What I love about this fantastic miniature is – apart from the extraordinary skill and aesthetic sensitivity – the fact that the scene it depicts, a Christmas mass is essentially the same, 700 years later, as is happening right now, all over the planet. Technically it’s a different form, in the 14th century it would have been the pre-Tridentine Roman rite, but it’s basically the same, in all honesty.
This part of Les Tres Riches Heures is regarded as definitely being by the Limbourg Brothers. The delicate tracery and expressions on the faces fit with that – there’s a bit of chat and consternation in the congregation. Followed by a great version of In The Bleak Midwinter (genuinely)
When the famed English wit (I suppose) James Delingpole wrote his meisterwerk, Welcome to Obamaland: I’ve Seen Your Future, and it Doesn’t Work, he couldn’t have quite realised how accurate he would be in his lucid comparison of Blair and Obama. Set aside the vanity, the glib speechifying, the certainty in one’s own views irrespective of the evidence, the spendthrift economy and the foreign policy disasters. The extraordinary feature of both men is their remarkable electoral popularity, and the almost criminal lack of lasting benefit accrued to the voters who put them up there.
The upshot of all this is both men have almost no substantial positive legacy. I know a lot has been claimed, but I mean real achievements for world peace, national infrastructure, the economy, employment – all that tiresome stuff that actually matters.
I lost my residual affection or respect for Obama back in 2012, when his vindictive nun bullying began on the back of the now doomed Obamacare requirements. A year later when he was doubling down on the Catholics. I wrote then .... Obama may stagger through the next three years, working on his scorched earth tactics . That three years will almost certainly be a mess on numerous levels. Whatever the polls say, I very much doubt that Hillary Clinton will be the next president. I also quoted Peggy Noonan on his aggressive stance to the Church:There was nothing for the president to gain, except, perhaps, the pleasure of making a great church bow to him. Enjoy it while you can. You have awakened a sleeping giant.
Looks like this last 6 weeks’ results have been a few years in the making. Some of it recalls Harold Macmillan’s (or was it Baldwin?) quotation: “There are three bodies no sensible man directly challenges: the Roman Catholic Church, the Brigade of Guards and the National Union of Mineworkers”.
Anyway, the long and short of all this is to ask the question: what is his true legacy? To which I would identify three areas. The first black president, agreed. Secondly, in policy terms the facts are very clear. Try Victor Davis Hanson’s detailed and sharp analysis, judged by Barack’s own criteria. Pretty painful.
The third category is a more existential one. Just as Tony Blair roams the world seeking a role and a little respect, like the Wandering Jew observed through the prism of the Love Actually zeitgeist, so might Obama end up just a little bit lost. This is the theme of a quite magnificent bit of writing by a Philadelphia lawyer – not a professional journalist – Martin Karo over at Powerline:
He will drive (well, be driven) a few scant miles to a house in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, where he can watch at close range as his legacy is revealed not to be one. From his front-row seat, he will watch his eponymous healthcare plan be gutted, watch his foreign policy be repudiated, watch his bureaucratic overreaches be reeled in (please God!), watch conservative judges take the bench, watch his immigration policy melt, watch the military cheer his successor as they never cheered him, watch infrastructure funds build highways and bridges (that will not be named after him) instead of disappearing into the pockets of government union members, watch the American energy revival kick into high gear.
As he watches all this, one wonders whether Obama will appreciate the curious posture he has imposed on the Democratic Party. It is too much to expect Obama to blame himself for the decline in the Party’s presence, at every level of government; but unless he is delusional, he must at least see it.
But there’s more:
The other curious thing about Obama’s remaining on the scene is that he has no visible friends on it, despite his dominance of his party. He has many toadies. He has his entourage. He even has many sincere admirers. But friends? Name three. Name one….
….Obama is staying in Washington for two reasons: because he doesn’t truly have friends elsewhere, or any other place he considers home; and because if he doesn’t stay in DC he descends into obscurity. The latter is a struggle he is likely to lose anyway; if ever there were a personality suited to dominate the stage and put his predecessor in the shade, it is Trump.
