Celebrity deathmatch: The Donald v Hillary

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Mating blue crabs: an easier binary choice (thanks to J Exp Biol)

Sometimes you get wisdom and truth from the unlikeliest places. Dodgy narcissist Julian Assange has been doing the world a service by revealing Hillary Clinton’s duplicity, with hard facts. He claims also to be ‘working on’ Trump’s tax returns, and not as an accountant. Here he is on the two of them:  you have really, two very bad presidential candidates, albeit he qualified this with the rider it was ‘from the perspective of Wikileaks trying to protect its sources’, whatever that means. Give Assange his due, though, this is the opposite of endangering national security, which is the kind of thing that he and Edward Snowden usually get accused of.

The Dems are very upset that from their point of view Assange seems to be favouring Trump. They might be right: “the natural instincts of Hillary Clinton and the people around her, that when confronted with a serious domestic political scandal, that she tries to blame the Russians, blame the Chinese, etc. If she does that when she’s in government, that’s a political, managerial style that can lead to conflict.”

Which leads me to wonder how to resolve the ‘two bad candidates’ issue, not that I have a vote, but the entire world retains a legitimate personal interest. Back in March (long before he got the nomination) I predicted Trump would do it, and I stick with that. The other predictions in that post seem about right just now.

Here’s a fairly typical comment to ponder: 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

That was taken from an email from one of my family. I don’t see any evidence that Trump is a racist, he tells far fewer lies than Hillary, and on less important topics, his relationships with women are at times sexist rather than misogynist if you want to be critical (which is not say that’s acceptable, but I don’t think he hates women, far from it). In fact, on this I will respectfully defer to a zinging piece by my all-time favourite lesbian feminist, Camille Paglia.

‘Hateful and despicable’ really depend on the viewer rather than the subject. ‘Sheer evil’ is a tricky one, though if I had to make a judgement between them over public, rather than personal morality and behaviour, Trump is a clear winner. Benghazi, abortion, quite amazingly lucrative financial jiggery pokery, Huma’s dodgy links,  aiding and abetting sexual molestation – it’s a long and well documented list that Hillary has racked up, before you even get to the mysteries like Vince Foster.

However, Trump is hard to like, respect or warm to, most of the time. He has quite a few very smart admirers, like Conrad Black and Bob Tyrrell, despite his many detractors, and he doesn’t hide from criticism. The UK opinion formers tend to hate him, but a straw poll of the punters – such as in my operating theatre – will tell a slightly different story.

One of the very best, and wittiest, American journalists is Kevin D Williamson at National Review. He loathes both candidates, and despite his own claims to the contrary, has tied himself up in knots deciding which is worse and what an honourable position would be. If I understand him rightly, he’s abstaining. Here is a recent summary of his take on it:

If your argument is, “Regardless, I prefer him to Hillary Rodham Clinton,” okey-dokey. But let’s be honest about what exactly it is you prefer to Mrs. Clinton, what manner of man you would see entrusted with the most powerful political portfolio on Earth. If you are going to do that, then you should have the intellectual honesty and the moral courage to be straight and plain about what it is you are doing.  

Well, if I did have the vote, that would be my position: vote for the anti-Hillary, who happens to be Trump. I suppose that it’s conceivable that someone worse than Hillary might be out there, but they’re not the Republican or Libertarian or Green candidate (so feel free to vote for the last two).

What about abstaining? Is it effective or ‘honourable’? If you genuinely cannot pick then I guess it is the honest approach. I knew a few EU Referendum voters who did exactly that, and fair enough. However, while this blogger at Ace of Spades HQ is, on the face of it, agreeing with KDW:

I am not hoping for Trump to get into some serious international snafu by supporting him. Yet I know that is a very real possibility if he’s president. Should this happen, I can’t just say “But I didn’t want Trump to screw up so badly.” People would say — no, but you knew the risks in supporting him, and you supported him anyway; you are therefore morally responsible for this.

…he takes issue with the abstension-get-out-of-jail-free approach:

…the #NeverTrumpers claim that the obvious, inescapable outcome of their position — that Hillary Clinton will be the president — is not their responsibility, just because they didn’t intend that as a primary matter.

