and our lifestyles).

An “underclass”?

Malcolm is aware that he has himself used this term loosely on occasion. He suspects it is another term that has been imported into the general (and therefore his own) consciousness without precision or context, and based on an inexact parallel between US and UK societies.

There was, some years back, an essay, applauded by Frank Field, by Alan Buckingham of the University of Sussex, which made this point. It went on to identify the characteristics of the British “underclass”, which amounted to 5.5% of a cohort sample. Apart from

the characteristic of long term unemployment, the individuals who make up that 5.5% have very little else in common which could identify them as a distinct ‘class’… The chronically workless are more likely to have been sacked, to have gone to prison and to be single parents. The qualitative part of the dataset, which is aimed at gauging people’s attitudes, shows a common trend toward lack of motivation, lack of commitment to work and family, and general apathy.

And therein lies the proper answer to Blond. He identifies a particular and limited social malaise with the “working class”. Blond uses “the poor” and the “working class” as synonyms:

the centralised and imposed system of the welfare state was a creation of the middle-class that ultimately destroyed the self-help culture of the British poor…

The working classes originally wanted a more mutual welfare state where entitlement was based on what they put in; instead the middle classes, irritated by the ability of the poor to organise themselves, determined their needs for them – creating a depressing dependency culture in our inner cities.

The poor might have survived this if middle-class culture had not invented progressive values. In the 1960s, the middle classes abdicated a wider social responsibility and decided that the culture of their parents was paternal and repressive. They bought the idea that notions of service and responsibility were an unjust imposition and embraced the pursuit of wealth, drugs and sexual liberation as self-evident positives, in the process repudiating any idea of a common national vision.

Annus mirabilis

Ah, it’s that sex and drugs and rock’n’roll thing again. Perhaps nobody told Blond that Larkin
was prone to irony:

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me)
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.

Or perhaps Blond is impervious to irony, even his own:

While toxic to civilised middle-class life, such values were lethal to the working class. In the absence of a culture that was genuinely their own, the children of the poor embraced this middle-class decadence. They gradually abandoned each other and instead embraced glamour, greed and sexual promiscuity as if they were a form of liberation.

(Oh, dear: you weren’t trying to drink at that moment, were you? Don’t worry, the stain will wash out!)

Blond’s solution:

Blond is right (very, very right) alongside, if not even ahead of Dave Cameron here:

[Cameron] has to give power, money and organisation back to the working class so that they can once again develop their own high culture. And he should remind the middle-class liberals he courts that it was their values (or lack thereof) that caused these problems in the first place.

(Now, Malcolm just warned you about drinking and reading at the same time!)

Don’t you just lurve that conceit about “high culture”? Where did that come from? Translated into real English, it means:

Phillip is an internationally recognised theologian and philosopher. Educated at Peterhouse, Cambridge, he edited Post-Secular Philosophy, one of the founding texts of a new radical theology.

He has appeared as a commentator on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4. He writes regular comment and editorial pieces for the International Herald Tribune. His aim is to make theology and philosophy culturally relevant and intellectually exciting.

Or, in short-hand, he’s paid by the line, needs an adjective, and “high” is about as neutral and lacking in overt condescension as he can get.

Where did he get this guff from?

Well, Aldous Huxley might be in the frame. Again, though, Blond seems to have missed the irony and social satire:

“Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m really awfully glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able …”

How can anyone be so wrong?

Blond has this misconception:

Before the Second World War, working-class communities, though far poorer than today, lived lives largely free of violence and crime.

On one level that is John Major treating the Tory faithful to a muddling of George Orwell:

Fifty years on from now, Britain will still be the country of long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and, as George Orwell said, ‘Old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist’ and, if we get our way, Shakespeare will still be read even in school.

[Orwell’s ‘old maids’ hiked, not biked. At least in Malcolm’s text they did.]

More seriously, anybody, like Blond, who believes that the 1930s were a crime-free paradise should go back to the statistics. Then he should remember that it’s not comparing like for like. Two examples,

  • the Metropolitan Police recorded “thefts” as “lost property” until the 1930s, and
  • in the bad old days of capital punishment, with the unwillingness of Juries to convict, “murder” was a charge used in only the most extreme cases.
And some of the worst crimes, like the 1934 Gresford Pit disaster, went unrecognised, and unpunished. Of course, that was part of the working class’s “high culture”: one in seven miners seriously injured, maimed or killed in a working life-time.

Malcolm is still horrified that a serious academic (being generous to Blond) can get away with this tosh, this windy diatribe, this ignorant babble, this con-trick on the reader, or be paid for it.