I have no idea who Obama’s real buddies are (if any), but it’s a compelling picture that Karo paints. He draws two comparisons (not Blair this time): Richard Nixon and Milton’s Samson Agonistes. You probably do have to be a little remote, a little different, to achieve the highest office, and I have no issue with that, but to ultimately achieve so little of substance is tragic.
Samson of course brought the roof of the mighty temple building down with his residual strength, killing himself and the elite of the Philistine tribe by whom he’d been captured.
…it’s a Christmas festive bonanza of Nat uselessness. There’s almost too much to write about, so I’ll try to keep it brief (with the relevant links)
18. Scottish education – judged by outcomes rather than platitudes – plumbs new depths
If you’re not in the position (about £11000 per annum is good value) to send your child to a private school – and they are booming, for obvious reasons – then you can enjoy the state system. The great Gerald Warner summed it up better than me in this essential piece. Bottom line: since the SNP took over in 2007, numeracy and literacy have plummeted, compared to the rest of the world. This is using robust OECD figures released this month, even the official Scottish data suggests that “28% of P7 pupils are not achieving required levels of literacy and numeracy”. As The Donald would say, that’s yuuge. This is way worse than England, despite the generous Scottish per capita funding. It’s serious.
19. Possibly related – SNP MP can’t spell
Angus MacNeil has never come across as a sharp tool, so to speak. If you’re going to employ public scorn, then avoid spelling your insults incorrectly. This was back in June, but it’s too good to miss
20. SNP superstar Derek Mackay talks gobbledegook
His predecessor as Cabinet Secretary for Finance and various other things , John Swinney, whilst not being in any way outstanding was at least fairly calm, polite and experienced (it’s a low bar in Scotland). Along comes university dropout Mackay and he’s not short of chutzpah, but he rarely makes any sense. Judge for yourself, if you can bear it. Everything is about creating confusion and scoring cheap points and headlines, to the point where he makes Gordon Brown seem an honest, transparent and prudent financier.
The associated budget is similarly misleading, dishonest and moronic. The remarkable work of @kevverage and @FraserWhyte81 is assiduously documented in the former’s essential blog. It can get complicated, but this is heroic stuff. So accurate and thorough are the analyses that these guys are true Nat hate figures, yet all the media read them. The inconvenient truth is that:
1. the figures don’t suggest that the Scots have been victims of Sturgeon’s favourite accusation of “osterrty”,
2. there’s been some very dodgy manipulation of the numbers.
A very credible independence supporter (and a Nat insider), Alex Bell, sums it up.
21. Exciting new Sturgeon Brexit plan is shot down by her own team
This one could run and run. It’s really a variation on a theme, that being milking Brexit to make weird links to the ‘next’ referendum. None of it is real world stuff. Iain Martin is always good on this, and he’s had enough. If they’re not already, I reckon the entire UK will soon be fed up with the whole Hard/Soft Brexit rubbish beloved of a diminishing claque of politicos and hacks. As it happens, Europhile Charles Grant is the latest member of her own teamto discredit it. At one point do even the zoomers lose faith? And at one point do the SNP begin to respond to the concerns of Scots who didn’t vote for them, or who did vote for Brexit? (I’m not holding my breath on this one). The summary that keeps cropping up is uncomfortable in the extreme for mad Nat Remainers, to wit:
Scottish exports to the EU total £11.6bn
Scottish exports to the rest of the world total £15.2bn
And Scottish exports to the rest of the UK total £48.5bn – 64% of the total.
The great Mark Steyn (I mean that), has written an awesomely good, elegaic reflection on space flight and American greatness in the light of the death of astronaut John Glenn. It’s worth reading it all, but the simple sums in this paragraph boggle my mind:
The Wright brothers’ first flight was in 1903. Fifty-nine years later, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, and seven years after that Buzz Aldrin became the first man to play “Fly Me To The Moon” on the moon (thanks to the portable cassette recorder he took with him). We are now another half-century on, a half-century devoid of giant leaps and even small steps.
And as Steyn points out, from JFK announcing it to man actually walking on the moon took a mere 8 years, beating Kennedy’s famous plan comfortably: ‘This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.’ That’s the duration of a two term president. As it happens we’ve had a few of them to use as handy comparisons, and they don’t come out of it too well.
