The Punk President

Donald Trump Crowns The New Miss USA Nana Meriwether
21st century renaissance man

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.

The SNP: decline and fall (10)

36 (in a continuing series): Hard facts from intelligent people

chimps
Another Holyrood debate…

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.

spanner3
…as @BrianSpanner1 said – genuinely brutal

The SNP: decline and fall (9) – local election special

sturgeon juncker
It doesn’t get any worse than this…

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:

le2017
Look at all that hatred of the Tories….er…hang on…

…and just as a reminder from Brexit Liberation Day:

scoteuref
*

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.

Just saying.

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?

salmond juncker
….I spoke too soon

*** 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

French election special ~ The W126 Mercedes SEC: men of taste and distinction

It’s always nice to have an excuse to go on about the awesome and beautiful SEC series of Mercedes coupes from the 1980’s. In fact the two previous posts on the topic (here and here) have been among the most popular things on this blog in the last 7 years. It’s partly the aesthetics, courtesy of the genius of Bruno Sacco (1, 2), and partly the sheer joy of zooming around in one, although they’re almost primitive by today’s standards. Such simplicity is is appealing in itself – and easier to fix when there’s a problem. I had a well used 560 SEC as a taster, I now have a 500 SEC, and it’s a keeper.

When you find out that it’s the favoured car of Clint Eastwood and the late Ayrton Senna amongst others – who could buy any car they liked – then you realise it must have a special allure, or pace the female readers, a certain manliness. It’s the antithesis of a highly capable yet boring and ugly modern car – the Nissan Juke, say.

Pierre_de_Bénouville
L’homme lui-même

Which brings me to today’s post. It takes a gallic sang froid to walk into the nearest Mercedes dealership to your appartement on the Champs-Élysées and order the absolute top of the range 560 SEC, with pretty much all the extras. The buyer in question, back in 1988, was Pierre de Bénouville, a prewar  literary critic who became a general and a hero of the French Resistance. Here’s a sample of his New York Times obituary:

…like many French rightists, he was a patriotic nationalist and a bitter foe of the Germans,” and he rejected the occupied government’s call to capitulation and collaboration and went into the underground. An ardent supporter of Charles de Gaulle, to whom he was close in his later political career, he was also a member of the Free French Forces during the war and organized French forces in Algeria. In 1944 he was promoted to brigadier general in the French Army because of his achievements as the commander of a unit of Moroccan sharpshooters on the Italian front. He went on to be a major general. A high-ranking member of the Legion of Honor, he received other decorations, including the Croix de Guerre and the Medal of the Resistance.

Impressive n’est-ce pas? Although he was a ‘rightist’, whatever that is, he was a long term pal of Mitterand (not necessarily a recommendation) and his post-war career was of a fiercely patriotic and successful establishment fixture. His views on the EU are not known to me, but as a Gaullist he was probably for it, as long as the French were in charge, and against the Brits. A couple of other obituaries make interesting reading (Guardian and Telegraph).

Tomorrow is the highly consequential French general election. What a patriotic and brave high achiever like de Bénouville would make of the lightweight effete Blair manqué Emmanuel Macron is a tricky one. His own career path has some similarities to that of Marine Le Pen’s dodgy father. My guess is he would emotionally sympathise with Le Pen but pragmatically vote for Macron, to keep le projet Union européenne alive.

So here, from the outstanding Mercedes Enthusiast magazine, is the full feature on de Bénouville’s exceptional W126 coupe. I’ve provided it as a jpeg and a pdf for any SEC geeks out there.

Vive la France, mais vive la différence!

Z
C’est magnifique

and….

BOzymandias, the nuns and the NHS

ozymandias_by_witchofwest-d3bmzex
It even looks a bit like him…

You don’t have to be religious to enjoy the victory of the Little Sisters of the Poor yesterday, although it helps.

Trump11
*

The media yesterday, in the UK and to an extent in the US, hugely downplayed Trump’s passage of an Obamacare replacement through Congress, even though there are still a few challenges ahead.  The Guardian, as one example, bafflingly are using the picture on the right as their main US headline, at the time of me writing this. We know you don’t like him guys, but was that really the main news event?