And even do it sober.

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Filed under broken society, crime, poverty, underclass, working class

Not a lot of room at the top

Malcolm has only done it the once, about a dozen years ago: made it to the top of the Empire State Building, that is. But, on the flight into Newark, he chooses the port side, expecting to see its iconic shape as G-VHOT (or G-VBIG) comes in. During his visit, he commutes in on the Midtown Direct: it’s the first and last view of Manhattan.

By comparison, he has done the London Eye three times, but excuses that on the basis of showing relatives the sights.

Neither is as scary as the CN Tower, with its glass floor and 1,122 feet of nothing, straight down (Malcolm is acrophobic ever since). Nor possessed of quite the view from Seattle’s Space Needle: Mount Rainier across Downtown, the Cascades, and the sublimity of the Olympic range across Puget Sound. That has to be the prize winner. Whereas Mr Eiffel’s erection always looks better from below.

Malcolm suggests there’s no need to leave your seats: most of that is available by the wonders of webcam.

So what’s your point, Malcolm?

Well, it’s an article Malcolm almost missed, on the Cityroom blogs site of the New York Times. Jake Mooney did a nice little piece to note that:

As anybody with a weakness for weepy film romanticism knows, closing time at the Empire State Building’s observation deck was always the stroke of midnight — right? Cary Grant waited up there for Deborah Kerr until the clock struck 12 in An Affair to Remember (1957), and Meg Ryan had to talk her way past a security guard to meet Tom Hanks there at night in Sleepless in Seattle (1993).

But if Mr. Grant was searching the observation deck for true love today, he would have another two hours to cool his heels in the rain: The deck has been open until 2 a.m., seven nights a week, since March 1.

That’s it, really. Except that:

Wil Greenstreet, a jazz saxophonist, has been providing high-altitude mood music Thursdays through Saturdays from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m., and Mr. Greenstreet’s gig, which began as a summer engagement, was recently extended through September.

Malcolm learned from the article that there are now 4m visitors a year, up from

about a million people to visit in that first year [1931] … two million for the first time in 1987. They reached three million for the first time in 1995 and steadily increased, but dropped below that mark in 2001, after the World Trade Center attacks. By 2002, though, attendance was back to 3.3 million people, and then the rise started again.

He also learned that Scott Fitzgerald, who went up in that first year, was disappointed because of:

the awful realization that New York was a city after all and not a universe.

Malcolm barely regrets never having managed the World Trade Center (“2000 — a record year for visitors at the time — it drew about 2.2 million people”). It didn’t draw Malcolm in late August, 2001, though. He looked up; pondered; said “Next time”; and went in search of an afternoon beer.

The irony for Malcolm lies in something else: the best thing to see from the Empire State Building’s observation deck is William Van Alen’s Chrysler Building, especially as the stainless steel catches a golden sun-set.

One of his enduring disappointments is that he has never managed to photograph that moment. When MoMA was decanted out to Queen’s, he took the trip and tried to get a decent image from the 7 Line (or wherever). Didn’t quite work. An unfinished task, then.

And, as the sun slowly sinks in the West, Malcolm heads off, humming to himself Brooklyn-boy Billy Joel’s epitaph on Manhattan:

I’ve seen the lights go out on Broadway.
I saw the Empire State lay low.
Life went on beyond the Palisades:
They all bought Cadillacs and left there long ago.

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And a time for every purpose, under heaven …

Malcolm recalls a teenaged moment: sitting in a pub, drinking (under-aged) pints in the company of the late (and equally under-aged) Peter Bellamy. Both were aspiring to be amateur, unpaid and probably-useless assistants on an archaeological excavation at Warham Camp, an Iron Age ring-fort in northernmost Norfolk (so that makes it 1959).

An aged yokel addressed the two, and asked what they wor a-doin’.

On being told, he informed them, confident in local lore, that Warham camp was where Oliver Cromwell beat Julius Caesar, and did they know that.

So, to the present moment.

New Year 2006, Sir Hugh Orde, then Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, set up the Historical Enquiries Team. This was announced as £30M to:

re-examine 3,268 killings between 1969 and the 1998 peace accord.

The squad of about 100 detectives and support staff will need between five and seven years to complete its work.

The review team, led by retired Metropolitan Police Commander David Cox, will use the latest forensic science and intelligence analysing technology.

17 August 2007, with already some £8M spent, the Belfast Telegraph has an up-date.

[The team] has reached 1972.

That means 262 cases from the first years of the Troubles have been reviewed so far.

