Sunday, 18 January 2015

Style - who and what has it

      I get enormous fun out of places with STYLE. Rabat and Tangier have it but Tunis doesn't and Dubai certainly doesn't. Odessa has it but the Baltic States do not. Split has it, Budapest I suppose, Madrid, Tbilisi. Expensive London has it, Aleppo had it alas, Havana despite the tourists has it
      The Island of Mozambique has it to overflowing, but now I am showing off. 

      Italy has it, more than anywhere else. France has it, but Greece doesn't. Brussels and Amsterdam don't have it at all nor anywhere in Germany except Berlin. Istanbul has it but you have to look in the working-class Fatih district. Bucharest had it before Communism and it still has it, in its own way, despite the new Old Town (which is anyway not so bad yet) and the satanic malls.

      Style is like an elephant. I recognise it immediately but can't define it. 

      The old restaurant TicTac near Cismigiu, a relic of the 1980s where Ion Laceanu sang each night, had it but the new ultra-expensive Diplomatic Club restaurant also has it in its way - a style I thought of in the early 2000s as 'PSD chic'. It goes with sports cars and beautiful brunettes. Casa Vernescu (old fashioned grand) and lots of cheap terraces had it. The old broken streets of the historic centre of Bucharest have it - but not when they are renovated. They are always renovated in ghastly style. Late 19th century hotels with ancient wrought-iron lifts had it before they were renovated. The old men playing chess in Cismigiu park have it and the House of the Writers housed in a magnificent shabby genteel villa.

      Arthur Balfour was the most stylish British Prime Minister and I was going to say the only one, but both Benjamin Disraeli and Churchill had style too in their idiosyncratic ways. I am not sure Shakespeare had style but Christopher Marlowe certainly did. Alexander Pope had it and Byron did when he wrote Don Juan. 
      Leslie Charteris had style, John Buchan a writer I hugely prefer didn't. 

      Brighton has A LOT of style, Southend-on-Sea, my native place, not a shred. Oxford and Cambridge have style, other English universities, well, never mind. Despite the liturgy and 1960s chasubles, Catholicism has style, especially Pope Benedict XVI. Since the Second Vatican Council, at least, Orthodoxy has more. Women priests do not have it, nor single-sex weddings.

      Wilde and Saki had it. The late Anita Ekberg had it to some extent, Doris Day didn't. Anna Chancellor has it, Diana Rigg had it, William Powell had it in spades in The Thin Man films. Raymond Chandler had so much it wasn't true, Dashiell Hammett didn't, despite writing the novel of The Thin Man. The English countryside has it. So does the Romanian countryside. I'm not sure the Irish countryside does, except the Mountains of Mourne.

      The place with least style I think I ever visited is the Hotel Carol Park, a six star hotel in Bucharest, but some other Romanian-owned 'good' hotels in Bucharest are little better.
      Indrei Ratiu very sweetly told me we had it. 

Saturday, 17 January 2015

A young boy thinks girls are genetically programmed for housework

Victor Beltran, a 12 year old boy, has won the Junior Masterchef competition in Spain but become notorious for saying, when contestants were asked to clean their stoves,
“My goodness, I’m surrounded by girls, and girls already know how to clean because of genetics.”
Rocío, a 12-year old girl, immediately warned him,
“Eh, eh, eh, watch what you say.”
He was then ordered to clean the entire kitchen as a punishment but his punishment has continued in the media. His mother was abjectly apologetic, the Spanish media mortified. 

How far things have changed since General Franco's day. The Generalissimo forbade married women to go out to work.

The Guardian, unsurprisingly, felt the story would appeal to its readers and you can read the article here. The comments under the article are fun, the ones that the Guardian moderator did not remove. I wonder what the ones that were removed said.

I liked this informative comment:

He couldn't be further from the truth
Women may enjoy cleaning more, but the average female's kitchen is about 5x more dangerous because they use the same wash cloth on multiple surfaces, generally spreading bacteria around, whereas men rely more on antibacterial products 
Also interesting to note a woman's handbag harbours more bacteria than a toilet
And the inevitable immediate response to this comment:
The Daily Mail? Nice choice. 
The comment on the Mail got 47 likes. On the internet, whenever anyone posts a link to or quotes the Daily Mail, the subject immediately changes from whatever was being discussed to the Mail. The Daily Mail is the sin eater of British life.

The Guardian readership inhabit their own time-space continuum, contiguous with but distinct from our world. The legendary editor of the Daily Telegraph (and model for William Boot in ScoopWilliam Deedes used to read the Guardian letters page each day for laughs but it has always frightened me.

