Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Monday, 27 August 2007

Taking umbrage

This Barefoot Bum business has set me reflecting, yet again, on the rocky state of free speech and candid debate in our febrile so-called ‘open’ societies.

When I was growing up during WW2 and at university in the years immediately following, we were taught, and believed, that freedom of thought, expression, and debate was the bedrock of a healthy society. Indeed, it was this very principle, above all, that the War had been fought to defend. Apart from the necessary limits of direct incitement to violence [which included ‘hate speech’] and libel, we believed that the more robustly opinions, however extreme, were expressed the better it would be – because poisonous views are less harmful when out in the open and liable to vigorous contradiction than when they fester secretly underground.

During the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s I was actively engaged in campaigning to protect and preserve free speech, serving on the executive committees of both the National Council for Civil Liberties and the Defence of Literature and the Arts Society, which had been set up to defend reputable publishers accused of ‘obscenity’ for publishing avant-garde works by modern authors. As the Society’s chairman once said:

“I believe that freedom of expression is in many ways the quintessential freedom and in fact the key to all human rights, because through it we can win or defend all our other liberties, besides its importance for the establishment of truth. Any derogation from it, however small, is to my mind repugnant as well as a dangerous precedent.”

Nowadays, however, there is a cant ‘politically correct’ doctrine that an open society can best be protected by curbing free speech. Not only do we have laws banning expressions of racial hatred, but there are vigorous attempts to extend a similar legal ban to the denigration of religion. A prime ground for the alleged necessity of such censorship is that those whose feelings are hurt or offended by vigorous expressions of dislike or opposition may themselves resort to violence in ‘self defence’, and therefore free speech must be curbed in order to preserve the peace.

I find this argument singularly unconvincing – in fact, poppycock. If people aren’t able or willing to stand up for themselves and their beliefs in vigorous debate, I fail to see why my freedom of expression, and therefore of opinion, should suffer because of their namby-pambyism. What these folk are really after, of course, is the power to shut down criticism of beliefs and practices which may in fact be injurious or incompatible with a truly free society.

It’s high time that everyone who values their own freedom lets it be known loudly and clearly that there is no ‘right’ not to be offended. Indeed, in a free society there is a duty to ALLOW oneself to be offended.

To all those who are so quick to take umbrage, I say “TOO BAD!”.

Tut, tut

My post on ‘Blogging for Peace’ was timely. Larry Hamelin, the Barefoot Bum, has ordered me to take him off my ‘neoCon blogroll’ because he is personally affronted by my reference, in my earlier post ‘Idiots’ Corner’, to the ‘lickspittle Left’.

Larry – usually a highly reasonable breath of sanity amidst American blogsites awash with irrational triumphalist religiosity and extreme right wing gung-ho politics – has completely misconstrued my meaning. I didn’t have him in mind at all when I used that phrase, but I can’t tell him so as he has admonished me not to reply to his rude emails as he “doesn’t want to be associated with me in any way” and has placed me in his killfile. Oh dear! What next? Conversing with even ostensibly sensible Americans is like walking on eggshells…..

The Barefoot Bum, I sadly conclude, is abysmally ignorant of the minutiae of British politics – utterly insignificant as they are to 99.9 per cent of self-absorbed Americans. If he knew anything about the lamentable state of political debate here, or ever visited sites such as the Guardian’s ironically named ‘Comment is Free’, he would be aware that liberal discourse in the UK is infested by the pathetic “Muslims can do no wrong and their religion should never be criticised because we have wickedly invaded Iraq” babble of Respect supporters and other SWP-type loony Left groupuscules who cannot see the wood for the trees, or the non-sequitur of their absurd ‘argument’, and are so viscerally anti-American – regardless of who is in office there – that they welcome any setback or defeat that the USA suffers in the world. It is these people whom I label the 'lickspittle Left'.

My position, as I set out clearly in my original post, is that the American-British invasion of Iraq, without United Nations’ authorisation, was – quite apart from being illegal and immoral, which latter is the only aspect which seems to worry Larry – criminally stupid and – as many of us were saying it would do before it commenced - has resulted in undermining the West’s moral, military, and material strength. The US and UK should never have gone in there, but as they did there has to be a better option for phased withdrawal than an ignominious helter-skelter pursued by the triumphant jeers of fanatic Islamists. The sooner the UN and other appropriate international bodies are involved in constructing a credible international force to take over in Iraq, the better.

If the Barefoot Bum thinks that this is a ‘neoCon’ attitude, his usual rational stance has sadly deserted him.

OK, Larry, I’ll remove the Barefoot Bum from my blogroll. A pity – because I hoped that through me your generally sensible and sometimes wise posts would reach some new readers who wouldn’t otherwise have found you.

But I would have had to do it anyway, because as I said in ‘Blogging for Peace’, life’s too short to bother with people who descend to trading personal insults and obscenities, as you have chosen to do. So Goodbye.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Uses of empathy

Empathy is defined by the Concise Oxford as “the power of projecting one’s personality into [and so fully comprehending] the object of contemplation”. I would regard it as a skill to be acquired by practice, rather than a ‘power’. Very few of us can empathise with another person or unfamiliar situation one hundred per cent. but empathy is a highly useful – indeed, essential – habit to cultivate. Another, less formal, definition is “standing in someone else’s shoes without stepping out of your own”.

One of the benefits of studying history at university degree level is – or was, in my student days – being encouraged to comprehend what it was like to BE the people or age one was learning about. By reading their biographies, letters, and other contemporary documents it becomes possible to grasp, at least sketchily, what they thought and felt about their life-experiences as these happened. A pervading historical fallacy is anachronism – viewing the past with hindsight from the present, instead of grasping that those in the past were living in THEIR present, and didn’t know [as we do] what was going to happen next. King Charles I, when he raised his standard at the start of the Civil War, had no notion that he would end up having his head cut off; but we know from the outset that was to be his fate. We have to banish this knowledge from our minds if we are to begin to comprehend the decisions he, Cromwell, and others took and their intended and unforeseen consequences.

