Les Tres Riches Heures (12): December

When you’ve built the tallest medieval fortified structure in Europe, for its time, you would expect it to tower over the landscape and the trees. The Chateau de Vincennes does exactly that in the last of the twelve month cycle. It’s still there today, though without the many smaller towers you see in the painting (and in the model below).

chateau-de-vincennes-model
That’s a proper walled garden

The chateau took a battering over the centuries, and housed a community of English nuns and the imprisoned Marquis de Sade, though not at the same time. It was further damaged by a rentamob once the French Revolution was well underway. The Duc de Berry’s interest in it is that he was born in the chateau, 676 years ago last week.

donjon_du_chateau_de_vincennes
The remaining donjon, still pretty tall

Vincennes was a heavily forested area near Paris  – now part of the Parisian urban sprawl – and as you might expect, there was a lot of hunting, in this case a wild boar hunt, with dogs, a potentially risky business. Oddly enough, still no snow, that seemed to wait till after Christmas in medieval France, judging by the Tres Riches Heures. By this point in the series – about 1440 – the duke was dead, the Limbourg brothers were dead, and the probable artist was the Master of Shadows, which is a cool name, in real life Barthélemy d’Eyck, which is still not bad.

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda
Decembre

Thank Harambe for the alt right

The Knife is a subscriber to the excellent Standpoint magazine, which as Guido details, is in considerable financial trouble. The only problem I have with it is getting the time to read it. The magazine is edited by the genuinely cerebral Daniel Johnson (as opposed to the casually applied ‘cerebral’ epithet to the likes of Barack), and could at a stretch be described as containing the thinking man’s version of the new bogeyman, the alt right. That is not the loose melange of far right cranks, but rather a ‘right of centre’ group of people who are prepared to confront the shibboleths of the formerly ascendant mad lefties, exemplified by Ed Miliband, Hillary (and Barack much of the time), who continually  strafe the political landscape with infantile Hitler accusations and similar, in order to stifle dissent.

Taking another publication with intellectual pretensions, the Guardian, it schizophrenically publishes trite editorials on the alt right theme, whilst at the same time encourages the superb journalism of people like John Harris, whose far more nuanced interpretation of the reasons for Trump and Brexit have been among the journalistic highlights of 2016.

Back to Guido. Here is one of his regular commenters, Kevin T, on the Standpoint situation, and their version of the alt right:

Why all the sniping at the alt right? The alt right actually get shit done. Brexit won, Trump elected. Traditional conservatives have given us sod all since Reagan and Thatcher left office. They mostly just sit there looking timid on Question Time, giving in to the left on everything except taxes. Thank Harambe something else has come along.

He has a point.

trump-at-piano
Who knew The Donald was musical too?

The SNP: decline and fall (5)

They’re coming thick and fast!

16. A dismal attempt at being an international statesman comes unstuck

Or even being a competent trade negotiator, really. As the Glasgow Herald stated in April: Nicola Sturgeon has signed a potential multi-billion pound investment deal with a firm owned by a Chinese construction giant implicated in “gross corruption” on an industrial scale. The deal had been mysteriously kept secret until a Freedom of Information request zapped it. Clearly she didn’t find all that corruption  too offputting. Must be the company she keeps. Hilariously, Norway, with whom the Nats endlessly compare Scotland, as Norway are a successful independent small country  had already blacklisted the railway group’s parent firm over corruption fears. When this was publicised, Ms Sturgeon started backtracking and havering, leading to this reasonable comment from Labour: 

“The fact that discussions have been going on for a year without SNP minister providing any detail is extraordinary. This deal stinks and it has done from the very beginning. It’s time for the SNP to stop the ducking and diving – Nicola Sturgeon should order the full publication of all documents relating to this deal, going as far back as a year ago when talks first began.”

Fast forward to this week, and it turns out that the Chinese have pulled the plug on the £10 billion investment. Even more bizarrely, they did so in August, but that was also kept secret (a bad habit the Nats are developing). Did Nicola hope that everyone would forget about it?

