The Knife (me) found himself wandering round Seville 37 years ago, (I’ll drop the third person) on my own, for various reasons. I had no money, very limited tourist information given that the internet hadn’t been invented, and plenty of time. Accordingly I visited a lot of places that I probably wouldn’t have managed had I been with my temporarily absent pals. The Gothic choirstalls and treasury of the mighty cathedral (at one time the biggest building in the world, it was claimed), various back alleys in the old town, the hot exposed walk along the Guadalquivir, and the Hospital de la Caridad, specifically its chapel.
There are at least two Spains. The coastal tourist one, which is fine, but is a relatively recent invention in its modernity, trashiness and the ubiquity of non-Spaniards, and the slightly out of the way Spain, mostly in the interior. It is steeped in isolation, blazing heat, dark interiors, Catholicism, silence and emptiness. That’s the one embodied the Chapel of the Hospital de la Caridad, at least it was 37 years ago, when it wasn’t a Top 5 attraction – it is now.
Prominent in its attractions are two large and intentionally disturbing paintings by Juan de Valdés Leal. There is In Ictu Oculi(In the blink of an eye), with Death cockily lording it over his latest prize, and its neighbour, Finis Gloriae Mundi. They are classic memento mori**. Valdés Leal was a real Spanish gothic master of gloom, and his dramatically horrific corpses are on a par with the Italian wax anatomical models of La Specola and Gaetano Zumbo. This eMaze is a pretty impressive introduction to him.
Since standing there in the nearly empty chapel all those years ago, these two paintings have been hanging in a corner of my brain. Finis Gloriae Mundi is basically a take ‘on all flesh is grass’, and of course, sic transit gloria mundi. The two bodies are those of a bishop, and a knight. Then (and still now, perhaps) they embodied the wealthy and the worldly. So why write about it now? Well, Ash Wednesday, as the start of Lent, is a doorway into reflections on life, death, and how we’re often kidding ourselves about what matters, what the future holds, and what it is to truly live rationally.
Ecclesiastes, which apart from the religious element for the Abrahamic faiths, is an astounding work of literature, can usefully be quoted in this sphere, almost at random. It’s notably prominent in the Divine Office at this time of year. Here’s Chapter 2, 11-20:
And when I turned myself to all the works which my hands had wrought, and to the labours wherein I had laboured in vain, I saw in all things vanity, and vexation of mind, and that nothing was lasting under the sun. I passed further to behold wisdom, and errors and folly, (What is man, said I, that he can follow the King his maker?) And I saw that wisdom excelled folly, as much as light differeth from darkness. The eyes of a wise man are in his head: the fool walketh in darkness: and I learned that they were to die both alike. And I said in my heart: If the death of the fool and mine shall be one, what doth it avail me, that I have applied myself more to the study of wisdom? And speaking with my own mind, I perceived that this also was vanity.
For there shall be no remembrance of the wise no more than of the fool for ever, and the times to come shall cover all things together with oblivion: the learned dieth in like manner as the unlearned. And therefore I was weary of my life, when I saw that all things under the sun are evil, and all vanity and vexation of spirit. Again I hated all my application wherewith I had earnestly laboured under the sun, being like to have an heir after me, Whom I know not whether he will be a wise man or a fool, and he shall have rule over all my labours with which I have laboured and been solicitous: and is there any thing so vain? Wherefore I left off and my heart renounced labouring any more under the sun.
As Valdés Leal knew, as we all know, we’re all heading for the same (earthly) fate.
Act wisely, and act now
** the memento mori is still with us. Here’s a beautiful, subtle contemporary example from photographer Erlich Lowi
No-one is absolutely certain of his date of birth. It was in 1770, and the first record of his existence was his baptism in Bonn. That was on 17th December, and all we know is that he was born before that, possibly the day before. Given general piety and infant mortality, there was none of that 21st century hanging around before getting baptised. It was a practical business, more than a social event.
So this year is Beethoven’s 250th birthday year – cue an explosion of commercial activity, which if it brings new listeners to the great man’s portfolio, all well and good.
It was Robert Schumann, a great composer, who in a review (his other job) of Chopin’s (another great composer) Variation’s on Mozart’s (another great composer) La Ci Darem La Mano, declared ”Hats off, gentlemen, a genius”. Well, probably. In fact all three deserve to be called a genius perhaps. But none of them compare to Beethoven.