The philosopher R.G. Collingwood, in The Idea of History, says that in order to understand Caesar’s decision to cross the Rubicon, we must imagine ourselves as being Caesar at that moment – empathise with him, in other words. Similarly today, in order to begin understanding why our contemporary politicians, and others, do the things they do which often seem crazy to us, we have to do our best – difficult though that is – to get inside their minds and get an intuitive ‘feel’ of their characteristic beliefs and assumptions. Striving to do this with George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden, or the Pope, isn’t easy, even when we have copious external information about them. But it’s an essential effort for anyone to make who wishes to contribute useful input to ongoing discussion.

Finally, a little anecdote about the perils of empathy. In the 1970s, when I was involved in the development of what later became the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, we had a delightful ex-army officer, then working in the City, who volunteered to help us with fund-raising. Archie was the epitome of a Guards officer in civvies: immaculate pin-striped suit, rolled umbrella and bowler hat. He came to one of our training workshops and asked to be shown what was going on. Well, he was told, in this room is a role-play session. “Really?”, said Archie, “how interesting! May I join in?”. By all means, he was told, and was teamed up with a lady trainee. “Now”, said the trainer, “you are an unmarried West Indian lady with three children visiting a family planning clinic”. Archie’s empathetic skills didn’t rise to the challenge. He freaked out.

Blogging for Peace

After a year’s almost daily blogging, I ask myself why I keep on doing it? After a busy life of writing, campaigning, and counselling, I’ve reached an age, and a stage of precarious health, where I might do better to lay off the computer and let my mind as well as my body vegetate more.

The answer is complex. Firstly, I blog out of anxiety amounting to fearfulness over the present dreadful state of the world, and the continuing absence of discernible constructive moves to reduce hatred, curb violence, and promote peace.

I find it symptomatic that a well-drafted [because drafted by me!] petition to the peoples of the world to work for the reduction of violence posted by a small group of like-minded friends some months ago has so far attracted less than fifty signatures. We’d hoped – vainly – that it would interest at least as many people as were squabbling over the vicissitudes of scatterbrained Paris Hilton, if not the million or so calling for the abolition of whaling in the Pacific. But no: the prevailing level of global violence is not, it seems, of compelling concern to many bloggers.

I blog in order to have civilised discussions with like-minded, and other-minded, people. I do not blog to ‘win’, or to have slanging matches with those I disagree with. I avoid name-calling and trading insults: bloggers who deal in those currencies aren’t welcome on my sites, and I avoid theirs. Life is too short.

I blog, hopefully, to elucidate different points of view and to move towards constructive solutions. I don’t mean that I expect to reach a mushy sort of ‘consensus’ where everyone pays lip-service to skin-deep agreements; but I do hope to play my small part in rallying the silent solid centre of peaceable, live-and-let-live folk against the rabid extremists on both the Left and the Right.

I blog for tolerance. I blog against hatred and prejudice. I echo Lieutenant Cable in South Pacific:

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught from year to year,
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

“You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a different shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

“You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate.
You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

This pernicious philosophy is even more virulent than it was half a century ago, when those wise words were written.

Above all, I blog for friendship – an unexpected bonus, and indeed a blessing, which I have happily discovered through my travels and travails around the blogosphere.

To all my blogging friends and acquaintances, I say ”Thank You” for enhancing my life and for making these latter arduous days richer and much pleasanter than I had anticipated.

Idiots' corner

I never cease to be amazed by the apparent insanity of supposedly serious 'statespersons' and their political partisans who talk what seems to me utter lunacy. The fact that such idiots are influential in our contemporary world is deeply dismaying.

The two worst examples are first, advocacy of 'nuking' anybody, and even the pretence that nuclear weapons have a deterrent effect that makes investment in them, and their retention, a credible policy. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the horrific effects of the criminally irresponsible Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs of 1945, and of the widespread malign atmospheric and health effects of the Chernobyl disaster, must know that there can be no 'winners', but only a doom-laden future for humanity, if nuclear weapons are ever used again. Therefore, the only sane policy is for them to be universally outlawed, and their dismantling supervised by an international authority. Hearing the gung-ho comments by some [usually American] politicians about the feasibility and even desirability of 'nuking' Iran, North Korea, or anywhere else sends shivers down my spine. These people should be carted off by the gentlemen in white coats, and locked up for life.

The second idiocy is the eager anticipation of many knee-jerk anti-Americans for the withdrawal - or ignominious expulsion - of US troops from Iraq. As someone who fiercely opposed the Iraq adventure before it was launched, on the pragmatic ground that it was bound to be disastrous, knowing the nature of the people of the region, I obviously wish that no US or British forces had ever gone there. But that is an entirely different matter to wishing to see them driven out with their tails between their legs. Such an outcome would have only one result: a weakening of Western influence in the world, and a strengthening of Islamic, bitterly anti-Western, forces. Is that what the Bush-hating, lickspittle Left really want to see?

Thanks to the egregious folly of the most crapulous US administration in living memory - and mine goes back to the 1930s - the West and militant Islam have been put on a collision course which can only be resolved by a combination of [unused] military strength and international diplomacy, probably over a considerable period of time. Churchill's dictum that 'jaw-jaw is better than war-war' was never truer than in this instance. Any other outcome would be so horrific as to be unthinkable. But these days, with the lunatics running the asylum, we are, alas, forced to think the unthinkable.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Another old friend

This month is the centenary of the birth of Harford Montgomery Hyde, historian, prolific author, Ulster Unionist MP, and champion of homosexual law reform and many other liberal causes. In the last decades of his life he and his wife Robbie were good friends of mine, and I have happy recollections of many hospitable visits to them at their lovely historic homes at Rye and Tenterden.