He has a point. It’s a great piece, which while it’s stating the obvious – that this is a binary choice in reality – skilfully unpicks the fantasy world of an allegedly principled abstension. The main and somewhat selfish benefit of the latter is to be able to sit around a few years hence saying “it’s not my fault, I abstained on principle”. Abstension also has consequences. Oddly enough, if you Google ‘binary choice’, you’re already seeing quite a few Clinton and Trump images. Final quotations (I apologise for  lifting someone else’s work so thoroughly):

All choices have consequences. By supporting Trump, I am responsible for the consequences of a Trump victory — and those consequences could indeed be dire.

But a childish morally-unserious fantasy has infected the #NeverTrump not-so-intelligentsia, that they can agitate for Hillary Clinton — by relentlessly disparaging Trump — and somehow, they are not responsible for the consequences of the Hillary presidency they are bucking for**.

They’ve dreamed up this self-pleasing, responsibility-evading dreamscape in which those who plump for Trump are responsible for the outcomes of a Trump presidency, but, for no explanation thus far discoverable, they are not responsible for the outcomes of the Hillary presidency they’re agitating for.….  If you think Hillary would be a better president — or if Trump is so repulsive to you, you cannot support him even if you think Hillary would be worse — fine. I respect your opinion.

We all have different brains. We all have different priorities.

But what I must insist you cannot do — what I will not permit you to do — is fantasize that while a Trump supporter is responsible for the gaffes and disasters of a President Trump, you are somehow innocent of the purges and witchhunts of a President Hillary.

Trump supporters will own the consequences of a Trump presidency — and Hillary supporters, both those who declare it proudly and those who wish it secretly — own the consequences of a Hillary presidency.

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The Donald has more fans than I realised

**For the record, I entirely agree with Kevin Williamson’s employers on Hillary, in their editorial a week ago:

If you need a reintroduction to Mrs. Clinton, we will oblige: She is an opportunist without anything resembling a conviction with the exception of her unwavering commitment to abortion, a “public servant” who along with her husband grew vastly wealthy exploiting her political connections and renting access to everybody from Goldman Sachs to Vladimir Putin, a petty, grasping, vindictive, meretricious time-server whose incompetence and dishonesty have been proved everywhere from Little Rock to Benghazi.

$$$ I now have to add a summary from the fiery and hilarious Ann Coulter:

Everything Hillary has ever touched has failed, been engulfed in scandal, resulted in massive investigations, litigation, financial ruin, prison or death. The final stage of any Hillary enterprise is a grand announcement that Hillary did not technically break the law. Or no one can prove she did. Or, even if she did, no one ever gets prosecuted for it.

Les Tres Riches Heures (8): August

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If Jean de Berry was lounging around the Hôtel de Nesle in Paris, and fancied a spot of falconry, then it would have been an 11 hour walk, according to Google Maps, or probably a 5-6 hour trip on a horse or in a carriage, to get to his Chateau d’Etampes, featured in August in the Tres Riches Heures. This was quite a building for its day, TE Lawrence was a visitor who (on this excellent website) is quoted as calling it  “perhaps the most astonishing production of the late twelfth century”.  It had all sorts of defensive innovations and was well built, so its central keep is still standing, if a bit worn. It got hammered in the Hundred Years War, as did much of northern France.

 

 

 

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…now

 

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Then…

I’m not aware that falconry is really a seasonal pursuit. These days in the UK it’s claimed to be a winter sport for reasons that aren’t clear to me, but there’s the Duc de Berry at it in high summer, and  its ancestral home is mainly in the decidedly non-seasonal Middle East.  More conventionally, there’s a hot sweaty harvest going on in the background, which brings to mind a drowsily persuasive masterpiece by Bruegel in his own series of seasonal paintings, The Corn Harvest

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Bruegel the elder, The Corn Harvest, 1565. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In a way, the Limbourg’s painting gets August right: no-one wants to work too hard, just the essentials, lots of lazing around (see the swimmers), and a general air of self indulgence before the weather begins to turn.

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Août

 

 

 

 

Spain, cultura and me

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If you want to read wondrous, effortlessly descriptive prose, then try Laurie Lee. School children often get Cider With Rosie as a set text (and enjoy it). I’ve just read, for the first time, the magical As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, and in terms of evocative writing it is sensationally good. The subject is Spain, and if there is a country that lends itself to vivid writing, this is it. That in itself probably made Lee’s task a little easier. It’s entirely understandable that he wrote it more than 30 years after the events in the book – a walk through Spain from Vigo to Andalucia, in 1934. Spain stays locked in your head.