Sexual and racial equality and homosexuality have taken the place of the sacred in Catholic Spain as much as everywhere else in Western Europe and the boy has gravely offended against this secular religion's fundamental tenets. Being only 12 mitigates the offence, but only partly.

Still the Guardian writer possibly felt slightly sorry for the boy, despite everything. She ends her story with his poignant words
“Everyone took it as if I were an adult, but I’m just a kid.”

Thursday, 15 January 2015

I love how Jewish and how Middle Eastern Christianity is

I love how Jewish and how Middle Eastern Christianity is. Though I also love Belloc's line
'The Faith is Europe, and Europe is the faith' 
(this, alas, will seem quaint in twenty years' time). What I don't love is how growing up in a Protestant country makes people feel religion is grey, depressing, half-alive. It is not - and especially not in Romania. 

Religion is mysticism. Romanians know this which is an important reason why Romania is so endlessly fascinating a place in which to live.

Freedom of speech lasted three days

French belief in freedom of speech lasted three days. Dieudonné M’bala M’bala a comedian was arrested in France on an accusation of being “an apologist for terrorism”, after saying on Facebook
 “Know that this evening, as far as I’m concerned, I’m feeling Charlie Coulibaly”. 
In other words instead of saying, as officially approved,
Je suis Charlie
he was combining Charlie Hebdo with the surname of the man who killed Jews in the kosher supermarket.
He could go to prison for up to seven years if found guilty.
The BBC says
What sophistry. Freedom of speech means the freedom to say what you like. It includes the freedom to offend. In fact, the freedom to offend people is another way of saying freedom of speech. Freedom to say inoffensive things isn't freedom at all. Obviously freedom of speech most certainly includes the freedom to express racist ideas and to make faulty historical judgments and to say it's repulsive to see men holding hands in public.
Under French law, however, you only have the freedoms the law gives you (in Britain you are free to do whatever you are not forbidden to do). And in France freedom of speech does not extend to incitement to hatred or racism, anti-Semitism or homophobia, etc.
I passionately believe the Armenian genocide happened and should be publicised, but everyone is entitled to say no it didn't. Except in France they are not. In France expressing this view is a crime. Muslims ask why their religion is less important than the Christians whom they massacred. The Muslims have a point.

Why can't people choose this moment to make a plea to legalise all manner of speech and go back to the freedom of speech people enjoyed in say 1990? That would be a fitting memorial to the people murdered. Though it would not please the French Arabs.
Actually, I am not sure whether the murdered journalists were always in favour of freedom of speech themselves. Like most people outside France I don't know too much about Charlie Hebdo but I know they were on the left and the magazine  petitioned the President of France to have the National Front banned as its ideals were incompatible with the Declaration of the Rights of Man. 

Incidentally, Charlie Hebdo does seem to have had a double standard when it comes to offending Jews and offending Muslims. The magazine fired a writer for an allegedly anti-Semitic column. He was prosecuted for the article which linked being Jewish with social success. On this point the founder of Charlie Hebdo agrees with me. He also blames the murdered editor for 'dragging the team to their deaths' by overdoing the provocative cartoons.

This story has revealed what is really sacred in Europe, in case we somehow had not known before. It's not God, not Christianity, nor of course Islam, and certainly not free speech either, but racial equality, along with sexual equality and homosexuality. In the USA, God and free speech precede equality.

Maurice Cowling was exactly right when he said
Secularisation so far from involving liberation from religion, has involved merely liberation from Christianity and the establishment in its place of a modern religion whose advocates so much assume its truth that they do not understand that it is a religion to which they are committed.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

French National Assembly spontaneously sings the Marseillaise

After a moment of silence to remember the victims of the people murdered in Paris, the French National Assembly yesterday broke into a spontaneous rendition of La Marseillaise, for the first time since the Germans surrendered on 11 November 1918.

I detest the French Republic and wish they would restore the monarchy. The Marseillaise is the song of one part of France, not of France. It was republican anticlerical ideals that made the cartoonists publish their cartoons, of course, for good or ill - mostly for ill. 

The words of the Marseillaise are about beheading anyone who doesn't go along with the ideals of the revolutionaries. The deputies sang this in protest against young men who killed people who offended their ideals.  

But this spontaneous singing is nevertheless very moving. Like the scene in the film, Casablanca. 

I hope the French wake up after these killings and tackle their Muslim problem, but they won't.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

More about the Charlie Hebdo massacre, if you can bear any more

A French police commissioner has reportedly killed himself after meeting relatives of a victim murdered in the Charlie Hebdo massacre. These very sad stories that reality writes. If it were in a novel you would throw the novel down and not pick it up again. Such grand guignol. I wonder why, when I was growing up, I thought the age I lived in was grey and dull.

