Amsterdam is good in parts, as the saying goes. The red light area is appallingly exploitative and not remotely OK, and the oddly named coffee shops are exactly what you’d expect from a bunch of well paid decadent stoners. Fun for 10 minutes and that’s it.
The touristy stuff is good,no doubt, but like many middle class travellers, my slightly snobby instinct is to avoid the obvious tourist traps. If I’d done this in Amsterdam, and missed out on the Anne Frank House I would have made a very big mistake. The best time to go is not long before it shuts, when the queue has died down.
I won’t provide a review, just a few observations. Three in fact.
Anne herself, despite the diary, is not the main focus. She is a sweet normal girl, but hard to know – something of a cipher
The ‘star’ – if you can use the word for such a grim background – is Anne’s father, Otto. Everything about him seems admirable, far-sighted, brave, noble. A suitable figure to invoke on Father’s Day. The famous picture of him staring into space in the house, long after the war, is pinned to my office wall. The house only stands now thanks to him. The Dutch government would have let it be demolished. He was an exceptionally canny reader of people.
Anne would have survived the war had they not been betrayed by the locals. Not enough people realise this. Like in so much of wartime Europe antisemitism was never far away, with some notable exceptions. Betraying the Jews could be very advantageous. Lots of countries’ citizens were complicit, with history repeating itself. The Dutch resistance was a sporadic affair – despite its typically Verhoeven over the top production, the film Black Book makes some good points on this.
Why does this matter? Well, antisemitism is now ingrained in the ‘most popular politician in Britain’ – Mr Corbyn – and his wretched schizophrenic Labour Party. He did of course lose the election, despite the hype, but he got a lot of votes. Apart from the demerits of his other exotic policies and affiliations, what this means is that a very large swathe of the British electorate is effectively indifferent to antisemitism. If you ask them, they’re probably against it in a sort of vague it’s-not-a-priority way. That’s not good enough. Particularly in a Western European scene riven by overtly Jew-hating Islamic fundamentalists.
The civilised Dutch could morally atrophy so quickly that they could send a young girl to certain death for short term gain. The Guardian’s Nick Cohen has written numerous powerful pieces on this (1,2,3), over a long period. He’s watched the problem grow and grow, in his own political group. As he says: If it is incredible that we have reached this pass, it is also intolerable. However hard the effort to overthrow it, the status quo cannot stand.
It should make us all think.
**two hours after I wrote this, this appeared on my Twitter:
38. Things aren’t going too well over in Hyndland and Bute Square. If you’ve sampled any of the earlier blog posts on this topic, you’ll realise that I am neither a fan of the SNP, nor a believer that they will get their alleged goal of independence. I know it’s a minority view and possibly wrong, but even Nat knuckleheads are probably happier with the current happy state of perpetual whining whilst not having to worry about where the cash comes from, than actually having to govern responsibly.
That said, it must be bad when a True Believer like Kevin McKenna over at the Glasgow Herald has lost faith.
I would quote the whole article, but I can’t be fagged to pay them any money (paywall) or even sign up for a freebie. The first two paragraphs seem to suffice. A bitchy pop at Ruth Davidson, presumably followed by a discussion of ‘the cowed pygmies of the SNP’. A phrase that I could get used to:
THIS ought to have been a time of hope for the SNP government and those in the wider Scottish independence movement. Instead, where there ought to have been optimism and a renewed sense of purpose there is now doubt.Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, will continue to proclaim her leading role in sowing the seeds of uncertainty among the Yes movement but she is deluding herself if she seriously believes this to be the case. Her party’s success in securing 13 seats at the General Election has been built on fear and loathing of others.
There is a reason why she is desperate to avoid a second referendum on Scottish independence: her party, devoid of anything resembling a policy, has gorged itself on Scotland’s constitutional uncertainty. Once this has been settled one way or another she knows her party will retreat to the margins of Scottish public life.
Nationalist solidarity with the working classes ahoy!
Well, here we are again. Right after a huge and probably unnecessary exercise in democracy (AKA the general election), the mob are displeased and distorting the facts and the history. Fine, it’s the usual nonsense, and it happens elsewhere (see Russia). As is often the case, it takes a newsworthy tragedy such as the Grenfell Tower fire to act as a vehicle for the hate.
What mystifies me though, is the wilful verbal violence from the more privileged members of society. Take for example a multimillionaire expat novelist, who from humble beginnings now describes himself as upper, not even middle class. Could it be the walking cliche of Scottish lowlife shenanigans, Irvine Welsh? Why yes it could:
Why would you call a middle aged lady who has done you no harm, that? Is it acceptable/funny/appropriate? Could it even be, dare I say it, misogynist? I think it could. I know it’s one of Irvine’s favourite words, but even so.