Everyone knows at least a bit of Beethoven, starting with the opening of the 5th Symphony of course, but what would constitute the archetypal, unmistakable Beethoven? The thorny, melodic, delicate, brutal, assured, architectural, emotional and thrillingly original master.
Well, again, quite a few pieces. There are no duds. However, I’ll go ultimately with Op 106, the Hammerklavier. I wrote about this seven years ago, and I still think it reads well enough. My reason for tackling the Hammerklavier is in that piece – I was intrigued by the reference to it in Colin Wilson’s The Outsider:
There is a premonition of such a faculty in Van Gogh’s Green Cornfield and Road with Cypresses; there is a premonition in the last movement of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier sonata, as well as certain canvasses of Gaugin, and page after page of Also Sprach Zarathustra. The Outsider believes that he can establish such a way of seeing permanently in himself. But how?
Indeed. What on earth was in that last movement? Beethoven was pretty much deaf by 1814. He would live another thirteen years. The Hammerklavier was published in 1818. He was totally deaf when he wrote it. When you listen it seems unbelievable that this was the case. How did he perceive it? The long slow movement, the best metaphor for which is an icy lake at night, feels like it reflects his isolation and likely despair. That’s always been my impression, but how to summarise the entirety of this initially impenetrable, gigantic and forbidding creation?
Well my efforts are somewhat puny. I pass you over to someone who would have a plausible claim to the title that used to crop up in the Sunday supplements, The Cleverest Man in London, were he not so modest. Polymath Jonathan Gaisman is a QC with a remarkable range of interests, and a regular contributor to the now changed Standpoint magazine. Here is his truly essential piece from 2018 on the Hammerklavier:
My first recording of it was by Emil Gilels, followed swiftly by the Chilean master, Claudio Arrau. Gilels had the measure of it, but I felt rebuffed by his long austere adagio, Arrau was more humane. The sonata arouses such feelings all the time. One thing is for sure – you have to be technically brilliant, there are no hiding places. The final fugue must sound almost impossible, without compromising pace and vitality. Here is the reliable Jed Distler’s review of your options from the most recent Gramophone magazine. It’s a terrific discussion:
Interesting conclusions. I have Bax on my list now. I already have 40 odd recordings on CD and LP. Pollini was my preferred choice for a long time, but it changes.
Beethoven however is not just found in works like this, which is just as well. In this year there will be mountains of articles added to the already enormous literature on the man, and in the non-technical category, I can do no better than to point you to fellow pianist Damian Thompson’s most recent Spectator piece:
Finally, YouTube has a huge library of classical music now. Slightly to my surprise, I was highly impressed by Valentina Lisitsa’s beautifully filmed and recorded version of this piece. Watch as well as listen, and you’ll see what a superhuman feat it was to write – and play.
We live in an era where the word ‘genius’ has been so trashed by applying it to any old hack that we have almost lost the comprehension of its true expression. Well let the great man recalibrate us all in his anniversary year…
Like most people who’d heard the quote, I assumed that it was original to Isaac Newton.
In 1676, Newton wrote “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”, which is indeed a memorable phrase, and speaks well to the natural humility of an extraordinary person.
However, Wikipedia gives the palm to Bernard of Chartres (a 12th century philosopher), and possibly much earlier: “Bernard of Chartres used to compare us to dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants. He pointed out that we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.” The giants being the ancient philosophers and scholars of Greece and Rome.
Which preamble is to bring us with a bang back to Brexit and the state of the British polity. Here is a nice little summary from a Spectator Coffee House commenter Paul Sutton, of what the ludicrously self regarding Speaker, John Bercow did:
It is clear to all that the Speaker has torn up three lynch-pins of our constitution – and ones which are essential safeguards:
1. The executive controls the order paper: Bercow (like something out of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe) allowed “emergency legislation” (i.e. it’s an “emergency” for Remainers, if we leave the EU) to propose a bill.
2. The bill involves massive additional expenditure, and so should only come from the executive.
3. The bill completely removes the use of prerogative power, from the executive. Comically, the Speaker (under probably non-existent “legal advice”) decided it didn’t, so no Queen’s consent was sought.
Even more fundamentally, the net effect is to cancel the 2016 vote to Leave – the first time in our history where the legislature has cancelled a popular vote.