I quote the Daily Express:

Attacking rivals Ms Sturgeon added: “We have an opposition that demanded the cancellation of this memorandum of understanding, we have an opposition that had a hysterical over-the-top reaction to this memorandum of understanding. So, while I take responsibility for learning lessons, I really do think the opposition also have to reflect on their behaviour, which led to a political climate in which these partners felt they couldn’t proceed.” But Tory leader Ruth Davidson said it was “embarrassing for our country” adding: “Rather than blaming us, or blaming Brexit, or blaming the weather, will the First Minister remove the shroud of secrecy from deals like these and be straight with the Scottish people?”

That probably is too much to ask.

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Sturgeon in China

 

17. A dismal attempt to lean on the Irish comes unstuck

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Er…Nicola, this is makey-up. Honestly

The majority of world leaders (a term that sounds grander than its reality) understand that intrinsic to the concept of leading a country, is nationhood. Come to think of it, that is meant to be the SNP’s whole schtick. Intrinsic to that is a generally accepted frame of geopolitical reference – Portugal is separate from Spain, Sicily is part of Italy. That kind of thing, primary school geography. Even the EU adheres to this. Along comes Nicola Sturgeon, nudging the Irish to informally recognise Scotland as a separate country when it comes to international negotiations, because, y’know, all Scots hate Brexit (they don’t). Here is the commendably straightforward Joe McHugh, the Dublin Government’s “minister for the Diaspora and International Development”: It’s a UK Government position and what I like about their approach is they’re looking to involve the devolved assemblies. I think that’s important. They’re already doing it, it’s already happening.

And Sturgeon gets another knockback. It should be humiliating (and humbling) for her, it’s certainly humiliating for Scotland.

Gordon Brown managed to wreck his own party by taking large swathes of voters for granted. In fact, that’s basically how the SNP rose to power. Obama and Clinton have now managed to wreck their own party by taking large swathes of voters for granted.

I think there’s a pattern here

…to be continued….

Poetry corner: Barack Obama, an appreciation

So farewell then Barack Obama

You were the first black president, which counts for a lot, but

You cynically divided the country

Demonised folk and bullied nuns

And wrecked your own party,

Whilst playing golf, hugely enjoying yourself

And talking a load of rubbish

You were smart to know when the game was up, but

We all know it should have been a lot better

ap_barack_obama_bill_clinton_golf_3_jt_150815_4x3_992
It was good while it lasted, lads

American Caesar, sort of

What Trump managed was, unquestionably, the greatest upset in American political history, and arguably, the greatest electoral upset in the history of the modern world.

…thus wrote Scott McKay in today’s American Spectator. He goes on to add:

Hillary Clinton lost this race more than Trump won it. Which is not a disparagement of Trump’s upset; if nothing else, his late surge came from an excellent display of political discipline in largely refraining from any controversial words or deeds once Clinton’s legal troubles began multiplying 10 days out from Election Day — that restraint allowed her to lose the race and made him President of the United States.

Because what happened on Election Night was that the national gag reflex manifested itself. And the Democrats’ attempts at forcing down a charmless Alinskyite grifter under multiple FBI investigations ran afoul of that reflex. She found herself the victim of a massive laryngeal spasm on the part of the electorate.

Well, maybe Scott. Certainly the ‘anyone-but-Hillary’ force was strong, but….was it really  that great an upset, really so unpredictable? To quote black talk show host Larry Elder: I Hate to Say I Told You So – Actually, I Really Don’t Mind. Back in March I wrote this blog post, before Trump even got the nomination. I should add that then and now I don’t see Trump as a good or great man, though he now has a huge chance to show such qualities, but rather, I thought I was being realistic. All this amazement from pollsters and the media getting it wrong really does show how little they live in the real world. The one British hack who completely gets this is a lefty – the estimable John Harris of the Guardian.

I revisited it 5 months later, by which point Trump had the nomination, but very little true support from within the Republican party. At that time I quoted a member of my own family: I’m stunned to think that anyone can consider a racist dishonest misogynistic hateful, despicable human as Trump as suitable over any other candidate. I agree Hillary leaves a lot to be desired but for sheer evil Trump outstrips her every step of the way.

You would think that after Brexit people might start to question the received wisdom of the media/Establishment, if only to save a little face. Impeccably liberal Maureen Dowd of the humiliated New York Times gives an interesting and fair minded take of her own family’s split on the topic here.

