Once more into the breach – abortion

A young Nat, hanging out with Charles Mingus

For many people abortion is about the sanctity of life. This deeply rooted belief often has a religious underpinning. Of course it would, and no shame there. It doesn’t have to be a religious argument though.

One of the problems I have with the abortion debate is that we end up talking from entirely different premises. I have no issue discussing matters with someone who is pro-abortion, but nevertheless avoids equivocating about what it is – taking a life. I actually get the utilitarian argument that it solves an immediate ‘problem’ – even if it creates a myriad more.

So what do atheists think about it? Naturally many of them go down the well worn path of moral relativity and making judgements about ‘quality of life’ etc etc.

But not all. Consider lefty polymath Nat Hentoff, jazz guru and author of hundreds of insightful sleeve notes, among many other accomplishments. Also, the gritty maverick Christopher Hitchens. Both are now dead, both held the line against the moral blurring behind which so many people hide.

Here, from a fine article are their views in a nutshell…

2018-07-15 (28)

I don’t think the answer to this very real crisis in our world is to criminalise women who have abortions. Ultimately it all comes down to a personal moral issue, and I am very aware that it can be unimaginably difficult for those in the middle. However, Hitchens and Hentoff are both factually correct. To claim otherwise recalls the great Sir Michael Dummett’s quote on the perils of moral relativism:

“it will bring down a curse upon us worse than that which God called down on the builders of Babel; rather than our speaking different languages, not to be speaking a genuine language at all.”


Lest we forget: the reality of #terrorism

So much of the harsh reality of life is glossed over. We’re shielded from pictures of abortion, given its intrinsic horror, despite convulsing over it in public debate, war pictures are always empty rubble filled streets (in the UK media) – not body parts etc. And because of certain tensions, terrorism, which is hardly on the decline, is primarily viewed almost as a political and societal challenge, as opposed to violent murder.

So it’s a painful, if salutary, experience to appreciate what actually happens to people – victims and families. Here is an extract from an article on the somewhat dishonest debate on the confirmation of Gina Haspel as the new CIA Director.

Gordon Haberman concurs: “Our beautiful, vibrant, loving Andrea was subjected to torture.  She was alive after the building was hit and then brutalized in a desperate attempt to escape the inferno.  She was then ripped apart as she died.  It haunts me till this day.  I only hope she was dead before being dismembered in this manner.  In seventeen years, they have recovered and identified eleven pieces of her.  Do I worry about how those who perpetrated this act were treated after being caught alive and are still alive?  No.”

He was referring to his daughter, of course. The father’s pain is crushing, understandably.  Forgiveness is needed throughout life, but you can only forget and move on if the reality of what happened is acknowledged honestly. Plenty of people are not interested in that happening.

Haberman Rose 2.2
The 9/11 memorial is heartbreaking, believe me

How to run your first marathon

….piece of cake…

Warning: this post contains no references to politics, the media, celebrities, experts or any other subject of my usual snarking. It is what it says on the tin.

The reason is that I have indeed just run my first – and probably only – marathon, in my ‘middle age’, and in truth it was fine. I actually enjoyed it, and I was happy with under 5 hours. Lots of people gave me advice, some good, some less so, some only really relevant to the person doing it. So here, in no particular order, is my list of tips/advice:

  1. Everyone is different – in their running style (watch it on TV, some great runners look like they are about to fall over), their outfit, their shoes, their nutrition. If you train adequately you’ll soon learn what suits you. You do not need weird Mo Farah sleeves. In fact nobody does, including him.
  2. Definitely use a distance + route tracker, and the app/website that goes with it. I used a Garmin Forerunner 220  (which is actually fairly primitive these days) with a heart rate monitor. Totally reliable and Garmin have a great phone app. There are lots to choose from. eBay has some bargains.
  3. There are very funky secondary apps that give you aerial route views etc that you can share – if you’re so inclined. I liked Relive.
  4. Start training about 4 months before the event, if you’re not used to long distance. The longest I’d done before it was a half marathon, though I keep reasonable baseline fitness
  5. A lot of people like running partners or training in a group. I don’t, and I rarely play music either. Whatever suits, but Alan Sillitoe was onto something interesting with The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, as was Haruki Murakami with What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
  6. If you go with that 4 month plan, spend the first month or thereabouts knocking off 5-6 milers so that you’re doing it comfortably and you’ve sussed out the best shoes for you. If you can only manage a mile at first, it doesn’t matter. You will rapidly improve.
  7. Spend another month at 10-12 miles but push it further if comfortable to 16-18. One big run a week, a smaller one midweek is enough
  8. It can be quite hard to get good routes for road running to ease the monotomy and test yourself. On runs greater than 10 miles I needed fluid, so I bought this excellent belt and built my runs around corner shops every 6-7 miles to fill with isotonic drinks. Makes a big difference. On marathon day they bring the drinks to you, of course. I often did a long loop to end up back at my starting point. A straight there and back, same route, was off putting for me. Getting dropped off or picked up with a long single direction run certainly breaks it up too, and you feel good at having ended up much farther from home than you thought you could.
  9. A month before the race you should be comfortable at 16-18 miles. However, a handy way to think about it is the duration of the run (and bear in mind very long runs can be boring, mental endurance is part of the deal). Estimate your hoped for marathon time – usually 4-5 hours if you’re in my bracket, and make sure you can run continually for 80% of that, however slow or fast.
  10. If you can, make your last 3 big runs 18, 20 and 22 miles, don’t worry about the time. On the last one you’ll probably get a useful taste of  The Wall, which is a real phenomenon (I’ll come back to this). However, that last run should be at least a week before the day of the race
  11. A lot of people go on about diet. My take is that it’s all fuel if you’re exercising hard enough, though if you’re trying to really build muscle you obviously specifically need protein. I think it’s pretty overdone as a topic, but I did do without booze in the last week. The night before the race I made the ultimate sacrifice – I ate macaroni cheese for the carbs while everyone else guzzled burgers. A steak and three pints of Guinness would have been unwise though.
  12. Likewise sleep. Lots of sleep would be great, but most people’s sleep patterns are not that controllable, and sleeping well before the race can be difficult with all the anticipation. I suppose ‘don’t intentionally stay up late when doing long runs’ is the best one could say
  13. In the last week before the race or thereabouts, The Taper is also a real thing. Either don’t run, or just do an easy short one to assuage your guilt. Let the minor injuries heal. You will not lose fitness.
  14. If you’re really injured, don’t race. There will be a next time. You may make an injury worse, and even more depressing, you’ll have to drop out once you’ve started. As a medic with a lot of experience of the dubious specialty of Sports Medicine, I can tell you that the main treatment is always the same – R E S T.
  15. I wore Saucony trainers, with fairly thick heels. I very much doubt that many runners are real ‘pronators’ and need special shoes. Probably people with obvious flat feet, but nearly any brand is adequate, I suspect. The online reviews are often ridiculously nitpicky. I ended up buying second hand pairs on eBay with plenty of tread left for about £20 usually. They come ‘worn in’ often. You will probably need two pairs, don’t run the race in shoes with worn out heels. Double skin socks are very comfy and probably do reduce blistering.
  16. Before a big run, and obviously on race day, I took a couple of Ibuprofen tablets. I did take a further two at about 18 miles, more pre-emptively than anything else. Paracetamol works differently, so if you’re my age, wracked my musculoskeletal pain, you can take it as well as the Ibuprofen (or a similar nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory). Be prepared!
  17. Move your bowels before the run – so leave enough time – and have a light breakfast.
  18. Everyone advises this, but do not start like a rocket. It is wasted energy and counterproductive. I tend to keep a steady pace anyway, but if lots of people run past you at the beginning, just shrug your shoulders and nod in a friendly way when you trot past them at 15 miles.
  19. I found a half marathon the year before pretty straightforward, but back then I never thought I’d manage a full 26.2 miles – my ankles were too sore, the training would be too much etc. I was wrong. All my weight bearing joints and sore tendons felt better two days after the full race than they had done in ages. However, a full marathon is a lot more than twice the energy expenditure than a half, probably nearer 4 times as much. So have a source of rapid energy handy – jelly babies, glucose tablets, those weird sachets of gloopy stuff (very good actually). Which brings me to…
  20. The Wall. Described as that point where competitors “run out of carbohydrates stored in their body and have to suddenly shift to burning mostly fat to keep them going”. Usually after 20 miles, and it seems some people aren’t prone to it, some people claim to preload with carbohydrates in the preceding days, but basically, you’ve run out of fuel and you suddenly feel terrible and your judgement becomes a little flaky. My solution: DO NOT WALK, guzzle as many of those sachets/alternative energy sources as you can, maintain a steady pace and focus on completing. A lot of it is mental discipline. Think of David Goggins.
  21. If you walk at this point you’ll struggle to run again for any distance. In my last 5km I was overtaken by 24 people, but I overtook 471, most of whom were walking but younger than me. It is a tortoise and hare phenomenon.
  22. I’ve mentioned trainers and the running belt (handy for phone, painkillers, money, don’t bother with your own drinks), but my advice is don’t skimp on essentials. I had a great pair of running shorts with a deep lycra layer and lots of pockets for any gels etc, but they cost more than £40. It’s worth it. Likewise, when you’re sweating and chafing, a lightweight wicking fabric running top is way better than a clinging cotton T shirt.
  23. Don’t overdo it! My friend who in his 50’s just did the Paris Marathon in under 4 hours (in 28 degree heat) tells me that runners, probably after their Personal Best were collapsing in front of him at 24 miles, needing medical input and not finishing. As Clint Eastwood rightly observed “a man’s got to know his limitations”. Slow down if you have to, but DON’T WALK.
  24. When you get to the end, don’t expect to feel great. Take your time, drink that electrolyte solution, and if you feel faint, sit down again. It’ll pass. Be prepared for runners’ bowel reperfusion syndrome (ie. where is there a toilet one hour from now?)