…which just refers to the latest Benn Bill – never mind all the preceding attempts from Cooper-Letwin etc, which were also unconstitutional if we can really claim that the UK has a constitution (it doesn’t, it probably should, but one worries who would draft it).
So it’s all down to Useful Idiot Bercow, in whom, like the similarly self regarding Gina Miller with her legal case to give the final say to our mostly awful MP’s, we can identify a key figure in the attempts to derail democracy in the form of overturning the referendum result. It’s not a good look.
The four Speakers preceding Bercow, over the period in which I’ve followed politics, have been exemplary, unbiased public servants, irrespective of their party allegiance.
I can remember vividly Bercow’s persona as a genuinely far right Tory from the hang ’em flog ’em weirdo crew of the Monday Club. There was always an air of inadequacy about its members, with a strong undertone of failure with their preferred sex**. Numerous people over the years have commented on his diminutive stature, even though in reality he’s not that small (5’4″ – 5’6″). I’m not one to pick on physical characteristics normally, but it is the case, I suggest, that his behaviour in seeking and clinging to the role of Speaker has an aura of ‘compensation’ about it. As recently as 2014, The Guardian, of all media outlets, described their current hero in this way “Those who target Bercow are more likely to do so because of his foolish comments and insufferable, pompous interventions at Prime Minister’s Questions“. …as opposed to his height, which is what he was claiming. The Guardian was right.
Yet it is this vain, prickly, spiteful, bullying luvvie, with no discernible principles other than self glorification, and his weird fake gruff voice in the Commons, who is the rock on which the desperate Remoaners, who have no qualms at all about ignoring history, convention, tradition etc, have built their case.
I wasn’t intending to write this post, as I’m aware that it has an intrinsically unpleasant theme. Such is the situation though, created by this gang of dishonest, voter-hating, elitist unpatriotic tossers, some sort of analysis seems unfortunately necessary.
We can do better than Bercow***, whether we’re Remainers or Brexiteers.
**…and as if by magic, The Guardian comes up trumps. He really is revolting
*** the day after this piece, the poisonous pygmy quits. Long overdue. Tim Stanley on Twitter has it right though. Even in his departing he ruins it
~In a class ridden society (allegedly), the upper and lower classes are united by being assaulted by an enraged middle class
~ The entire Despite Brexit movement is a living, pulsating mass of new paradoxes and baffled journalists every day. Here are just a few of the recent ones: 1 (from the FT, spiritual home of the Despite Brexit classes) 2 and 3. They’re not hard to find.
No doubt there are quite a few more of these unexpected results of the Brexit vote, though more specifically, of the failure to accept its result.
Paradox implies that humility is a good idea. That applies to both sides of the Brexit divide, but Remainers’ continued failure to predict the future suggests that they perhaps need that particular virtue more than most.
As it happens, given the sheer loathing (1, 2,3, 4, 5, 6, 7) that Remainers have demonstrated for the rest of us – a fault also found in Brexiteers, but to nowhere near the same extent – another Chesterton paradox seems applicable….
It is a great mistake to suppose that love unites and unifies men. Love diversifies them, because love is directed towards individuality. The thing that really unites men and makes them like to each other is hatred.
1st February 2016, the European Union Referendum Act 2015 becomes law. This is based on a Tory manifesto promise, and the referendum was supported by Labour in the debates. The question was to be
Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
with the responses to the question to be marked with a single (X):
Remain a member of the European Union Leave the European Union
Which seems straightforward. I don’t see any mention of ‘a deal’
2. Dave announces the Brexit referendum. The announcement is on the 20th February 2016. The date of the poll will be 23rd June 2016. Dave says “I do not love Brussels. I love Britain. I am the first to say there are many ways the EU needs to improve. The task of reforming Europe does not end with yesterday’s agreement. I will never say our country could not survive outside Europe … That is not the question. The question is will we be safer, stronger and better off working together in a reformed Europe or out on our own. You will decide and whatever your decision I will do my best to deliver it” . Well he forgot that last bit.