Anyway, in the spirit of closing the loop (as those of us involved in clinical audit like to say), here are the specific predictions in the 8 month old blog revisited:

  1. Trump will be the Republican candidate, without a brokered convention

Yup, that was actually very straightforward

2. The party will rally round him with a few unimportant exceptions

A grudging pass, he eventually got the basically sound Paul Ryan onside. Party chief Reince Priebus got on the Trump bus fairly early – a wise move

3.  He will rapidly and overtly assemble a team of big hitters — few people will turn him down

Well, Pence was an inspired VP choice for folk who found Trump a bit too wild. Giuliani was solid. Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway were brilliant choices for the big run in. Trump is either very lucky or a good judge of people.

4. He will win the election

Ahem!

5. That will primarily be because he’ll gain votes from former Democrats who can’t stand Hillary and actually like what Trump says, but they won’t tell pollsters that

Tick! Look at the electoral map – even California gets in on the change. As for the neglected rustbelt, disdained by Obama and his toadies…

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6. A negligible number of Republican voters will defect, or abstain

Tick! Well the turnout was around 56%, and the lowish figure is thought to be mainly disaffected Democrats (according to Vox)

7.  He will gain more of the black and Hispanic  votes than anyone is predicting at the moment (read the original post for some interesting detail on this)

Tick! The numbers aren’t huge, but he didn’t need a huge swing. It was a genuine shift to Trump. Ask NBC:

Most surprisingly, official exit polls show Trump won 29 percent of the Latino vote; Romney had won 27 percent in 2012…As with Latinos, black men voted for Trump in higher numbers than their female counterparts, at 13 percent compared to 4 percent of black women.

8. He will be far more cautious and pragmatic in office than current rhetoric suggests – he will listen to advisers

Well he certainly listened during the campaign, especially latterly – the relaxed, discursive confident Trump in the late rallies

9. Sadly,there will not be a mass exodus of pathetic celebrities from the US – the Paul O’Grady rule will apply

I’m still hoping on this, but there’s at least 23 to choose from, albeit I’ve not heard of lots of them, so ‘celebrity’ might be pushing it. It should be easy enough to spot if Barbra Steisand has actually upped sticks. Apparently Canada don’t want most of them

10. Economically he will avoid the threatened trade war, but send out a few protectionist messages

He’s a pragmatic businessman who will have to do something to support the US worker. It might be bumpy, but US power – and the ubiquitous dollar – is great enough for him to manage it. The UK will do well with Trump.

11. Foreign policy will be left to a smart Secretary of State and the military

Well, war is sometimes necessary, and I take the view that difficult though it may be, the West will have to play a significant part in destroying ISIS. Heraclitus would concur, I think. Trump may not be squeaky clean on Iraq – like many people who suspected it was a bad idea, he vacillated a bit. There is no evidence at all that he would be a gung-ho neocon or Hillary style Libyan interventionist. As for this weird Dem obsession with hating Putin/Russia above everyone else, I know he’s a bad guy, but he is against some of the worst people. Try Rod Liddle on this.

12. I’ve no idea what he’ll do in reality re immigration

Though Ann Coulter has

I think I did alright with the predictions so far. Even if it goes a bit pear-shaped (but nowhere near as bad as Barack has managed), at least we have the late John von Kannon‘s wise advice:

“If you can’t have good government, at least have entertaining government.”

donald-trump-as-julius-caesar
Hmm, maybe not after all

Barracking Barack

All good things must come to an end, and so must Obama’s reign.  James Delingpole was bang on the money when he wrote years ago “Welcome to Obamaland: I Have Seen Your Future and It Doesn’t Work“. He was reflecting on our 10 years of the Blair Terror, when it all starts out so well, but real life intrudes. Painfully.

Well,  The Knife has a low opinion of King Barack as a substantial politician. Significant, yes; consequential, yes; stylish, yes; authoritative in speech, mostly yes. But as an intrinsically honest leader, healer, prudent steward of the economy and most powerful man in the world when it comes to foreign policy. Er…no. In fact, not even close.

Of course, there are plenty of disaffected middle class professionals safe in our own quiet corners of the globe who can pontificate in this way. Let us try a different perspective. Here’s Iranian exile, controversial, multilingual and well-connected Amir Taheri, writing in Arab News:

…there is no escaping the fact that President Barack Obama has been an exceptionally divisive figure. Failing to find formulae for working with a hostile Congress he has tried to circumvent the legislature whenever possible, adding fuel to the fire of division. He leaves behind a deeply divided government.

