Category Archives: United States

The state of the States

The current issue of The London Review of Books arrived this morning. So far I’ve picked at Francis Stonor Saunders’ essay on her father’s suitcase (been there myself) and James Lomax’s Diary of trying to get into and out of Turkmenistan (somewhere between dystopia and corrupt farce). So much more to come …

What stopped me in my tracks were the first thirteen paragraphs of Randall Kennedy’s review of Eric Foner’s Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution (2019). This part of the review is, quite frankly, as neat a summary of how the United States failed to cope with its racial problem over a critical century.

From now on I shall cite, as I never have recognised before, this horrible truth:

The leaders of the Confederacy, explicitly repudiating Thomas Jefferson’s declaration that ‘all men are created equal,’ had committed themselves to racial hierarchy. ‘Our new government ... rests,’ the Confederate vice president, Alexander Stephens, observed, ‘upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.’

Kennedy then continues to explain who and how Lincoln failed to address that essential issue — because he couldn’t. He didn’t have the power, even as Commander-in-Chief to end slavery — except as a war measure, and in the territories controlled by the Confederacy. Hence the Emancipation Proclamation:

contained no criticism of slavery and did not free all slaves; the legal status of at least 800,000 slaves was not affected. The proclamation did not free those held in bondage in the four slave states that remained loyal to the Union: Missouri, Delaware, Kentucky and Maryland. Nor did it free the slaves in certain Southern territories already under Union control.

Then comes a pointed comparison:

The proclamation announced that freedmen would now be allowed to join the United States military. Many enlisted. By the end of the Civil War 180,000 had served – about a fifth of the country’s black male population aged between 18 and 45. In the Revolutionary War of 1775-83, when the 13 American colonies sought to secede from Britain, most African Americans who took up arms did so on behalf of King George III (having been promised emancipation for doing so). By contrast, in the Civil War, the overwhelming majority who took up arms fought for the United States (the Confederacy having stubbornly resisted proposals to arm slaves until the very eve of its collapse).

That balances, for me, the jokey treatment given Farmer George in Hamilton.

After that we are into the topic of Foner’s book: reconstruction, how it was misconceived, how it was wholly subverted, and how it was negated. Starting with:

Although Lincoln planned to readmit the Confederate states into the Union quickly, on generous terms, he also seemed open to granting the vote to some black men – ‘the very intelligent and ... those who serve our cause as soldiers’. When the actor John Wilkes Booth heard that remark he warned: ‘That means nigger citizenship! Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.’ Three days later, on Good Friday, Booth made good on his threat, shooting Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC.

Got that chaps? Lincoln’s notion of emancipation was severely limited. But then, again, the whole electoral system of the United States was, and remains, a restricted franchise. As long as large sections of the populace are denied equal and free opportunity to vote, ‘democracy’ is not complete. Gerrymandering? Inaccessible polling stations? Restrictions on voter registration? They are all there, to this day.

Moreover Wilkes Booth delivered:

Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, was a fierce racist who militantly opposed giving African Americans an equal legal status to whites. He supported the ending of slavery but wanted blacks to be confined to a subordinate caste. That is one of the reasons Radicals in the Republican Party – Lincoln’s party – despised Johnson, who was a Democrat, and attempted to remove him from office by impeachment.

Reconstruction failed:

Reconstruction was under attack from the outset. There was never a consensus on its legitimacy, and in the end it sank under the weight of racism, indifference, fatigue, administrative weakness, economic depression, the ebbing of idealism, and the toll exacted by terrorism, as its enemies resorted to rape, mutilation, beating and murder to intimidate blacks and their white allies. […]

By 1877 every Southern state had been ‘redeemed’ – that is, was under the control of people who aimed to reimpose the norms of white supremacy. Enemies of Reconstruction removed blacks as a factor in politics and consigned them to a degraded position within a rigid pigmentocracy. The constitutional amendments survived untouched. But, at least with respect to racial matters, they were narrowly construed, if not ignored altogether. By 1900 Reconstruction had been demolished, an experiment almost wholly repudiated.

