If you blog you have to hone your writing skills, and try to be concise. I’m sure that I often fail. However, you do occasionally sit back and admire something that you’ve produced with a friendly inner smug voice gently praising your brilliance.
There are a few writers though who consistently trump what you’ve done, and make it seem effortless. Wrong though he is about most things, Matthew Parris is one. Kevin D Williamson (right about most things) is possibly the dean of this school. Here is another, now a hate figure for half of the middle classes, Rod Liddle. Very funny, and peerless prose:
The remarkable thing is the change. The degree to which liberal lefties now cling to these most unlikely of heroes – a former right wing quasi fascist self-publicising dwarf like Bercow, or an investment banker like Gina Miller. Or a stupid bureaucrat like Jean Claude Junckers. And they do this because, I suppose, they have nothing left to cling to. Everything else is gone. They are left with these pathetic, bourgeois, right wing, half-wits. It really is all they have, so swiftly has the ground shifted beneath their feet. Sometimes I almost feel sorry for them.
I confess that I hadn’t heard of the Dutchman Carel Willink, and I owe my exposure to him to ace film critic, acquaintance of Russ Meyer, and all round arts maven, Anne Billson (whose extensive film database is a very witty and stimulating bargain on Amazon),
But if you like Giorgio de Chirico, Rene Magritte, Lawrence Alma-Tadema or Paul Delvaux, then you’ll like Willink. Technically very gifted and versatile – his portraiture is outstanding – he had the ability to produce startlingly evocative dreamscapes like the one in this post. The elegaic mood and unspoken history in them remind me of neighbouring Belgian Fernand Khnopff, albeit the style is very different. Khnopff was inspired by the unique gloomy atmosphere of Bruges (which is still there, despite the tourism), and his literary parallel is with fellow Belgian Georges Rodenbach, whose beautiful (and readable) Bruges-la-Morte is effectively a symbolist novel. In Willink’s work symbolism mingles with surrealism, classical landscape and technical precision. It’s an interesting observation that notwithstanding the Greek de Chirico, all this is very Nordeuropa, in a line that stems from the fantasy and improbable landscapes of Bosch, Bruegel and particularly Patinir, the most obscure of these three giants.
There are lots of problems with what passes for science much of the time now. Peer review is not all it’s cracked up to be, in fact Einstein hated it and his most famous work never underwent the process. The whole concept of statistical significance is under question (in medical matters it often bears no resemblance to clinical significance), and there has been a lot of flagrant bad behaviour in the hot political areas of science. Many ‘scientists’ (loosely defined) suffer from the same malaise as ‘experts’. There’s plenty of crossover between the two spurious groups. I hate putting such established terms in inverted commas, but one feels driven to it.
Part of the problem is the ‘publish or die’ atmosphere in many academic centres. The scientific and medical literature has expanded exponentially. One would sensibly doubt that the quality has kept pace.
But you know, there are some rules, generally accepted terms of reference. Here’s one fine example from the works of sociologist (not the rubbish kind) Robert K Merton. He is the man who originated those everyday phrases “unintended consequences,” the “reference group,” the “role model,” and “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Quite a body of work in its quotability, like a Shakespeare of Sociology:
In his landmark 1973 work The Sociology of Science , Robert Merton established norms upon which scientists should rely . These Mertonian norms include: communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, originalism, and organized skepticism… These norms have been described as follows: “Communalism: Science is public knowledge, freely available to all . . . Universalism: There are no privileged sources of scientific knowledge . . . Disinterestedness: Science is done for its own sake. Originality: Science is the discovery of the unknown . . . Skepticism: Scientists take nothing on trust…” Merton’s original work was done in the aftermath of World War II and is understood as making the argument for the necessity of these norms to scientific advancement in a democratic society.
The National Academy of Sciences built on Mertonian norms by establishing guidelines of its own that seek to foster a “community characterized by curiosity, cooperation, and intellectual rigor…” While the Academy encourages open debate and criticism, id . at xv, it treats the falsification of data, intent to mislead, and retaliation against critics as examples of serious research misconduct.