I reprint the following memoir by kind permission of the author, Jeff Dudgeon.
[Published in The Belfast Telegraph with three photographs on 14 August 2007]

The life and campaigns of Montgomery Hyde, author and Unionist MP, born 100 years ago today

by Jeffrey Dudgeon

It will be surprising to many, and perhaps distressing to some, that the MP who led the campaign in the House of Commons to effect the 1957 Wolfenden report on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution was the Ulster Unionist writer and campaigner, Harford Montgomery Hyde. He was to pay a heavy political price for his bravery.

Hyde was the author of nearly fifty books. Although he wrote rapidly he was a thorough and accurate historian. His biographical subjects included Lawrence of Arabia, Roger Casement, Stalin and Edward Carson but it was those works on spying or sexual topics which were most successful, one particularly popular being The Other Love, a history of homosexuality in Britain and Ireland.

The centenary of Hyde’s birth is 14th August while another 2007 anniversary is the quarter-century since Northern Ireland ended imprisonment for gays - fifteen years after England decriminalised.

Hyde’s background was upper class Belfast. He attended a Yorkshire public school. His father, James was a linen merchant and Unionist councillor for Cromac. Although his mother came from a Protestant Home Rule background, all were involved in the 1914 gun running, the 7-year old Harford being a dummy casualty for first aid practice. He attended Queen's, gaining a first class history degree, and then Oxford for law.

Why did Hyde take up such apparently unpopular causes? And how did an apparently conservative province elect him?

Many wondered if he had gay relationships, but he replied that his feelings “were always distinctly heterosexual.” He certainly knew many gay people, particularly at Oxford. There he occupied Oscar Wilde’s rooms, something that concerned his father who feared he might follow in his footsteps. Marrying three times also rather indicates heterosexual preference; one wife would have been sufficient cover.

As to religion, Hyde wrote, “For a time, I admit I was greatly attracted to the Roman church, especially the ritual, so much more appealing to my aesthetic sense than the dull Protestant services. But already at Queen’s I was beginning to have doubts about all religious beliefs.” In the Commons, he always affirmed rather than take the oath. Indeed this lack of belief enabled Hyde to break from many related conformities.

Hyde’s first employment was with the 7th Marquess of Londonderry whose wife Edith was a famous London political hostess. From 1935-9, he was their librarian, researching and writing on the family, with books such as Londonderry House and its pictures, The Rise of Lord Castlereagh, and The Strange Death of Castlereagh who committed suicide in 1822 when Foreign Secretary.

In 1939, he married Dorothy Crofts, a Cheshire-born actress, later a fashion shop proprietor. The Dublin raconteur and Senator, Oliver St John Gogarty proposed the toast at the London wedding. Lt. Col. Hyde, as he became, had a good war, mostly in intelligence but continued writing. He was attached to Supreme HQ Allied Expeditionary Force in 1944, and was later seconded to the Allied Commission for Austria where he ensured the death penalty was abolished.

After the war, he was legal adviser to British Lion Films then run by Sir Alexander Korda, and in 1948 published The Trials of Oscar Wilde, a precursor of three more Wilde books. In 1945 he applied for the South Belfast Unionist candidature and was unfortunate to lose by one vote. In 1950, North Belfast selected him. His maiden speech was on the unenforceability of Northern Ireland maintenance orders in Great Britain, and the consequent problem of border-hopping husbands.

Hyde did involve himself in Northern Ireland affairs at Westminster. In an economy debate in 1957, he managed to break the convention that the province was not discussed and drew attention to Ulster industry’s difficulties including the IRA’s 1956-62 campaign, and the “more than 200 incidents caused by illegal organisations.”

He first raised the question of Roger Casement’s diaries in 1956 when the government declined to depart “from its policy of silence,” and later when it only admitted that certain “confidential documents” of Casement’s existed. In 1959, he was the first researcher to view the diaries when finally released.

In June 1958, Hyde courageously led a campaign to get the Commons to note the Wolfenden report but only managed to say, “This is a most valuable social document” before the Speaker cut him off. In November, when the government conceded a full debate, he made a wide-ranging speech and demanded equality for the homosexual and the prostitute. He quoted a letter from a young man who had been gaoled and after release informed on, losing his new job. He also pointed out “three popular fallacies” exposed by Wolfenden; that “male homosexuality always involves sodomy”; that homosexuals are “necessarily effeminate” and that most relevant court cases “are of practising male homosexuals in private.” The government however ignored the reformers, declared decriminalisation too unpopular, and shelved the report.

As a convinced abolitionist, Hyde was co-sponsor in 1956 of a bill to abolish hanging. It passed in the Commons but was defeated in the Lords. Such liberal views during an IRA campaign were beginning to attract opponents who also made the traditional complaint that he neglected his constituency. The Unionist Party was however broader and more urbane than is often realised. Nonetheless, Dr Ian Paisley, then a member of North Belfast Unionists, recalls proposing a motion to Grand Lodge condemning Hyde for listing King William as a homosexual and working to deselect him.

Challenged in 1959 by Air Marshall Sir George Beamish, an Irish rugby international, Hyde made extensive efforts to be reselected. Addressing his Shankill branch he was questioned for two hours on the death penalty and Wolfenden. Henry Holmes, the Shankill’s Stormont MP defended him saying, “Although he has sponsored one or two unpopular causes I do not believe these are sufficient grounds for discarding him.”

Hyde was noted as a Suez rebel but declared subsequent events proved him right. Backed by favourable editorials in The Belfast Telegraph and the London press, he pleaded “guilty to being the best known of the Ulster MPs.” He went to the January selection meeting with an endorsement letter from Lady Carson (which read suspiciously as if he had written it himself) and won by 77 votes to 72, a result “greeted with prolonged applause”.