Anyway, let us accept that he enjoys the attention (indeed, I am guilty of providing him with some), and his faux notoriety. What about the responses to his excitable tweet?
I’m afraid that it doesn’t get any better. Take for example, double-barrelled charmer, Hales Evans-Kanu. Hales’ Twitter bio suggests a fairly well to do settled situation: Passionate about Welsh football and music. Friend, sister, daughter, girlfriend, giggler, marketer, blogger
But, here she is:
Perhaps Irvine felt he’d gone too far. Some of his followers seemed to think so. Over to you Irvine:
I don’t want to be too critical. Feelings are running high after Corbyn’s defeat, and for those at the bottom of the ladder in terms of prosperity and social class, recent events could be both disappointing and even frightening. I get that. Perhaps that’s Irvine’s problem, or even Hales’ at a pinch. Let’s ask the Daily Telegraph:
My main residence is in Chicago. My wife, Elizabeth, and I bought it for about £1m six years ago and we’ve spent £250,000 doing it up. It’s probably worth £2m now. I also have a place in Miami and a nice flat in Edinburgh, plus a few rental properties.
So there you have it. You may disagree with me. I don’t think it’s harmless Twitter fun, just venting off a bit of anger etc. It’s really pieces in a jigsaw of societal division and hate which occasionally breaks out into violence. And it’s coming from the left. It always does. It’s not the poverty-affected left either. They are just the cannon fodder. The inciters will be just fine.
Happily, Twitter still has a valuable role. Here is the summary of the social media take on the Grenfell Tower tragedy, just in case you hadn’t yet worked it out for yourself:
…and the very next day, the awesome pen of Brendan O’Neill, on Facebook:
The more I study politics and especially the ways in which it is reported, the more I come to realise that the motives of media journalists are often no more noble or sophisticated than the average Twitter troll (personal disclosure: I am an average Twitter troll).
So when the wolves come for Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, Mrs May’s close advisors, it doesn’t mean that all of the message they were promoting was wrong. Indeed this links with a corollary, that Mr Corbyn’s (very relative) success does not mean that his mad prescriptions were right or practical.
In any event, the overriding issue (along with terrorism) is social care. As someone who doesn’t stand to inherit a bundle of cash anyway, I greatly dislike the notion that it is better for me and my children to fund other people’s parents’ and grannies’ care in old age, just so their inheritance can be bigger. In fact, my feelings are more than ‘greatly dislike’. So the Tory plan for social care was brave and necessary, if only to kickstart the discussion as opposed to kicking the can down the road.
The biggest complaint, though, was about our social care proposals. You can criticise the policy, but we need to be honest with ourselves. Since we have an ageing population, we need to spend more on health and care, and we need to decide how to pay for it. We can ask older people to meet the costs, subject to certain protections, from the wealth they have accrued through life, or we can tax younger generations even more. Somehow we have reached a point where older people with assets expect younger, poorer people to pay for their care. With Britain’s demographics, that is not sustainable; neither is it socially just.
One feels for the EU-trapped Greeks, who are an exceptionally friendly and helpful people. Athens was always flawed as a city for visitors, one suspects – it’s not like Prague or Paris – but the lack of public money and successful business is certainly showing. Even so, some things are timeless.
**it’s a big pic, click and press +, if you want detail
It’s nice to be right, and it’s been going on in this blog since last September. I mean the specific issue of SNP failure, rather than just well deserved SNP loathing. Most sentient observers could see it too, but much of the feeble media tended not to dwell on the now obvious trend**. The current SNP mob have now had it re independence and the whole Salmond/Sturgeon cult-of-personality-love-in, is a busted flush.
Wonderful. Given that the SNP demand unquestioning loyalty, it’s nice to see tweets like this morning’s:
Obviously it would have been even better if Pete Wishart and Stephen Gethins had lost their seats (stay tuned), but I’m fairly happy.
Scotland is a great country, and the SNP have done it no end of harm.
** this is a typical piece of wise-after-the-event. Honestly, guys
From a long but rewarding read by Daniel Johnson in the always interesting Standpoint magazine, considering the theme of Europe v the EU, through the lens of the life of Spanish intellectual Jose Ortega y Gasset:
Ortega died in Venice, the maritime republic that had once embraced Orient and Occident, and I cannot help wondering if this was a coincidence. Venice was the bulwark of Catholic Europe in defeating the Ottomans at Lepanto, together with the Papacy and the Habsburg Empire. La Serenissima symbolises grandeur and decadence, the metaphysical city suspended between land, sea and sky. Venice is the antithesis of Brussels, the Europe on which Ortega had turned his back.