3. There is lots of campaigning. Both sides are working from the same premise. In or out. There is no substantive talk of deals, Hard and Soft Brexits etc. Both sides are spending money like water. There is no mention of Putin. There is lots of absurd Remainer scaremongering. Virtually all of the media are anti-Brexit, though honourable exceptions include a couple of Guardianistas like Larry Elliott, thoughtful Europhiles like Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, and the Daily Express. The Sun came over eventually. Remainers are serenely confident usually (see right). Oddly, both sides pretty much concede that the EU is a corrupt, dysfunctional, expensive, authoritarian, bureaucratic behemoth (I’m not joking), but weirdly, Remainers still think it can be reformed.
4. 23rd June 2016 is the date of the referendum. There is a huge turnout. There is no suggestion that this is an electorate that hasn’t thought it through – the opposite is true. Remainers seem relaxed, as like Nigel Farage at 2200hr, they think they’ve won.
5. The result: 52% leave v 48% Remain. It may sound close, but that is pretty clear cut as these things go. Remainers go absolutely ballistic with rage. That 52% is accurately described by Hero Of Our Times, Brendan O’Neill as the largest bloc of voters in the entire history of this nation.
6. After more than two tedious years of Remainer and media whingeing about the thick electorate, we wuz lied to, the thought that they might need to apply for a visa to go ski-ing etc etc, it becomes clear that there has been no substantial preparation by Remainer pols and civil servants for Brexit as both sides understood itpre-referendum (now dishonestly known as Hard, or No Deal Brexit). This was their primary task, not fannying around trying to strike a feeble compromise deal with arrogant Eurocrats who clearly hate them.
To reiterate, there was a necessary role in negotiating over specific (and relatively limited) financial and moral obligations, as well as unique issues such as the status of EU citizens already in the UK. Even popular issues such as visa free travel could wait, as along with many other issues, there is mutual benefit in producing reciprocal arrangements, which would (and will) inevitably come to pass. There was never any sense – until Remain lost – that a complex overarching deal was even an issue.
The pathetic whining by the SNP is a self-centred sideshow – Brexit is irrelevant to Scottish independence, although it highlights their astonishing hypocrisy, mysteriously preferring the EU yoke to that of the evil English. Likewise the utterly cynical invention of an ‘Irish border problem’, intentionally reviving memories of terrorism to serve the twisted cause, could be ‘solved’ at the stroke of a pen. Ask an Irishman.
7. November 15th 2018: Desperate Theresa May produces a ‘deal’/capitulation that is so comprehensively bad, undemocratic, dishonest and stupid that it unites sworn enemies, and makes Eurothug Michel Barnier smile, albeit temporarily.
The ‘deal’ is well described by many, notably here, by the calm and well informed Pete North, and by Steerpike in The Spectator. I have pinched this from behind their paywall, as it is so important. If anything they go soft on the betrayal element. Apologies for the length, and you can read No 10’s slippery rebuttal here. They must have been stressed:
This week, Theresa May’s government teetered on the point of collapse over her proposed Brexit deal. The withdrawal agreement between the UK and Brussels led to Dominic Raab and Esther McVey resigning in protest. However, May’s remaining ministers have since attempted to rally around her at least in the short term. Speaking on Friday, Liam Fox – the International Trade Secretary – gave a speech in which he declared ‘a deal is better than no deal’. This is rather different to May’s old claim that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’.
So, is Fox right? Mr S thought it best to let readers decide for themselves. In theory, Britain is leaving the EU on 29 March 2019. But the legal small print, published by Brussels, shows what this means. Parliament will be asked to ratify a deal which clearly admits that ‘all references to ‘Member States’ and competent authorities of Member States…shall be read as including the United Kingdom.’ (Article 7). So the UK will be bound by EU laws, at least during a transition period. But this ‘transition period’ can be be made to last forever (Article 132). And even if a successor deal is agreed, the UK will have signed away other rights for years to come.
Just in case readers don’t have the time to go through the lengthy document themselves, Steerpike has compiled a list of the top 40 horrors lurking in the small print of Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
In summary: The supposed ‘transition period’ could last indefinitely or, more specifically, to an undefined date sometime this century (“up to 31 December 20XX”, Art. 132). So while this Agreement covers what the government is calling Brexit, what we in fact get is: ‘transition’ + extension indefinitely (by however many years we are willing to pay for) + all of those extra years from the ‘plus 8 years’ articles.