The Knife spent 4 weeks in Andalucia in the summer of 1982, teaching English in a school on a mountain top in the Sierra Blanca. The best World Cup of them all (1,2) had just finished, with tattered posters for the Mundial everywhere. The next year I spent another 4 weeks on the train around the Iberian peninsula. 3rd class carriages with no windows and wooden bench seats, remote spaghetti western towns, terrible sanitation if you could actually find los lavabos (I once had to go under a tree on a roundabout in Granada), but still wonderful. I’ve been back lots of times since then. If anyone’s interested, the best meal I’ve ever had was in the Asador Donostiarra in Madrid, and the best breakfast in the charming Venta el Buscon, also Madrid.

1983 was the year I was ‘rescued’ in Algeciras, a grubby town which judging by Laurie Lee’s affectionate description, had suffered a bit in the interim 50 years. In the early 80’s Franco (died in 1975) still cast a long shadow in Spain. Despite what you will be told these days, rightly or wrongly, plenty of people mourned his departure. That whole secular/Catholic, left/right wing, Spaniards/separatists  set of dichotomies is still a key part of understanding this country. Beevor’s book on the civil war is pretty balanced, in the way that many of them are not. If you want to really understand the unique nature of that conflict and its aftermath, Javier Cercas’ mesmerising novel  Soldiers of Salamis is a nuanced and compelling tale. The fact that the Valle de los Caidos is still there (12 a fascinating piece), still getting many, many visitors gives a  clue as to how schizophrenic Spain remains on this topic**.

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…in Valencia

That said there are plenty of standard travelogues about, but quite a few tend to fall short in some way. The highly regarded Jan Morris’ Spain is chock full of adjectives but in the end, it’s a bit dull. Older writers like the admirable and prescient Halliday Sutherland (here) and the…er…controversial  HV Morton (here) do a better job in summoning up the uniqueness of the place. In the modern age Christopher Howse (1,2) with an enthusiasm for remote monasteries, back roads and railways does the best job. He completely gets the enduring religiosity which you can still see in places like Valencia’s cathedral, where pregnant women (who often seem to be with their mothers) do 9 circuits before praying at the statue of the Virgen del Buen Parto.

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Roy’s autograph from 1930

Which emphasises just how key the whole Spanish Catholic intensity is in understanding the place and the people. That holds today, where the counterpoint of this intensity is a suffocating and aggressive secularism. The civil war all over again.  So you need to experience Zurbaran, St John of the Cross, and St Teresa of Avila (a proto-feminist, believe it or not). If you sample the origins of the much maligned Opus Dei you’ll get an idea of the rooted nature of Spanish Catholicism. In fact, if you seek the best translation of the poems of St John of the Cross, by that remarkable man of action Roy Campbell, you will be back in Laurie Lee territory, as the young writer stayed with the older man in Toledo, as the civil war was beginning to rumble, in which Campbell played a valorous role.

There are lots more: Goya, Don Quixote of course (it’s not boring), George Orwell, even the tiresome Hemingway. The latter claimed that “For one person who likes Spain there are a dozen who prefer books on her”. If he’s right, then I hope this post gives some pointers. A better quote is from the tragic Lorca, which captures that uneasy feeling you get as you descend  the stairway  to the royal tombs  and el pudridero in the mighty Escorial:

In Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country in the world.

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**when I first wrote this, I neglected to mention the great  Stanley Payne, a true historian of Spain in every era, and an expert on the whole Franco/Civil War thing (1,2)

Clarence Thomas meets Spiked

The most painful cognitive dissonance in politics is when the Democratic Party bien pensants are faced with black conservatives (with a small ‘c’). It’s an impressive list: Ben Carson, Condoleeza Rice, Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, Allen West, Larry Elder, Kevin Jackson, Deroy Murdock, Mia Love and plenty more. Indeed while some of them have had similar middle class upbringings to Barack Obama, a significant number – such as Thomas, Carson and Sowell – were born into very straitened circumstances, more redolent of the kind of impoverishment, discrimination and social deprivation claimed by Black Lives Matter, than anything experienced by the POTUS himself.