No charges have been brought, although the Director of Public Prosecutions is currently considering one file submitted by the Historical Enquiries Team

Oh, and it’s now the British Government’s fault:

The British government was accused today of failing to deliver on a pledge to fund an investigative unit re-examining murders from Northern Ireland’s Troubles. Dave Cox, head of the Historical Enquiries Team, revealed that last year’s funding, worth £4 million, had to come out of Sir Hugh Orde’s policing budget for Northern Ireland, even though the government promised two years ago that it would provide £32 million for the work over six years.

Let it not be forgotten that there is also a Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (what’s a couple of million a year between friends?) which

works vigorously and independently to ensure that the human rights of everyone in Northern Ireland are fully and firmly protected in law, policy and practice.

Now we’ve also got Lord Eames (former Archbishop of Armagh) and Denis Bradley (former vice-chairman of the Policing Board):

finding consensus on how to address the legacy of the Troubles … and … given a year to propose a system of addressing the past that will have the support, or at least the acquiescence, of victims of the Troubles and those bereaved by the Troubles.

Thank you, the Irish Times for that clarification.

And all of this relentless searching for knowledge at public expense, when Malcolm and his fellow blogsmiths daily do it for free.

Any alternatives

What (slightly—but it’s only another few million pounds) worries Malcolm about all this is the imminent emergence of yet more mini-quangos, all in search of an acceptable, approved, politically-correct history.

Nobody, but nobody is going to achieve a generally-accepted, values-free, academic ‘history’ of NI and the ineffable ‘Troubles’ in Malcolm’s alloted lifespan, or even the lifetimes of his ever-more numerous grand-children. The legends, the accompanying baggage is too great. Malcolm suggests that be left to the journos-on-the-make, those sure-fire instant-historians already cluttering the shelves of both sides of the sectarian divide.

“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”

So says the Las Vegas Tourist Agency. Similarly, what went on in the RUC, the IRA, the UDA, or any other group of initials, will enjoy similar burial, no matter how many commissions. The surest way to make sure the evidence goes awol is to pursue it officially: better to let things rot for a few years, until some hungry PhD student happens on the odd dusty and neglected file.

So, wonders Malcolm, why can’t we do a Revolutionary Calendar Year One: rename and relaunch the whole thing, and start again?

Giles Tremlett’s Travels through a Country’s Hidden Past, especially Chapter 3: Amnistía and Amnesia: the Pact of Forgetting, tells how the Spaniards coped with a painful and far-bloodier past:

Francoism never has been placed on trial (unless the varied judgements of historians count). Silence was at the heart of Spain’s transition to democracy — enshrined in the pacto del olvido… There were no hearings, no truth commissions and no formal process of reconciliation beyond the business of constructing a new democracy, This was no South Africa, no Chile, no Argentina. The mechanics of repression — police files on suspects and informers — would not be made public, as they would be in East Germany, Poland or the Czech Republic. Nor was Franco’s Spain a defeated Germany or Japan, forced to confront its own guilty past. In fact, it would be Franco’s own men who would, largely, oversee and manage the Transición. They would do so in a way that made sure neither they, nor those who came before them, could be called to account for anything they had done on behalf of el Caudillo. ‘The political class turned into angels, proud of the almost mafioso omertà when it came to talking about themselves,’ wrote one of the handful of critics of that transition, Gregorio Morán.

Now Tremlett plainly disapproves of that process, as we all can, hundreds of miles and several decades from the end of Francoism. At least, for the interim, it provides a modus vivendi for all concerned.

Malcolm recalls a moment earlier this year, at a Tarragona hotel breakfast. Malcolm was chatting to a man of similar years to himself. The history of Spain emerged. Malcolm made one comment too many, and referred to the Civil War and the falangists. The conversation ended, as the other moved away, silently, and finally. Perhaps that was right and proper.

Read, mark and inwardly digest. It isn’t just Norfolk where history gets scrambled.

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History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.

[David C. McCullogh]

Malcolm’s historian daughter, far better qualified than he, reckons that something does not become an “historical event” until it has been mentioned by a quota of historians.

This may explain why so much flies under Malcolm’s radar, until … whooomp … the detonation is seen smoking in the backyard.

A couple of niggling examples of this have come from Malcolm’s current bit of reading: Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery.

First up, and as early as page 21, there is this:

… while the early oceanic ventures in Tudor times were very desultory, because they lacked the backing of London’s merchants, who remained tied to the cloth trade (and were therefore pro-Spanish), matters changed with the 1551 cloth slump, which was followed a year later by the founding by aristocrats and traders of a company to open up the north-east passage.