By turning his power base into a coalition of racial, ethnic and religious minorities, Obama has pushed the majority toward radical messages they had shunned for generations. He leaves behind a divided society. Today, even the two main parties, Democrat and Republican, are split with surprising reversals of alliances within each. He leaves behind a divided establishment.

With his tergiversations and intellectual laziness, Obama has also divided the NATO alliance, opening new spaces for opportunist powers of various sizes to embark on ill-conceived adventures. 

He has a point.

0519-0906-1713-5612_president_barack_obama_tours_the_pyramids_and_sphinx_in_egypt_o-e1305776507651
What’s all the fuss about?

Great landscapes: Modest Urgell

Considering what a unique, populous and proud city Barcelona is, and by extension the rest of Catalunya/Catalonia, it’s a bit odd that its artistic heritage is primarily in its buildings, a bit in its literature, and very little really of fame in the visual arts. It’s not like Paris, Rome, Berlin or any of the other competition. It doesn’t come close to Madrid in that respect, as the obvious rival conurbation.

Rumbustious Aussie art critic Robert Hughes‘ excellent homage to Barcelona – 500+ pages of discursive history and opinion – makes this point well (Hughes’ own potted history of the place is here). Relatively few tourists flock to the externally impressive Palau Nacional  for its contents, which are “the country’s (but mainly Catalunya’s) art history from early medieval times to the mid-20th century”, which sounds great but there’s an emphasis on ‘specialist’ stuff such as early Spanish Romanesque. That sounds harsh on the Catalans, but it’s not the mighty Prado.

Hughes however specifies a few works, and one caught my eye. Here’s his description of Modest Urgell’s El toc d’oracio:

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Which may sound a bit sentimental or cheesy, but I think it’s superb. Including the bat.

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Modest Urgell: El toc d’oració, 1876. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (click on the pic)

Les Tres Riches Heures (11): November

So many pigs. I think there’s at least 18, and unusually for Les Tres Riches Heures, the only building is a small nondescript generic castle. The peasant in the foreground is dislodging acorns by throwing his stick at them – a technique still employed by conker hunters to this day. Apparently a pig can scoff 10kg of acorns a day. Over to a fascinating jamon iberico website:

Many centuries ago, the rulers of western Spain decreed that each town and village should maintain pastures studded with oak trees, called the dehesa, for the long term stability of the region. This forest/pasture continues to serve many purposes. The holm and cork oaks provided firewood for the people, shade for the plants and livestock, cork products, and acorns (bellota) during fall and winter. During the spring and summer cattle and sheep graze the fields. During the fall and winter, when the acorns are falling from the trees, the pigs are released to fatten up. This ancient human-maintained ecosystem survives intact to this day.

It’s generally held that the painter of this one is Jean Colombe, not the Limbourg Brothers, and it’s certainly less exquisitely crafted, though still terrific. The landscape seen through the trees is an early example of the classic ‘blue landscape‘ later reaching its apogee with the enigmatic and wonderful Joachim Patinir.

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda
Novembre

 

The SNP: decline and fall (4)

15. Objective evidence that the SNP are very bad at grown up government things.

I should have put this in yesterday’s batch of Nat failure and cock ups, but perhaps it deserves a post of its own. All governments work within a necessary system of checks and balances, without which the SNP dream of a tartan totalitarian dictatorship would quickly emerge. Many of them are beneath the radar – advice from government lawyers, things like that. In terms of public display though, the latest NHS round up from the sort-of-independent Audit Scotland, from the end of October, contains some depressing gems. I can do no better than quote from the Lib Dems (something I never thought I’d write):

Last week, the First Minister told us that she wants to be judged on her record. This week, Audit Scotland published a damning report on her government’s record on the NHS. The SNP claim to have protected investment in our NHS. Audit Scotland say that funding has been cut in real terms by nearly 1% over the last 7 years. Two health boards have been forced to take out loans from the Scottish Government just to break even. The SNP claim that things are getting better in our health service. Audit Scotland say that national performance against key targets and standards is getting worse. Waiting times targets have been missed and missed again. Health boards have experienced huge problems in recruiting and retaining qualified staff. Territorial health boards spent £284 million in 2014/15 for temporary workers, an increase of 15% from the previous year.