See, it’s not that bad. Go for it.

Protecting/hating women – the #Clinton rulebook.

A women writes…but the problem is that the woman in question is Ann Coulter. Ms Coulter is tall, blonde, ferociously articulate, very funny, very opinionated, very well informed, and she’s also a dynamite writer. She’s the Lefties’ nightmare stalking in broad daylight, with a high output of books, columns, TV appearances and the rest. She is – like your humble author – one of the few people who predicted Trump’s success, and for the correct reasons.

She is of the mainstream, with her media presence, but stands apart from it. She is thick skinned (she must be) but takes torrential abuse from her political opposites, and here’s the kicker – much of it revolves around her appearance and her gender. It is appallingly sexist, violent and bigoted. All the accusations hurled by people to whom the same terms simultaneously apply. The hypocrisy is as breathtaking as it is predictable.

All of which is a preamble to her latest column, on the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ kinds of abuse of women – the answer, in case you wondered, is it depend on who is doing the alleged abuse. Put simply, would a friend of luvvies and liberals like Harvey Weinstein be in trouble today – with the #metoo hordes revelling in his downfall – had Hillary won the election?

Clearly not. And the same double standards apply over here in the UK, I would venture.

Take it away Ms Coulter:

A New York Times article on Weinstein’s court appearance noted how the “ground shifted” last year, finally ending the “code of silence” surrounding powerful men. Why “last year,” if this has been going on for decades? The article explained that Weinstein’s power was enormous, his connections extensive and his willingness to play dirty without bounds. Did Harvey lose his money and connections “last year”?