Thomas is the best case in point of how the Dems and media liberals deal with this issue – they try and destroy it, whilst trying to circumvent the charge of racism. Thomas is a truly outstanding legal mind. He sits on the Supreme Court, and while all of its members are great writers, thinkers and dissenters in different ways – the utimate being the recently deceased Antonin Scalia – Thomas remains a brave and clear sighted challenger of ‘liberal’ interpretation of the laws and the Constitution.

In 1991, when Thomas was a controversial nominee for the SCOTUS (controversial because of his conservatism, not his legal skills), he was accused of sexual harassment more than 8 years earlier, by Anita Hill, a black colleague. You can read fair summaries of it all here and here. Who knows what the truth was, but it bore the marks of the kind of frenzied opposition that had earlier finished off the SCOTUS nomination of (white) conservative Robert Bork, led by revolting ladykiller Ted Kennedy. Even if Hill’s allegations were all true, they still pale in comparison with the extensive documented antics of Ted and of course, Bill Clinton. But they weren’t conservatives.

Anyway, people can make their own minds up about the rights and wrongs of these nominations, but Thomas has done 25 years at the top now, and his mind is as sharp as ever. In the appalling world of no platforming, safe spaces and snowflakes (an NUS defence of which is here), his intellectual rigour is more needed than ever. I quote the following Thomas lines from 2001, which are even more relevant today than 15  years ago. Bizarrely, these words in praise of free speech and open debate from an elderly black conservative American judge trace a direct line to the free speech ex-Marxist libertarians of Spiked Online, exemplified by the awesome Brendan O’Neill. A noble lineage.

Today, no one can honestly claim surprise at the venomous attacks against those who take positions that are contrary to the canon laid down by those who claim to shape opinions. Such attacks have been standard fare for some time. Complaining about this obvious state of affairs does not elevate one’s moral standing. And, it is hardly a substitute for the courage that we badly need.

If you trim your sails, you appease those who lack the honesty and decency to disagree on the merits, but prefer to engage in personal attacks. A good argument diluted to avoid criticism is not nearly as good as the undiluted argument, because we best arrive at truth through a process of honest and vigorous debate. Arguments should not sneak around in disguise, as if dissent were somehow sinister. One should not cowed by criticism.

In my humble opinion, those who come to engage in debates of consequence, and who challenge accepted wisdom, should expect to be treated badly. Nonetheless, they must stand undaunted. That is required. And, that should be expected. For, it is bravery that is required to secure freedom.

Clarence Thomas
Great mind, great man

 

 

Blair: batten down the hatches

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My thanks to the wonderful @smithsky1979 for her #blairroll

The spectacle of Tony Blair as an apparently sincere penitent – albeit one still laden with his predictable list of hubristic justifications –  doesn’t surprise me at all, at this stage. The very first post on this blog, back in 2010 was about Blair’s apparent search for atonement in the truest sense. At that time I was confidently expecting Chilcot to report within the next year. It does surprise even me though, that Blair has ended up in quite such an abject state, when seen from the perspective of 1997.

A little context. Back in the time of  John Major’s government in the early 90’s, the UK was doing quite well. After Major’s appallingly selfish and ideological pursuit of the deutschmark (a folly which doubled my mortgage briefly, in 48 hours, not that JM cared about such things), the economy was booming, relatively. It was to be a golden inheritance for Labour, the exact opposite of the scorched earth bequeathed by Brown in 2010.

In about 1993 I began to notice Blair as an unctuous and slightly cocky Shadow Home Secretary, popping up on the TV. I’d seen Gordon Brown in action at the Commons as Shadow Chancellor under John Smith, and for all his faults, he seemed then a far more substantial figure than the glib Blair. After Smith’s death it became rapidly apparent that, under the youthful Blair, Labour were going to win the next election, irrespective of the economy.  I remember on election day in 1997 sitting in the operating theatre coffee room saying that Blair appeared to me to be a flighty and unserious chancer, albeit an ambitious one. The uniform response was “you can’t possibly want the Tories back in”. Nobody except me seemed to have any concerns about Blair**.

That election night I stayed up till two watching it unfold,  and by then the enormity of Blair’s majority was already apparent. He would clearly be in power for years. The phrase that kept going through my head was “batten down the hatches, this will take a long time to get through”. The next day at work everyone was delighted that the groovy young Tony was in and everything would be fine.