Now Malcolm recalls encountering this connection before, suggesting a direct link between events on the Antwerp Bourse, causing a crisis in the English wool-trade, and a new expansionist mind-set among the merchant-venturers. Or, as Kennedy puts it:

… the uncertainties of the traditionally dominant commerce to the Low Countries were connected to a remarkable degree with the rising awareness in England of the profits that were to be made from getting into the trade in Oriental spices, American bullion and African slaves.

None of this was required knowledge for Malcolm’s schooling, when history, and Tudor history in particular, loomed large on the curriculum. So, was it one of those curiosities that became an historical fact because the requisite number of published historians mentioned it? What actually happened in 1551 that provoked the step-change in English economic and mercantile history? Was it somehow linked to Northumberland’s reform of the currency in England, and Charles V rescinding the ban on export of specie, both in 1551?

Malcolm needs to study further on this one.

Then, having reached page 88, Malcolm stumbled (in two senses of that word) on this:

The revival of Spanish power under Cardinal Alberoni which led to the forcible seizure of Sardinia and Sicily, his intrigues with Sweden and Russia to secure a Jacobite succession in Britain, and a farcical Spanish invasion of the Western Highlands in 1719, were checked at two levels. In July 1717 Byng’s Mediterranean Fleet smashed a Spanish squadron off Cape Passaro. At the same time, an alliance was made with France and Austria …

And Malcolm, at best the loosest of “general historians”, has to admit that much of that seems new to him. The 1719 business, he recalls, involved Rob Roy MacGregor, who turned up to find the Spanish expeditionary force amounted to some 300 men, and wisely and promptly roamed back into the gloaming. The Spanish met up with General Wightman at the Pass of Glenshiel, where there was a scuffle barely to be dignified as “The Battle of Glenshiel”.

Malcolm looked this one up, to find Wightman’s direct but wry report, as published in the Edinburgh Evening-Courant:

Towards the end of the action I observed some Spaniards left in the pass to defend it, which obstructed our finishing the affair, and obliged me to dismount 30 dragoons, which with about 40 foot, was all we had as a reserve; with which numbers I attackt them, and carried it in 10 minutes. They were better at climbing the rocks than we at their retreat, so that we have few or any prisoners except a Spanish captain and their physician.

In all of this lies the true delight of reading history.

It is the ultimate novel-sequence, where it is impossible in one lifetime to cover all the episodes. Equally, in fiction the author necessarily constricts the characters, setting, motives and episodes to the needs of the work. With history there is always another dimension to explore. For example, naval history for Tudor times is well-covered by a multitude of scholars. At one level there is the quite extraordinary collection of talent and character represented by Frobisher, Hawkins and (above all) Drake: brash, boastful, circling the globe with basic navigation and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs to guide him, admirable and damnable in equal measure. Then there is the technology, the developments in world-view, in knowledge and skills, in naval architecture and gunnery that made it possible. Beyond that again are economic conditions which provide the stimulus, mercantile conditions to finance it all, and social conditions to supply the manpower. No one writer is going to balance that to the reader’s total satisfaction, so it’s on to the next text.

Not surprisingly, History is making a small but important recovery as a school subject. The Major Government removed the requirement for it to remain a set subject up to Key Stage 4, the 16+ GCSE, which prompted a decline. Some 200,000 candidates take History at GCSE. If only History could be released from the straight-jacket of “the Henrys and Hitler and nothing in between“…

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The opium of the people: now with a price ticket

David Gordon in today’s Belfast Telegraph has an important leak.

In the run-up to restoration of devolved rule, the incoming Northern Irish Executive commissioned a report from Deloittes. That report has been sat on by Ian Paisley as First Minister (and, doubtless, also by Máirtín Mag Aonghusa as Deputy).

The report shows the costs of “The Troubles”, not just historically, but continuing day-to-day.

Policing Northern Ireland costs £478,000 p.a. per 1,000 population: in England and Wales it is £183,000:

Based on these figures, the report concluded that the “maximum additional cost of policing due to the sectarian divide is potentially £504m per annum”.

27,600 jobs were lost between 1983 to 2000, and directly attributable to “The Troubles”. This cost the economy £12.5m a year. Replacing those jobs is, head for head, three times more expensive than elsewhere in the UK. Add to that £49M a year in lost tourist revenues.

Providing housing segregated on religious grounds was a further £24M a year.

The educational apartheid costs £10M a year, plus a further 165 additional school bus runs each day to ensure wee Billy doesn’t share wheels with little Seamus: that’s 45 extra buses, and costs £2.45m.

13m for community relations, and £7m supporting victims.

Grand total: one and a half billion a year. Say it quickly and it doesn’t hurt so much.