Nope. But “last year” was the first year of Trump’s presidency, or as I like to think of it, the first year of Hillary not being president. Ever.  The liberal protection racket for sexual predators was always intimately intertwined with the Clintons. The template used to defend Bill Clinton became a model for all left-wing sexual predators. They all hired the same lawyers and detectives and counted on the same cultural elites to mete out punishment to anyone who stood in the way of their Caligula lifestyles. It was Total War against the original #MeToo movement. Even Teddy Kennedy never plotted revenge on reporters or smeared his sexual conquests as bimbos, trailer park trash and stalkers. That was the Clinton model.

She has a point. It gets worse, as back then private investigators were hired to find dirt on anyone who had spilt the beans on the Clinton bad behaviour. This, by the way, is fact, not paranoia or speculation. Any dirt would, do, irrespective of whether it was true, or of the damage it would cause. Nice, huh? As Ann goes on:

No one cared about any of our private lives. The only point was to humiliate anyone who hadn’t endorsed Clinton’s treatment of women as his sexual playthings. There were plenty who did.

Well into the Monica Lewinsky scandal — which followed the Gennifer Flowers scandal, the Paula Jones scandal, the Dolly Kyle Browning scandal, the Elizabeth Ward Gracen scandal, the Sally Perdue scandal and the Kathleen Willey scandal — feminist icon Gloria Steinem wrote her infamous New York Times op-ed, announcing the “One Free Grope” rule for progressive men.

“He takes no for an answer,” Steinem explained. Whether he was groping Kathleen Willey in the Oval Office or dropping his pants for Paula Jones in the Excelsior Hotel, she said, Clinton “accepted rejection.”  Soon thereafter, we found out about Juanita Broaddrick.

As Bob Herbert wrote in The New York Times, the reaction of the feminists to Clinton’s predatory behavior “can most charitably be described as restrained.” (This was when the Times was still an occasionally serious newspaper.)

Not one Senate Democrat voted to remove Clinton from office for various felonies related to his sexual assaults.  The message was clear. Liberal men got a pass for any sexual misconduct, even rape. But woe be to those who accused them. (Even last year, NBC News was still following the old rule: It fired Ronan Farrow rather than publish his Weinstein expose.)

Liberal males treated progressive politics like carbon credits for rape. Last year, MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt reported that Democratic sexual predators on Capitol Hill say, “I can’t be sexist; I’m a progressive.” ….. It’s hard to avoid the impression that a big part of the reason Weinstein was finally exposed is that the Clinton machine is dead. Trump killed it. Would anyone have called out Weinstein if his good friend Hillary Clinton were “Madame President”? I doubt it. The Clinton protection racket would have gone on and on and on.  After years of feminists excusing sexual predators, once the Clintons were out of the way, the dam broke. There was no reason to keep humiliating themselves by defending the indefensible.

The Worst Generation has flatlined. There are no more Clintons to save. But as absolutely intellectually convinced as I am of the Clintons’ demise, I’d feel a lot better if someone would keep a wooden stake handy.

This is the truth of the current sorry state of affairs amongst the rich and powerful. Don’t ever give these people a pass again.



Great Landscapes: Grant Wood

Everyone knows American Gothic, which, great though it is, is in some ways slightly unrepresentative of Wood’s work, although it absolutely captures a certain Midwest ambience – Wood was basically an Iowan to the end of his days (1942, aged 51, pancreatic cancer), although he had a most eclectic approach to art – visiting Europe and soaking up Northern Renaissance masterpieces, amongst others.

In landscape terms though I present three. Two had the ‘wow’ factor when I first saw them, but the first is a deceptively simple pastorale which is almost abstract in what it depicts, Spring Turning:

Spring Turning, 1936. Reynolda House Museum of American Art, North Carolina

Completely original and in its own way, very influential.

The next is a dark fable neatly trapped in the confines of a rectangular frame, Death on the Ridge Road. You could view this simply as an almost cartoonish reflection on the burgeoning spate of motor vehicle deaths as America industrialised and became richer, or just as easily you can turn it in on itself, like this author did: To deepen and nuance the scholarly understanding of this painting, depictions of automobiles and nature within the image are closely considered, focusing on the metaphorical content they express.  This analysis regards questions about what cars and nature meant to Americans at this time.  How might cars represent manhood in Wood’s painting?  If they are a vehicle for gender identity, might their placement and movement in the image suggest the struggle for acceptance that homosexuals faced generally, and Wood may have faced specifically?