Maybe there is something in the negativity of Bruce Charlton in the article (read it!). Maybe we can’t do it now, even if we wanted to. But I doubt it, even now in the era of Peak Snowflake.
Nash is primarily famous for his brutal war art, such as The Menin Road, strangely elegant though that painting is. He was actually out there in Ypres, amidst the bombs, mud and carnage, ending up with an official war artist role. He became disillusioned quickly: “It is unspeakable, godless, hopeless. I am no longer an artist interested and curious, I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on for ever. Feeble, inarticulate, will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth, and may it burn their lousy souls.”
He died in 1946. After WW1 he got into illustrating, often with a surreal, abstract or expressionist edge, and painted plenty of rural scenes, of which this is one. In WW2 he was back as an official artist for a while, and all of his work is of great quality. As you can see, Shell liked it so much (they commissioned it) that they continued to use it for a funky travel advert 37 years later. Anyway, the great man is currently the beneficiary of Tate Britain exhibition.
2016 has been quite a year: memorable deaths from Bowie to Castro (so far), undoubtedly the year of Bad Losers (General Election, Brexit, US Election), and I would now offer, the ascendancy of the SPV, the secretly pleased voter.
Let me explain. Everyone would like the Johnson option of having cake and eating it, but it’s simply not possible for everyone. That large silent mass of voters has to do the unpopular heavy lifting of actually voting for change. When change duly rolls along, in the form of a moribund Labour Party, Brexit, and Donald Trump, the vocal minority, whose judgement, like their predictive powers is reliably garbage, get to have their say. It goes roughly like this, you know the tune: don’t blame us; that ghastly man; racist/misogynistic/homophobic blah blah blah; isn’t Europe wonderful, I did French O level; mass migration is the only humane option etc etc etc etc. We all know the rules and the lines employed….
….those same people are delighted that the votes went the way they did. Not uniformly delighted, there will be a few genuine holdouts who actually really thought Hillary or Ed would be good at it, but in my view, very very few. I almost respect such people. It’s the frenzied middle class (always middle class), many of whom are in my family and social circles who want to yell injustice and still reap the benefits. They don’t want migrants in their area, they absolutely don’t want to pay more tax, they will still travel to wherever they please regardless of the potential changes in visas, they will retain numerous prejudices of which they will hardly be aware, they will be quietly satisfied that the US is now developing a backbone again, and they will enjoy for a long time the truly delicious fun of slagging off the victors and the voters who put them there.
And as we’ve already seen with Brexit (1,2,3), even if all their lousy predictions of doom, disaster etc are totally disproven, there will not be at any point an ounce of admission that they were utterly wrong, gullible and stupid. It’s the Waitrose Generation’s version of never retract, never explain, never apologise.
And in the century of the annoying acronym, it should be noted that the crossover between SPV’s and SJW’s (1,2) is virtually 100%.
It’s tough for us good guys, whose predictions are by and large accurate, and who can see the big picture, but we dig deep. Somebody’s got to do it.
When you’ve built the tallest medieval fortified structure in Europe, for its time, you would expect it to tower over the landscape and the trees. The Chateau de Vincennes does exactly that in the last of the twelve month cycle. It’s still there today, though without the many smaller towers you see in the painting (and in the model below).
The chateau took a battering over the centuries, and housed a community of English nuns and the imprisoned Marquis de Sade, though not at the same time. It was further damaged by a rentamob once the French Revolution was well underway. The Duc de Berry’s interest in it is that he was born in the chateau, 676 years ago last week.
Vincennes was a heavily forested area near Paris – now part of the Parisian urban sprawl – and as you might expect, there was a lot of hunting, in this case a wild boar hunt, with dogs, a potentially risky business. Oddly enough, still no snow, that seemed to wait till after Christmas in medieval France, judging by the Tres Riches Heures. By this point in the series – about 1440 – the duke was dead, the Limbourg brothers were dead, and the probable artist was the Master of Shadows, which is a cool name, in real life Barthélemy d’Eyck, which is still not bad.