Great stuff, clear and almost noble idealism. If you don’t have rules that are widely accepted, then you get dud science and useless outcomes. Just look at the problems with reproducibility, which anyone who ever did O-level chemistry should intuitively understand.
You might have guessed that the reason I’m plugging Merton is his relevance to the scientific chaos surrounding climate change, and the quote above came from Mark Steyn’s update on his legal battle with the egregious Michael Mann. The provider of the quote is a real scientist, Judith Curry, who has heroically joined the fray.
Every medic knows that people more often than not publish for their CV and the career – it’s a necessity. Few people are really good at scientific research. It’s a lot harder than surgery by and large, if you’re doing it well. Most of it is forgettable, irrelevant or possibly plain wrong. Scientific endeavour from a position of preconceived bias will almost certainly be bullshit in, bullshit out.
To quote Anglo-Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney: A theory is a supposition which we hope to be true, a hypothesis is a supposition which we expect to be useful; fictions belong to the realm of art; if made to intrude elsewhere, they become either make-believes or mistakes.
Totten has been out there in the Middle East, at the sharp end. So have lots of people I realise, but whilst well travelled, I wouldn’t necessarily include various presidents, prime ministers, secretaries of state etc in that category. The article is terrific.
Second up is an oldie. A very oldie, from Frederick William, The Great Elector of Brandenburg-Prussia, in his fairly famous Political Testament, 19/05/1667. It is veryrelevant:
“One thing is sure. If you stand still and think that the fire is still far from your borders, then your lands will become the stage upon which the tragedy is performed”
They didn’t have airports or ISIS back then, but the Thirty Years War was about as bad as it gets. We seem to have tried complacency on the domestic front in the last 10 years or so, and I don’t think it’s working out too well.
It would be entirely reasonable to extrapolate from the Twitter and media hysteria of the last 24 hours, that the deaths of numerous civilians in Boston, Florida, California and elsewhere recently, notwithstanding the lineage that stretches back more than 15 years to 9/11, are only so much collateral damage.
That is to say that in some way, they are painful and regrettable, yes, but also acceptable. Acceptable if the alternative is taking some steps – which by necessity will have to be through a process of partially informed trial and error – which may curtail in varying degrees things that people have been taking for granted. In this case that means getting rid of a managed free-for-all in entering the United States, which is what we’ve had until yesterday, by and large.
It’s not an original observation, but everyone remembers and brandishes the names of Anders Breivik (massacre more than 5 years ago) and Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma bombing 22 years ago), yet who can name the Nice lorry mass murderer only 6 months ago? Who is sure about the names of the Berlin lorry attacker, or the murderers of Jacques Hamel? The truth is that as a society – in the US, Europe and the UK- we happily obsess about the evil people ‘like us’ perpetrate, and weirdly almost accept the regular violence of the ‘other’. We have become inured to the reality of Islamic fundamental terrorism – until it hits someone that we know.
As renowned sage Kevin D Williamson of National Review Online put it yesterday:
Particularly when there are all the usual clues – migrant background (often the parents), minor criminal record, affinity with violence, dubious web browsing etc etc. Well Trump is ‘doing something’. In fact, he’s doing slightly less than he said he’d do, but no-one could say they weren’t warned. That fact in itself might explain the suspiciously large and well organised mob that descended on JFK in a very short space of time. It’s not that easy to get to in a hurry.
Whether it will help I don’t know. It is after all trial and error , and might take a long time before any benefits – if there are any – will emerge. But to quote @KevinNR again:
People have occasionally lost sight of what an elected government’s primary duty is – the safety of its citizens. After that, other people’s citizens, if one can. They usually go together, but not always. Supranational bodies and the whole globalsim thing have blurred this essential definition.
That said, I can sympathise with people who argue their corner in disagreeing with this immigration policy, but I didn’t come across any such rationalists in the last 24 hours. In fact if you want rational (I do), then it’s back over to NRO, for two superb pieces dissecting the policy, the background and the government actions (1,2). Remember, NRO famously didn’t support Trump, and they still don’t, by and large.