You decide. It is a brilliant composition, delivered with great technical assurance.

Death on the Ridge Road, 1935. Williams College Museum of Art, Massachusetts

Lastly, the earliest of the three, an epic, cinematic snapshot of a key moment in American history – Wood is one of the most instinctively American of painters. I still marvel at the perspective – a precursor of drone photography – the New England neatness, the perfect evocation of night, and the arcadian landscape disappearing behind the buildings, those perfect trees. Paul Revere himself is almost incidental – shades there of Bruegel’s Icarus, a feature not lost on WH Auden.

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1931. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

The Irish abortion ‘mess’

…she has a point

As I write the referendum result isn’t officially in, but it obviously looks like the 8th amendment will be repealed by the clamouring horde, led by Varadkar. To their credit, many Irish doctors spoke the truth about the calamity that will now befall Ireland.

Many words have been written already, but it continues to stagger me how the language of celebration and joy (just go on Twitter after the vote) is used in referring to what by any standards, is a horrible business and the ending of a life. I guess it’s a comfort blanket for the people speaking in those terms, shielding them from the reality. It certainly trivialises both the act of abortion, and the plight of women who feel compelled to seek one. Anti-abortion campaigners are very aware that it’s an extremely difficult situation to be in. The trivialisation is, I’m afraid, all on the other side.

Two quotes. One brief one in a tweet from @john_mcguirk who helped lead the Save the 8th campaign:

The 8th (amendment) did not create an unborn child’s right to life – it merely acknowledged it. The right exists, independent of what a majority says.

Which is absolutely correct.

The second is a longer reflection from Michael Brendan Dougherty in the US (though, like The Knife ancestrally Irish, of course). It was written before the result was certain, and it keenly demonstrates the utilitarianistic trivialisation of abortion, a cynical dumbing down in order to make the deed happen:

I’ve been distracted this week by the Repeal the Eighth referendum “at home” in Ireland. You might tell me to take some time away from the Internet. An easy getaway. Not so fast. I was greeted this morning in my own suburban apartment building by one of those black T-shirts, with the white word “Repeal” written across it. The Irish, having symbiotic life within the former British Empire, are a global race. Both sides of the debate exist on the same apartment floor here in Westchester, N.Y. Janice Turner wrote the typical editorial on the 8th in the Times, Ireland edition. She describes the “No” side this way:

There are a few elderly folk with rosaries and religious tracts, but plenty of young people combining that mix of youthful self-righteousness and kitten-loving sentimentality along with obliviousness about how messy life can be.

And the Irish Times wrote similarly in its editorial:

The Eighth Amendment describes a world that never existed — a place of moral absolutism, religious certainty, good and evil, black and white — and locks us into that illusion in perpetuity. To remove it is merely to reflect the world we live in: a contingent, uncertain place, full of messiness and ambiguity, where the distances between happiness and despair, public joy and private anguish, are agonisingly small.

Did you notice the word “messy” in both of them? Ireland’s moral and religious changes are connected to its newfound relative wealth in a strange way. How odd, the hidden assumption that “messy” lives require abortion. As if abortion were a matter of tidying up. As if welcoming some children transgressed the cleanliness of a proper, upwardly mobile Irish home. This is perhaps the most sinister bourgeois morality ever inflicted on a nation. And I will have nightmares from seeing it unmasked this week. I dread the idea of returning to Dublin in 25 years, and realizing that it has changed from 2018, and become more like every other European city, emptied of those with Down’s syndrome or other deformities. That will be the predictable result. How dare these people accuse others of inflicting shame! 

…..’the most sinister bourgeois morality ever inflicted on a nation’ is also absolutely correct, and it will, tragically, leave a trail of utter misery in its wake


Great hacks of our time (8): Conrad Black

Private Eye used to refer to him as the ‘sinister Canadian’, and in truth Lord Black’s life is a riot of intrigue, money, business, politics, religion, prison, history, women, enemies and quite a few other things. But it’s his writing that I’m here to praise (start here, and here).

