Monthly Archives: July 2019

An aching void between the ears

Found myself comparing and contrasting two film reviews of The Great Hack:

This high-profile Netflix documentary about the Cambridge Analytica scandal is, much like the previous high-profile Netflix documentaries such as Fyre and Amanda Knox, frequently gripping, gorgeous to watch (the production values are top-tier), occasionally thought-provoking, always entertaining and yet, ultimately, a tiny bit vapid.

Bouncing between fly-on-the-wall coverage of the high-ranking Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Brittany Kaiser (first interviewed, James Bond style, in a sunkissed infinity pool “somewhere in Thailand”) and a wider analysis of “data-harvesting”, the film focuses on the Trump presidency and the Brexit Leave campaign as beneficiaries of targeted online propaganda. So-called persuadable voters are apparently pushed into dubious decisions at the ballot box by a tsunami of provocative fake news bulletins in their Facebook feeds.

Underhand and nasty? Yes. Morally reprehensible? Certainly. But once the film has made this point there is nothing left for it to do but restate it repeatedly, in different guises, while ducking more difficult discussions about the unpalatability of mainstream politicians, the impact of social inequality and the inadequacy of education systems that create swathes of gullible, persuadable dolts.

To be set alongside:

One is from The Guardian, the other from The Times. Somehow a casual reader would not struggle long to decide one from t’other. But, were it needed, muse on a Murdoch publication maundering over the inadequacy of education systems that create swathes of gullible, persuadable dolts.

1.3 million paying gullible, persuadable dolts will have had their daily brainwash, as with today’s front page of The (setting) Sun:


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What is the Johnson strategy?

I always assume a political mind can see more than one jump ahead. OK: that assumption doesn’t always work, but I have hopes.

So we have a new enstoolee on the Downing Street pot. This is his guiding vision:

Our mission is to deliver Brexit on 31 October for the purpose of uniting and re-energising our great United Kingdom and making this country the greatest place on earth. When I say “the greatest place on earth”, I am conscious that some may accuse me of hyperbole, but it is useful to imagine the trajectory on which we could now be embarked. By 2050, it is more than possible that the United Kingdom will be the greatest and most prosperous economy in Europe, at the centre of a new network of trade deals, which we have pioneered. With the road and rail investments that we are making and propose to make now and the investment in broadband and 5G, our country will boast the most affordable transport and technological connectivity on the planet. By unleashing the productive power of the whole United Kingdom—not just of London and the south-east, but of every corner of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—we will have closed forever the productivity gap and seen to it that no town is left behind ever again and no community ever forgotten.

Our children and grandchildren will be living longer, happier and healthier lives. Our kingdom in 2050—thanks, by the way, to the initiative of the previous Prime Minister—will no longer make any contribution whatsoever to the destruction of our precious planet, brought about by carbon emissions, because we will have led the world in delivering that net-zero target. We will be the home of electric vehicles—cars and even planes—powered by British-made battery technology, which is being developed right here, right now. We will have the free ports to revitalise our coastal communities, a bio-science sector liberated from anti-genetic modification rules, blight resistant crops that will feed the world, and satellite and earth observation systems that are the envy of the world. We will be the seedbed for the most exciting and dynamic business investments on the planet.

And so on. To infinity, and beyond.

All of which hinges on 31st October. By then the EU will have reneged on its so-far firm commitment to the ‘back-stop’. Or Johnson will have swallowed many words. Or the UK is whimpering outside the European Union.

I see many commentators assuming the ulterior motive is to blame EU obstinacy, and re-run the old “Who rules Britain?” Tory General Election strategy. Last time the firm answer (February 1974), was, “Well certainly not you, Mr Heath!”

However simple the formula, however much Cambridge Analytica testing, I do not see that standing for the month of a general election campaign. Anymore than I see a LibDem ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ slogan doing the same.

And yet …

The Tory Party (or its present ruling rump) has finagled itself into a total bind. We have to conclude the next campaign (electorally or whatever) is going to be a febrile affair.

Which is why the punchline of the latest Doonesbury strip (last weekend in the US, reprinted partly in today’s Guardian) is my awful warning:



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The end of Empire: Palestine 1948

I still miss my ‘end of Empire’ titfer. One of the proper Donegal tweedy numbers. So named because I bought it in Belleek. Anyone who knows where Belleek is, straddling the River Erne at the appendix of Fermanagh, would appreciate why it truly is the ‘end of Empire’.  The outfitter, running one of those all-purpose shops which are out-of-time (and certainly out-of the-21st-century) priced it in euros — but graciously accepted payment in sterling. The hat went missing, in just ten minutes, in Scarborough. I am forever bereft.