It has taken the work of Foner (says Kennedy) and his followers, to reconstruct Reconstruction. He emphasises the positives of the three Constitutional amendments that changed the United States:

The Thirteenth Amendment ordered emancipation without compensation and was the first occasion on which the constitution expanded the power of the federal government, creating ‘a new fundamental right to personal freedom, applicable to all persons in the United States regardless of race, gender, class or citizenship status’. Few countries, Foner observes, ‘and certainly none with as large a slave population, have experienced so radical a form of abolition’. The Fourteenth Amendment’s creation of birthright citizenship, he writes, represents ‘an eloquent statement about the nature of American society, a powerful force for assimilation ... and a repudiation of a long history of racism’. […]

The Fifteenth Amendment bars states and the federal government from using race as a criterion for voting.

Here am I, reclining and meditating on this review.

In truth, I cannot believe that the intentions of the Reconstruction Amendments have yet been properly applied.

On 26 June 2013 the US Supreme Court:

issued one of the most consequential rulings in a generation in a case called Shelby county v Holder. In a 5-4 vote, the court struck down a formula at the heart of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark 1965 law that required certain states and localities with a history of discrimination against minority voters to get changes cleared by the federal government before they went into effect.

It’s hard to overstate the significance of this decision. The power of the Voting Rights Act was in the design that the supreme court gutted – discriminatory voting policies could be blocked before they harmed voters. The law placed the burden of proof on government officials to prove why the changes they were seeking were not discriminatory. Now, voters who are discriminated against now bear the burden of proving they are disenfranchised.

Immediately after the decision, Republican lawmakers in Texas and North Carolina – two states previously covered by the law – moved to enact new voter ID laws and other restrictions. A federal court would later strike down the North Carolina law, writing it was designed to target African Americans “with almost surgical precision”.

Clearly nothing will change as long as Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, remains a prime arbiter.

A good, thoughtful and provocative review. A major issue.

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Filed under History, London Review of Books, United States, US Elections, US politics

Summoning the ghost of oneself

Those drear post-WW2 years established the dire reputation of British food. One prime example was Camp coffee essence. Coffee in-so-far as the syrup contained all of 4% coffee.

The label haunted my childhood nightmares. Not because, in its original form, it epitomised the racist and imperialist elements of our society — as time went by, the turbaned servant’s complexion lightened, and he was finally allowed a seat beside the white sahib. No: because there on the original on the tray is a bottle of Camp coffee essence. So, logically, were it magnified, on the label of the bottle would be a diminutive replication of  … Oh! You get it! It’s the Siphonaptera:

So, Nat’ralists observe, a Flea
Hath smaller Fleas that on him prey,
And these have smaller yet to bite ’em,
And so proceed ad infinitum:
Thus ev’ry Poet, in his Kind
Is bit by him that comes behind.

Thank you, Doctor Swift: don’t call us, we’ll call you! And … hey-ho! … I have been this way before.

Then, before the Derby Lightweight 79XXX DMUs put in an appearance on East Anglian by-lines, we eager students were conveyed to daily schooling on antiquated rolling stock, behind a Great Eastern Railways D17 4-4-0 .

And here’s another marvel!

Those carriages often had mirrors above the seats: two mirrors, each reflecting the one opposite. So one could see the back of one’s head. And beyond that, another image of one’s face. A whole tunnel of selfs disappearing into a cloudy distance. In truth, because the mirrors were never wholly aligned, the tunnel would swerve, and always to the left.

Meanwhile …

iuBack in real time, I’m re-reading Gore Vidal’s The Golden Age, the seventh and concluding episode of his account of Narratives of Empire.

When it appeared, in 2000, the book was seen as ‘controversial’ because it drove home the notion that FDR had connived, by acts of omission, at Pearl Harbour, and thereby bringing the USA into the War. The book is ‘of its time’: it covers the years episodically from 1939, through the War and post-war to 1954. Which is also the life of Vidal himself from later teenager to successful novelist.