Who pays?

The NI administration gets 60% of its income from Westminster. That’s £6B or £3,000 a head more than is raised in local taxation. Although NI is no longer classed as a region of special economic need, there is a further €1B over seven years, and a further half billion to ease the “peace process”.

Currently all that is sloshing around, mainly lubricating the public sector. The Government directly employs about a third of the work-force, for two-thirds of the economic output. Nearly 28% of the working-age population is economically inactive (the UK average is some 21%). All of that, by-the-way, from, the Financial Times.

Meanwhile, child poverty is 30%. Some wards in Derry and Belfast have 90% on benefits. That’s the E&SRC Report.

Democratic Dialogue reckons 30% of NI households to be “poor”, 2% just out of poverty, and 12% vulnerable. That’s half-a-million, including 150,000 children.

The Executive, quite understandably, is applying mouth to tit for as long as possible. But the day of reckoning is fast approaching.

None of that is news: that £1.5B a year goes on papering over the denominational divide is.

So, will tomorrow’s London papers see the significance?

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Filed under Northern Ireland, Religious division, subsidy, Troubles

A last salute?

Peter Baker makes a useful and instructive point in this morning’s Washington Post:

With the exception of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), none of the front-running White House contenders served in the military. Unless McCain rebounds from his political collapse, it looks as if next year’s presidential election will be the first since World War II in which neither of the major-party nominees is a veteran….

There was a time when military service was almost a prerequisite for public office. Every president from Harry S. Truman to George H.W.Bush served. But since the end of the Cold War, the country’s leadership has come more and more from the exclusively civilian world.

Britain made that shift as early as 1963.

Malcolm was going to suggest Harold Wilson as the first modern civilian Prime Minister. Wilson volunteered at the outbreak of War, but served as a statistician and manager in the Ministry of Fuel and Power. In fact, though, Alec Douglas Home set the precedent: he was too young for the First Unpleasantness (born in 1903), and a bout of TB kept him out of the Second.

Of course, Ted Heath (an artilleryman, and so entitled to wear a lieutenant-colonel’s uniform) and Jim Callaghan (Lieutenant in the Navy) had war service. In passing, one of the few juicy bits of Heath’s autobiography was the confession that he had commanded a firing squad, to execute a Polish serviceman convicted of murder and rape.

The end of conscription in Britain and of the Draft in the US mean that military service is no longer the norm for electors and elected. Clinton was able to buck the trend as early as 1992, as was his contemporary, Josiah Bartlet

Malcolm briefly wonders whether the rhetoric associated with military service might, just might have been one of the poisons that have infected the present Presidency. A kind of psychological compensation, perhaps. Al Gore, although opposed to the war, went to Vietnam and served five months with the Engineers: that made Bush’s time in the Texas Air National Guard a prickly comparison. Come 2004, Karl Rove went to work and did a job on John Kerry’s Swiftboat service: thrice armed is he who gets his retaliation in first.

The cadre around Bush have a curious quasi-military background. Bush’s own semi-detachment from things military is well attested. Dick Cheney may have been Bush I’s Secretary of Defense, directing operations in Panama and Desert Storm, but he also succeeded in getting his Draft to Vietnam deferred five times, and then was exempted for “hardship”. Rumsfeld served as a Navy flyer, and continued in the Reserve, until he retired as a Captain in 1989. Karl Rove was another who used deferments to avoid the Draft. Ironically, the least gung-ho member of Bush II’s first Administration was Colin Powell, the one personage with real military experience.

The American public, themselves less likely to have military experience, increasingly do not demand it of their public representatives. As Baker points out, at the end of his piece:

In 1991 … 68 percent of the Senate and 48 percent of the House had served in the military. Today, according to the Military Officers Association of America, it’s 29 percent of the upper chamber and 23 percent of the lower chamber. Among defeated or retiring incumbents last year, twice as many had served as the freshmen replacing them.

The main beneficiaries of this shift in public mood (and quelling of the testosterone) will be Hillary Clinton and other women seeking Office. The other side of the coin is the fall-out from the Iraq mess: is it not curious how Condi Rice, frequently touted back in 2000 and 2004 as a possible future contender, is out of the running?

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Who runs after Rabbitte?

Pat Rabbitte’s resignation, announced this afternoon, from the leadership of the Irish Labour Party was not entirely surprising. The tributes to him are, as always in these circumstances, gushing and perhaps a trifle relieved, but probably deserved. However, the Mullingar Accord, being tied to the coat-tails of Enda Kenny (hence the nasty piccy left), and the election outcome made it not a question of if but when Rabbitte would cash in his chips.

