Amsterdam is good in parts, as the saying goes. The red light area is appallingly exploitative and not remotely OK, and the oddly named coffee shops are exactly what you’d expect from a bunch of well paid decadent stoners. Fun for 10 minutes and that’s it.
The touristy stuff is good,no doubt, but like many middle class travellers, my slightly snobby instinct is to avoid the obvious tourist traps. If I’d done this in Amsterdam, and missed out on the Anne Frank House I would have made a very big mistake. The best time to go is not long before it shuts, when the queue has died down.
I won’t provide a review, just a few observations. Three in fact.
Anne herself, despite the diary, is not the main focus. She is a sweet normal girl, but hard to know – something of a cipher
The ‘star’ – if you can use the word for such a grim background – is Anne’s father, Otto. Everything about him seems admirable, far-sighted, brave, noble. A suitable figure to invoke on Father’s Day. The famous picture of him staring into space in the house, long after the war, is pinned to my office wall. The house only stands now thanks to him. The Dutch government would have let it be demolished. He was an exceptionally canny reader of people.
Anne would have survived the war had they not been betrayed by the locals. Not enough people realise this. Like in so much of wartime Europe antisemitism was never far away, with some notable exceptions. Betraying the Jews could be very advantageous. Lots of countries’ citizens were complicit, with history repeating itself. The Dutch resistance was a sporadic affair – despite its typically Verhoeven over the top production, the film Black Book makes some good points on this.
Why does this matter? Well, antisemitism is now ingrained in the ‘most popular politician in Britain’ – Mr Corbyn – and his wretched schizophrenic Labour Party. He did of course lose the election, despite the hype, but he got a lot of votes. Apart from the demerits of his other exotic policies and affiliations, what this means is that a very large swathe of the British electorate is effectively indifferent to antisemitism. If you ask them, they’re probably against it in a sort of vague it’s-not-a-priority way. That’s not good enough. Particularly in a Western European scene riven by overtly Jew-hating Islamic fundamentalists.
The civilised Dutch could morally atrophy so quickly that they could send a young girl to certain death for short term gain. The Guardian’s Nick Cohen has written numerous powerful pieces on this (1,2,3), over a long period. He’s watched the problem grow and grow, in his own political group. As he says: If it is incredible that we have reached this pass, it is also intolerable. However hard the effort to overthrow it, the status quo cannot stand.
It should make us all think.
**two hours after I wrote this, this appeared on my Twitter:
Well, here we are again. Right after a huge and probably unnecessary exercise in democracy (AKA the general election), the mob are displeased and distorting the facts and the history. Fine, it’s the usual nonsense, and it happens elsewhere (see Russia). As is often the case, it takes a newsworthy tragedy such as the Grenfell Tower fire to act as a vehicle for the hate.
What mystifies me though, is the wilful verbal violence from the more privileged members of society. Take for example a multimillionaire expat novelist, who from humble beginnings now describes himself as upper, not even middle class. Could it be the walking cliche of Scottish lowlife shenanigans, Irvine Welsh? Why yes it could:
Why would you call a middle aged lady who has done you no harm, that? Is it acceptable/funny/appropriate? Could it even be, dare I say it, misogynist? I think it could. I know it’s one of Irvine’s favourite words, but even so.
Anyway, let us accept that he enjoys the attention (indeed, I am guilty of providing him with some), and his faux notoriety. What about the responses to his excitable tweet?
I’m afraid that it doesn’t get any better. Take for example, double-barrelled charmer, Hales Evans-Kanu. Hales’ Twitter bio suggests a fairly well to do settled situation: Passionate about Welsh football and music. Friend, sister, daughter, girlfriend, giggler, marketer, blogger
But, here she is:
Perhaps Irvine felt he’d gone too far. Some of his followers seemed to think so. Over to you Irvine:
I don’t want to be too critical. Feelings are running high after Corbyn’s defeat, and for those at the bottom of the ladder in terms of prosperity and social class, recent events could be both disappointing and even frightening. I get that. Perhaps that’s Irvine’s problem, or even Hales’ at a pinch. Let’s ask the Daily Telegraph:
My main residence is in Chicago. My wife, Elizabeth, and I bought it for about £1m six years ago and we’ve spent £250,000 doing it up. It’s probably worth £2m now. I also have a place in Miami and a nice flat in Edinburgh, plus a few rental properties.