Hyde’s enemies however fought on. Although ratification was normally a formality, he unwisely chose not to return from a parliamentary tour of the West Indies “to promote trade and business contacts,” and lost by 171 to 152 votes. His second wife Mary wrote to him in Jamaica: “So that’s that. I’m sorry darling. Perhaps it’s for the best. No more politics. No more Belfast politics. Oh bliss.” The one antagonistic letter he received (from Worthing), stated “Ulster has no time for an advocate for homosexuality” accusing him of “gallivanting in the sunshine.” Unionism’s failure since to send a consistently liberal voice to Westminster remains a dangerous deficiency doing it considerable damage, not least with Labour governments.

Hyde managed to keep his first divorce out of the Belfast newspapers, only telling his constituency association on his remarriage. This apparently passed without comment, as “a fait accompli.” That 1952 dissolution had been alimony-free since Dorothy had taken up with Wilfred “Biffy” Dunderdale of MI6, a key component in Ian Fleming’s character, James Bond. However Hyde was beset by money problems after his 1966 divorce from Mary Fischer. He married lastly his secretary Rosalind Roberts (Robbie). She had no connection with Northern Ireland but apparently became more outspoken in her Unionist views than Hyde.

After leaving parliament in October 1959, he became Professor of History and Politics at the University of the Punjab in Pakistan for two years, taking the opportunity to research Ulstermen who had worked in India.

Leo Abse, a Welsh (and Jewish) Labour MP, was finally successful in effecting homosexual law reform in July 1967. Hyde later noted dryly, “As usual the Northern Ireland Members, including my successor, went into the No Lobby,” voting against even English homosexuals being emancipated.

Although never ceasing to be a Unionist, Hyde blamed Lord Brookeborough for fossilising Northern Ireland in the 1950s. He supported the Anglo-Irish Agreement despite his concern over the Republic’s claim to jurisdiction not being dropped. None the less, when ambition required it, he had joined both the Orange Order and the Freemasons, saying the one was an essential prerequisite to becoming a Unionist MP and the other an undoubted assistance.

Hyde received some public recognition in 1984 when awarded an honorary degree by Queen’s. On frequent visits to Northern Ireland in later years, Hyde stayed with his sister Diana and occasionally at Mount Stewart. He worked assiduously up to his death on 10 August 1989 survived by his third wife Robbie. He chose a non-religious cremation. “Harford was not a believer,” explained Tim Brinton MP, at the funeral, although, as he confusingly added, “He was an Ulster Protestant.” Northern Ireland, the gay community, and the world generally owe a lot to this determined and courageous Ulsterman. It is important that his considerable contribution be remembered.

Jeffrey Dudgeon was the successful plaintiff in a case against the UK at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which resulted in the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland. He is the author of Roger Casement: The Black Diaries.

The Gipper on 'shiftless' Dubya

Direct quote from the just published REAGAN DIARIES.

The entry is dated May 17, 1986.

'A moment I’ve been dreading. George brought his ne’re-do-well son around this morning and asked me to find the kid a job. Not the political one who lives in Florida. The one who hangs around here all the time looking shiftless. This so-called kid is already almost 40 and has never had a real job. Maybe I’ll call Kinsley over at The New Republic and see if they’ll hire him as a contributing editor or something. That looks like easy work.’

Thanks to Tyger for this!

Later: And thanks also to Tyger for this CORRECTION: This it seems, is not from Reagan’s diaries at all. But from My Lunch With Reagan, by Michael Kinsley. Doh!


Faith schools

An excellent post by Stephen Law here.

Monday, 20 August 2007


Having been tagged a Thinking Blogger by Yankee Doodle [thanks again YD!] my brains fall apart when I endeavour to decide who to nominate in my turn. The rules say “five”, but as YD broke them I shall do the same and nominate six deserving bloggers who always make me think, and – more importantly - often make me laugh.

I begin with ZOLA. To me, Zola is the Prince of Bloggers. Always erudite, frequently whimsical in his own endearing way, often very funny, though always with an underlying seriousness, Zola beaming in from Northern Finland is caring, sometimes a little despairing, but never for long. A daily visit to ‘Zola-Ink-Spots’ is like a dip into a rich bran tub: you never know what you are going to find next. Long may he blog.

Next, JOSE. From his vantage point in the Canary Isles, Jose surveys the world scene with a questioning eye. His long life and travels have taught him that little – if anything – is what it seems. He looks beneath the surface to descry deeper causes. A passionate advocate of the welfare of the little people of the earth – which means most of us – against the scams and skulduggery of powerful corporate institutions both governmental and private, Jose can be relied upon to make you think, even when you don’t agree with everything he says. The title of his blog, ‘Respect’, reflects Jose’s attitude to his fellow human beings.

Ms MELANCHOLY brings the insights of therapy and the fresh air of the Pennine Hills, where she is lucky enough to live [as I once did], to her blog which is a delightful mix of domestic gossip and wise insights into the human condition. I always feel soothed when I visit her site, or see that she has commented on mine. She is a fount of calm wisdom, and not nearly as gloomy as her blogging name implies.

For sheer guts, industry, and dedication to a self-imposed task, Ken Frost of NANNY KNOWS BEST gets top marks. An inveterate foe of official and unofficial bossiness, Ken provides ludicrous examples of idiotic rulings and behaviour by tinpot jobsworths who alas abound in NuLab Britain. Some of Nanny’s offerings would make you howl with laughter if they weren’t so infuriating – and indeed, dismaying. Always something to think about there!

Finally, two American friends whose blogs always give food for thought. The inimitable WOOK [Emmett Smith] has a wide-ranging fund of knowledge and wry observation which he deploys both seriously and playfully. I suspect that Wook is pretty appalled at the idiocies of the human race in this day and age, and that being facetious is his escape route from furiously sallying forth and knocking heads together. A frequent commentator in both the Arena and the Burrow, Wook tickles and stimulates us with his folksy turns of phrase.