Still, to business …

Retirement, which is where I am, involves many regrets. Mainly for À la recherche du temps perdu (no: I’m not that Proustian desperate), but circumstances afford opportunity to make good.

My starter was inheriting quantities of stuff from a great-uncle, who distinguished himself in the Salonika Campaign. The candle-holders on my grandmother’s bedroom table suggested he may have been in Jerusalem sometime after Allenby. Allenby gets one of the Boy’s Own Paper patriotic whoops, but I remained ignorant of how the whole Ottoman empire collapsed.

Which explains why, bottom right corner of the bookshelves behind me, is a small selection:

and the like.

It was another source that provoked my current flutter: Calder Walton’s Empire of Secrets, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire. This had lurked, somewhat neglected in the ever-present, ever-threatening guilt-pile, until its impact:

its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born…

In particular it was chapter 3 that got me — ‘The Red Light is Definitely Showing’: MI5, the British Mandate of Palestine and Zionist Terrorism. Here, from pages 76-77, is the scenario:

If the British intelligence community faced an uneasy situation in the post-war period, with reduced funding, greater responsibilities, awkward relations with the Labour government and scanty intelligence on their new Soviet enemy, MI5 was confronted with an even more urgent threat. Recently declassified intelligence records reveal that at the end of the war the main priority for MI5 was the threat of terrorism emanating from the Middle East, specifically from the two main Jewish (or Zionist) terrorist groups operating in the Mandate of Palestine, which had been placed under British control in 1921. They were called the Irgun Zevai Leumi (‘National Military Organisation’, or the Irgun for short) and the Lehi (an acronym in Hebrew for ‘Freedom Fighters of Israel’), which the British also termed the ‘Stern Gang’, after its founding leader, Avraham Stern. The Irgun and the Stern Gang believed that British policies in Palestine in the post-war years, blocking the creation of an independent Jewish state, legitimised the use of violence against British targets. ​
As the Second World War came to a close, MI5 received a stream of intelligence reports warning that the Irgun and the Stern Gang were not just planning violence in the Mandate of Palestine, but were also plotting to launch attacks inside Britain. In April 1945 an urgent cable from S[ecurity] I[ntelligence] M[iddle] E[east] warned that Victory in Europe (VE-Day) would be a D-Day for Jewish terrorists in the Middle East. Then, in the spring and summer of 1946, coinciding with a sharp escalation of anti-British violence in Palestine, MI5 received apparently reliable reports from SIME that the Irgun and the Stern Gang were planning to send five terrorist ‘cells’ to London, ‘to work on IRA lines’. To use their own words, the terrorists intended to ‘beat the dog in his own kennel’. The SIME reports were derived from the interrogation of captured Irgun and Stern Gang fighters, from local police agents in Palestine, and from liaisons with official Zionist political groups like the Jewish Agency. They stated that among the targets for assassination were Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, who was regarded as the main obstacle to the establishment of a Jewish state in the Middle East, and the Prime Minister himself. Before his retirement as MI5’s Director-General, Sir David Petrie warned that the spike of violence against the British in Palestine, and the planned extension of lrgun and Stern Gang operations to Britain, meant that the ‘red light is definitely showing’. MI5’s new Director-General, Sir Percy Sillitoe, was so alarmed that in August 1946 he personally briefed the Prime Minister on the situation, warning him that an assassination campaign in Britain had to be considered a real possibility, and that his own name was known to be on a Stern Gang hit-list.​
The Irgun and the Stern Gang’s wartime track record ensured that MI5 took these warnings seriously. In November 1944 the Stern Gang assassinated the British Minister for the Middle East, Lord Moyne, while he was returning to his rented villa after a luncheon engagement in Cairo. Moyne, an heir to the Guinness dynasty, was a wealthy and well-connected figure …​

There begins a sequence of one-on-ones and mayhem that transcend any extreme thriller. Lord Moyne, the first to sidle in to the plot, was Walter Guinness, who managed the feat — rare enough among the peripatetic Guinnesses — of being born in Dublin, third snd youngest son of Edward Guinness, Earl of Iveagh. Despite what it says above, I’ve reckoned it was two Lehi agents (Eliyahu Bet-Zuri and Eliyahu Hakim) who did for our Walter — and in Cairo, not Palestine. By all accounts our Walter was no great afficiando of things Jewish.