Vidal, but of course, takes the opportunity to pay off a whole clutch of personal grievances. Here, two of the main characters, Peter Sanford and Clay Overbury are predicting the path of various papabili:

Clay stared at the photograph of himself and Truman. “Why now and not in two years? Because after Truman we’re going to have at least eight years of a Republican president. Probably Eisenhower or MacArthur. Then a Democrat. Someone new. Born in this century, not one of these old folks, these holdovers from the coach-and-buggy era. It’s all going to change. Well, for me to be ready in 1960, I’ll need at least eight years of national exposure in the Senate. So that’s what I mean to have.” […]

Clay was on his feet. He stretched. For an instant, Peter thought that Clay had actually arched his back. “Everything’s now in order for me to start the long march. There’s also no one else, which is a help.”

“Hubert Humphrey?”

“Too far to the left. The South won’t take him.”

“Lyndon Johnson?”

“Texas? A bribe-taker? Never.”

“Your fellow congressman Jack Kennedy? His father can outspend my father any day.”

“He’ll be dead by 1960. He’s got no adrenal function. ‘Yellow Jack,’ they call him. Just look at him. He’s a skeleton. No, the field is clear for me.”

“Ten years is a long time to keep any field clear.”

Ummm …

Somehow, Solon the Wise sneaks in here:

Call no man happy until he’s dead.

And here’s another wiseacre creeping into Vidal’s baggy plot:

Peter realized that they knew each other from Washington. Gene Vidal was several years younger than Peter. Each had been at St. Alban’s; each had attended Mrs. Shippen’s; then war had taken Vidal to the Pacific and Peter to the far more perilous corridors of the Pentagon. Now, to Peter’s bemusement, Vidal had dropped his Christian name and as Gore Vidal had published a first novel; a second novel was on the way. Although Peter would have preferred death to reading a book by a Washington contemporary even younger than himself, he had not realized that the book he had read about—some kind of war novel—was by the boy that he had known prewar.

“My mother insists that Gore writes just like Shakespeare,” said Cornelia, causing the young—twenty? twenty-one?—author to blush.

Peter nodded gravely. “With our new civilization we’ll certainly need a Shakespeare sooner or later. Why not you?”

Vidal shook his head sadly. “I could never manage those rhyming couplets at the end of scenes.”

That’s chutzpah. Wholly Vidal. Very Camp.



Filed under Gore Vidal, History, Norfolk, railways, reading, Uncategorized, United States, US Elections, US politics

Casual casualties

I’ll do a quick back-of-an-envelope calculation here.

The United States was at War, from Pearl Harbor until the Japanese surrender, for 1,348 days. In that War, the Unites States suffered 405,399 deaths on active service.

Which my envelope reckons at 300 deaths a day.

Then I read Eric Lutz in Vanity Fair:

Trump and his allies continue to push for a return to normalcy, even if that means tens of thousands more deaths. “Everybody wants to save every life they can,” former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said on CNN Monday. “But the question is, towards what end, ultimately?” Asked by CNN’s Dana Bash if Americans would accept perhaps 3,000 casualties a day, Christie replied: “They’re gonna have to.”

What’s a multiple of ten-fold to the true believer?

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Filed under History, politics, United States, US politics, World War 2

There are some things worse than not being allowed to travel

I’ve just had an on-line exchange over Venice. We shared, to different degrees, our disappointment about the city. I found myself complaining it is somewhere between a gorgeous, but decaying museum piece, and the greatest tourist rip-off on the continent. Which is why I never miss the annual Donna Leon novels, which expose each of its many corruptions. I notice she has now migrated to Switzerland.

A few things spoil Venice for me:

  • the Automobile Club of Venice that confronts one at the car park that is Piazzale Roma — I mean, really?
  • the fact that I once found the perfect bar in Cannaregio. No matter how often I subsequently tried, it was lost and gone forever.
  • the disappointment that is Harry’s Bar.
  • one day, walking one of the canals, I passed an open and very pungent cess-pit. Out of the stygian depth emerged a black frogman figure, dripping in total waterproof. Since when the Venetian sewage system has crept into my darkest nightmares.
  • and then there are the two Ghettos, still with the gates to be locked at curfew, and the memorial to the 205 (or should that be 246+?) victims of the Nazi round-ups.