Black has written numerous books, the latest of which is a unique take – we are assured – on the Trump phenomenon. Unique in part because Black has also been extremely wealthy, and has known and liked Trump for years. He understandably doesn’t buy into the ‘reality TV/idiot/monster’ meme beloved by the majority of the media. He knows whereof he writes.

And boy does he write well, with instantly recognisable prose, and a penchant for extreme and obscure vocabulary in the manner of Bruce “The Brute” Anderson (1, 2) and the dean of  this sort of thing, the pleasingly enduring R Emmett Tyrrell jr.

Conrad on religion:

I am not touting religious practice (though I am a practitioner, having long ago lost faith in the non-existence of God, but respect all even semi-rational religious views, including atheism). It need hardly be said that horrible acts have been committed in the name of religion. That is the problem when mere people interpose themselves between the terrestrial life we all know and the spiritual life which is elusive, personal, largely inexpressible, and the subject of much doubt, some of it informed and intellectually respectable doubt. Yet, in Marxist parlance, the commanding heights of society have been seized and occupied by militant atheists, with the complicity of the usual sodden camp-following of those who have no convictions and are easily moved by a tide of fashionable unquestioned wisdom, no matter how mindless and unrigorous. The inheritors of the crusade for reason have largely become crusaders for intolerance and for the repudiation of the Judeo-Christian roots of our civilization. This force which inspired Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, and illuminated the works of Shakespeare and even Descartes, much of it subsidized by the Christian Church, is now effectively led by those who despise Christianity as superstitious and shaming bunk.

Conrad on Mueller and associated matters:

If this all sounds like the Hound of the Baskervilles chasing its tail, that is because it is that and more: The hound has caught its own tail and devoured itself from behind to the point that it has become a deformed biped. In résumé, original Obama appointees Mueller and Rosenstein (the latter of whom named Mueller to his present post as special counsel — at the improper behest of Mueller’s friend and protégé Comey, after Comey leaked an improperly removed and self-addressed document — and recommended Comey’s firing as FBI director) are examining whether Trump-Russian collusion occurred, based on allegations in a dossier that Comey has testified did not implicate Trump, and that was composed and paid for by the Clinton campaign. Reduced to its simplest terms, the Trump-haters who control the media are asking the nation and the world to believe that the continuation in office of the constitutionally chosen president of the United States depends on a file prepared by unanswerable Kremlin sources incentivized to defame the president who were retained and paid by the president’s election opponent — a file that the person Trump fired as head of the FBI (Comey) on the recommendation of the sidekick of the special counsel in not investigating the Clinton side of the uranium controversy in 2014 has testified does not implicate the president now being investigated by Comey’s mentor Mueller

Conrad on the justice system:

I fear we are losing the capacity for proportionate response to misbehaviour, to temper justice with mercy, to forgive the penitent, and to remember that we are all sinners, living to some degree in moral glass houses. We are slipping into the practice of consigning moral, ethical, and even legal questions to a sort of Manichaean lottery, where those who are not legally convicted of egregious offences, but are tripped up, caught out in naughty or tawdry behaviour, however sincerely the misconduct is regretted for moral as well as tactical reasons, don’t make the cut, are ruthlessly reclassified as bad and cast out like Old Testament lepers…..In treating those who seriously misbehave but are not criminals in this arbitrary and severe way, the majority is dispensing with the system of moral gradations that is inherent to all serious religious and moral and penal theory. We are all good and bad to varying extents at different times. If we draw a line before which all is permitted and after which everything leads to chastisement and damnation, we unjustly divide people into the good and the bad. This is not only unjust to the losers; it is an unearned psychic enrichment to the winners. Instead of striving to behave ourselves generally as well as we can, people are effectively encouraged to game the system; to get away with what they can and to join in the group self-delusion that in throwing the book at those who cross the double line, we are dispensing condign punishment to them and affirming the virtue of the unpunished.