So there you have it. You may disagree with me. I don’t think it’s harmless Twitter fun, just venting off a bit of anger etc. It’s really pieces in a jigsaw of societal division and hate which occasionally breaks out into violence. And it’s coming from the left. It always does. It’s not the poverty-affected left either. They are just the cannon fodder. The inciters will be just fine.
Happily, Twitter still has a valuable role. Here is the summary of the social media take on the Grenfell Tower tragedy, just in case you hadn’t yet worked it out for yourself:
…and the very next day, the awesome pen of Brendan O’Neill, on Facebook:
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.
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.
You don’t have to be religious to enjoy the victory of the Little Sisters of the Poor yesterday, although it helps.
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;
Perhaps the neatest summary of the state of play of the SNP in power is from the erudite and perceptive farmer/historian/Hellenophile/linguist, Victor Davis Hanson. He is describing the then mayor of NYC, billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s inadequacy in the basic tasks that he’d been given:
The Bloomberg syndrome is a characteristic of contemporary government officials. When they are unwilling or unable to address premodern problems in their jurisdictions — crime, crumbling infrastructure, inadequate transportation — they compensate by posing as philosopher kings who cheaply lecture on existential challenges over which they have no control.
A second independence referendum is exactly that, something over which they have no control. Hanson poses a question, to which in Scotland the answer appears to be yes:
Do our smug politicians promise utopia because they cannot cope with reality? Do lectures compensate for inaction?
So with that in mind, here’s the latest choices from a cornucopia of SNP nonsense…
24. The creative use of the conditional
Thanks to Wikipedia for this: The conditional mood (abbreviatedcond) is a grammatical mood used to express a proposition whose validity is dependent on some condition, possibly counterfactual. It thus refers to a distinct verb form that expresses a hypothetical state of affairs, or an uncertain event, that is contingent on another set of circumstances.So far then, regarding the fabled Indyref2, we’ve had:
The Scottish First minister claimed autumn 2018 would be the ‘common-sense time’
The SNP leader has claimed a vote on separation is ‘highly likely’ and has now given her clearest hintyet that Scotland could bejust 18 months away from another vote…ifthat is the road we choose to go down.
Pressed on the timing of a possible second referendum while on BBC Two’s Brexit: Britain’s Biggest Deal, the First Minister said she was “not ruling anything out”.
Sturgeon said that if May failed to do so, then “proposing a further decision on independence wouldn’t simply be legitimate, it would almost be a necessary way of giving the people of Scotland a say in our own future direction”.
A Scottish Government source said: “We have made clear an independence referendum is very much on the table as an optionifit becomes clear it is the best or only way to protect our vital national interests.”
Ms Sturgeon has warned another independence referendum is “almost inevitable” in the event of a hard Brexit and has hintedshe could name the date for a new vote next month.
…and so on and so on and so on. I know that the highly overrated Sturgeon – who must now be looking over her shoulder at a predictably unpleasant sight– has to placate the noisy zoomer fraternity, but every sentient citizen of Scotland is rapidly getting fed up of this political footsie.
Says who? Er…says Salmond’s own economic guru, nice guy Andrew Wilson. Which lead to the correct response (from @murdo_fraser), “If the SNP is now admitting oil is a bonus, it must set out which taxes would rise and what public services would be cut in order to fill an independent Scotland’s £15bn deficit.”
27. A new referendum has never been less popular.
According to this poll: A Panelbase survey of 1,020 voters for the Sunday Times found that support for an “indyref2” before Brexit — which is scheduled to happen by March 2019 — dropped from 43% last June to just 27% last week. The poll also found that 51% of Scots oppose a second referendum within the next “few” years.
28. The SNP are hopeless at governing. Still.
The dismal education record of Scotland under the SNP actually lead to that very rare beast – a productive Holyrood debate. As Labour’s Iain Gray put it: “Yes, our schools need reform. But, above all, our schools need more teachers with more support, more time and more resources to do their job. That is the core reform. Failure to deliver it is the defining characteristic of the SNP decade in charge of education.”
He’s increasingly reminiscent of Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army, and if Eck thought this would be a credible photo-op, I fear he’s mistaken. However it did provide one comedy highlight of the culture that prevails in parts of The Democratic Republic of Scotland (see pics below, my thanks to @BrianSpanner1).
You might reasonably categorise this as a trivial semantic moan (it is), but it’s been bugging me, so I will indulge myself. Here’s the problem: too often the adjectives academic and cerebral are deployed on people who lack much in the way of proof of these qualities. They have become a sort of shorthand for enigmatic and socially refined. The number one candidate, inevitably, is Obama, much of it centred around the nature of his emerging post-presidential career. I would imagine golf and money making will figure highly in reality, and good for him. It’s his gushing fanboys who misuse the terms.