Only to be visited in winter. Our Pert Young Piece advises Americans off the cruise-liners their newly-bought wellies will fill,  flip-flops work better, when sloshing through Acqua Alta.

I’m not saying Venice is my greatest disappointment — though Venetians persist in their millennium-long pursuit of everybody else’s money. The city undoubtedly has many worthy attractions, and all best seen on a misty day out-of-season. As always, its best delights are the cheaper ones — the vaporetti rides down the Grand Canal, or to Murano (above), Burano — both quieter, more domestic than overpopulated San Marco, out to the Lido, back to the Airport, that come as optional extras once you’ve bought the ACTV weekly ticket. Not quite the free ride of the Staten Island Ferry, which has to be one of the great pluses of any NYC trip.

Cyprus, March 2020

Before the great immurement began, we had a fortnight in Cyprus: that must have been the second prize. Same as Madeira: a week, ten days is quite enough.

Even then, a long afternoon by Paphos harbour, eating pizzas and drinking local wine, with temperatures around 20 degrees, and people-watching ain’t too bad. There’s one particular restaurant on Nicosia’s Ledra Street which looks eminently pass-by-able, but has a delightful secluded courtyard. And when you emerge, replete, turn right and head for the Green Line: one feels almost at home, 1980s Belfast with as much barbed wire and a better climate.

SNCF, Spring 2019

The previous year, early Spring, we headed down to Bordeaux and shuttled back to Paris and Eurostar by stopping trains on a grand cathedral crawl  — Bordeaux, Tours, a swing through the Loire, Orléans, Chartres — you get the idea. That last was to make good on one of my grand disappointments: decades earlier, my first visit to Chartres. We made it, only to find in August — superb as the windows always are — Sunday Mass involved one guy twanging an acoustic guitar.
As a result we were in Notre-Dame a month before the fire. There may be a pattern here: the day before we flew back from JFK we decided a trip up the World Trade Centre could wait to another time. That would have been August 2001.
Earlier in France
One summer we dumped the elder daughters on Granny, and took ourselves off to France. As one does.
We headed west off the ferry (those were the days before Eurotunel) and headed for Le Mans in constant drenching rain.  From there south in search of sun. We hadn’t intended to head that far down to A26 and the N10, but the downpour was unrelenting. A hotel  in Angoulême provided a overnight stay, and a very welcome one — except we had left the window open, and were woken in the early hours by mosquitos. z-z-Z -ouch! A rolled-up newspaper made for mass insecticide. Morning broke — and daylight showed walls splattered with bloodstains. Continental breakfast, pay the bill, and a quick get-away.

It was still wetting down, and we were now past Périgueux. Every cloud, etc. Then we come over the rise of a hill, short of Le Bugue, The sun broke through. Just then we were about to pass (and wisely chose not to) a small hostelry, festooned with those trailing geraniums that I envy, but can never get to grow. Souls were placated by a long, leisurely lunch with crisp white wine.

If Utah didn’t exist, would anyone invent it?

At the top of my disappointments list would have to be the Great State of Utah. The cuisine is appalling. If the Almighty had intended functioning alcoholics to travel he wouldn’t have put all those sights and sites so far apart and in Utah. ‘News’ amounts to CNN and USA Today. Even when we escaped, into Arizona, we were still a-cursed: we put up in a hotel which happened to be in the Navajo lands, and so was ‘dry’. Root-beer features strongly in my list of hates: far, far more unpleasant than the celery soda my son-in-law recommended at Katz’s on East Houston.

Somehow on that trip we drove a stretch of Route 666 — now, to spoil the fun, renumbered US 491. My memory is the road-markers perforated with bullet holes and the astounding road-side quantities of rusting beer cans.

Other groans and griefs: a check-list

I caught a dose of ‘flu — once back home, it put me in hospital overnight— at the festival of Santa Lucia in Siracusa (the Lady in my Life got a tick infection).