A classic Conrad footnote:

Note: Thanks to my friend Ron Radosh for pointing out that the comparison between Steve Bannon and King Henry VIII’s chancellor Thomas Cromwell, which I mentioned last week, was made by Bannon himself. But this was in an article by Michael Wolff, who is completely unreliable and knows nothing of Tudor history. I do not believe Bannon really compared himself to someone who undermined his predecessor (Cardinal Wolsey), supported the false conviction and execution of the queen (Anne Boleyn), and was then executed himself for proposing another failed marriage (to Anne of Cleves). None of it makes any sense and I say it is piffle.

I should leave the last word to another great – and highly prolific – contemporary commentator and historian, Victor Davis Hanson. In previewing Black’s new book, he summarises the point I wish to make, rather brilliantly:

Finally, Black is a singular prose stylist of what in the ancient world would be called the Asiatic, or florid and decorative, style—multisyllabic and sometime near archaic vocabulary, ornate imagery, melodic prose rhythms, diverse syntax, and classical tropes of deliberate understatement, juxtapositions of Latinate and Anglo-Saxon words, and plentiful metaphors and similes. In the modern world, few in English write (or can write) any more like Edward Gibbon or Winston Churchill, but Black does so effortlessly and with precision. So it is often a treat to read an Isocrates or Cicero in modern English.

Conrad Black

Great landscapes: Albrecht Dürer

I’d always thought of Dürer** as more of a portraitist, miniaturist and woodcut person – yet here he is with a landscape in watercolours. Dürer’s career was astonishingly early on in the development of technically advanced and accurate art – he died in 1528, so 78 years before a fellow Northern master, Rembrandt was born. One gets the impression that he was pretty confident in his skills, and probably a touch egotistical – his self consciously Christ-like and brilliantly executed self portrait tends to hint at that. Fame and riches came rapidly.

Early in his career he did the obligatory travels, including Italy, though much of his itinerary is surmise and shrouded in uncertainty. Prior to that he did quite a few watercolours, including the justly celebrated Willow Mill. The latter is a good example of the difficulty in reproducing art both in books and online. Here are two online versions of the same painting. Pretty different:


For what it’s worth, I think the second is the right one, though the first one is maybe more appealing.

In any event, the subject of this blog is Dürer’s simple landscape of the river Pegnitz, by Nuremberg, his hometown. He was about 20 when he did it. In fact, although it’s a pretty accomplished piece, it isn’t necessarily anything special in terms of technique or subject, but it has, to my subjective eye, something. Which is a hallmark of art which you actually like, rather than art which you’re virtually obliged to praise (numerous examples, from the Mona Lisa downwards). I particularly like its evocation of a sort of prelapsarian rural age of tranquility and bucolic comfort – a far cry from the Jeremy Kyle peasants of Bruegel, 60 years later.

Albrecht Dürer, Wire drawing mill on the Pegnitz, near Nuremberg. Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett SMPK, 1490-1494

In fact the closest works that create a similar ambience for me are, perhaps bizarrely, the Nutwood landscapes created by the great Alfred Bestall for the endpapers of the long series of Rupert the Bear annuals (seriously). See what I mean?


Four hundred years after Dürer’s  youthful gem, here’s what the Pegnitz looked like in Nuremberg itself. Also vaguely prelapsarian and idyllic, given the intrinsic joys of Bavaria, and the fact that World War 1 was still 15 years off:

…that’s a large synagogue on the skyline. A different Germany then


** if you’re interested in Dürer, then this monograph by Norbert Wolff is one of the best art books that I’ve read. Outstanding.