Like most medics, I have had a fair bit of exposure to academia, and after the awakening of A-levels it hasn’t been too great a stretch in truth. One acquires degrees and diplomas in the course of things. Teaching isn’t tough, but being a really good teacher is. Higher degrees such as doctorates, and peer-reviewed quality research are a different matter. These things are very challenging and require a great deal of thinking, time, struggle, disappointment etc. I do alright with publications, but I have no MD or PhD and I admire anyone who has. I spent 6 years primarily employed by a medical school (though most of what I did was clinical, for the NHS). Genuine, productive, relevant academic activity is hard. You don’t wander into it, perform amazingly for a bit and wander off again.
So please don’t bandy such terms around unless you want to devalue them, as MENSA has achieved with IQ. Here’s an example from Twitter. I was unnecessarily rude to @iainmartin1, whom I generally like and admire, as he kept putting superficial anti-Trump rants into the usually excellent Reaction (it wasn’t about defending Trump, it was the lack of any balance or attempt at understanding to which I was reacting).
This is not, I repeat, specifically about Trump v Obama. My point is that it is very easy to assume the mantle of the sophisticated intellectual, whose mind is occupied by lofty thought, often in comparison to the low-minded alternatives who lack this visionary capability. It has an exact comparison in the NHS: people who claim to be ‘strategic, not operational’. The latter is tough, and is demonstrated by tangible results, the former tends to be associated with promises of a golden future and not much more. The classic visionary who caused colossal amounts of trouble was of course Tony Blair.
A similar situation arose with the ludicrous idea that had Hillary won, Obama could himself replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, hence gushing articles like this. Again, it is all about how ‘impressive’ ‘mature’ and ‘curious’ he is. Not about cases fought, heard, won, papers published, previous experience at the highest levels of the law – basically just what a dude he is. This sort of crap patronises everyone, including Obama.
Interestingly, if you take Iain’s point about Obama’s early career and mode of thinking (the latter phrase is a bit of a copout too), it’s not as glittering as you might have been lead to believe. Did he actually write his books personally? Do people usually get to the end of them? Are they any good? Neither is ‘academic’ as such.
If you do a Google Scholar search, there’s plenty of boilerplate almost certainly written by speechwriters and team members rather than BO himself. There is not really much else. Despite the hype around it, this piece in JAMA – and almost certainly not written by BO – is not an academic paper at all. This, from 1990, is an adequate local magazine article, nothing more. Here is a fascinating if slightly bitchy analysis, by Jack Cashill, of the great man’s writing style and his output, it’s worth reading. Following on from that is a typically witty piece from a truly great prose writer, Bob Tyrrell, further deconstructing the whole Obama intellectual/reader schtick.
If you were wondering about his speeches, given his intermittently justified reputation as an orator (try this), well…they don’t read quite as well as they did in his Golden Era. I quote from Matthew Walther’s book review, starting with a strikingly Blairesque paragraph that also calls to mind a tedious NHS management workshop:
(we) are forever being asked with a steady, cloying, increasingly oppressive optimism to “rise to this moment,” to “have passion” and “a strategy,” to aspire to “a sense of purpose,” to “feel” things like “urgency” and “hopefulness,” to participate in “a conversation worth having,” to “summon a new spirit,” to remind ourselves that “change happens”—as if believing things or wanting to do them, considered in the abstract and putting aside the question of what exactly those things are, were a virtue
Its editors, E.J. Dionne and Joy-Ann Reid, set up our expectations very early—on the book’s first full page, in fact—when, after having compared him to Lincoln and FDR, they quote Obama responding to a compliment from Harry Reid, who had called one of his speeches “phenomenal.”
“I have a gift, Harry,” Obama replied.
Maybe, but I don’t think it’s particularly to do with speeches, writing and thinking.
If you blog you have to hone your writing skills, and try to be concise. I’m sure that I often fail. However, you do occasionally sit back and admire something that you’ve produced with a friendly inner smug voice gently praising your brilliance.