Daughters returned from India and Egypt, both with ‘interesting’ stomach complaints that gave the NHS doctors new material for Lancet pieces. ‘Oh! We haven’t seen this before!’ Oddly enough, the infestation Little Brother found in his carpet-underlay evinced a similar response.

EasyJet from Barcelona dumped us at Luton at 2 a.m., when we were supposed to be arriving at Stansted at 10 pm (and the car was, but of course, at Stansted).

The salt-nodules of the Dead Sea shred the flesh (grandson’s one-word appreciation on the Treasury at Petra: ‘Indy‘).

Every time but once, when I paid respects at Yeats’s grave, the Atlantic Ocean belting in horizontally on a force eight. A visit to Lissadell House sticks in the mind mainly for the etched glass window, the stuffed bear, and proof positive the architect, Francis Goodwin, would have served his reputation better had he stuck to town halls and gaols. However, there’s a small giggle to be had, turning off the N15 towards Lissadell, and the board announcing ‘Yeats United FC: next home game’: clearly no great awareness of WBY’s sporting abilities and interests.

As for Irish weather, there was the  English canal-boat operator who was prepared to have a base on the Shannon, provided ‘they build a roof over it’.

Most London gastro-pubs are best appreciated while they are closed.

Most minor museums, and all specialist ones — ethnological ones in particular — should be studiously avoided.

French supermarket wine is, in practice, generally overpriced, and — at the prices I can afford — not the quality of the imported stuff the French scorn.

Las Vegas is the pits.

The New York Metro is a mobile slum; and any major US airport with multiple terminals is ‘confuse-a-cat week’.

And yet … and yet … now I can’t go anywhere for the foreseeable future, I miss it.

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Filed under air travel., travel, United States, WB Yeats, weather

Norfolk trivia

The EDP does one of those monthly colour supplements, as is the norm filled out with property porn, cooking and what-nots. The cover of the May (doesn’t time fly when one is searching for lock-down distractions?) issue is a seller:

The image is from Brancaster, with the weather on the change.

At the other end one encounters the ‘Prize Crossword’ — where the most taxing of the clues involves spelling the name of Murial, Meril, Meryl Streep (the Norfolk connection is Castle Rising used as a location in Out of Africa). Even so, that is what provoked this posting.

18 Down: heir to the chocolate empire

This is Major Egbert Cadbury, third generation of the Birmingham chocolatiers-to-the-masses.

On 4 August 1918 the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte launched its final Zeppelin raid of the War. Three of the five airships were spotted from the lightship on the Leman and Ower shoal, off Yarmouth. Major Cadbury, and his gunner, Captain Robert Leckie, took off in a DH4 from Yarmouth Denes:

Immediately on leaving Yarmouth, I sighted three Zeppelin airships to N.E. distant about forty miles, steering west at a slow speed, and I gave chase. At approximately 21.45 the Zeppelins, which were ‘lying in “V” formation, altered course North. At 22.10 ‘Zeppelin abeam 2,000 feet above us at 17,000 feet. At 22.20 we had climbed to 16,400 feet, and I attacked Zeppelin head on, slightly to port so as to clear any obstruction that might be suspended from airship. My observer trained his gun on the bow of the airship and the fire was seen to concentrate on a spot under the Zeppelin 3/4 way aft.

[Cadbury’s report]

Zeppelin L70 caught fire, and crashed into the sea, killing all twenty-one of its crew, including Kapitän-zur-See Peter Strasser, the Führer der Luftschiffe. That was the third ‘kill’ by Cadbury and Leckie.

I mean, putting aside a night-chase on a darkening Norfolk late-summer evening, how difficult can that have been? The L-70 was over 200 metres in length, and pootled along at a maximum 130 km/h. It was kept aloft by 62,000 cubic metres of inflammable hydrogen gas — and the British had devised incendiary bullets. Its size and reflective skin made it highly visible. Its one advantage over the DH-4 was altitude.

The wreck was discovered in eight fathoms of water, off the north Norfolk coast, and all the bodies recovered or were washed ashore. Burials were at sea.

25 Across: Temperance Flowerdew

Oooh, yes! Now here’s a real find!