Two things happened: the Obamacare replacement already mentioned, the lack of which was being gleefully touted until about two days ago by people who should know better, as an emblem of Trump’s abject failures. The second is Trump’s executive order on religious freedom, which led to the press conference which is shown below. As Trump said, and it’s hard to claim he’s wrong: “I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution”. (Read this for more background).

There were parts of Obamacare that were good in theory, although the victims of the private insurance/Medicare/Medicaid situation that preceded it were primarily the middle classes rather than the poor and indigent. It was the middle classes who didn’t qualify for state aid who were hammered financially. However, Obamacare was always a rotten business model, and that’s all it was. It wasn’t healthcare – that’s provided by clinicians – and it wasn’t even insurance, as there was not enough ‘this might not happen’ element to it, which is the essence of house, car, health, dog insurance, whatever. If the new bill includes adequate coverage for pre-existing conditions, it will be better. Obamacare had had it anyway, even before yesterday’s news.

Perhaps Obama should have been more open about it, and gone for a US NHS, funded from taxation. I’m a big fan of the NHS. I have worked in it for more than 30 years, I don’t do private work, but it is desperately in need of reform. It has suffered terribly from technological advances, in a financial sense – and they’re far from being all good clinically – but also from mission creep, much of it led by the dreaded Public Health cabal and various politicians after an easy boost. It is far from Nye Bevan’s original vision. In a very perceptive Standpoint article on all this, John Torode wrote:

…however much the rest of the world allegedly envied our brave new health service, not one nation of any significance turned envy into action. Pretty well every advanced liberal democracy, from Germany to Israel, from France to the Scandinavian nations, chose fundamentally different models of health provision…..some problems are common to all health services. We live longer and need more, and more expensive, attention for chronic conditions in our old age. Medical science and technology have grown ever more complex and costly. But our rigid, unresponsive, centralised system, designed by state-socialists and run by bureaucrats, serves neither patients nor practitioners. It merely exacerbates the difficulties.

A working Glasgow GP, Margaret McCartney, wrote a great piece on the very real problem, both ethical and financial, of modern healthcare pursuing life at all costs:

Death is inevitable, but frequently seen as an inadequacy in medicine or treatment. Harpal Kumar, the chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said on the radio recently that his aim was to ensure that no one died of cancer any more. But we are still going to die, so what are we to die of? Is every death to be fought back with all of medicine’s might, and to be always considered its failure?

Well worth reading it all, but I digress. Back to BO and the nuns, where it just so happens that healthcare was the field on which he chose to fight. I wrote a blog 5 years ago  that predicted Obama’s demise on this. He picked on the wrong people, and he did it in a stupid and vindictive way.  He may have won his two elections for reasons that are many and varied – not particularly about good governance though – but his signature legislation is now dead. I had a Ford Fiesta that lasted longer than Obamacare. And he completely deserves the humiliation that it brings. Even his buddies in the Washington Post were aghast:

Both radicalism and maliciousness are at work in Obama’s decision — an edict delivered with a sneer. It is the most transparently anti-Catholic maneuver by the federal government since the Blaine Amendment was proposed in 1875 — a measure designed to diminish public tolerance of Romanism, then regarded as foreign, authoritarian and illiberal. Modern liberalism has progressed to the point of adopting the attitudes and methods of 19th-century Republican nativists….Obama is claiming the executive authority to determine which missions of believers are religious and which are not — and then to aggressively regulate institutions the government declares to be secular. It is a view of religious liberty so narrow and privatized that it barely covers the space between a believer’s ears.

Hence the title of this post. Take it away Percy Bysshe Shelley…

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

 

 and that video. “Incredible nuns…”

 

How to write (an occasional series)

I have in the past lauded Kevin D Williamson of National Review Online, for his remarkable ability to marshal facts, argue his corner and knock out umpteen witticisms in extraordinarily concise and punchy prose. Possibly his most famous knockdown was his commentary on the now annual State of the Union address, but it’s one of many. Here’s the opening:

The annual State of the Union pageant is a hideous, dispiriting, ugly, monotonous, un-American, un-republican, anti-democratic, dreary, backward, monarchical, retch-inducing, depressing, shameful, crypto-imperial display of official self-aggrandizement and piteous toadying, a black Mass during which every unholy order of teacup totalitarian and cringing courtier gathers under the towering dome of a faux-Roman temple to listen to a speech with no content given by a man with no content, to rise and to be seated as is called for by the order of worship — it is a wonder they have not started genuflecting — with one wretched representative of their number squirreled away in some well-upholstered Washington hidey-hole in order to preserve the illusion that those gathered constitute a special class of humanity without whom we could not live.