Should it end within two years, as May hopes, the UK will still be signed up to clauses keeping us under certain rules (like VAT and ECJ supervision) for a further eight years. Some clauses have, quite literally, a “lifetime” duration (Art.39). If the UK defaults on transition, we go in to the backstop with the Customs Union and, realistically, the single market. We can only leave the transition positively with a deal. But we sign away the money. So the EU has no need to give us a deal, and certainly no incentive to make the one they offered ‘better’ than the backstop. The European Court of Justice remains sovereign, as repeatedly stipulated. Perhaps most damagingly of all, we agree to sign away the rights we would have, under international law, to unilaterally walk away. Again, what follows relates (in most part) for the “transition” period. But the language is consistent with the E.U. imagining that this will be the final deal.
The top 40 horrors:
From the offset, we should note that this is an EU text, not a UK or international text. This has one source. The Brexit agreement is written in Brussels.
May says her deal means the UK leaves the EU next March. The Withdrawal Agreement makes a mockery of this. “All references to Member States and competent authorities of Member States…shall be read as including the United Kingdom.” (Art 6). Not quite what most people understand by Brexit. It goes on to spell out that the UK will be in the EU but without any MEPs, a commissioner or ECJ judges. We are effectively a Member State, but we are excused – or, more accurately, excluded – from attending summits. (Article 7)
The European Court of Justice is decreed to be our highest court, governing the entire Agreement – Art. 4. stipulates that both citizens and resident companies can use it. Art 4.2 orders our courts to recognise this. “If the European Commission considers that the United Kingdom has failed to fulfil an obligation under the Treaties or under Part Four of this Agreement before the end of the transition period, the European Commission may, within 4 years after the end of the transition period, bring the matter before the Court of Justice of the European Union”. (Art. 87)
The jurisdiction of the ECJ will last until eight years after the end of the transition period. (Article 158).
The UK will still be bound by any future changes to EU law in which it will have no say, not to mention having to comply with current law. (Article 6(2))
Any disputes under the Agreement will be decided by EU law only – one of the most dangerous provisions. (Article 168). This cuts the UK off from International Law, something we’d never do with any foreign body. Arbitration will be governed by the existing procedural rules of the EU law – this is not arbitration as we would commonly understand it (i.e. between two independent parties). (Article 174)
“UNDERLINING that this Agreement is founded on an overall balance of benefits, rights and obligations for the Union and the United Kingdom” No, it should be based upon the binding legal obligations upon the EU contained within Article 50. It is wrong to suggest otherwise.
The tampon tax clause: We obey EU laws on VAT, with no chance of losing the tampon tax even if we agree a better deal in December 2020 because we hereby agree to obey other EU VAT rules for **five years** after the transition period. Current EU rules prohibit 0-rated VAT on products (like tampons) that did not have such exemptions before the country joined the EU.
Several problems with the EU’s definitions: “Union law” is too widely defined and “United Kingdom national” is defined by the Lisbon Treaty: we should given away our right to define our citizens. The “goods” and the term “services” we are promised the deal are not defined – or, rather, will be defined however the EU wishes them to be. Thus far, this a non-defined term so far. This agreement fails to define it.
The Mandelson Pension Clause: The UK must promise never to tax former EU officials based here – such as Peter Mandelson or Neil Kinnock – on their E.U. pensions, or tax any current Brussels bureaucrats on their salaries. The EU and its employees are to be immune to our tax laws. (Article 104)
Furthermore, the UK agrees not to prosecute EU employees who are, or who might be deemed in future, criminals (Art.101)
The GDPR clause. The General Data Protection Regulation – the EU’s stupidest law ever? – is to be bound into UK law (Articles 71 to 73). There had been an expectation in some quarters that the UK could get out of it.
The UK establishes a ‘Joint Committee’ with EU representatives to guarantee ‘the implementation and application of this Agreement’. This does not sound like a withdrawal agreement – if it was, why would it need to be subject to continued monitoring? (Article 164). This Joint Committee will have subcommittees with jurisdiction over: (a) citizens’ rights; (b) “other separation provisions”; (c) Ireland/Northern Ireland; (d) Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus; (e) Gibraltar; and (f) financial provisions. (Article 165)
The Lifetime clause: the agreement will last as long as the country’s youngest baby lives. “the persons covered by this Part shall enjoy the rights provided for in the relevant Titles of this Part for their lifetime”. (Article 39).