On a more serious level, THE BAREFOOT BUM [Larry Hamelin] philosophises bravely and eloquently in the causes of liberalism and free thought – scarcely mainstream American enthusiasms, alas – and argues his case vigorously with all comers. He’s always insightful, and often amusing. I enjoy debating with him and his colleague James very much.

So there you are, Lady and Gentlemen! I hope these awards will bring you new visitors and more comments – which is always gratifying when one has slaved away over a warm keyboard to impart one’s precious thoughts to an uncaring world.

And what’s more, you are each now entitled to nominate five more Thinking Bloggers!

The rules are as follows:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,

3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote. (It comes in Gold and Silver).

The Bugs:

Thinking Blogger (Gold)

Thinking Blogger (Silver)

The Oily Truth

As Merkin has shamelessly purloined a prize specimen of Wookery from the Burrow, I am taking a similar liberty with this prize post of his, which deserves the widest circulation:

Sunday, 19 August 2007

The Oil and Nuttin' but The Oil Crusade

I thought we were into Iraq coz of the Weapons of Mass Destruction which could be deployed at 45 minutes notice?

Well, few people believed it at the time and very, very few people believe it now.

Still, I like the graphic and think we could substitute Ear-Ran and MadDinnerJacket for Eye-Rak and Rummy'sDeadFriend without any difference in meaning.

Not long to go now.


Merkin said...

Incidentally, no idea who to thank for the graphic.

Unknown Artist, Thank You.

Pixie said...

good post, works for me.

zola a social thing said...

Merkin you are a threat.

kyklops said...

Hmm... Unknown Artist passed up an opportunity for a final image/gag: "We ARCOming to kick his ass. And that's FINAL"
Huh, wha...? They don't exist anymore? Damn, getting old...
I need an esprESSO.. oh, I see TEXACOming with it now...


Merkin said...

Speak for yoursELF.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Is the music stopping?

The international credit system is like a game of musical chairs. Everyone gets richer - until the music stops. Read all about it here.

A great man

I have known some distinguished people in my life. One who stands head and shoulders above the rest as a truly great man was the first Lord Brabazon of Tara [1884-1964]. I met him only once, in the late 1950s, but my vivid impression of this man’s larger-than-life personality, and deep humanity, has never left me. [A Kodachrome colour photograph of John Theodore Cuthbert Moore-Brabazon (1884-1964), taken by JCA Redhead (1886-1954) during World War Two is reproduced above.]

I was at that time very involved in campaigning for reform of the cruel and unjust laws which criminalised all male homosexual behaviour. Lord Brabazon, I knew, was sympathetic, because he had made a moving speech in the House of Lords in favour of reform. Also, as a pioneer of motoring – as of aviation and many other innovations and sports – he had been a friend of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu’s father, and it was the prosecution of Lord Montagu for homosexual offences which had resulted in calls for reform which led to the appointment of the Wolfenden Committee. Their report formed the basis of our campaign.

In his House of Lords speech Lord Brabazon had courageously – even daringly – alluded to the ‘glamour of love’ which comes over two people and makes all things seem natural and normal. “And what we have to get into our heads, although it is difficult, is that that glamour of love is just as much present between two homosexuals as it is between a man and a woman. Perhaps that is a terrible thing, but it exists and we cannot get away from it. We are all born not all the same.”

To say this to his fellow-peers in 1957 struck me as incredibly brave and honest. It spurred me on to wish to meet him. A business colleague of my Father’s was a golfing friend of Lord Brabazon’s so, greatly daring, I asked for an introduction. Lord Brabazon invited me to call at his offices in Berkeley Square, where I told him of the work I was doing and asked for his support. He promised to do what he could to stimulate parliamentary action, and after my visit wrote to me:

“Thank you very much for coming to see me and for giving me the opportunity of having such an interesting talk with you.

“I have already tried to galvanize Frank Pakenham [later Lord Longford] into action and I ought to get hopping next week.

“Please remember that you will always be welcome here and that I can do all I can to help over this difficult question.”

Alas, I never saw him again but our only meeting is indelibly etched in my memory.

Subsequent to my visit, Lord Brabazon and Lord Pakenham saw the Lord Chancellor, Lord Kilmuir [formerly Sir David Maxwell Fyfe], an implacable opponent of reform, who held out little hope of constructive government action but did take on board some of out concerns about the operation of the existing law. Lord Brabazon kindly wrote me a detailed confidential account of this interview, concluding: ”although it is not very exciting, it does mean that the debate that took place is not just dead and buried.”

In my reply I said: “I do feel it is deplorable that there is still such a huge gap between the respective medical and legal ivory towers and a more everyday common-sense approach to the human aspects of these problems…..Thank you so much for all you have done and are doing.”

The following year, I wrote to Lord Brabazon again sending him examples of the ongoingly haphazard administration of the law and the inconsistency of sentencing policies being applied in different courts. He responded that “the examples in your letter made me boil with fury” and said he would again ask Lord Pakenham to go with him to the Lord Chancellor to urge at least administrative reforms. As I commented in Quest for Justice, “The vision of ‘Brab’ boiling with fury filled me with awe!” I still have the originals of his letters, with his personal signature, as cherished items in my files.

So who was this man, remarkable in his generation for compassionate wisdom? He tells his own story with inimitable verve in his autobiography The Brabazon Story [1956], penned by himself without any ‘ghosting’, and including some fascinating photographs. Coming from a distinguished Anglo-Irish family, he had the good fortune to be not only an outstanding sportsman but to have participated in and known personally the pioneers of the three great inventions that transformed the life of the twentieth century – the automobile, the aeroplane, and electricity. Even as a schoolboy at Harrow he was fascinated by that then rara avis the motor car, and at Cambridge, where he studied engineering, he became great friends with, and acted as mechanic for, the pioneer motorist the Hon. C.S. [‘Charlie’] Rolls, the co-founder, with Henry Royce, of the world-famous Rolls-Royce company. Motor racing became the great ambition of Brab’s life and with Rolls he drove in many of the famous pre-1914 races, winning the Circuit des Ardennes in 1907.