It’s the most nauseating display in American public life — and I write that as someone who has just returned from a pornographers’ convention.

He had, too.

That was more than three years ago, and this week Brendan O’Neill (1, 2, 3 ), hero of free speech and independent thinking courtesy of Spiked Online, has his say in the Spectator, on Blair’s possible Brexit comeback. It has a similar ‘oomph’. Here’s the opening:

Here they come, Tony Blair and his tragic chattering-class army. The former PM, whose rictus grin and glottal stops still haunt the nation’s dreams (well, mine anyway), is on the march with his pleb-allergic mates in business and the media. Blair and the Twitterati, linking arms, united in their horror at the incalculable stupidity of northerners and Welsh people and Essex men and women and other Brexiteers, their aim as clear as it is foul. They’re here to save us from ourselves. ‘Tony Blair is trying to save Britain from itself’, as one report put it. Excuse me while I pop an anti-nausea pill.

Yes, Blair, the political version of Michael Myers, the nutter in the Halloween movies who just cannot be slain, is back. Again. Remember when PMs were dignified and would bow out into their cobwebbed corner of the Lords when it became clear the British public had had a gutful of them? Not Blair. He’s considering a return to the frontline of politics, according to reports, because he wants to halt Hard Brexit. He feels so ‘passionate’ about this, he says, that ‘I almost feel motivated to go right back into it’ — ‘it’ being politics, public life, our daily lives. Make it stop, please

I doubt that he’s the sort that would accept a knighthood, but if he maintains this standard (he will)……

BON_take_2
Snappy dresser O’Neill

The SNP: decline and fall (8)

balloon1
balloons

 

I’d like to claim that I got in early on the meme currently gathering momentum: that the SNP’s shrill, frantic and infantile yelling about independence is now proving counterproductive to their cause. In fact, it’s probably all over.

I’m not criticising a legitimate wish for Scottish independence – the only coherent argument for which is self-determination and sovereignty, not economic benefits, not social justice, whatever that is. And that same nationalism contains a very hefty chunk of naked bigotry and resentment, naturally.

By early, I mean last September, which was just the latest in a long line of posts over more than 6 years (for example) about the genuine iniquities of the SNP and some of their fellow nationalists. Not all, but a significant and vociferous mob, even so. They can make life pretty unpleasant.

A few very switched on commentators like Iain Martin and Gerald Warner (try this gem) at Reaction have always got this, the latter dishing out dollops of well deserved and very funny contempt. The newly liberated Stephen Daisley is now another, but they were all in a minority compared to the breathless respect delivered to Ms Sturgeon by very many hacks who know better, or should do, both in England and Scotland. Well, it’s mainstream now.

This post is the latest then in an ongoing Decline and Fall series (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7…), which shows little sign of letting up.

 

30.  All the best writing is from the Nats’ opponents

eck1
@kevverage revisits an Eck classic. Love the “oil analysis” bit

True, the SNP and their fans can do a good line in ad hominem brutality, but if you want top quality lucid, fair and rational writing on the whole independence malarkey, you generally have to go elsewhere. I won’t quote them at length, but apart from the hacks mentioned above, try the done-in their-spare-time work of Kevin Hague, Fraser Whyte and Brian Monteith  (try this). These guys are essential reading for lots of professional journalists, with good reason. The three mentioned, by happy coincidence reflect pretty much the political spectrum outwith the SNP Collective Groupthink. Funny that. I have yet to read a coherent, evidenced argument for independence beyond the very narrow confines of the self-determination thing. The Nats know there is no economic case, in fact the opposite, they’re just not allowed to say it.

 

31. The UK is doing much better economically than Scotland, which may be heading for a recession. Also, better than the EU.

eck3
…he has a point…

The first bit is a cause for joy, the second part, not so much. However, they’re the facts. Read Murdo Fraser here for a more detailed breakdown of what it’s all about. There are lots of reasons, but despite the ungrammatical talk of ‘growing the economy’, the appointment of gormless rabbit-in-the-headlights dropout Derek Mackay in the theoretically important role of Finance Secretary suggests that in reality the Nats will continue to be happy to dole out abuse to Westminster while hoovering up the excess cash provided by the increasingly controversial Barnett Formula. Scotland, viewed in isolation, is teetering on recession.