It hasn’t been an easy row to hoe, with the Telfon Taoiseach slithering so adeptly across the dunghill of Irish politics. Here’s The Cedar Lounge‘s valid take on the situation:

Clearly very clever, but with almost completely the wrong personality for the job at hand as leader. The [Press] conference this afternoon seemed to typify that. The references to ‘regime change’, ‘a party more united than it had been since 1922′ and such like seemed a tad too glib. He told us he ‘gave it his best shot during the election but he failed’… Well, yes.

De mortuis, nil nisi bonum. So leave it there.


  • Who?
  • What?

The “Who” will become clearly when the dust settles.

The favourite and front-runner will undoubtedly be Eamon Gilmore, TD for Dún Laoghaire. His hat was in the ring, along with Brendan Howlin and Roisin Shortall, in 2002. Gilmore has been around the block a few times: when he was head-lar of the UCG Students’ Union, and after that the USI, he was running with the Marxist Official Sinn Féiners. He was elected to Dublin County Council and then to Dáil Éireann in 1989 as a member of the Workers’ Party (same difference). He was with Frank Ross/Proinsias De Rossa and Rabitte in spitting on Seán Garland’s heavy mob. On that note, let’s hear it from yourfriendinthenorth, who gets it as succinctly as any:

To say that the split in the organisation in 1992 was bitter is only to tell a fraction of the story. Left wing splits are always bitter. Republican splits are always better. A split then in a party that styled itself as socialist republican was clearly going to verge on a verbal bloodbath. Fifteen years on, the hatred still lingers. No WP Ard Fheis these days is complete without Sean Garland having a good old swipe at the traitors of ’92. A good account of the split, albeit from a WP perspective, can be found in a short booklet ‘Patterns of Betrayal – The Flight from Socialism’. While the approach is from the standpoint of the Garland-Goulding wing of the party it does nevertheless provide speeches and articles from the people who went on to found Democratic Left.

Malcolm has to hand it to the defectors, first walking-out to “New Agenda”, subsequently regularised as the Democratic Left, and by 1999, besuited and in the Labour Party. They certainly had elastic-sided principles. At least they had some principles and even self-respect, unlike perhaps the Stickies they left behind. Or unlike the curiously-flexible ex-Stickie Eoghan Harris.

Brendan Howlin, anyone? Malcolm, who knew and respected Brendan Corish, whose Wexford fiefdom Howlin inherited, has a liking for this guy. He’s a life-long Labour man. He could do the job, and at least as well as many. He is, however, a twice-unsuccessful contender. He ain’t gonna play footsie with Fianna Fáil, but will need to steer clear of the Mullingar Accord thing. He is also Deputy Speaker of the Dáil, which must be a complication. We can, all in all, probably eliminate him before the talent round.

Róisín Shortall is a possible, but less likely runner. She’s got a few problems on hand in Dublin North-West, and the Transport brief is not the easiest in which to shine. Above all, is she sufficiently incisive and personful to make a mark as Leader? Hmm.

Liz McManus is in nominal charge until the autumn (don’t bother clicking through to her personal blogspot: it hasn’t been updated since May).


So it may well be a chance to jump a political generation. If only that were possible …

The bottom line here is that the decision is in the hands of the membership. The membership think of themselves as lefties: well, we all have illusions about ourselves.

Perhaps a little more — ahem! — socialism this time?

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So why don’t you just go back to Spain,
and I’ll stay
and we’ll
both get what we want!

[Miguel in The Road to Eldorado.]

Iain Dale starts one of today’s entries in a suitably patriotic tone:

I think it was Churchill who said that to be born an Englishman is to win first prize in the lottery of life. The ensuing decades have not proved him wrong, despite huge changes in the social and demographic makeup of the country. So why are 200,000 people a year leaving these islands for a life elsewhere in the world?

Well, as Dale adds, the simple answer is: because they can. And also because vast sums of advertising expenditure go on selling lifestyles abroad. They’re all at it: estate agents, property developers, television programmes …

On the other hand, Malcolm would recommend a cold shower from Giles Tremlett’s book, Ghosts of Spain. And notably Chapter 4: How the Bikini Saved Spain, where Tremlett is particularly scathing:

Although 1.2 million people formally live on the Costa del Sol, there are actually believed to be some 3 million residents. Many are foreigners with few interests beyond their own house, the golf course and a handful of friends of the same nationality. There is something very American about this car-dependent ribbon of growth… If it continues adding, as it currently does, almost fifty thousand houses and apartments a year, it will double its population once more in fifteen to twenty years. There are even predictions that the Costa de Sol megalopolis will, eventually, become Spain’s largest city. Unfortunately, as the traffic jams show, it is not something that has been planned for …