When Anthony Flowerdew of Hethersett took a wife, she was Martha Stanley of Scottow: all the way from the opposite side of Norwich. Some twenty kilometres distance. Their daughter was Temperance, born 1590: there may nee a clue to religious persuasion in that very Puritan forename. She married Richard Barrow, in London, on 29 April 1609. Together, in 2 June, the newly-wed Burrows embarked on the Falcon from Plymouth for the Virginia colony at Jamestown.

The attrition of the ‘starving winter’ of 1609-10 did for many settlers — and we can assume Richard Barrow was one. Eligible females were in short supply at Jamestown, and in the following years the widow Barrow married George Yeardley, very much the coming man. Yeardley had a military background — he had served in the wars in the Low Countries. He rose from the guard to be Lieutenant Governor, which seems to have required a trip back to London for confirmation (in the course of which he received detailed instructions on how to develop the governing of the colony). It also brought him a knighthood — so Temperance Yeardley became the first titled lady of Anglo-America.

The re-organising of the colony was desperately needed: Samuel Argall as acting governor had been near-incompetent. Yeardley promulgated the ‘Great Charter’ (no: not a royal document, but one prescribed by the Virginia Company). This installed English common law, rather than the previous military law, and established universal male suffrage — a form of democratic control had been introduced to America.

Yeardley had prudently snaffled a substantial land-claim for himself — something like a thousand acres. He needed labour: by coincidence a cargo of fifty or sixty Angolan captives came to Virginia: the Spanish slave-ship San Juan Bautista had been pillaged by two English privateers and their ‘take’ landed in Virginia. The prominent citizens of the colony bought for victuals these new arrivals. The precise status of these Africans was unclear, so the distinction between ‘slave’ and ‘indentured labour’ was left hanging. Yeardley had eight of these labourers on his estate, the ‘Flowerdew Hundred’.

Sir George Yeardley died, considerably wealthy from exporting 300 hogsheads of tobacco a year, in November 1627. By then he was Governor of the royal colony of Virginia. His widow remarried the following year, 1628, to the new Governor, Francis West. She had the determination to make sure the Flowerdew estate remained in her name until her own death, shortly after.

A couple of years ago, the still-intact 1323 acres of the Flowerdew Hundred, complete with the grandest of plantation houses (on the National Register of Historic Places), came up for auction. 




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Filed under History, Norfolk, Uncategorized, United States


It’s not often the Oxford English Dictionary fails to trace an etymology, but in this case, it does:

slang (orig. and chiefly U.S.). With the. Detailed and esp. confidential information about a person or topic, ‘the low-down’; (also more generally) news, gossip.

Though I suspect the Senate vote on the “skinny” Health Care Bill was more about:

orig. U.S. A cup of coffee or a coffee-based beverage made with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk

Meaning: thin, unsustainting, not nutricious, less than stimulating, more for appearance than any real benefit.

Now to Nate Silver on The vote has just gone down on the defection of Senators Collins, McCain and Murkowski. We knew two of those would be hold-outs, but we were meant to be surprised by John McCain. As if he hadn’t signalled already …

This is usually the time when FiveThirtyEight would say “let’s not get too carried away …” but, well, this is one of those times when you should maybe get carried away? It’s not really a surprise that the bill failed. It always had a lot of problems, and Republicans didn’t come close to passing straight repeal or BCRA in the Senate in earlier votes. But that it failed in a way that will be so embarrassing to both McConnell and Trump is noteworthy and will have all sorts of implications for Republicans.

Enough already.

But there were a couple of “issues”.