 

32.  Those pesky polls

Hot off the press are these two polls. If I may lift the details from Politics Home earlier today:

The Kantar survey found backing among Scots voters for the break-up of the UK has slumped from 47% to 40% since August last year.

It also showed that nearly half of them do not want a second independence referendum to ever take place.And barely a quarter of Scots back Nicola Sturgeon’s call for another breakaway vote to be held in either spring 2018 or autumn 2019.

The findings come hard on the heels of a Panelbase poll which showed the SNP is on course to lose nine seats on 8 June.

Honestly, what is wrong with the public?

eck4
Scotland is not Hyndland

 

 

33. The Scots don’t actually love the EU. Why would they?

More polls, but in fact, any sentient human in Scotland might question why Miss Sturgeon is putting it about that the Scots love the EU. It’s hardly on everyone’s lips. At best people don’t really care.

The ScotCen annual Scottish social attitudes survey found that two in three Scots (67 per cent) either want Britain to leave the EU (25 per cent) or for the EU’s powers to be reduced (42 per cent).

This was a 14 point rise in Euroscepticism in Scotland from 2014 and 27 per cent increase based on opinions in 1999 when the Scottish Parliament was opened.

…..and so it goes on and on.

 

why
…where did it all go wrong?

 

Free the serfs!!

serfs001
The Foundation doctors arriving at the hospital

In these exciting times, when morons/Lib Dems drone on about the entirely fictitious entities of hard and soft Brexit, I recommend interested parties to read a charming Spectator piece from last year: Reasons to be Cheerful. A symposium on the benefits of Brexit. All of it is good, with contributions from right across the spectrum of beliefs and politics.

Here is my favourite, because it begins to address a problem that’s blighted British medicine, the EWTD and the associated serfdom of medics in the NHS. It doesn’t mention the equally pernicious New Deal junior doctors’ contract, but it’s a fine start. The author is one of the great British medical writers, Theodore Dalrymple (AKA Anthony Daniels), a terrific writer and experienced clinician, with quite a fan club online (1, 2). Here he is:

No one wants to be treated by a dog-tired doctor, but even less does he want to be the parcel in the medical game of pass-the-parcel that is now commonplace in our hospitals. The European Working Time Directive has transformed doctors into proletarian production-line workers, much to their dissatisfaction with their work and to the detriment of their training and medical experience. It means that doctors no longer work in proper teams, patients don’t know who their doctors are and doctors don’t know who their patients are. The withdrawal of the directive would improve the situation.

Every working doctor that I know would recognise the problem described. Whether abandoning the EWTD (I would) and introducing a more sensible hours regulation would help is a moot point.

But we now need to at least have the conversation.

Easter Saturday: there is a great silence on earth today**

I’ve posted on this four times previously (1, 2, 3, 4), in part because it’s such an intriguing day.  Bryan Appleyard tweeted 3 years ago: Easter Saturday, a catastrophic, hopeless day of no hope. Some say all Beckett’s work takes place on Easter Saturday. I guess that hopelessness is how it felt back then, around 1984 years ago. But if you’re a believer it’s different – you know what’s coming. This astoundingly good Mantegna painting sums up the Appleyard view…

Andrea_Mantegna_-_The_Lamentation_over_the_Dead_Christ_-_WGA13981
Mantegna, Lamentation of Christ, 1480. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

……it looks to be all over. But the mysterious activities behind the scenes, so to speak, on this Saturday are Christ entering hell, as seen in this engraving, also by Mantegna. Note that Christ is trampling down the gates of hell, with the souls in limbo waiting expectantly through the open door…

Andrea_Mantegna_-_Jesus_Cristo_descendo_ao_limbo
Mantegna, Descent into Limbo, ~1475, V&A collection

..and you may ask what that’s all about? I went into the background to it here. It’s decribed in the Catechism as the “last stage of Jesus’ messianic mission”, to “preach even to the dead”. It’s produced some pretty flamboyant painting, such as this derivation of Rubens, Bosch and other Low Country painters…

limbo3
Jan Brueghel the elder, Rottenhammer, Christ’s Descent into Limbo, 1597. Mauritshuis, The Hague

Easter Saturday then is quite a day. The transient attempted secularising of Easter makes no difference to these awesome traditions and beliefs. Here is a fine blog post on the Limbo thing and its depiction, if you’re interested, and also a great study of the ‘Appleyardian’ view in painting.