Venice as the antithesis of Brussels is a great concept, and entirely in keeping with the flavour of those cities. Venice is the one you want to revisit, for sure.
Many painters have tackled Venice of course, Brussels not so much (though this, from the greatest Belgian of them all, is stupendous). Turner, the most brilliant of all British artists, did many, many such scenes, and the one I’ve chosen is not a favourite as such, just a good example of the prolific Turner’s stunning technical and creative facility. And it is indeed a metaphysical city suspended between land, sea and sky.
Those people who are openly dismayed that they see Trump ripping up the institutions and processes of sane stable government are wrong.
They’re also missing the point.
Trump often has the manner and superfical effect of a wrecking ball, but since 1997 in the UK and 2001 in the US, both countries have been decimated by the slow motion wrecking balls of New Labour, the Bush foreign adventures and the Obama Terror. Do I sound like some sort of right wing Trumpian monster? Possibly I do, but like many voters I am not ideological other than in the vague ‘less government in our lives would be better’ way. And like all voters there are specific issues that I would like to see dealt with. We can disagree on our wants and our priorities, but whatever they are, most voters want pragmatic government that works.
Why do I think Trump is not destroying the institutions of power? Well, it’s in the evidence so far. Charles Krauthammer’s take six weeks ago is pretty much spot on:
The strongman cometh, it was feared. Who and what would stop him? Two months into the Trumpian era, we have our answer.
Our checks and balances have turned out to be quite vibrant. Consider: The courts Trump rolls out not one but two immigration bans, and is stopped dead in his tracks by the courts. However you feel about the merits of the policy itself (in my view, execrable and useless but legal) or the merits of the constitutional reasoning of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (embarrassingly weak, transparently political), the fact remains: The president proposed and the courts disposed. Trump’s pushback? A plaintive tweet or two complaining about the judges — that his own Supreme Court nominee denounced (if obliquely) as “disheartening” and “demoralizing.” The states Federalism lives. The first immigration challenge to Trump was brought by the attorneys general of two states (Washington and Minnesota) picking up on a trend begun during the Barack Obama years when state attorneys general banded together to kill his immigration overreach and the more egregious trespasses of his Environmental Protection Agency. And beyond working through the courts, state governors — Republicans, no less — have been exerting pressure on members of Congress to oppose a Republican president’s signature health-care reform. Institutional exigency still trumps party loyalty. Congress The Republican-controlled Congress (House and Senate) is putting up epic resistance to a Republican administration’s health-care reform. True, that’s because of ideological and tactical disagreements rather than any particular desire to hem in Trump. But it does demonstrate that Congress is no rubber stamp. And its independence extends beyond the perennially divisive health-care conundrums. Trump’s budget, for example, was instantly declared dead on arrival in Congress, as it almost invariably is regardless of which party is in power
Not that I necessarily agree with all these opposing moves, the point is that there is relatively little absolute power outwith national crises and wartime, and all presidents must exist within a system. That system is entirely intact. Of course, in those areas where Trump has shown real skill, he gets little credit from the establishment.
The real damage occurred with his predecessors. The same happened in the UK under Blair, it’s happening now in various parts of Europe courtesy of the EU. Australia and Canada come and go a bit, but it really has been a classical Gramsci/Dutschke ‘long march through the institutions’. There is no better example of the occasionally overt nature of this than the US Supreme Court wrangling – surely all judges should be politically neutral in their work? If only.
Trump and inevitably, Brexit, are the most prominent examples of pushback against this infiltrative game changing. That’s all. And despite the risks and occasional misdemeanours, I welcome both. Particularly when I consider the alternatives. The Trump presidency so far, like Brexit and the associated Remain sulking, has done nothing that changes my mind on this.
There is a good analogy. When I was a teenager back in the 70’s the British cultural and music scene was hardly vibrant. Superannuated hippies made dull long winded and overhyped LP’s, gigs were often tedious doped up snooze fests. Even one’s parents were comfortable with it all. Then came punk. Not just a musical phenomenon (though the best is still great), more of a kicking over the traces cultural paradigm shift that was in some ways absolutely tremendous. The country had a totally different mood. And the Establishment suffered acute Fear and Loathing in response. But there was no threat, no real damage, no real animosity. It was fun. By 1981 it was over, pretty much, as the appalling New Romantics took over, and we’ve never had it again. Four years max.
In fact, as I survey in middle age the current music scene (indeed, nearly everything since the mid 90’s) I shudder at the complacency and derivative boring rubbish that is out there. Punk was great.