Figures for the amount of black cash being laundered in the costas‘ on-off construction booms are impossible to calculate. It includes not just ‘white’ cocaine and hashish money, but also the ‘grey’ money of small European businessmen who buy houses with cash never declared to their own tax authorities. It would be nice to think that all this money, wherever it came from, trickled down to the people of the Costa del Sol. But it circulates, instead, in the upper spheres of developers, construction magnates and the comparatively rich, northern European buyers …

And a couple of pages later:

The money that changes hands often does not come to Spain or pay a tax to help build the roads or water recycling plants. The urbanizaciones, some expensive, some full of hurriedly put up, shoddy ‘villas’, are spouting from Majorca to Marbella, from Torremolinos to Torrevieja. Many are ghost towns in winter, their restaurants and shops closed and their houses barred up.

In Benidorm, the editor of the English-language daily newspaper, the Costa Blanca News, told me that a friend of his had gone house-hunting to a new urbanización in a nearby town. He saw a man working in his garden and stopped to talk to him. The man turned out to be English. ‘Are there many foreigners here, then?’ the friend asked. ‘No, not really. There is one Norwegian, but the rest of us are British,’ came the answer.

Malcolm guarantees that Tremlett is the instant remedy to any tendency to succomb to sales patter.

But that was not Malcolm’s intended point: instead he reflected on that citation of Churchill as the author of the “lottery of life” bon mot. Churchill is, of course, the attribution of last resort for such utterances.

Malcolm has also seen it awarded to Rudyard Kipling, for similar reasons.

Even so, Malcolm thinks its recent currency may stem from Peter Ustinov in Dear Me of 1977, who in turn put it in the mouth of Cecil Rhodes. Refer to page 64 (of the paperback edition), where it is quoted as Rhodes’s advice to a “nervous young officer” going off to police a distant quarter of the Empire. College essays and blogs repeatedly employ the “quotation”, where it is usually and vaguely footnoted as “Rhodes to a young friend” (which itself says a lot about the thieving tendencies found on the Net). Still, Malcolm feels it sounds very much like a Ustinov witticism.

So here’s the problem: is there a definite sighting pre-dating Ustinov?

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Super is as super runs

There’s a BBC news item coming up every hour of the rolling news service, BBC24. The text version is on line, of which the bottom line for all 9 year old nerds (hence Malcolm steps up to the plate) is that:

Tyrannosaurus rex would have been able to outrun a footballer, according to computer models used to estimate running speeds of dinosaurs…

The University of Manchester study, published in the biological sciences Proceedings of the Royal Society, shows T. rex had a top running speed of 8m/s (18mph).

What also caught Malcolm’s attention was the relaxed Dr Bill Sellers of Manchester University, filling the idle hour of the long summer vacation, researching the running speed of dinosaurs.

Twice the clip refers to Dr Sellers’ “supercomputer”, which is on view over the academic left shoulder. Watch carefully: that’s a shiny, barely-throbbing Mac Pro. It’s so “super” it’s available at your local Apple Store, off the shelf, starting price $2,499 or £1,699.

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In dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds
On half the nations, and with fear of change
Perplexes monarchs.

Professor Stanley Fish blogs occasionally for the New York Times: it is apparently available on-line only through the “Select” subscription service (for which Malcolm has temporary access for services rendered).

His latest thought is:

It’s time to start thinking seriously about Hillary Clinton’s running mate. I know that the first primary is six months away (although the date keeps creeping backwards) and the conventions more than a year away, but this one is over before it’s over.

From there he considers the options:

John Edwards isn’t going to catch fire, and Barack Obama has already caught all the fire he is able to ignite. With every day, the small possibility that Al Gore will join the race gets smaller.

Essentially, Fish is looking for the balanced ticket:

Hillary Clinton is a middle-aged, white woman Protestant senator from the Northeast. Every identifying mark in this long list of personal attributes bears a significance for her choice. First of all, her running mate can’t be a woman. But, on the other hand, he does have to be white, or at least kind of white. The pundits keep wondering whether the country is ready for a woman president or a black president; it sure isn’t ready for a woman and a black on the same ticket.

The swim-suit round

Fish assumes that also eliminates a Jewish running-mate, such as Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania. He also narrows the field further by removing Senators, on the grounds “they belong to a debating society and haven’t had much experience administering things”, and Representatives, who “have the same liability as do senators, and in addition they usually have little national name recognition”.