Time moves quickly. When I was looking for slides for an operation that I thought I’d done two years ago at the most, I found it was actually five years that had passed. It’s nearly 7 years since Dave became PM but it frequently seems like only yesterday. The other side of the tempus fugit coin though is that significant events, and the relevant knowledge that they provide, slip away in the memory all too quickly.
The current drivel regarding Russia is a perfect example. When I was a lad Russia was only a bogeyman because of its central place in the Soviet communist empire, which fell apart twenty six years ago, roughly. That was why we had a Cold War, not because Russia = Bad. Whether we like it or not, Russia (and Iran/Persia) are big powerful proper countries (unlike say Iraq), with very long histories and very distinct identities. We would be mad to not talk to them, to assume a relationship of permanent enmity. That’s not to say you should trust them, it’s strictly business.
You would guess none of the above from the hysteria that passes as foreign policy debate in much of the media.
Likewise, it’s salutary to remember that Britain was run by complete chancers for a long period – the Blair/Brown Terror – which seems pretty fresh in my memory, for lots of reasons, but if you are a first time voter this year, you were about 8 when we finally got rid of Blair and reasonably enough you would be unlikely to have useful political memories of the time.
Which brings me to an absolute zinger of a piece by the venerable Peter Oborne in today’s paper. He is reflecting on the nefarious past of an A1 hypocrite and member of the Blair Fixer Triumvirate, the other members of which were Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell, both sadly still making themselves available for their tired commentary. I refer to Jonathan Powell, Blair’s smooth and somewhat sleazy chief of staff.
Oborne provides a very timely synopsis of much that was wrong then, and hopefully we can learn, or relearn, the relevant lessons of corrupt cliquey government and its abuse. I can only quote a few gems, but do read the whole piece. Its relevance to the current EU debate is very striking:
I was a junior political reporter in the early years of the Blair government. I can testify that it was disgracefully responsible for systematically setting about destroying the career of any civil servant who was not prepared to be unthinkingly loyal to New Labour — and then replacing those who refused with trusted Labour cronies….
….Within days of winning power in 1997, Tony Blair bullied pliant civil servants into waving through special laws which gave Powell the power to give orders to top civil servants.
It is no exaggeration to say that Powell’s relationship to civil service integrity could be compared to that of serial killer GP Harold Shipman’s to medical ethics — or gangster Al Capone’s to law and order. From the moment he entered Downing Street with Blair in 1997 to the moment they left together ten years later, Powell worked ceaselessly to undermine and destroy it….
The brutal truth is that during the Blair Years, Powell’s conduct was scurrilously partisan and he constantly flouted codes of honesty and decency.
Time and time again, he was caught up in the most putrid corruption scandals. Lies about the threat posed by Saddam. The stench of the Hinduja passports scandal when Labour was said to have helped two billionaire Indian brothers obtain British passports after giving £1 million to the Millennium Dome — leading to Peter Mandelson’s resignation. The scandal over Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone’s £1 million donation to Labour.
Powell was always lurking, playing a key role.
If anybody brought back to British public life the corruption and ‘jobbery of the 17th and 18th century’, it was Powell and his friends Blair, Mandelson and Alastair Campbell. Indeed, an illustrated ‘map of power’ in Downing Street at the height of the Blair years, showed Powell at the apex.
His No. 10 empire — in a clear breach of the civil service ethics which Powell told the BBC yesterday he cared so much about — stretched to include power over the prime minister’s private secretary.
And who occupied that position when Powell held most sway at No 10? None other than a rising young civil servant called Ivan Rogers. What a small world we live in!
A brilliant piece that could only be written by someone who saw it all unfold at close quarters.
There are plenty of people now who tut tut about the Iraq lies and the subsequent war, but would have you believe that the other stuff from the Blair era was wonderful. Don’t be taken in….
What I love about this fantastic miniature is – apart from the extraordinary skill and aesthetic sensitivity – the fact that the scene it depicts, a Christmas mass is essentially the same, 700 years later, as is happening right now, all over the planet. Technically it’s a different form, in the 14th century it would have been the pre-Tridentine Roman rite, but it’s basically the same, in all honesty.