My concerns, which were pretty much completely borne out, related to the very clear message that this administration would intentionally change the social, cultural and moral fabric of the country, and eventually, through the timeless expedient of spending money they didn’t have, they would wreck the economy too.

I  usually date the completed initial phase of the first of these malign objectives to the release of the worst film ever made, Love Actually ( I’m serious), in 2003, which was basically a New Labour 90’s zeitgeist epic of the worst kind. The second objective was apparent by the financial crisis of 2008. It took them 11 years to destroy a booming economy, but they managed it. In case anyone is still spinning the line that it was all secondary to American subprime mortgage lending (Brown’s favourite excuse), then I would direct you to a prophetic book by two British hacks – the esteemed Larry Elliot and Dan Atkinson – called Fantasy Island, which was published in 2007. If you don’t believe me, read the synopses (1, 2 and 3). Truly the Blair/Brown government was a disaster on a huge scale, despite their aggressive and largely successful debasement of the government spin apparatus under the enduringly loathsome Alastair Campbell, which subjugated an already enthralled media.

So I wasn’t remotely surprised by all this, it was obvious to me when I first set eyes on Blair, and I took a lot of shit for it. The endless supply of people all willing to slag Blair off now, and over the last few years, are mainly the people who voted for him in three general election victories, a point made eloquently by James Kirkup. What a bunch of hypocrites.

That said, I never thought he’d become the crazy and infantile warmonger, which role has now, finally, skewered him.

Which is why I have to laugh at the endless bleatings (eg: 1, 2, 3) from Guardian writers and others now, post-Chilcot, who spent the period from 1997 to 2008 drooling over Blair and Brown. I don’t remember too much genuine opposition from them to the Iraq debacle back then. Jeremy Corbyn, Ming Campbell, the late Charlie Kennedy and Robin Cook all take credit for their stance at the time. A special mention goes to the routinely reviled George Galloway (see below), the only person who predicted in detail the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. Their  reasons for opposition varied, but they have the moral high ground today.

Max Hastings neatly outlines the stage on which Blair played out his monumental and ego driven disaster: “What took place was only possible because in 2002-3 Blair was an immensely popular Prime Minister with a personal dominance that enabled him to persuade or conscript the rest of Westminster and Whitehall to support an Iraqi adventure overwhelmingly driven by his own hubris and moral fervour.”

I doubt that there will be any article written in the aftermath of Chilcot that expresses the tortuous hypocrisy  of the British public and media in all this, than Brendan O’Neill’s, in Spiked. As he rightly puts it:

The important, humane task of understanding the history and politics of that calamity in 2003 has been sacrificed at the altar of allowing a needy elite the space in which to say: ‘Blair is evil, and I am good.’

I can already sense a neat dividing line developing when considering Blair’s legacy: Iraq bad/all else good. For the purpose of clarity – and going back to where I began this post – I would refine that to: Iraq bad (Blair sort of penitent)/most of his other stuff also bad (Blair unrepentant).

The criticism rightly heaped on him for Iraq, and on his many, many aiders and abetters  should be spread around on most of his other endeavours too. A messiah complex unburdened by caution and intelligent reflection is unlikely to come good at any point. This was a truly awful government, lead by a figure who since then has become more and more unhinged.

I should leave the last word to the hated yet prescient George Galloway, confirming what Chilcot meant when he pointedly said “We do not agree that hindsight is required.

 

** as Stephen Glover puts it ” Only a hard core of widely disbelieved critics saw him as an untrustworthy fraud”

Les Tres Riches Heures (7): July

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In some ways Jean, Duc de Berry was the Donald Trump of his day. Wealth (much of it inherited), a degree of egotism, political influence and houses – plenty of palatial homes that he couldn’t possibly get much use from. Previous posts (eg 1, 2, 3) have outlined some pretty impressive domiciles, some of which are still standing, sort of. Hot running water 700 years ago is the equivalent of a helipad on the roof. Possibly.

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Drawn after the Limbourgs’ picture

July is no different, except the Chateau du Clain at Poitiers hasn’t survived at all. The image of it in the July panel is the best we’ve got. The triangular plan with round corner towers was an established ‘defensive’ style, with in this case what might be a lake serving as a moat. Poitiers is not far from Paris, but travel was a bit trickier then. Jean de Berry moving from enormous chateau to enormous chateau on horseback, with his court retinue, around north west France is roughly equivalent to Trump zooming around the Eastern Seaboard in his private jet. The distances weren’t great but the journeys must have been arduous.