Lisa Ann Muskowski has been around some time — she’s been the Senator for Alaska since 2002. Go to that official web-page and find that she has established clearly her “red lines”:

… many provisions of the ACA that have worked for Alaska that Senator Murkowski believes should be retained. Those provisions are:

  • Prohibitions on the discrimination for pre-existing conditions

  • No annual or lifetime limits

  • Coverage up to age 26

  • Continuation of coverage afforded under Medicaid Expansion

  • Maintaining access to Planned Parenthood facilities

This is a lady who has seen off the Alaskan Republicans previously: they tried to elbow her out in the 2010 Primary, so she went for a write-in campaign, and took out the ‘official’ GOP nominee (a Tea Party and Palin face)  by four clear points. The sheer bone-headedness of the Trump Administration is — yet again — on show trying to rough up the lady. Or, as Silver has it:

the Interior Department’s threats to screw over Alaska — presumably ordered by the White House

See it here:

Another indicator was the way some republican Senators kept their powder dry. Heller (Rep, Nevada) and Sasse (Rep. Nebraska) held their votes back until it was clear they could vote with their party leadership without disturbing the outcome. Ah, c’mon! Done it myself in London Borough politics: once you know the party has the votes, a pointless show of principle becomes easier. In this case, it works the other way: a show of partisan loyalty would be cheap compared to putting the boot into the higher-ups.

So here we are, relishing the aggravation caused Trump and McConnell. It looks as if the weirdo fringes have been consigned back into their boxes. McConnell is begging Democratic input (and — as things stand — it’s only too easy to watch the GOP leadership swivelling in the wind).

But the real Democrat goodies are still there for the taking. This session has not produced the repeal of ObamaCare, and there is no reason to believe much will change. Effectively, then, we are half-way to the mid-terms. There’s something in The West Wing about the short windows of political opportunity in the American system. If a decision doesn’t get actioned in the first six or eight months of a term, it runs up against the next electoral cycle. So: strike one to the Dems.

Then there are 49 GOP Senators and over two hundred members of the House who bear the mark-of-Cain on TrumpCare. Short of actually dumping on twenty million or more suddenly deprived of health-care (and resentful about it) that can’t be bad party politics.

But above all, here’s another aggrieved citizen — but this one with a soapbox:

“Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski is declaring it “Failure Friday” for President Trump, saying that if you want to know what failure looks like, “just take a look at the last 36 hours of the Trump presidency.”


Filed under health, History, The West Wing, underclass, United States, US Elections, US politics


This could be fun:

Factually (says wikipedia):

  • Greater London is 607 square miles;
  • Luxembourg is 998.6 square miles;
  • Delaware is 1,982 square miles;
  • Wales is 2428 square miles.


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Filed under Britain, Europe, Evening Standard, Guardian, London, United States

And we wonder about the phenomenon that is Trump?

As I understand:

  • Only 35% of American have passports.
  • Perhaps as few as 2-3% of Americans venture beyond their national boundaries in a year.
  • And, as Doonesbury reminds us (today from 1988):

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Filed under Doonesbury, United States, US Elections, US politics

“We’re taking names …”

Here’s The Hill:

New U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley on Friday warned the international governing body’s members against crossing the U.S.

“There is a new U.S.-U.N.,” she said during her first speech at U.N. headquarters. “We talked to the staff yesterday and you are gonna see a change in the way we do business.”

“Our goal, with the [Trump] administration, is to show value at the U.N.,” added Haley, the former GOP governor of South Carolina. “The way we’ll show value is to show our strength, show our voice, have the backs of our allies and make sure that our allies have our back as well.

“For those who don’t have our back, we’re taking names.”

To those of a certain age, a certain political “bent”, a certain cultural awareness, that takes us back — all the way to 1962.

There it was:

Oh we’re meeting at the courthouse at eight o’clock tonight:
You just come in the door and take the first turn to the right.
Be careful when you get there, we’d hate to be bereft,
But we’re taking down the names of everybody turning left.

Oh we’re the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society—
Here to save our country from a communistic plot!
Join the John Birch Society, help us fill the ranks:
To get this movement started, we need lots of tools and cranks.

What goes around, comes around. 

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Filed under folk music, United States, US politics

The not-so-great and the not-so-good, revisited: an extended intro

A while back I attempted a succession of these: blog-efforts on rediscovered and overlooked characters, mainly from Irish history. Many of them were scions and by-products of the Ascendancy.