They both were also keenly interested and involved in early aeronautics – first ballooning, and then the development of aeroplanes. With hindsight, Lord Brabazon wondered – even in the 1950s! – whether it would have been better for humanity if flying had never been discovered, because technology had so outstripped political wisdom. But in those optimistic pre-1914 days the early pioneers believed that they were promoting something for the world’s good. Brab was among the earliest aviators, holding the Royal Aero Club’s first British pilot’s certificate [Rolls obtained the second]. He made the first flight by an Englishman in 1909, winning the Daily Mail £1,000 prize for the first all-English machine that could fly a mile. Very sadly, C.S. Rolls, having become a national hero by successfully completing the first cross-Channel non-stop return flight in June 1910, was killed the following month in an air crash at Bournemouth. He was only 33.

In the 1914-18 war Brabazon made an important contribution to aerial photography, and in the post-war years was closely associated with Lord Trenchard in developing the Royal Air Force as an independent branch of the armed forces. He was an MP for many years, being Winston Churchill's Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Air Ministry in the early 1920s, and holding office during the second world war as Minister of Transport and later of Aircraft Production. He was a keen golfer and winter sportsman, doing [and sometimes winning] the Cresta Run frequently into his seventies. He was also an enthusiastic yachtsman. He relates his experiences and memories of all his sporting, political, and business activities and friendships with great gusto, dispensing some sage advice along the way. In his ‘Afterword’ he warns against having a one-track mind:

“Take to your heart as many subjects as you can, especially if they are original and new...The fun of being in at the beginning of any new development will remain with you all your life, however big and specialised the subject may become…As you go through life, many disappointments will come your way. Have as many interests and hobbies as you can gather together. Then the whole castle of life will not come tumbling down when something goes wrong; only an outhouse falls.”

Words of wisdom from a remarkable man.

Riders on the Storm

For those concerned about the Saudi connection with Islamic terrorism, this post on Yankee Doodle's blog is essential reading.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

What makes them so rabid?

As regular visitors to Anticant's Arena and the Burrow will know, Anticant is dedicated to the simple proposition that in a tolerable society worth defending, dissent and the freedom to criticise your country's government and its policies are core values which should be sacrosanct.

This is not universally the case, however, in the United States, where the still numerous neo-Con supporters of the Bush Administration appear to assume that anyone who questions the President's wisdom and the purity of his motives is a traitor and 'un-American' [a phrase with a chillingly McCarthyite echo]. A particularly glaring example of this cast of mind is to be found here.

Such extreme unreflecting 'patriotism', which is often accompanied by withering disdain and contempt for foreigners who disagree with US policies and behaviour in an increasingly dangerous world, puts those of us who regard the USA as a great but increasingly flawed nation into the uncomfortable position of having to be the 'candid friend'.

It is high time that these 'patriotic' Americans woke up to the fact that much of the criticism is justified, and that a revision of their attitudes and conduct is overdue if they don't want 'God's Own Country' to become the pariah of the 21st century.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Democracy - Bush version

"What happened at the brig was essentially the destruction of a human being's mind. That’s what happened at the brig. His personality was deconstructed and reformed."

See the full interview with DR ANGELA HEGARTY here.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Islam and racism

Some cogent questions from 'Creamster' on David Clark's recent CiF post:

The hearts and minds movement that is currently bending the UK over backwards in readiness for a damn good seeing-to should ponder some questions and come up with some solutions instead of simply …labeling people as racist..

Having a view about Islam as a homophobic, misogynistic, anti-human, blood-thirsty cult is perfectly legitimate - it is in no way racist. Only the disingenuous, mis-informed or un-educated would argue so. Tell me, would having a view of the Branch Davidians as apolocalyptic nutters be racist? I think not - so why do you so many disingenuously or naively persist in labeling people with a rationally deduced position as racist when it is largely not the case.

For the sake of argument, I happen to believe two things about Islam.

1. It is a religion which, in its current form, is fundamentally and irreconcilably different to other religions and
2. It is a religion which is at a fundamentally different and less benign stage in its development than other religions.

Is this a racist viewpoint?

I believe its laws and customs are a codification of the barbaric and tribal way of life of 7th century Arabia and are incompatible with a civilized, tolerant, respectful and democratic country.


No, simply that the way of life as set down in the Koran is not compatible with a modern society.

A racist viewpoint? If you think so, explain why and if you can't, then move on.

Those who believe the UK should continue bending over and spreading its cheeks please answer the following questions:

1. Do you think we would be having this discussion if Charles Martel had decided to try and win hearts and minds instead of fighting in the year 732?
2. Do you think the Spanish should have worked more on winning hearts and minds or concentrated on the reconquista instead?
3. Do you think the Crusades were really wars of aggression or defensive campaigns which followed 300 years of unprovoked, YES UNPROVOKED, Islamic aggression?
4. Do you think the Islamic armies were turned back from Vienna because they had been won over by a government sponsored initiative to win-over their hearts and minds?

If so - wake up and get real.

As for the present, instead of crying racist can you please begin to offer some solutions and debate real issues.