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The Clain at Poitiers today

The yellow markers in this image (borrowed from an excellent post on Les Tres Riches Heures) correspond to the Limbourgs’ depictions of Jean de Berry’s estates.

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The Jean de Berry package tour (yellow markers)

The main interest otherwise is the usual agricultural stuff – in this case sheep shearing and harvesting hay, laboriously with sickles, not scythes (try it some time).

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Juillet

 

 

 

You may appeal to my authority

There are plenty of people making hay over credit agency Moody’s declaration that the UK economic outlook has turned ‘negative’. This may or may not be correct. The rider that there will be  “a prolonged period of uncertainty” doesn’t look like a particularly insightful comment, whatever their data sources. It’s not that long ago – February 2013 in fact – since Osborne’s economic approach was hammered using (Moody’s) removal of its Triple A credit rating. This was because “the government’s debt reduction programme faced significant “challenges” ahead”.

Well, something must have happened that was unanticipated by the agencies if  Moody’s rival, Standard & Poor only yesterday, after Brexit, decided they would remove the Triple A status, apparently joined by Moody’s, as well as  Fitch (the third big agency). One suspects that Moody’s original claim had been rather overdone (and possibly this one too). Had they in fact restored their Triple A rating in the interim? It looks like it.

My point in all this is that these agencies are big businesses in themselves, with their own agendas. When they get it wrong it gets less publicity. Even uber-liberal cat loving Nobel economic guru Paul Krugman thinks it’s overdone :

“…right now all the talk is about financial repercussions – plunging markets, recession in Britain and maybe around the world, and so on. I still don’t see it. It’s true that the pound has fallen by a lot compared with normal daily fluctuations. But for those of us who cut our teeth on emerging-market crises, the fall isn’t that big – in fact, it’s not that big compared with British historical episodes. The pound fell by a third during the 70s crisis; it fell by a quarter during Britain’s exit from the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992; it’s down about 8 percent as I write this….This is not a world-class shock”

These appeals to authority, in this case credit ratings agencies, are an omnipresent feature of modern life, hugely abetted by the intrinsically unreflective nature of much of the internet and its social media. That is not to suggest that all such pontifications embody the fallacious appeal to authority – but clearly some/many of them do. Nearly all of the EU referendum campaign was built on unreliable speculation on both sides (which is why this was the single best argument I read on the topic).

I call it the Formula 1 argument. F1 as we know and (possibly) love it, is a suitably important sounding name for the fastest level of motor racing. It is overseen by FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) otherwise known as the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus,  where the last word means ‘recognised’. Recognised by whom?  In other words, although FIA has historical precedent, it is essentially a self-appointed authority. There is nothing to stop the entire set of F1 teams decamping to a brand new tournament calling itself whatever it wants. Boxing has already recognised this, which is why there are currently four ‘world’ authorities – the WBC, WBO, WBA and the IBF. Big bucks all round with their many different titles to fight for.

Football is the same. Let’s dump FIFA and invite all the countries to play every four years in a new tournament, preferably in somewhere with an appropriate climate (not Qatar). We can call it the Mundial. Who decided a bunch of corrupt phonies like FIFA should still get the prize? The main reason of course is that like Formula 1, like boxing, there is a very healthy living to be made from the many lucrative sidelines., and it’s worth clinging on to.

And you get it in medicine, all the time. The phrase ‘top doctors’ is regularly trotted out, and is frequently associated with the most paternalistic self-important drivel. One of my favourites is when the grandly named King’s Fund pronounces. They self describe as a “health charity that shapes health and social care policy and practice”. Perhaps they do produce the odd good idea that no-one in the NHS would come up with, but in reality, they are a private body with plenty of well paid staff, some of whom may have a sketchy knowledge of actual health care delivery. An acquaintance of mine went for a job there, and it was very revealing. The key thing is the brand name, which relates to a long lost charitable fund named after King Edward VII (died 1910). Somehow, if it was just called ‘private NHS advisory think tank’ – a more accurate description – I feel its authority may appear diminished.