And that’s how I see Trump (and Brexit). How I hate the proclamations of stultifying conventional career progressing professional political types, of whatever party. Boring earnestness usually goes with platitudes, sanctimony, virtue signalling and complete ineffectivenness. That applies to all parties – though some are worse than others. If you become an apostate then the humourless horde try to destroy you. Trump is an antidote, possibly only temporary, like the Punk Era, but welcome all the same. He doesn’t give a toss, he’s spontaneous, he often means well, he’s unconventional**, deeply flawed, funny and rides his luck. His enemies almost uniformly underrate, dismiss and fear him, in one confused bundle. Good for him.
One of the mission statements of this blog is from the late John von Kannon: “If I can’t have good government, give me entertaining government”.
And you only have to look at who’s against him (and Brexit), to get that little heartwarming glow.
**fascinatingly, the day after I wrote this, here is the highly experienced Robert Gates – former CIA and Defence Secretary, with bipartisan support – talking about Trump:
Broadly philosophically, I’m in agreement with his disruptive approach. So in government, I’m a strong believer in the need for reform of government agencies and departments. They have gotten fat and sloppy and they’re not user-friendly. They are inefficient. They cost too much. I also think on the foreign policy side that there is a need for disruption. We’ve had three administrations follow a pretty consistent policy toward North Korea, and it really hasn’t gotten us anywhere. So the notion of disrupting and putting the Chinese on notice that it’s no longer business as usual for the United States I think is a good thing. Now the question is, obviously, in the implementation of disruption. On the foreign policy side, there’s the risk of being too spontaneous and too disruptive where you end up doing more harm than damage. Figuring out that balance is where having strong people around you matters.
36 (in a continuing series): Hard facts from intelligent people
I am indebted to the legendary patriot @BrianSpanner1 for this absolute gem of brevity and hard fact, taken from a letter to the Scotsman last July, written by retired law professor Alistair Bonnington.
It introduces a refreshing real world analysis to the SNP’s fantasy role-playing as a proper government. It’s even more relevant now than when it was written. Magnificent.
Thanks to last Thursday’s local (council) elections, we have a new snapshot on the Scottish political state of play. Nobody usually cares much about these episodes, although they can be fairly consequential. These latest polls are getting attention – correctly – as a political barometer.
34. The ‘Yes cities’ are not actually Yes cities
We heard a lot of guff about Scotland’s two ‘Yes cities’ after the 2014 referendum, these being Glasgow and Dundee. There’s a faintly patronising edge to the interpretation of this, that they voted Yes for independence because of their economic struggles compared to Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Maybe, but also maybe not. It’s one view, but not one that really favours the SNP’s independence cause – surely they would rather the punters were ideologically in favour of secession, not just after a bit more cash?
In any event, despite Economics Titan Alex Salmond boldly predicting an independent Scotland swimming in oil money, the bottom has still dropped out of that market, and decommissioning rigs is looking like the new mini-bonanza. Not a nation-building foundation, I would suggest. One doubts that the Scottish economy (flatlining at best) is going to turn Glasgow and Dundee around, and yet they still didn’t vote for majority SNP councils. In Dundee they actually lost their majority (see ‘decline’) and in Glasgow, despite more advance publicity than a Led Zeppelin comeback gig, they achieved the much desired peak of ‘no overall majority’.
I should add that both Glasgow and Dundee are perfectly nice places to live and should not be pawns in some weird Nationalist game. I’d rather live in either of them than most other places in Scotland.
35. Scottish people do not reflexively hate Tories, nor do they mysteriously love the EU***
…which are two of the Nats’ biggest claims. Who, even in France and Germany, loves the wretched EU?
Here’s the evidence, taken from the SNP’s own house rag, The Nat’onal:
Doing the sums, the Scottish electorate was 3,987,112, and 1,661,191 voted Remain but 1,018,322 voted to Leave. That’s 642,869 more people wanted to Remain. A big number, but not a massive difference in some ways. I wouldn’t take it as a proof of a deep and abiding love for the EU. More than a million voters still wanted to leave. Looked at another way, given the turnout, 41.7% of the electorate (so less than half) positively wanted to Remain, and 25.5% wanted to Leave. I’m not claiming it was terribly close, but simply correcting the frankly daft notion that all Scots are gutted by the thought of leaving the EU. Far from it, and with a turnout of 67.2%, it should be noted that a third of voters couldn’t be arsed to express a view. I suspect that this lot are not all secret Eurofanatics, however. The UK turnout was 72.2%, so the Scots were notably more apathetic than the rest of the UK. That refers to the situation last year. It looks like the EU is a lot less popular in Scotland now.
Anyway, the SNP and the rest of us were all agreed that the local election results would be harbingers of the imminent general election. Suddenly they seem less keen on that line. Why would that be?
*** shortly after I posted this blog, this outstanding piece by the highly erudite and well informed Tom Gallagher (@cultfree54 on Twitter), appeared on Policy Exchange. Recommended