The Knife is a subscriber to the excellent Standpoint magazine, which as Guido details, is in considerable financial trouble. The only problem I have with it is getting the time to read it. The magazine is edited by the genuinely cerebral Daniel Johnson (as opposed to the casually applied ‘cerebral’ epithet to the likes of Barack), and could at a stretch be described as containing the thinking man’s version of the new bogeyman, the alt right. That is not the loose melange of far right cranks, but rather a ‘right of centre’ group of people who are prepared to confront the shibboleths of the formerly ascendant mad lefties, exemplified by Ed Miliband, Hillary (and Barack much of the time), who continually strafe the political landscape with infantile Hitler accusations and similar, in order to stifle dissent.
Taking another publication with intellectual pretensions, the Guardian, it schizophrenically publishes trite editorials on the alt right theme, whilst at the same time encourages the superb journalism of people like John Harris, whose far more nuanced interpretation of the reasons for Trump and Brexit have been among the journalistic highlights of 2016.
Back to Guido. Here is one of his regular commenters, Kevin T, on the Standpoint situation, and their version of the alt right:
Why all the sniping at the alt right? The alt right actually get shit done. Brexit won, Trump elected. Traditional conservatives have given us sod all since Reagan and Thatcher left office. They mostly just sit there looking timid on Question Time, giving in to the left on everything except taxes. Thank Harambe something else has come along.
16. A dismal attempt at being an international statesman comes unstuck
Or even being a competent trade negotiator, really. As the Glasgow Herald stated in April: Nicola Sturgeon has signed a potential multi-billion pound investment deal with a firm owned by a Chinese construction giant implicated in “gross corruption” on an industrial scale. The deal had been mysteriously kept secret until a Freedom of Information request zapped it. Clearly she didn’t find all that corruption too offputting. Must be the company she keeps. Hilariously, Norway, with whom the Nats endlessly compare Scotland, as Norway are a successful independent small country had already blacklisted the railway group’s parent firm over corruption fears. When this was publicised, Ms Sturgeon started backtracking and havering, leading to this reasonable comment from Labour:
“The fact that discussions have been going on for a year without SNP minister providing any detail is extraordinary. This deal stinks and it has done from the very beginning. It’s time for the SNP to stop the ducking and diving – Nicola Sturgeon should order the full publication of all documents relating to this deal, going as far back as a year ago when talks first began.”
Fast forward to this week, and it turns out that the Chinese have pulled the plug on the £10 billion investment. Even more bizarrely, they did so in August, but that was also kept secret (a bad habit the Nats are developing). Did Nicola hope that everyone would forget about it?
Attacking rivals Ms Sturgeon added: “We have an opposition that demanded the cancellation of this memorandum of understanding, we have an opposition that had a hysterical over-the-top reaction to this memorandum of understanding. So, while I take responsibility for learning lessons, I really do think the opposition also have to reflect on their behaviour, which led to a political climate in which these partners felt they couldn’t proceed.” But Tory leader Ruth Davidson said it was “embarrassing for our country” adding: “Rather than blaming us, or blaming Brexit, or blaming the weather, will the First Minister remove the shroud of secrecy from deals like these and be straight with the Scottish people?”
That probably is too much to ask.
17. A dismal attempt to lean on the Irish comes unstuck
The majority of world leaders (a term that sounds grander than its reality) understand that intrinsic to the concept of leading a country, is nationhood. Come to think of it, that is meant to be the SNP’s whole schtick. Intrinsic to that is a generally accepted frame of geopolitical reference – Portugal is separate from Spain, Sicily is part of Italy. That kind of thing, primary school geography. Even the EU adheres to this. Along comes Nicola Sturgeon, nudging the Irish to informally recognise Scotland as a separate country when it comes to international negotiations, because, y’know, all Scots hate Brexit (they don’t). Here is the commendably straightforward Joe McHugh, the Dublin Government’s “minister for the Diaspora and International Development”: It’s a UK Government position and what I like about their approach is they’re looking to involve the devolved assemblies. I think that’s important. They’re already doing it, it’s already happening.
And Sturgeon gets another knockback. It should be humiliating (and humbling) for her, it’s certainly humiliating for Scotland.
Gordon Brown managed to wreck his own party by taking large swathes of voters for granted. In fact, that’s basically how the SNP rose to power. Obama and Clinton have now managed to wreck their own party by taking large swathes of voters for granted.