And on that note, what about the ‘Royal’ colleges of medicine, surgery etc? The presidency of these bodies is undoubtedly a classic bully pulpit, but what are they for? The answer is that they organise the odd educational event, they run (very good and necessary) postgraduate exams, and they produce not very good journals. None of this comes cheap. They also, however, choose to proclaim on NHS issues where they may or may not have any real insight. Naturally they tend to get a media hearing, and sometimes a governmental one. This lapses rapidly into ex cathedra nonsense in many cases, and gets the NHS nowhere.  An academic colleague of mine, who is extremely competent, distinguished and sensible and did himself hold high office in such a college, wearily confessed to me recently how disillusioned he was by the institution “I’m not sure what it’s for these days”. Like most clinicians, he now favours his own specialty organisation when it comes to practical issues, and for very good reasons.

What makes an ‘expert’ and thus an ‘authority’ has been debated and often healthily derided in the EU referendum, one of its more beneficial side effects. As is often the case, Thomas Sowell provides the necessary wisdom.  On balance, Eddie Izzard probably doesn’t make the cut.

So Moody’s, FIFA, numerous ‘royal’ institutions and many, many more, maybe your time is running out. It’s long overdue.

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This is what a real expert looks like

 

 

 

 

 

Les Tres Riches Heures (6): June

In a week when Paris is under a modest threat of major flooding given the water level in the Seine, it’s interesting to note that in 1689 – so slightly before climate change/extreme weather/global warming etc – the Île de la Cité was flooded by the effects of heavy rain, sweeping through the Palais de la Cité, and destroying the lowest levels of stained glass in the still amazing Sainte Chapelle. That was 327 years ago, and 273 years before that, the Limbourgs produced their detailed depiction of the buildings in the month of June. It’s a wonderful thing that the Saint Chapelle is still there, and really very little changed. You may note that if those figures are correct, this year is about the septcentennial of the Tres Riches Heures.

This is the great Viollet-le-Duc‘s  recreation of the Palais de la Cité

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and here is the Limbourg’s view. What’s interesting to speculate is that it was painted from the Duc de Berry’s residence on the river, the Hôtel de Nesle, featured in May.

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…and if you look at the Sainte Chapelle now, it’s pretty much the same. Its real glory though is the stained glass interior. Look it up on Google if you’re interested, but the photosst_chapelle don’t quite convey the extraordinary effect of just being inside it. Shame it’s not used as a church any more.

The rest of the June miniature is basic haymaking. It takes place in spring and early summer, in that window of opportunity when the leaves of the grasses are at their most developed. If you leave it too late, after the seeds and flower heads are evident then you lose a lot of the nutritional value. All this is well documented ‘scientifically’ now, but it’s the kind of country lore that was gained over centuries of experience. This miniature is actually one of many representations of medieval farming that shows this kind of “rhythm of the seasons“. The Tres Riches Heures are a companion of sorts to Virgil’s wonderful Georgics.

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda
Juin

 

Brexit news (3)

Want a punchy summary of the state of play in the referendum build up? Here it is, courtesy of Luke Johnson reviewing recent related books in the latest edition of the unfailingly stimulating Standpoint magazine.

No one in any of the debates I’ve attended over the referendum is really very keen on the EU. Indeed, most of the pro-EU camp are highly critical of the institution, and see it as bureaucratic, undemocratic, remote and poorly governed. As a consequence, they lack true conviction, and can’t be bothered to write serious works in its defence. Their argument relies almost entirely on a series of scares designed to frighten voters into plumping for the current system because any alternative must be worse.

This cowardly, pathetic stance is typical of the chaos which the EU represents. The eurozone is an unmanageable consortium, while the Schengen border arrangements are close to collapse. The EU itself was sold as a trading pact (the Common Market) but  for many of the Brussels elite is a political project. This contradictory vision is at the heart of the problem. I believe a large majority of citizens in Britain — and probably in much of the rest of the EU — do not want a political merger. They want our country to be an independent nation state, in charge of our own laws — but trading with everyone.  Meanwhile the Commission and other instruments of the EU have other ideas. 

I agree with every word. With perfect timing, try reading this Daily Mail column by the pro-Remain Chris Deerin, a very thoughtful and perceptive writer. It’s hardly enthusiastic.

Win or lose, the EU in its current form has had it.

cologne01-small
Cologne, after Frau Merkel’s largesse