This part of Les Tres Riches Heures is regarded as definitely being by the Limbourg Brothers. The delicate tracery and expressions on the faces fit with that – there’s a bit of chat and consternation in the congregation. Followed by a great version of In The Bleak Midwinter (genuinely)
When the famed English wit (I suppose) James Delingpole wrote his meisterwerk, Welcome to Obamaland: I’ve Seen Your Future, and it Doesn’t Work, he couldn’t have quite realised how accurate he would be in his lucid comparison of Blair and Obama. Set aside the vanity, the glib speechifying, the certainty in one’s own views irrespective of the evidence, the spendthrift economy and the foreign policy disasters. The extraordinary feature of both men is their remarkable electoral popularity, and the almost criminal lack of lasting benefit accrued to the voters who put them up there.
The upshot of all this is both men have almost no substantial positive legacy. I know a lot has been claimed, but I mean real achievements for world peace, national infrastructure, the economy, employment – all that tiresome stuff that actually matters.
I lost my residual affection or respect for Obama back in 2012, when his vindictive nun bullying began on the back of the now doomed Obamacare requirements. A year later when he was doubling down on the Catholics. I wrote then .... Obama may stagger through the next three years, working on his scorched earth tactics . That three years will almost certainly be a mess on numerous levels. Whatever the polls say, I very much doubt that Hillary Clinton will be the next president. I also quoted Peggy Noonan on his aggressive stance to the Church:There was nothing for the president to gain, except, perhaps, the pleasure of making a great church bow to him. Enjoy it while you can. You have awakened a sleeping giant.
Looks like this last 6 weeks’ results have been a few years in the making. Some of it recalls Harold Macmillan’s (or was it Baldwin?) quotation: “There are three bodies no sensible man directly challenges: the Roman Catholic Church, the Brigade of Guards and the National Union of Mineworkers”.
Anyway, the long and short of all this is to ask the question: what is his true legacy? To which I would identify three areas. The first black president, agreed. Secondly, in policy terms the facts are very clear. Try Victor Davis Hanson’s detailed and sharp analysis, judged by Barack’s own criteria. Pretty painful.
The third category is a more existential one. Just as Tony Blair roams the world seeking a role and a little respect, like the Wandering Jew observed through the prism of the Love Actually zeitgeist, so might Obama end up just a little bit lost. This is the theme of a quite magnificent bit of writing by a Philadelphia lawyer – not a professional journalist – Martin Karo over at Powerline:
He will drive (well, be driven) a few scant miles to a house in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, where he can watch at close range as his legacy is revealed not to be one. From his front-row seat, he will watch his eponymous healthcare plan be gutted, watch his foreign policy be repudiated, watch his bureaucratic overreaches be reeled in (please God!), watch conservative judges take the bench, watch his immigration policy melt, watch the military cheer his successor as they never cheered him, watch infrastructure funds build highways and bridges (that will not be named after him) instead of disappearing into the pockets of government union members, watch the American energy revival kick into high gear.
As he watches all this, one wonders whether Obama will appreciate the curious posture he has imposed on the Democratic Party. It is too much to expect Obama to blame himself for the decline in the Party’s presence, at every level of government; but unless he is delusional, he must at least see it.
But there’s more:
The other curious thing about Obama’s remaining on the scene is that he has no visible friends on it, despite his dominance of his party. He has many toadies. He has his entourage. He even has many sincere admirers. But friends? Name three. Name one….
….Obama is staying in Washington for two reasons: because he doesn’t truly have friends elsewhere, or any other place he considers home; and because if he doesn’t stay in DC he descends into obscurity. The latter is a struggle he is likely to lose anyway; if ever there were a personality suited to dominate the stage and put his predecessor in the shade, it is Trump.
I have no idea who Obama’s real buddies are (if any), but it’s a compelling picture that Karo paints. He draws two comparisons (not Blair this time): Richard Nixon and Milton’s Samson Agonistes. You probably do have to be a little remote, a little different, to achieve the highest office, and I have no issue with that, but to ultimately achieve so little of substance is tragic.