The UK is shut out of all EU networks and databases for security – yet no such provision exists to shut the EU out of ours. (Article 8)
The UK will tied to EU foreign policy, “bound by the obligations stemming from the international agreements concluded by the Union” but unable to influence such decisions. (Article 124)
All EU citizens must be given permanent right of residence after five years – but what counts as residence? This will be decided by the EU, rather than UK rules. (Articles 15-16)
Britain is granted the power to send a civil servant to Brussels to watch them pass stupid laws which will hurt our economy. (Article 34)
The UK agrees to spend taxpayers’ money telling everyone how wonderful the agreement is. (Article 37)
Art 40 defines Goods. It seems to includes Services and Agriculture. We may come to discover that actually ‘goods’ means everything.
Articles 40-49 practically mandate the UK’s ongoing membership of the Customs Union in all but name.
The UK will be charged to receive the data/information we need in order to comply with EU law. (Article 50)
The EU will continue to set rules for UK intellectual property law (Article 54 to 61)
The UK will effectively be bound by a non-disclosure agreement swearing us to secrecy regarding any EU developments we have paid to be part. This is not mutual. The EU is not bound by such measures. (Article 74)
The UK is bound by EU rules on procurement rules – which effectively forbids us from seeking better deals elsewhere. (Articles 75 to 78)
We give up all rights to any data the EU made with our money (Art. 103)
The EU decide capital projects (too broadly defined) the UK is liable for. (Art. 144)
The UK is bound by EU state aid laws until future agreement – even in the event of an agreement, this must wait four years to be valid. (Article 93)
Similar advantages and immunities are extended to all former MEPs and to former EU official more generally. (Articles 106-116)
The UK is forbidden from revealing anything the EU told us or tells us about the finer points of deal and its operation. (Article 105).
Any powers the UK parliament might have had to mitigate EU law are officially removed. (Article 128)
The UK shall be liable for any “outstanding commitments” after 2022 (Article 142(2) expressly mentions pensions, which gives us an idea as to who probably negotiated this). The amount owed will be calculated by the EU. (Articles 140-142)
The UK will be liable for future EU lending. As anyone familiar with the EU’s financials knows, this is not good. (Article143)
The UK will remain liable for capital projects approved by the European Investment Bank. (Article 150).
The UK will remain a ‘party’ (i.e. cough up money) for the European Development Fund. (Articles 152-154)
And the EU continues to calculate how much money the UK should pay it. So thank goodness Brussels does not have any accountancy issues.
The UK will remain bound (i.e coughing up money) to the European Union Emergency Trust Fund – which deals with irregular migration (i.e. refugees) and displaced persons heading to Europe. (Article 155)
The agreement will be policed by ‘the Authority’ – a new UK-based body with ‘powers equivalent to those of the European Commission’. (Article 159)
The EU admits, in Art. 184, that it is in breach of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which oblige it to “conclude an agreement” of the terms of UK leaving the EU. We must now, it seems, “negotiate expeditiously the agreements governing their future relationship.” And if the EU does not? We settle down to this Agreement.
And, of course, the UK will agree to pay £40bn to receive all of these ‘privileges’. (Article 138)
Watch this space. The deal is doomed. No Deal Brexit, AKA Brexit, is around the corner.
In the previous post I gave a few examples of superior prose, to the point where it conjured up music, in my mind at least. Who would have thought that economics, a notably dry specialism, would be associated with a sparkling example of this (for which I am in debt to Paul Johnson):
How can I convey to the reader, who does not know him, any first impressions of this extraordinary figure of our time, this siren, this goat-footed bard, this half-human visitor to our age from the hag-ridden magic and enchanted woods of Celtic antiquity? Mr Lloyd George is rooted in nothing; he is void and without content; he lives and feeds on his immediate surroundings; he is an instrument and a player at the same time which plays on the company and plays on them too; he is a prism which collects light and distorts it and is most brilliant if the light comes from many quarters at once; a vampire and a medium in one*
Like much great poetry, I’m not entirely sure that can I decipher all the meanings and allusions in that short paragraph, but it is quite brilliant. The author? None other than John Maynard Keynes (in Essays in Biography), the King of Bretton Woods and undoubtedly the most abused economic theorist of the 20th century, in terms of his message being distorted – like Lloyd George’s light.
You may pick your own musical parallel, for me its crammed and elusive vituperation is definitely Berliozian, with a touch of Ravel’s glassy menace.