The SNP: decline and fall (17)

I haven’t bothered to write on this since January. Not because there hasn’t been stuff, but it’s getting tedious just documenting new episodes in the already massive catalogue of Nat failure. There’s no shortage really, Eck still hoovering up the roubles on Russia Today, despite recent events, Humza’s general hopelessness, the mysteriously poorly photographed Zoomer march on Glasgow with outrageously exaggerated attendance (which the SNP decided not to attend, wonder why?), the pathetic writhing about how Scots love the EU (they don’t). The list goes on. In fact the SNP obsession with banning things that most voters like is producing negative feedback, amusingly.

Instead I draw the attention of anyone who is interested to a nuanced piece by former SNP insider, Alex Bell, who in recent times has painstakingly deconstructed the whole SNP edifice of winging it and make believe.

Here he is on Miss Sturgeon’s situation:

She has led the devolved administration into a showdown with Westminster. Holyrood says No to the post-Brexit divvy up of powers, Downing Street says Yes. All that matters now is what the Supreme Court says, and what Westminster concludes when the deal is put to the Commons.

We can be pretty sure the court will rule this is a matter for the sovereign government – Westminster – and so force the deal on Holyrood. It is impossible at this stage to say what Westminster will do, given so much is still unknown, and what is known is so confused.

Yet the SNP’s grip is slipping. Not least because Sturgeon is staking her reputation in a fight over devolution, which isn’t even her party’s policy.

The Tory government wants Westminster to hold power over matters such as agriculture and food standards because British nationalists think they’ll need to cut deals in these areas in order to strike new trade partnerships across the world when out of the EU.

Sturgeon and Holyrood, except for the Tory MSPs, want powers returning from the EU to go straight to Edinburgh.  So we are not getting a constitutional crisis over independence and not because Scotland rejected Brexit.

Instead it’s a crisis over devolution. This is, then, not her fight. If she wins, all she has done is secure the devolution settlement. If she loses, she looks too weak to fight her big cause, independence.

All of which sounds terribly dull and fairly inconsequential, but it’s really a reflection on how the Nats’ general policy is to pick fights, lose them, and pick some more. There is no vision being built. Poor Andrew Wilson, a nice, normal person, was tasked a long time ago with producing a coherent long term economic strategy for independence, to replace Eck’s failed oil bunkum. It’s yet to appear.

Alex goes on:

Yet the last thing the indy cause needs is another referendum any time soon. Asking the same question and expecting a different answer is the pop definition of stupid. In the years since the last vote, not a single bone has been added to the skeletal case of 2014. Yet Sturgeon is in the odd position of having weaponised her own supporters.


It’s a great piece, and has a painful, if truthful punchline for the current First Minister….She’s in a bad place, and it won’t end well.

M&S need some new models

War stories…. World War Two edition (4)

The old man lived alone in a council flat. Access in and out was tricky, and he was, as the saying goes, becoming ‘off his legs’. He was 90 years old, and totally with it mentally.

I asked my usual question: “what did you do in the war?”

This certainly animated him. He told me that he’d been a gunner on an escort vessel in the North Atlantic, escorting the merchant navy convoys, that prior to this policy of escorting, had been decimated by a ruthless and highly effective U-boat campaign. It had clearly been very tough out there, often in 30 foot waves, freezing cold, and at risk of being torpedoed at any time, but he was exhilarated just talking about it.

“Did you actually see any Germans?”, I asked. He laughed and said very rarely, but there was one occasion in particular that sprang to mind. Depth charges had hit their mark, and the German submarine had to surface. The sea was relatively calm. The crew came out on deck and put their hands in the air, attempting to surrender. We Brits were generally pretty chivalrous about that sort of thing. Lots of crews did surrender.

“What did you do?” I asked, wondering how they transferred them on to the ship sitting much higher than the German crew.

“I shot them all. They’d been trying to kill me”.


It all brings to mind the legendary Curtis LeMay, a pilot himself who led from the front, who masterminded the incredibly brutal – but possibly necessary – bombing of Japanese cities in World War 2:

Killing Japanese didn’t bother me very much at that time… I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal…. Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you’re not a good soldier.

Truly, one man’s war crimes are another man’s good soldiering. The dilemma is with us to this day.

uboat surrender
…what would you do?