Samson of course brought the roof of the mighty temple building down with his residual strength, killing himself and the elite of the Philistine tribe by whom he’d been captured.
…it’s a Christmas festive bonanza of Nat uselessness. There’s almost too much to write about, so I’ll try to keep it brief (with the relevant links)
18. Scottish education – judged by outcomes rather than platitudes – plumbs new depths
If you’re not in the position (about £11000 per annum is good value) to send your child to a private school – and they are booming, for obvious reasons – then you can enjoy the state system. The great Gerald Warner summed it up better than me in this essential piece. Bottom line: since the SNP took over in 2007, numeracy and literacy have plummeted, compared to the rest of the world. This is using robust OECD figures released this month, even the official Scottish data suggests that “28% of P7 pupils are not achieving required levels of literacy and numeracy”. As The Donald would say, that’s yuuge. This is way worse than England, despite the generous Scottish per capita funding. It’s serious.
19. Possibly related – SNP MP can’t spell
Angus MacNeil has never come across as a sharp tool, so to speak. If you’re going to employ public scorn, then avoid spelling your insults incorrectly. This was back in June, but it’s too good to miss
20. SNP superstar Derek Mackay talks gobbledegook
His predecessor as Cabinet Secretary for Finance and various other things , John Swinney, whilst not being in any way outstanding was at least fairly calm, polite and experienced (it’s a low bar in Scotland). Along comes university dropout Mackay and he’s not short of chutzpah, but he rarely makes any sense. Judge for yourself, if you can bear it. Everything is about creating confusion and scoring cheap points and headlines, to the point where he makes Gordon Brown seem an honest, transparent and prudent financier.
The associated budget is similarly misleading, dishonest and moronic. The remarkable work of @kevverage and @FraserWhyte81 is assiduously documented in the former’s essential blog. It can get complicated, but this is heroic stuff. So accurate and thorough are the analyses that these guys are true Nat hate figures, yet all the media read them. The inconvenient truth is that:
1. the figures don’t suggest that the Scots have been victims of Sturgeon’s favourite accusation of “osterrty”,
2. there’s been some very dodgy manipulation of the numbers.
A very credible independence supporter (and a Nat insider), Alex Bell, sums it up.
21. Exciting new Sturgeon Brexit plan is shot down by her own team
This one could run and run. It’s really a variation on a theme, that being milking Brexit to make weird links to the ‘next’ referendum. None of it is real world stuff. Iain Martin is always good on this, and he’s had enough. If they’re not already, I reckon the entire UK will soon be fed up with the whole Hard/Soft Brexit rubbish beloved of a diminishing claque of politicos and hacks. As it happens, Europhile Charles Grant is the latest member of her own teamto discredit it. At one point do even the zoomers lose faith? And at one point do the SNP begin to respond to the concerns of Scots who didn’t vote for them, or who did vote for Brexit? (I’m not holding my breath on this one). The summary that keeps cropping up is uncomfortable in the extreme for mad Nat Remainers, to wit:
Scottish exports to the EU total £11.6bn
Scottish exports to the rest of the world total £15.2bn
And Scottish exports to the rest of the UK total £48.5bn – 64% of the total.
The great Mark Steyn (I mean that), has written an awesomely good, elegaic reflection on space flight and American greatness in the light of the death of astronaut John Glenn. It’s worth reading it all, but the simple sums in this paragraph boggle my mind:
The Wright brothers’ first flight was in 1903. Fifty-nine years later, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, and seven years after that Buzz Aldrin became the first man to play “Fly Me To The Moon” on the moon (thanks to the portable cassette recorder he took with him). We are now another half-century on, a half-century devoid of giant leaps and even small steps.
And as Steyn points out, from JFK announcing it to man actually walking on the moon took a mere 8 years, beating Kennedy’s famous plan comfortably: ‘This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.’ That’s the duration of a two term president. As it happens we’ve had a few of them to use as handy comparisons, and they don’t come out of it too well.
Maybe there is something in the negativity of Bruce Charlton in the article (read it!). Maybe we can’t do it now, even if we wanted to. But I doubt it, even now in the era of Peak Snowflake.