Meanwhile the wife of the al-Qaeda man who mentored the Charlie Hebdo murderers is living on benefits in Leicester. She came to England with her children in search of a more "Islamic environment". 

Andrew Gilligan has a ghastly story about how many dangers Britian faces from Muslim extremists here.

A Syrian Facebook friend posted these moving words.

I am Iman, a Syrian citizen. I hereby declare to all, that I am against any form of terrorism, of any kind, likewise; I'm against any kind of sarcasm against ANY RELIGION. Those who killed the journalists in Charlie Hebdo are the same extremists who've been sabotaging my country for almost four years now under a fake goal that is called FREEDOM, and they have nothing to do with Islam, nor with any religion on earth, so let the whole world make an effort to demolish the devil, let the whole world rise against the enemies of God and all mankind. Blessed be my country and all our martyrs! Bless all Humanity!

Monday, 12 January 2015

'Liberals', not Muslims, are the enemies of freedom

In France it is the government, not Muslim extremists, who prevent free speech and in the UK it is, of course, exactly the same story. 

Our old enemy the ideas of the French Revolution are behind the disgraceful Charlie Hebdo cartoons, but this does not mean murder is any less dreadful. This is an explanation of why the leaders of Europe are not interested in free speech - only free expression of liberal ideas. 

You can offend religion, or the religious. That is fine. But you cannot offend the secularists Gods of Equality and Diversity for instance.
Had Charlie Hebdo been an anti Islam, nationalist paper the deaths wouldn't have been mourned by politicians in the same way, but they published these things for republican (in the French anti-clerical sense of the word), liberal reasons. That's why the leaders turned out, not abstract belief in free speech. Imagine had the Le Pens been killed.

French satirists had demanded that Pegida (the German anti-Islam movement) should not commemorate their killed colleagues using their demonstrations. To ridicule Pegida, the satirists used a 80s-type bald, tattooed skinhead. The problem with that is that the caricature is pretty much off target: Pegida is a crowd of regular folks worrying about job security and the confrontation with novelty.

German officials forbade Pegida to use the Charlie Hebdo caricatures during their demonstrations. And one German minister demanded that the Pegida demonstrations should be forbidden. The irony is that during these demonstrations there was never any mockery or hate speech - organisers always demanded a respectful tone from their participants knowing they were being observed world wide. So much for the German government's commitment to free speech.

Meanwhile, a French police commissioner has reportedly killed himself after meeting relatives of a victim murdered in the Charlie Hebdo massacre. These very sad stories that reality writes. If it were in a novel you would throw the novel down and not pick it up again. Such grand guignol. I wonder why, when I was growing up, I thought the age I lived in was grey and dull. (But the 1960s and 1970s were grey and dull, even though a man landed on the moon and the Cold War divided the world into two.)

And the wife of the al-Qaeda man who mentored the Charlie Hebdo murderers is living on benefits in Leicester. She came to England with her children in search of a more "Islamic environment". 

Andrew Gilligan has a ghastly story about how many dangers Britian faces from Muslim extremists here.

A Syrian Facebook friend of mine, the daughter of a mixed marriage (Christian-Muslim, these almost always end in divorce in the Arab world), posted these moving words.

I am Iman, a Syrian citizen. I hereby declare to all, that I am against any form of terrorism, of any kind, likewise; I'm against any kind of sarcasm against ANY RELIGION. Those who killed the journalists in Charlie Hebdo are the same extremists who've been sabotaging my country for almost four years now under a fake goal that is called FREEDOM, and they have nothing to do with Islam, nor with any religion on earth, so let the whole world make an effort to demolish the devil, let the whole world rise against the enemies of God and all mankind. Blessed be my country and all our martyrs! Bless all Humanity!

Neagu Djuvara: the killings in Paris are part of an inevitable Muslim conquest of Europe

The distinguished Romanian historian Neagu Djuvara, who is 98, said on Saturday that he believes that the recent murders in France are a step in a process by which Europe will be conquered by Muslims, who are taking a revenge for the conquest of Muslim lands by the European powers in the 19th century. There is now nothing that we can do, he says, to stop this process. 

Neagu Djuvara outlined his theory of the rise and fall of civilisations in 1975 in his Civilisations et lois historiques, Essai d'étude comparée des civilisations.

His bleak prognosis, for those who read Romanian (or for those who understand Google translate), is here. He thinks Europe will, in time, be ruled by Arabs and gypsies.