Quite. As the Auditor General for Scotland pointed out:  “The Scottish government has had a policy to shift the balance of care for over a decade but, despite multiple strategies for reform, NHS funding has not changed course. Before that shift can occur, there needs to be a clear and detailed plan for change, setting out what the future of the NHS looks like, what it will cost to deliver and the workforce numbers and skills needed to make it a reality.” That’s more than 10 years of talking crap about change, which is always just around the corner. In fact the much heralded Integration of Health and Social Care Act – wholly owned by the SNP – came into reality in April, and no-one’s noticed any difference yet.

It’s not actually the current health minister’s fault – she is just the latest incumbent of the office in an arrogant administration of people who are cocky, but not…competent. And it’s not just in health either. So demented is the obsession with money in Scotland’s taxpayer-subsidised universities, Scottish students are being blatantly disadvantaged in favour of lucrative fees from elsewhere, one third of places go to non-Scots, and it’s getting worse.

The Scottish NHS is fixated on arbitrary targets, well beyond the sensible ones relating to emergency care and cancer treatment. It’s missed them all, with one happy exception, the ‘drug and alcohol treatment is being delivered on time’.

Just as well really

 

rab
I’ve no complaints

 

 

The SNP: decline and fall (3)

arnolfini
This reminds me of something…

There’s always more. Further two our previous instalments (1, 2), here’s the latest in what passes for  government in Caledonia

14. The SNP gag a journalist,  with a craven performance by his employers

Others have written about this in more detail and more effectively than me, notably Nick Cohen and Iain Martin. Briefly, Stephen Daisley is a very  gifted, witty and fair minded journalist with STV, the main commercial TV station in Scotland. He managed to upset the SNP. I’m not clear why they’re so mad at him, as he’s a proper even handed reporter. I couldn’t guess his personal political views, although he’s probably for the Union, which is, at the time of writing, not a crime. He probably makes them uncomfortable by being genuinely funny. Two SNP clones in particular, Pete Wishart – gurning ‘star’ of the unlistenable Gaelic rock band Runrig – and John Nicolson, a poacher-turned-gamekeeper if there ever was one given his previous incarnation as a bright TV journalist, have been behind this, cooking up various pathetic Twitterstorms between them. The bottom line is freedom of speech is not what the SNP are about. This is Kim Jong Sturgeon territory, and one day they’ll regret it. You do wonder about the pathetic non-response though of many other Scottish hacks, with various notable exceptions. STV of course, who employ a gruesome sycophant Bernard Ponsonby to ‘grill’ politicians, are equally to blame. They are a sorry excuse for a media outlet, and the rest of their stuff is, as they say in Gaelic, pish.

15.  Nicola Sturgeon displays more convoluted bizarre reactions to Brexit

Whatever you think of Brexit (I’m a fan), it seemed pretty clear cut. Despite claims to the contrary, Scotland contains very many Brexiteers (more below), but it gave Sturgeon a vehicle to allege injustice, whine about Indyref 2 etc etc. It became embarrassing a long time ago. The latest harebrained scheme to fool her zoomer fanclub with an illusion of activity was described by the BBC last month:  Ms Sturgeon also called for an “all-Scotland coalition of support for the single market”, and pledged to “work constructively with all relevant parties to achieve the goal of retaining our place in Europe and single market membership.” If anyone seriously thinks the SNP believe in any form of coalition they’re seriously deluded. That and the daft scheme is not actually possible, which I would describe as something of a sticking point. 

16. The SNP is harbouring unrepentant Brexiteers

The constant claim that Scotland voted to remain is a bit undermined by Alex Neil’s amusingly direct comment that he voted Leave, and so did a bunch of other Nats. This sort of expression of democracy could be dangerous under a totalitarian regime. The SNP’s crack legal team are currently determining whether the UK wide abolition of the death sentence for treason (in the Crime and Disorder Act, July 1998) still applies to Scotland, which achieved devolution in the Scotland Act (November 1998).  Alex Neil shouldn’t be complacent.

As fellow traitor and lickspittle running dog Jim Sillars has rightly observed, Sturgeon’s tongue is running ahead of her brain over Brexit. Nothing new there.

….to be continued…

Scottish National Party Hold Their Annual Conference
…ah, there it is