Answer these questions:

1. Do you see a connection between the current pattern of European demography and the phrase "Live like Lambs until we can live like Lions"?
2. Would you be happy living in a country where your female friends and relatives could be ordered to wear a headscarf so as not to offend Muslim sensibilities?
3. Would you be happy living in a country where your homosexual friends and relatives could be persecuted and punished for their sexuality - see Nigeria for latest bulletin on this one?
4. Do you honestly believe that if Israel has its 'arms twisted' into submission that the campaign for its destruction will end and Islamic terrorism against the west will stop?
5. Do you seriously believe that every Islamic grievance originates because of the creation of Israel and with its containment or destruction we will see an end to these grievances?
6. Do you honestly believe that if we change our foreign policy and remove ourselves from Iraq that terrorism and the well documented Islamic appetite for unprovoked aggression and expansion will stop?
7. Have you ever pondered the historic notion, clearly felt by every single nation to have lived alongside an Islamic nation, of 'Islam's Bloody Borders'?

If you rejoice at the prospect of a continuing and un-ending increase in the influence of Islam on the way of life in the UK then fine. If not please offer constructive debate instead of shouts of 'racist'? Or do you prefer to put your heads in the sand and believe, as the Islamic scholars, want you to, that Islam is Peace and Love? It never has been and shows no sign of becoming so.

Again, if you agree with Islamic agenda you have no problem - we are heading in your direction.

For the majority of us, white, black, yellow, brown whatever, we need to be honest and grasp what is happening, not taking a gamble with our future. Despite its imperfections, we actually have a way of life worth hanging on to, we should make sure the time doesn't arrive when it's too late to call for a debate on what we can do to preserve our hard-won democratic and humanist freedoms.

So, lets be clear, just like with Catholicism at the time of the Inquisition, its not racist to say there is something wrong and unacceptable with Islam in its current form.

If the tipping point comes, unless you're happy with the Islamic way of life, you will be up shit creek without a paddle. I guess you could always try discussing your grievances with your friendly religious policeman - not your local bobby I can tell you. My guess at a response? Perhaps a lesson in the true meaning of racism.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Interview with Yankee Doodle

Yankee Doodle has kindly answered five questions from me on his blog. I find his answers extremely interesting, and trust that others will as well.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

A long friendship

Antony Grey writes:

I heard today of the death of one of my oldest friends. Henri Methorst was 98. I and my partner first met him in the early 1960s when we frequently visited Amsterdam, which in those days was a beacon of freedom for homosexuals from all over the world. Apart from ‘gay tourism’, Amsterdam was then an extremely pleasant city – much more so than is the case today, from what I can gather. The Dutch are a friendly and hospitable people, and there were no visible ethnic or religious tensions: the post-WW2 immigrants were almost entirely from the Dutch East Indies, and blended easily into the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city.

I did not go to Amsterdam merely for pleasure. I was then already actively engaged in the campaign to reform the cruel and primitive British laws penalising all male homosexual behaviour, and there was much to be learned from the Dutch about attitudes and tactics. During the war, Holland – like all countries occupied by the Germans – had the equally backward German penal code foisted on it by the Nazis, and homosexuality was driven underground. But even before the war ended a small group of courageous Dutchmen were planning a postwar campaign for what would later be known as gay liberation. One was a leading radio and television actor, Niek Engelschman, who [under the name of Bob Angelo] took the initiative in bringing together a nucleus of like-minded people in a discreet literary reading circle which after the war emerged as the COC [‘Cultural and Recreational Centre’] – still after 40 years Holland’s leading gay rights organisation. One of Bob’s foremost helpers was Benno Premsela, an architect and member of one of Amsterdam’s leading business families. Another was Henri Methorst.

When we first visited Amsterdam we naturally paid an early call on the COC, where we received a warm welcome from Bob, Benno, and Henri who were all extremely interested in and supportive of our work in England. They had proceeded, wisely and correctly, on the principle that gay freedom was a human rights issue, and that if society was ridding itself of Nazi repression, homosexuals should claim a share of the action. Between the end of the war in 1945 and the early 1960s they had achieved a remarkable degree of success. The COC had clubhouses in several Dutch towns, and had achieved a measure or royal patronage: Queen Juliana’s portrait hung prominently in the COC Amsterdam clubhouse, a spacious place with an excellent bar and restaurant and – amazingly to British eyes – a dance floor where male couples partnered each other.

Because of his professional life, Henri Methorst was especially interested in the international aspects, and held office in the international gay organisation established under the COC’s auspices. Henri was a top-level international conference interpreter – a brilliant linguist speaking several languages who frequently flew around the world providing simultaneous translation services to governmental and other important events. He ran his own consultancy in partnership with his wife, who remained a close friend and colleague after he ‘came out’ as gay and began leading a separate personal life.

When we met Henri he was in his early ‘50s: affable, alert, interested in a wide range of topics, and with a well-stored and penetrating mind. Conversation with him kept one on one’s toes. He was also very kind. Coming from a well-to-do family, he had an extremely pleasant apartment in a nineteenth-century house near Amsterdam’s Vondelpark, and he generously lent this to us on two or three occasions when he and his partner went south for their Mediterranean summer holiday. This was most welcome, enabling us to relax more than was possible in hotels, and allowing us to take our car with us a couple of times so that we were able to see a good deal of the Netherlands.

It is more than twenty years since I last saw Henri, but he had the old-fashioned concept of friendship as a permanent link that was more than just a matter of “out of sight out of mind”, and we continued corresponding once or twice a year until his death. In his later years he settled happily into a sheltered home for retired artists near to Amsterdam, from whence he wrote in great contentment of his busy mental life, his supportive family and friends, and his continued enjoyment of playing chamber music well into his nineties [he was a fine musician]. Although sad that yet another old friend has ‘dropped off the tree of life’, I can scarcely be surprised at such a great age, and I think Henri was extremely fortunate to have lived so long and so well. The news of his passing has brought back many pleasant and interesting memories.

No more Karl Rove-ing

The big rats are scuttling with ever-increasing rapidity. As Dubya's erstwhile Master of Dirty Tricks slinks away to "spend more time with his family" - haven't we heard that one before somewhere? - and hopefully dodges any further Congressional scrutiny, his former boss [who affectionately dubs him "turd-blossom!"] must be ruminating:

"So we'll go no more a Rove-ing
So late into the night.
Though the heart is still as twisted
The poll outlook's not so bright."