American hegemony, which kept world peace for so long, will not last much longer. Europeans lack ideals and have stopped having children. The West has thus created a vacuum which people from the Third World will fill. It is a universal law, he says, that civilisations burn themselves out and disappear.

I think that his points about immigration being about to transform Europe for the worse are right and that Western civilisation is in decline. What great writers, painters, artists or thinkers have appeared since 1950? None. I am not sure I believe in a Muslim conquest of Europe but it is possible. I am sure, however, that a war on Islam would be exactly what the extremists most want. As they wanted the Americans' reaction to September 11th. 

The German television station ZDF recently reported that half the population of Germany would be immigrant-descended in fifty years' time. A German Christian Democrat MP, one Martin Gillo, even apparently put this on his website (but then took it down).

“According to current calculations, people with an immigration background will be the majority of the [German] population as early as 2035. That is less than a generation… A new age begins in 2035! It will be an age when we ethnic Germans become a minority in our country. How will we be treated then? Friendly, courteously and as belonging to the “Future Germans”? Or will we be satisfied to at least be tolerated as a protected minority?”

He welcomed this new age but 2035 was a big mistake on his part and much too soon. Only about 5% or 6% of the population of Germany are probably Muslims nowadays. 9.1% of all newborn babies in Germany had Muslim parents back in 2005.

I agree with Robert Reich who made made this point yesterday.
Few ideas are as wrong-headed and dangerous as the notions that the West is engaged in a "clash of civilisations" with the Muslim world, or that we are at "war" with radical Islam. The vast majority of Muslims are moderate, they have nothing to do with radical Islam, and they eschew violence. Radical Islam itself is not a unified force or a movement; it's a set of gangs manoeuvring for dominance over other gangs, and using violence mostly against other Muslims. But the extremists would like nothing better than for the West to embrace the notions of a clash of civilisations, or a "war" against a coherent organisation, because these ideas give them legitimacy, enhance their appearance of power, and give them more resources and recruits.

Did we learn nothing from the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq?

Muslim extremists represent a fifth column in Europe, a huge danger and a strong argument that mass immigration into Western Europe was not a good idea. However, nothing could be more disastrous than a situation where most Muslims in Western Europe resent the governments which rule them and the non-Muslims around them.  This development is possible, is what the bad men want and must be avoided at almost all costs.

At the same time, we should reduce immigration into Europe from the developing world to a trickle, otherwise indigenous Europeans will in time, perhaps in less than a century, become a minority in Europe.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

In praise of hot baths

Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression.

So said Dodie Smith in that wonderful book,  I Capture the Castle, but I think she was talking about feeling low, not about depression. 

On the net I just came across hot baths described as liquid psychotherapy, which makes me feel I should not rush them so fast. I have some back problems after going around Europe with heavy baggage and I find somewhere else on the net that tells me that hot baths not ice are the best treatment. How nice to know.

In any case baths are wonderful. Sir John Betjeman made fun of them though, in 'Business Girls':

From the geyser ventilators
Autumn winds are blowing down
On a thousand business women
Having baths in Camden Town

Waste pipes chuckle into runnels,
Steam's escaping here and there,
Morning trains through Camden cutting
Shake the Crescent and the Square.

Early nip of changeful autumn,
Dahlias glimpsed through garden doors,
At the back precarious bathrooms
Jutting out from upper floors;

And behind their frail partitions
Business women lie and soak,
Seeing through the draughty skylight
Flying clouds and railway smoke.

Rest you there, poor unbelov'd ones,
Lap your loneliness in heat.
All too soon the tiny breakfast,
Trolley-bus and windy street!

Baths I realise are zen and about finding calm. If, as Gibbon said, solitude is the school of genius calm is too - and hot baths the mothers of many deep thoughts. One of the very few blogs I actually read, Zen Habits, agrees, though I have no wish to have bubble baths or a subsequent cold shower.

I bath every day though I consider it rather middle-class for men to do so - or to shower each day. Showers are un-English and newfangled, for continentals, Americans and commercial travellers.

A textbook in English that we used at school when I was 8 in the 60s but published in the 30s (even at a young age I always looked first at the copyright date when I opened books) mentioned in an exercise for teaching grammar that it was normal to bath once a week. In my first job at the House of Lords i noticed my 2 great friends, one Eton and Oxford, the other Winchester and Cambridge, both related to peers, wore their shirts two days running, as in those days did I. We all took our clothes home to our mothers to be washed, except the Etonian, whose father's housekeeper did it and our two married colleagues who had their wives do it.