But first the prologue (the main event is the next post):

The Tory-people-friendly UK government press offices put out a couple of images of the Chancellor:

cx8rag4weaaauib-jpg-large cx8ze-pxaaa_mfd

Th estimable @JohnRentoul nailed one of the portraits:

William Pitt the Younger on the left, I think. Who’s on the right?

While I was rootling madly through the Government’s Art collection, the answer came from elsewhere:

Gordon, John Watson; Sir George Cornewall Lewis (1806-1863), 2nd Bt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Editor of the 'Edinburgh Review'; Government Art Collection;

Gordon, John Watson; Sir George Cornewall Lewis (1806-1863), 2nd Bt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Editor of the ‘Edinburgh Review’.

Not a “well-known” name, but Lewis deserves a bit of a boost — around 1862 — stone-walling the ultras who wanted the UK to go for the Confederates in the American Civil War.

His origins were in the Welsh Marches, but his Irish connection was a worthy one.

As  a young, rising, and talented lawyer, freshly-minted by the Middle Temple, with an interest in the “public service”, in 1833 Lewis  became “an assistant commissioner of the inquiry into the condition of the poorer classes of Ireland”. He spent some time in 1834 researching the problems among the Irish diaspora across the developing industrial towns of England. Then he turned to the state of Irish education, which took him into heavy reading on the land question and on the Irish established church.

Out of that, in 1836, came a substantial document:  On Local Disturbances in Ireland; and on the Irish Church Question:


Don’t rush past that: note the dedication. Charles Sumner was in England in 1838, as part of a European tour. Sumner would go on to be a potent force in American politics, as an abolitionist, founding member of the Republican Party, and Radical during the Reconstruction.

Lewis’s book was seminal in looking to balance the ecclesiastical situation in Ireland, by ‘concurrent endowment’ (he invented the term), and in advocating ‘a legal provision for the poor’, which amounted to applying to Ireland the principles of the 1834 English poor law. It doesn’t need a genius to spot where that one would go adrift in the Great Famine, particularly as Lewis was also rejecting ‘the principle that it is the duty of the state to find employment for the people’.

Rapid promotion

lewisLewis became Chancellor of the Exchequer in a wholly mid-Victorian manner.

His father died in January 1855, and Lewis inherited the baronetcy and, on 8th February 1855, unopposed, the seat as MP for the Radnorshire boroughs. On 22nd February he became Gladstone’s successor at the Treasury, and on 28th February a Privy Councillor.

We might wonder at Phillip Hammond’s choice of such a figure, to look over his shoulder in the study of Number 11, Downing Street.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

First, am I wholly adrift in seeing some facial similarities between the image on the right, and Hammond, himself?

Second, Lewis came to the Chancellorship in a moment of financial crisis — how to pay for the Crimean War. Hammond has even greater problems, in the aftermath of the #Brexit vote.

Allow me to filch from the Dictionary of National Biography:

Lewis remained chancellor until the government was defeated in February 1858. Gladstone at first was helpfulness incarnate to his successor, but Lewis deviated from Gladstone’s canons of financial rectitude, especially with respect to the question of whether to finance the Crimean War by taxation or by loans. Lewis faced a severe crisis in the nation’s finances, brought on by a war more prolonged and expensive than anyone had expected. His first budget, on 20 April 1855, had to meet a deficit of £23 million. Lewis raised £16 million by a loan, £3 million by exchequer bills (later increased to £7 million), and the remaining £4 million by raising income tax from the already high 14d. to 16d. in the pound and by raising indirect taxes. The £68 million thus raised was easily the largest sum raised up to this time by a British government. Lewis’s budget set aside the Gladstonian view that war abroad should be met by corresponding taxation-pain at home but, in terms of practical politics, financing by loans (to which Lewis resorted again in his second budget of 19 May 1856) was probably unavoidable if Palmerston’s government was to survive. In 1855 Lewis carried through the Commons the Newspaper Stamp Duties Bill, an inheritance from Gladstone and an important step in repealing the ‘taxes on knowledge’ (as the duties on newspapers and paper were called). Lewis’s policy of loans meant excellent commissions and profits for the City of London, which greatly preferred him to Gladstone.

Such parallel: almost uncanny.


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