Although I don't suppose that Dubya has ever heard of Lord Byron.

Legitimacy destroyed

I'm taking the liberty of reproducing most of an excellent post by The Barefoot Bum on his blog about the subversion of legitimacy by unashamed naked power:

Legitimacy is coherent only in an agreed-upon context, such as national or international law. Having stepped outside the bound of international law, there is no context whatsoever to confer or deny legitimacy to any party in this conflict. The U.S. war of aggression in Iraq is more than just a deeply and thoroughly immoral activity. It is more than simply an illegitimate activity. It has actually destroyed the notion of "legitimacy" in international relations.

Even the first Gulf war, itself entailing deeply immoral activities (notably the refusal to accept Saddam Hussein's surrender and the subsequent "Turkey shoot", the slaughter of retreating Iraqi troops), still preserved at least lip service to the notion of international legitimacy through the United Nations. Clinton likewise nodded towards legitimacy.

The rule of even a bad law is preferable to no law at all. A bad law can at least be discussed and changed; but there is nothing to discuss, nothing to change, when pure power is on the march. At this level, everyone is operating directly from pure immediate self-interest, with no thought at all towards abstract or global principles. No one in this conflict, neither the United States nor any but a few naive cannon-fodder teenagers, is fighting for anything but what they sees as their narrow, parochial self-interest. America is fighting for global dominance (and, happily, losing); the Iraqis are fighting for at best sectarian power and at worst individual personal power. Or perhaps I should characterize sectarian power as at worst: The chief goal of this sectarian power seems to be the power to slaughter those of different sects.

Formal definitions of legitimacy emerge from a balance of power. There is no such thing as a priori or objective notions of legitimacy. Moral "legitimacy" (including my own use of "immoral" above) without any explicit, formal definition is nothing more than personal opinion. Formal legitimacy emerges from competing self interest when no one's self interest can dominate by pure power. We agree to be bound by laws (and, more importantly, police and prisons) to refrain from murder, rape, theft, etc. because we do not have the personal, individual power to protect ourselves from these objectionable activities. But if I feel secure that I can protect my own self interest with my own personal power, what motivation do I have for acknowledging the rights of others? Abstract notions of morality by themselves have never proven effective at motivating behavior.

It should perhaps be unsurprising that formal notions of legitimacy are being eroded not only in international relations but in our domestic law. Two things happened. We went from an economically "open" system to a "closed" system: Unrestricted economic growth is no longer possible, and thus physical human labor is losing its value. (Only a fraction of people are capable of "soft", intellectual productivity, which is still relatively open.) Secondly, the balance of powers has been upset, both internationally, with no strong state or alliance to balance the military power of the United States, and no economic or social power to balance ultra-wealthy Americans.

What bugs me as a moralist, but even more as an engineer, is the sheer stupidity of our current problems. The almost half-trillion dollars spent on Iraq could have been better spent researching alternative sources of energy and making Iraq's oil wealth far less important. Our economic and political problems are caused chiefly by over production: We're fighting - absurdly! - because we have too much wealth. Control over physical wealth is no longer a way to enslave and control people... and we don't even really want to enslave and control others: Who wants anymore to be murdered by his butler? In the United States, at least, our entire social structure is running on pure delusional paranoid schizophrenia.

At some point, at an appalling cost in blood and wealth, some new balance will occur, and we will again turn our attention to abstract notions of morality and ethics, and develop a new formalism of legitimacy. Until then, we are doomed to a brutal competition of self interest that would shock even Machiavelli.

Not for the beach

The following aren't ideal stress-removers for beach or poolside reading, but all, I think, essential information for those of us who are concerned about the global scene:

Gore Vidal: Dreaming War

John Perkins: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

Rachel Ehrenfeld: Funding Evil

I append a review of the latter, posted by Bryan at Hot Air:

I received Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed — and How to Stop It, by Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld last week. Since it was published in the US, and since Dr. Ehrenfeld is courageously battling bin Mafouz almost singlehandedly to keep the book in publication, Funding Evil isn’t likely to be banned. But it’s still a book that’s worth getting soon, if you want to see how terrorism finance works laid out in exhaustive detail. Funding Evil will arm you with enough knowledge to see the outlines of the jihad strategy to spread sharia and Dar al Islam around the world. It is dense with enough detail to make it a vital reference, yet engaging and readable for mainstream audiences. It ought to be available in every library in America and the West.

Scanning the book, it’s not hard to see why Mr. bin Mafouz wants it squashed. He appears on page 22 accused of dropping tens of millions of dollars directly into terrorist bank accounts. He appears on page 39 dropping funds into the bank accounts of “charities” that are in turn known supporters of Hamas and al Qaeda. His family turns up throughout the book funding various causes that just happen to funnel money to terrorist groups. The book certainly either defames or defines his character. Given the fact that other authors have researched bin Mafouz’s finances and found similar financial connections and transactions, it’s more likely the latter. So he sues.

Dr. Ehrenfeld’s fight will set free speech precedent for decades to come. If she succeeds, overseas courts will not be able to punish authors whose books are published in the US but sold internationally via Amazon and other online outlets. If her fight fails, then Khalid bin Mafouz will use his billions to come after other American authors who expose how terrorism is financed and fueled by wealthy Saudis and others who appear to be trying to buy their way into paradise by funding worldwide homicide bombing. And he’ll come after US reporters, columnists and bloggers too. Her fight is our fight and your fight too.

Funding Evil is essential reading. With a foreword by former DCI James Woolsey and a critique of the 9-11 Commission report as well as details on terror financing and support for the legal jihad that reach right into the Saudi royal family, Funding Evil is indeed a book that the Saudis don’t want you to read.