There are a few writers though who consistently trump what you’ve done, and make it seem effortless. Wrong though he is about most things, Matthew Parris is one. Kevin D Williamson (right about most things) is possibly the dean of this school. Here is another, now a hate figure for half of the middle classes, Rod Liddle. Very funny, and peerless prose:
The remarkable thing is the change. The degree to which liberal lefties now cling to these most unlikely of heroes – a former right wing quasi fascist self-publicising dwarf like Bercow, or an investment banker like Gina Miller. Or a stupid bureaucrat like Jean Claude Junckers. And they do this because, I suppose, they have nothing left to cling to. Everything else is gone. They are left with these pathetic, bourgeois, right wing, half-wits. It really is all they have, so swiftly has the ground shifted beneath their feet. Sometimes I almost feel sorry for them.
I confess that I hadn’t heard of the Dutchman Carel Willink, and I owe my exposure to him to ace film critic, acquaintance of Russ Meyer, and all round arts maven, Anne Billson (whose extensive film database is a very witty and stimulating bargain on Amazon),
But if you like Giorgio de Chirico, Rene Magritte, Lawrence Alma-Tadema or Paul Delvaux, then you’ll like Willink. Technically very gifted and versatile – his portraiture is outstanding – he had the ability to produce startlingly evocative dreamscapes like the one in this post. The elegaic mood and unspoken history in them remind me of neighbouring Belgian Fernand Khnopff, albeit the style is very different. Khnopff was inspired by the unique gloomy atmosphere of Bruges (which is still there, despite the tourism), and his literary parallel is with fellow Belgian Georges Rodenbach, whose beautiful (and readable) Bruges-la-Morte is effectively a symbolist novel. In Willink’s work symbolism mingles with surrealism, classical landscape and technical precision. It’s an interesting observation that notwithstanding the Greek de Chirico, all this is very Nordeuropa, in a line that stems from the fantasy and improbable landscapes of Bosch, Bruegel and particularly Patinir, the most obscure of these three giants.
There are lots of problems with what passes for science much of the time now. Peer review is not all it’s cracked up to be, in fact Einstein hated it and his most famous work never underwent the process. The whole concept of statistical significance is under question (in medical matters it often bears no resemblance to clinical significance), and there has been a lot of flagrant bad behaviour in the hot political areas of science. Many ‘scientists’ (loosely defined) suffer from the same malaise as ‘experts’. There’s plenty of crossover between the two spurious groups. I hate putting such established terms in inverted commas, but one feels driven to it.
Part of the problem is the ‘publish or die’ atmosphere in many academic centres. The scientific and medical literature has expanded exponentially. One would sensibly doubt that the quality has kept pace.
But you know, there are some rules, generally accepted terms of reference. Here’s one fine example from the works of sociologist (not the rubbish kind) Robert K Merton. He is the man who originated those everyday phrases “unintended consequences,” the “reference group,” the “role model,” and “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Quite a body of work in its quotability, like a Shakespeare of Sociology:
In his landmark 1973 work The Sociology of Science , Robert Merton established norms upon which scientists should rely . These Mertonian norms include: communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, originalism, and organized skepticism… These norms have been described as follows: “Communalism: Science is public knowledge, freely available to all . . . Universalism: There are no privileged sources of scientific knowledge . . . Disinterestedness: Science is done for its own sake. Originality: Science is the discovery of the unknown . . . Skepticism: Scientists take nothing on trust…” Merton’s original work was done in the aftermath of World War II and is understood as making the argument for the necessity of these norms to scientific advancement in a democratic society.
The National Academy of Sciences built on Mertonian norms by establishing guidelines of its own that seek to foster a “community characterized by curiosity, cooperation, and intellectual rigor…” While the Academy encourages open debate and criticism, id . at xv, it treats the falsification of data, intent to mislead, and retaliation against critics as examples of serious research misconduct.
Great stuff, clear and almost noble idealism. If you don’t have rules that are widely accepted, then you get dud science and useless outcomes. Just look at the problems with reproducibility, which anyone who ever did O-level chemistry should intuitively understand.
You might have guessed that the reason I’m plugging Merton is his relevance to the scientific chaos surrounding climate change, and the quote above came from Mark Steyn’s update on his legal battle with the egregious Michael Mann. The provider of the quote is a real scientist, Judith Curry, who has heroically joined the fray.
Every medic knows that people more often than not publish for their CV and the career – it’s a necessity. Few people are really good at scientific research. It’s a lot harder than surgery by and large, if you’re doing it well. Most of it is forgettable, irrelevant or possibly plain wrong. Scientific endeavour from a position of preconceived bias will almost certainly be bullshit in, bullshit out.
To quote Anglo-Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney: A theory is a supposition which we hope to be true, a hypothesis is a supposition which we expect to be useful; fictions belong to the realm of art; if made to intrude elsewhere, they become either make-believes or mistakes.