** the title is from the famous and highly poetic sermon of Melito of SardisSomething strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lent and Pasolini

pasolini-2
*

If I may rehash a film cliche: what can a gay Marxist atheist anticlerical football fan teach us about Lent? Well, quite a lot actually.

I have to admire Pier Paolo Pasolini whose range of subjects is pretty remarkable. His so called ‘Trilogy of Life’ is near the knuckle but amazingly evocative of those ages and places that it wishes to depict: medieval England and Italy and the timeless exoticism of Arabia. His gross and grotesque Salo is in its deeply unpleasant way a serious film. Given its inspiration and setting, if it was remade today it would be called Raqqa.

The man had a distinctive cinematic style, and like his fellow Italian Sergio Leone, he was an absolute master of the human face. The most ordinary of people become gripping subjects instantly. Emotion is routinely underplayed, and is the more powerful because of it.

When it comes to Lent, the key is his remarkably pure and beautiful Gospel According to St Matthew (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). At a stroke Pasolini went from being in trouble with the Church and others for Accatone and Ro.Go.Pa.G to being justifiably feted by the Vatican for this movie, described in 2014 by L’Osservatore Romano as “…the best work about Jesus in the history of cinema”, although when it came out 50 years earlier, some of the church old guard had struggled with the idea that Pasolini could do this in all sincerity. But he did.

Why specifically Lent, given that the movie tells the story of the whole of St Matthew’s Gospel? The answer lies in Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, praying and fasting, which is the most recent and most striking of the various allusions in scripture to Lent as we know it today. There he is tempted by Satan, and dismisses him with pointed references to the Old Testament.

In this film Pasolini typically used a lot of locals with no acting pedigree. He scattered in various acquaintances from his intellectual salon, and also his own mother. The locals are from Crotone, Matera, and Massafra, which is that primitive part of Southern Italy that stands in for ancient Palestine – totally convincingly. However, the desert sequence was filmed on Mount Etna, and it works brilliantly. The emptiness interrupted by the distant figure of Satan, walking purposefully towards Jesus, the dust billowing in his wake resembling, possibly intentionally,  sulphurous fumes. Satan himself is startling and charismatic, portrayed in the most understated way yet brimming with both evil and, one senses, confusion. Weirdly, this is the one main actor in the film who goes uncredited, as far as I can ascertain.

Other people find other scenes more compelling, but this desert sequence does it for me. Pasolini moved on to other things, some mentioned at the start, and got himself disapproved of again. However, he never disavowed his fascination with Christ and his teaching, seeing it in terms of its superficial similarities to socialism and more convincingly,  Jesus as a revolutionary, of a unique kind. He often mused on this paradox: “I am anticlerical (I’m not afraid to say it!)… but it would be insane on my part to deny the powerful influence religion has exerted on me”….“I do not believe that Christ was the Son of God, because I am not a believer—at least not consciously.”

Which is fair enough. But this man of contradictions was also anti-drugs, anti-establishment and remarkably, completely anti-abortion. This is from when he opposed the legalisation of abortion in Italy in 1975: “I am however shocked at the idea of legalizing abortion, because, as many others, I consider it a legalization of homicide. In my dreams and in my everyday behaviour – an attitude common to all human beings – I live my prenatal life, my being happily immersed in the waters: I know that I existed then. I will stop here, because I have more urgent things to say on abortion. That life is sacred is an obvious thing: it is a principle even stronger than any principle of democracy, and it is useless to repeat it.”

He also portrayed the actuality of hell in one scene from The Canterbury Tales, in a mind blowing mix of Hieronymus Bosch, the Carry On movies and Dante’s Inferno. One thing he gets right, based on the popular imagination, is the deafening, screeching noise of hell.

Having said that, the real Satan, who affects us all, is the one in the desert.