* something of Tony Blair in this description, I would say
So much of the harsh reality of life is glossed over. We’re shielded from pictures of abortion, given its intrinsic horror, despite convulsing over it in public debate, war pictures are always empty rubble filled streets (in the UK media) – not body parts etc. And because of certain tensions, terrorism, which is hardly on the decline, is primarily viewed almost as a political and societal challenge, as opposed to violent murder.
So it’s a painful, if salutary, experience to appreciate what actually happens to people – victims and families. Here is an extract from an article on the somewhat dishonest debate on the confirmation of Gina Haspel as the new CIA Director.
Gordon Haberman concurs: “Our beautiful, vibrant, loving Andrea was subjected to torture. She was alive after the building was hit and then brutalized in a desperate attempt to escape the inferno. She was then ripped apart as she died. It haunts me till this day. I only hope she was dead before being dismembered in this manner. In seventeen years, they have recovered and identified eleven pieces of her. Do I worry about how those who perpetrated this act were treated after being caught alive and are still alive? No.”
He was referring to his daughter, of course. The father’s pain is crushing, understandably. Forgiveness is needed throughout life, but you can only forget and move on if the reality of what happened is acknowledged honestly. Plenty of people are not interested in that happening.
As I write the referendum result isn’t officially in, but it obviously looks like the 8th amendment will be repealed by the clamouring horde, led by Varadkar. To their credit, many Irish doctors spoke the truth about the calamity that will now befall Ireland.
Many words have been written already, but it continues to stagger me how the language of celebration and joy (just go on Twitter after the vote) is used in referring to what by any standards, is a horrible business and the ending of a life. I guess it’s a comfort blanket for the people speaking in those terms, shielding them from the reality. It certainly trivialises both the act of abortion, and the plight of women who feel compelled to seek one. Anti-abortion campaigners are very aware that it’s an extremely difficult situation to be in. The trivialisation is, I’m afraid, all on the other side.
Two quotes. One brief one in a tweet from @john_mcguirk who helped lead the Save the 8th campaign:
The 8th (amendment) did not create an unborn child’s right to life – it merely acknowledged it. The right exists, independent of what a majority says.
Which is absolutely correct.
The second is a longer reflection from Michael Brendan Dougherty in the US (though, like The Knife ancestrally Irish, of course). It was written before the result was certain, and it keenly demonstrates the utilitarianistic trivialisation of abortion, a cynical dumbing down in order to make the deed happen:
I’ve been distracted this week by the Repeal the Eighth referendum “at home” in Ireland. You might tell me to take some time away from the Internet. An easy getaway. Not so fast. I was greeted this morning in my own suburban apartment building by one of those black T-shirts, with the white word “Repeal” written across it. The Irish, having symbiotic life within the former British Empire, are a global race. Both sides of the debate exist on the same apartment floor here in Westchester, N.Y. Janice Turner wrote the typical editorial on the 8th in the Times, Ireland edition. She describes the “No” side this way:
There are a few elderly folk with rosaries and religious tracts, but plenty of young people combining that mix of youthful self-righteousness and kitten-loving sentimentality along with obliviousness about how messy life can be.
The Eighth Amendment describes a world that never existed — a place of moral absolutism, religious certainty, good and evil, black and white — and locks us into that illusion in perpetuity. To remove it is merely to reflect the world we live in: a contingent, uncertain place, full of messiness and ambiguity, where the distances between happiness and despair, public joy and private anguish, are agonisingly small.
Did you notice the word “messy” in both of them? Ireland’s moral and religious changes are connected to its newfound relative wealth in a strange way. How odd, the hidden assumption that “messy” lives require abortion. As if abortion were a matter of tidying up. As if welcoming some children transgressed the cleanliness of a proper, upwardly mobile Irish home. This is perhaps the most sinister bourgeois morality ever inflicted on a nation. And I will have nightmares from seeing it unmasked this week. I dread the idea of returning to Dublin in 25 years, and realizing that it has changed from 2018, and become more like every other European city, emptied of those with Down’s syndrome or other deformities. That will be the predictable result. How dare these people accuse others of inflicting shame!