The other element in the need for balance is geography:

Senator Clinton was brought up in Illinois and lived for a long time in Arkansas, but she has to stick with her New York identification, if only because she had to do so much to secure it. Therefore no other Northeasterner need apply …

So that ticks off Joe Biden and Chris Dodd.

Heading out of the megalopolis, then, “and it is here that we get to the electoral college.” So Fish does the math:

Start by giving her New York and California, then add all of New England plus Delaware, Maryland and D.C. Throw in one or two states in the Northwest (Oregon or Washington), and either Colorado or New Mexico in the Southwest. She loses the South, except for Louisiana where the Bush administration is in bad odor, and, perhaps, Arkansas, if her husband does a lot of work. She wins Hawaii, loses Alaska.

This leaves us where we are always left on election day – watching Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the Midwestern states, and Florida. Clinton probably takes Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and loses Kansas and Indiana. Illinois is a lock. Michigan and Wisconsin lean in her direction. Missouri probably goes Republican. Minnesota, Iowa and Ohio are up for grabs, with Ohio the prize. Florida is Florida.

That is probably less contentious than what has gone before, but it makes an unreasonable assumption: that 2008 will be as before. And therein lies reason for serious doubt. However, Malcolm will go with Fish, if only because the Professor should know his country better than a mere alien: we shall see, but more on this below

Governing mansions and their inhabitants

At this point in his discursion Fish starts to run through the gubernatorial possibilities: Strickland of Ohio (too recently arrived?), Warner of Virginia (needing a PR re-tread?), Easley of North Carolina (short on wider recognition?), Doyle of Wisconsin (past sell-by date?), Bayh of Indiana and Richardson of New Mexico (naivety, based on a Melissa Etheridge moment). Fish’s bottom line seems to be a rank order:

So there’s the list – Warner, Bayh, Easley, Richardson, maybe Doyle. No one who sets the pulses racing, but no one, at least on the evidence so far, who would be a total mistake. The mistake would be if Senator Clinton decided to get creative and adventurous, but on the record there seems to be little danger of that.

Malcolm leaves the issue open there: the decision will not become significant for another ten months, by which time the earth and all on it will have moved on. Anyone, reading Fish or not, will form different views on personal feelings. So far this is little more than a summer-vacation poolside reverie.

A Herbert Hoover legacy?

However, there are conclusions to be drawn already.

Fish’s major premiss, that the Democratic nomination is done-and-dusted, is surely beyond serious refute. Furthermore, unless the Republican Party starts putting its house in order, it seems that Hillary has a walk-over to 20th January 2009. That lesser assumption will undoubtedly change; but the only achievement of the Bush-Cheney administration over the last few months has been to convert approval ratings in the low 30% area to the high 20%s.

The damage may be even worse than that. Indeed, it begins to look as though a credible Republican candidate would have to run against his own Party and its record, which is not a recommended tactic in the Primaries.

A thick darkness over the land…

Barely a year out from the Labor Day 2008 starting gun, the United States seems to be inflicted with a recital of horrors not experienced since the Book of Exodus, chapters 7 to 11.

A failed public education system was water turning to blood. The frogs 0f a $5trillion federal deficit will croak for years to come. The unresolved Social Security and Medicare crisis, as the Baby Boomers enter retirement, amounts to more than gnat-bites. Collapsing highway bridges suggest a fly-ridden infra-structure. Lax environmental protection presages murrains on the cattle. Housing finance is a festering mass of boils. The looming energy crisis will be more than a passing thunderstorm. The locusts of foreign investors are getting out from under. All that’s left is the death of the firstborn ( for which see Iraq).

To save th’ Athenian Walls from ruine bare

Stanley Fish is one of the great authorities on Milton, so Malcolm recalls of Sonnet 8, which borrows from Xenophon describing the fall of Athens in 404BC.

The grossness, the disaster, the brash crudity, the unmitigated hubris of Bush-Cheney have willed a nemesis upon the World’s only Superpower. In domestic affairs, the same approach has been as partisan, deceitful, bullying and conniving as anything from Tricky Dicky.

The reconstruction needed puts all Americans into unexplored territory. In any future, under whatever new Administration, a necessarily-chastened America needs a radically-different philosophy and world-view, which, in turn, implies an extended re-education, especially outside the Beltway and in the more gung-ho reaches of the mood-makers, such as Fox News.

At some point, it will need a daring soul to recall Dean Acheson‘s wise words on losing an empire, but not yet finding a rôle.

And, in passing, Malcolm notes that such new-found humility, the willingness to observe, to think, to learn is what has made Al Gore so attractive to so many.

The title of this piece is from Paradise Lost, I 597-9.

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