I wonder how often Dr. Johnson, who had 'no passion' for clean linen, bathed, no doubt in a hip bath. Old man Steptoe had his weekly bath in the kitchen sink in Steptoe and Son. This was eccentric but it was usually for working class men to bath once a week in the 1940s.

However I feel women should be much cleaner than men and was surprised to see that in England four out of five women don't shower every day or bath. Still, as one might expect, frequent showers and baths remove natural oils that the skin produces and thereby dry up the skin. Doctors advise against daily baths and advise only washing the hair once a week, apparently.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Quotations in the time of the siege of Paris (2015 not 1870)

There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn't. Leonard Cohen

You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you. Leon Trotsky

France took Algeria, hoping for a country to eat cassoulet and instead it is France that is eating couscous. Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Islamaphobia - a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons. Christopher Hitchens

In the modern world, the political role of Islam, internationally as well as domestically, differs significantly from that of its peer and rival, Christianity. The heads of state or ministers of foreign affairs of the Scandinavian countries and Germany do not from time to time foregather in a Lutheran summit conference. Nor was it customary, when the Soviet Union still existed, for its rulers to join with those of Greece and Yugoslavia and, temporarily forgetting their political and ideological differences, to hold regular meetings on the basis of their current or previous adherence to the Orthodox Church. Similarly, the Buddhist nations of East and Southeast Asia, the Catholic nations of southern Europe and South America, do not constitute Buddhist or Catholic blocs at the United Nations, nor for that matter in any other political activities.

The very idea of such a grouping, based on religious identity, might seem to many modern Western observers absurd or even comic. But it is neither absurd nor comic in relation to Islam. Some fifty-five Muslim governments, including monarchies and republics, conservatives and revolutionaries, practitioners of capitalism and disciples of various kinds of socialism, friends and enemies of the United States, and exponents of whole spectrum of shades of neutrality, have built an elaborate apparatus of international consultation and even, on some issues, of cooperation. They hold regular high-level conferences, and, despite differences of structure, ideology, and policy, have achieved a significant measure of agreement and common action. Bernard Lewis.

Friday, 2 January 2015

All men are chums

‘All men are chums, who will never leave each other in the lurch. A chum doesn’t forgive, he just forgets — women forgive everything but never forget. Being forgiven is very unpleasant.’ 

Tove Jansson, who I discover from the current Spectator was a woman herself.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Christmas 1914

The current edition of the Spectator quotes the leading article for the Christmas edition of 1914: 
We are not going to write a Christmas article on palm boughs and olive branches and the Angel of Peace. Not only is there no peace in sight for the world at the moment, but any talk of peace before our enemies are beaten, or even half beaten, and while their ambition, their hatred, and, if you will, their folly are at full blaze, could only tend to prolong the war. What we and our allies have got to let the world know just now is that, in General Grant’s words, altered to suit the season, we pro- pose to ‘fight it out on these lines all winter’ — yes, and all spring and all summer and all autumn, too, if necessary. For abstract talk about the joys of perpetual peace, about men growing saner and wiser and nobler, and about our banning the horrors and wickedness of war in the age to come, an epoch when the Powers will go to some Peace Tribunal as the good citizen to the County Court, we are even less inclined. Perpetual peace is no doubt obtainable at a price, but, to speak quite plainly, that price as set forth in any of the schemes we have ever seen is too high to pay even for that blessing, great as we willingly admit it is. The price is the abandonment of true liberty by the nations and the establishment of a vast tyranny, even if it be a beneficent tyranny, controlled conceivably by a Committee instead of a despot. And even that price, heavy as it must be, might not suffice.
I find these words very moving and noble. Germany and Austria Hungary did invade small countries in 1914 and we had a casus belli. As we had for going to war when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Our case was just but we made a terrible mistake in 1914 and probably in 1939.

Why the West won and North Africa is poor

I love the Moroccan town of Taroudant where I am lazing away three or four days and I shall write about it shortly.

Poverty stricken Morocco brings to my mind this theory of how Islam and goats may have ruined North Africa and the Middle East. I am not sure who Emmett Scott is and I do not know if he has any academic credentials but he also wrote this.

Bernard Lewis in What Went Wrong? dismissed in one sentence the possibility that Islam might be the reason that the Islamic world is backward - he simply said that this is disproved by the fact that in the Middle Ages the Islamic world was more advanced. But this will not do. It's self evident that it is Christianity that made the difference. A schoolboy can see it. 

But curiously Christianity begat the enlightenment and loss of faith while Islam did not.

This book which someone recommended to me today seeks to explain how Christianity made the West supreme.