…..’the most sinister bourgeois morality ever inflicted on a nation’ is also absolutely correct, and it will, tragically, leave a trail of utter misery in its wake
I haven’t bothered to write on this since January. Not because there hasn’t been stuff, but it’s getting tedious just documenting new episodes in the already massive catalogue of Nat failure. There’s no shortage really, Eck still hoovering up the roubles on Russia Today, despite recent events, Humza’s general hopelessness, the mysteriously poorly photographed Zoomer march on Glasgow with outrageously exaggerated attendance (which the SNP decided not to attend, wonder why?), the pathetic writhing about how Scots love the EU (they don’t). The list goes on. In fact the SNP obsession with banning things that most voters like is producing negative feedback, amusingly.
Instead I draw the attention of anyone who is interested to a nuanced piece by former SNP insider, Alex Bell, who in recent times has painstakingly deconstructed the whole SNP edifice of winging it and make believe.
She has led the devolved administration into a showdown with Westminster. Holyrood says No to the post-Brexit divvy up of powers, Downing Street says Yes. All that matters now is what the Supreme Court says, and what Westminster concludes when the deal is put to the Commons.
We can be pretty sure the court will rule this is a matter for the sovereign government – Westminster – and so force the deal on Holyrood. It is impossible at this stage to say what Westminster will do, given so much is still unknown, and what is known is so confused.
Yet the SNP’s grip is slipping. Not least because Sturgeon is staking her reputation in a fight over devolution, which isn’t even her party’s policy.
The Tory government wants Westminster to hold power over matters such as agriculture and food standards because British nationalists think they’ll need to cut deals in these areas in order to strike new trade partnerships across the world when out of the EU.
Sturgeon and Holyrood, except for the Tory MSPs, want powers returning from the EU to go straight to Edinburgh. So we are not getting a constitutional crisis over independence and not because Scotland rejected Brexit.
Instead it’s a crisis over devolution. This is, then, not her fight. If she wins, all she has done is secure the devolution settlement. If she loses, she looks too weak to fight her big cause, independence.
All of which sounds terribly dull and fairly inconsequential, but it’s really a reflection on how the Nats’ general policy is to pick fights, lose them, and pick some more. There is no vision being built. Poor Andrew Wilson, a nice, normal person, was tasked a long time ago with producing a coherent long term economic strategy for independence, to replace Eck’s failed oil bunkum. It’s yet to appear.
Alex goes on:
Yet the last thing the indy cause needs is another referendum any time soon. Asking the same question and expecting a different answer is the pop definition of stupid. In the years since the last vote, not a single bone has been added to the skeletal case of 2014. Yet Sturgeon is in the odd position of having weaponised her own supporters.
It’s a great piece, and has a painful, if truthful punchline for the current First Minister….She’s in a bad place, and it won’t end well.
The insult ‘Hitler’ has been casually tossed around in 21st century politics for years, with each use provoking the most cringing of faux outrage, and simultaneously diminishing the power of the comparison. Similarly, the term ‘appeasement’ has been invoked for all sorts of decisions ranging from pragmatic to cowardly, with numerous references to Neville Chamberlain’s deluded performance of 1938.
But while we genuinely seem to be lacking a new Hitler (pace Trump haters), appeasement is indeed on the prowl. Here is DH Lawrence, back in the late 1920’s, pondering the flaccid state of the nation and its so-called intelligentsia between the wars. It is taken from the chapter entitled The End of Old Europe (primarily relating to Hitler’s rise to power), in Paul Johnson’s invaluable Modern Times. Read it, history really does repeat itself.:
They want an outward system of nullity, which they call peace and good will, so that in their own souls they can be independent little gods…little Moral Absolutes, secure from questions….it stinks. It is the will of a louse
Harsh words, but remarkably apposite to much of what we see today. So the reason why the Second Amendment is under attack again in the US (ha!), why Israel is criticised for defending its borders (not that I’m supporting excessive force), why the national armed forces are intended to be subsumed into an amorphous inchoate EU force etc, is so that wet middle class people far from the action can “in their own souls…be independent little gods”. That kind of sums up a certain bien pensant leftie to me. The absolute peak of such appeasement in recent times has been the utterly ineffective Iran Deal, created primarily to give Obama (and the hapless John Kerry) some sort of artificial legacy. The ‘will of a louse’ indeed.
To be honest, writing blog posts like this always feels a bit smug and a bit sour – it’s not something that gives you much pleasure – but we live in difficult times, and Lawrence’s quote is just too good to ignore.