After that came Menachem Begin’s bombing of the King David Hotel (22 July 1946), killing 91 and causing 45 further casualties. Both MI5 and SIS had their stations in the hotel. Much of British counter-terrorist expertise was refined in Palestine. The parallels with the Northern Ireland campaign are obvious: the brutalities on both sides, the techniques of Major Roy Farran and his ‘Q-patrols’: Farran was instrumental in devising the use of paramilitary ‘snatch-squads’ — first employed in Palestine, then in Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus and nearer home. Roy Farran ‘confessed’ (or didn’t: the Court Martial never quite decided) to the murder (May 1947) of 16-year-old Alexander Rubowitz; and Lehi (the Stern Gang) sent a book-bomb that killed Farran’s brother, Rex. Farran emigrated to Canada to get out of the way, but Lehi sent him a Christmas card for the rest of his life.

Terrorism and counter-terrorism feed on each other: Irgun’s revenge for Rubowitz was the brutal killing of Sergeants Martin and Paige at Nathanya (July 1947), hanging their booby-trapped bodies from a tree (and causing serious injury to another serviceman). The British squaddies counter-attacked with a grenade in a Tel Aviv café, driving an armoured car through a Jewish funeral procession, and firing at a bus stop.​

And then there’s the shlock-horror stuff: Betty Knout begging entrance to the Colonial Office, in need of a loo, planting two dozen sticks of gelignite in the basement (wrapped appropriately in the Evening Standard and Daily Telegraph), making her thanks and leaving. The timer failed. The package was found by a cleaner. By that stage Betty was away in Belgium, still in the well-tailored suit, and carrying the same handbag. Arrested she got a year in unrepentant chokey, but the arrest revealed a continuing letter-bomb campaign.

More to come — possibly.


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Rees-Mogg behaves ‘vulgarly’

Small but telling moment as the new ‘Leader of the House of Commons’ announced forthcoming non-business. Here’s Hansard:

Mr Rees-Mogg:

I would point out that the House of Commons predates the House of Tudor: it started in 1265, and the House of Tudor obviously began with Henry VII—

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab):

That’s wrong as well. It was 1341.

Mr Rees-Mogg:

No, no. The hon. Gentleman is a very good parliamentary historian, but 1265 is when the burgesses came from the towns, as he knows perfectly well.

Allow me to refer to J.R.Maddicott: The Origins of the English Parliament, 924-1327 (pages 234-235):

Simon de Montfort’s summoning of the knights to parliament June 1264 and of knights and burgesses in January 1265 is often thought o have marked the beginnings of local representation or even, and more vulgarly, of the foundation of parliament by Montfort himself: a popular myth which is astonishingly difficult to dispel. But were have already noted the presence in parliament before 1258 both of knights (though usually in the guise of lesser tenants-in-chief) and, more occasionally and less certainly, of burgesses; and important though Montfort’s parliaments were, they should not be allowed to eclipse those of the early and more productive time of reform in 1258-9.

Future interjections by Chris Bryant (something of a hero to me) against the not-quite-omniscient Rees-Mogg should be a hoot.

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The Wit and Wisdom of Malcolm Redfellow, MA (TCD) #92

I wouldn’t want this one to go missing.

I was accused by a poster on (roc_: patently no relation to the more famed Ross O’Carroll-Kelly) of misusing the word ‘an-historical’:

I’m assuming you mean ahistorical not an-historical which isn’t even a word.

So here’s the response:

Both variants are well-attested, by the Oxford English Dictionary, no less. Both are twentieth-century formulations. WH Auden (later in his career, Nones in 1952), has:

Their a-historic​
Antipathy forever gripes​
All ages and somatic types.​

As always, with Auden, I find myself muttering, “Yer wot, Gov?” Instructive — isn’t it? — that Auden felt it an awkward word which needed hyphenation.

So which of the two variants trips easier off the tongue? Auden’s hyphen is an awful warning. Which is more understandable, when there lurks the possible miscue of ‘a historical account’ and ‘ahistorical account’?

The version I prefer is that of The Times Literary Supplement and The Guardian. Neither of which felt the need to hyphenate, I admit.

So approach it logically.

‘History’ is from Greek, ἱστορία, via Late Latin and French. There was a perfectly good Old English term, gerećednis, so blame the Romance word on those pesky ecclesiastics. But notice the aspirated initial ἱ (iota). So when we stick on the prefix ἀν- we have regard to that aspirated iota. As the OED also says:

Etymology: < ancient Greek ἀν- (privative) not, without, wanting (only occurring before a vowel, including aspirated vowels; before a consonant as ἀ- …).​

And the moral of this instructive tale is, if one seeks to teach this Grandad to suck eggs, be aware he has a classical TCD education, and he prefers his eggs, like his detective fiction, ‘hard-boiled’.

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