George Orwell: “Politics and the English Language”

Thursday, 9 May, 2013 0 Comments

If Rainy Day has a manifesto, it is the great essay “Politics and the English Language”, which George Orwell wrote in 1946. The English language and politics are at the heart of this blog and while we cannot hope to match Orwell in any way, he is our style guide, mentor and patron saint. To […]

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Gentry Liberals

Monday, 22 April, 2013 0 Comments

Congratulations to Walter Russell Mead for coining the term “Gentry Liberals” in response to the latest screed by Maureen Dowd of the New York Times. For Dowd, and all the Dowdian clones out there, Mead offers this observation:

“Column writing is dangerous work and long success in the game can lead to the stifling of that Editor Within who keeps you from looking too stupid in print. A rich self esteem, fortifed by decades of op-ed tenure and dinner party table talk dominance, has apparently given Ms. Dowd the confidence to believe that she is a maestro of political infighting, a Clausewitz of strategic insight and a Machiavelli of political cunning rolled up into one stylish and elegant piece of work. From the heights of insight on which she dwells, it is easy to see what that poor schmuck Barry Obama can’t: those 60 votes on gun control were his for the taking, if he was only as shrewd a politician as Maureen Dowd.”

Gentry liberals, according to alter Russell Mead, “desperately want politics to be clean, to be about the ‘issues.’ And they yearn for their heroes to eschew all those nasty tricks of machine politicians.” The reality of politics is different. And so is the reality of life.

Blond on Thatcher

Monday, 15 April, 2013 0 Comments

Mrs Thatcher A cover story in the February 2009 edition of Prospect magazine ensured fame for Phillip Blond, the English political thinker, Anglican theologian and director of the ResPublica think tank. His celebrated essay on Red Toryism proposed a radical communitarian traditionalist conservatism and railed against state and market monopoly. Blond noted that Thatcherism was determined to end state monopolies and markets would then become the vehicle by which prosperity would be attained. “But the free market fundamentalists often did little more than create new monopolies of capital to replace those of the state,” he noted.

At the weekend, Phillip Blond revisited these issues for readers of the Dutch publication, The Post Online, and in “The legacy of Margaret Thatcher” he painted a picture of light and shadow in which the late British Prime Minister was praised for her many international achievements but criticized for what Blond saw as her lack of domestic social conscience. Snippet:

“She simply had no account of the social or the intermediate. For her there were just individuals and everything she tried to do was to create the type of individuals she believed would make Britain great again. The lack of any account of the social blinded her to the fate of her people — human beings need structures to help them in life especially when faced with economic change. But nobody in the north was offered anything except welfare and indifference bordering on hostility.”

And then there’s this barb:

“In respect of negative legacies others abound, her justified hostility to the European project blinded her to the possibility that Britain’s rise back to power might also be through Europe. If she had not disliked non-English speaking people so, she might have helped save Europe (and so fulfil Britain’s historical role on the continent) from the terrible consequences of the euro.”

Phillip Blond has written one of the best Tory essays on the legacy of Margaret Thatcher that we will read this week.

Margaret Thatcher RIP

Monday, 8 April, 2013 0 Comments

“For my part, I favour an approach to statecraft that embraces principles, as long as it is not stifled by them; and I prefer such principles to be accompanied by steel along with good intentions.” Margaret Thatcher (13 October 1925 — 8 April 2013)

“Socialists cry ‘Power to the people’, and raise the clenched fist as they say it. We all know what they really mean—power over people, power to the State.”

The Divisions of Cyprus

Wednesday, 20 March, 2013 0 Comments

“Enlargement, widely regarded as the greatest single achievement of the European Union since the end of the Cold War, an occasion for more or less unqualified self-congratulation, has left one inconspicuous thorn in the palm of Brussels. The furthest east of all the EU’s new acquisitions, even if the most prosperous and democratic, has been a tribulation to its establishment, one that neither fits the uplifting narrative of the deliverance of captive nations from Communism, nor furthers the strategic aims of Union diplomacy, indeed impedes them.”

So begins The Divisions of Cyprus by Perry Anderson, which appeared in The London Review of Books in June 2008. Given what is going on right now in the EU, this is a must-read piece, especially the parts on the perfidious role that the British played in the island’s misfortunes. Anderson’s conclusion is prophetic: “Sometimes small countries defy great powers, but it has become increasingly rare. The more likely outcome remains, in one version or another, the sentence pronounced on another Greek island: ‘The strong do what they can, the weak do what they must.'”

Drop the Glass, Google

Friday, 1 March, 2013 0 Comments

“Don’t be evil.” Heard that one before? Let’s have a quick look now at that famous corporate Code of Conduct: “Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But ‘Don’t be evil’ is much more than that. Yes, it’s about providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. But it’s also about doing the right thing more generally — following the law, acting honorably and treating each other with respect.”

Google cofounder Sergey Brin spoke at the TED 2013 Conference this week and showed off Google Glass, a hands-free, voice-activated augmented-reality headset developed by the search engine. Brin used the presentation to take a swipe at the phone. “We get information by disconnecting from other people, looking down into our smartphone,” he said. “Is this the way you’re meant to interact with other people? Is the future of connection just people walking around hunched up, looking down, rubbing a featureless piece of glass? It’s kind of emasculating. Is this what you’re meant to do with your body?”

That made headlines and his use of “emasculating” provoked intense reaction, but Mark Hurst, founder of Creative Good, ignored the frenzy and focused instead on “The Google Glass feature no one is talking about.” And what have we all missed in our gadgetry excitement? Snippet:

Google Glass is like one camera car for each of the thousands, possibly millions, of people who will wear the device — every single day, everywhere they go — on sidewalks, into restaurants, up elevators, around your office, into your home. From now on, starting today, anywhere you go within range of a Google Glass device, everything you do could be recorded and uploaded to Google’s cloud, and stored there for the rest of your life. You won’t know if you’re being recorded or not; and even if you do, you’ll have no way to stop it.

And that, my friends, is the experience that Google Glass creates. That is the experience we should be thinking about. The most important Google Glass experience is not the user experience — it’s the experience of everyone else. The experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change.

Just think: if a million Google Glasses go out into the world and start storing audio and video of the world around them, the scope of Google search suddenly gets much, much bigger, and that search index will include you. Let me paint a picture. Ten years from now, someone, some company, or some organization, takes an interest in you, wants to know if you’ve ever said anything they consider offensive, or threatening, or just includes a mention of a certain word or phrase they find interesting. A single search query within Google’s cloud — whether initiated by a publicly available search, or a federal subpoena, or anything in between — will instantly bring up documentation of every word you’ve ever spoken within earshot of a Google Glass device.

If the Google Code of Conduct is “about doing the right thing”, the company should drop the Glass device right now. It has the potential for evil.

Google Glass

Zen and the art of being Italian

Friday, 22 February, 2013 0 Comments

We round out our week of all things Italian here with a recommendation: Zen. No, not the school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the 6th century and which became famous in the 1970s when it was briefly associated with motorcycle maintenance. Rather, our Zen is Aurelio Zen, a fictional Italian detective created by the late, lamented crime writer Michael Dibdin.

Although your blogger has been a long-time admirer of Italy and has visited the country many times, it was only through reading of Dibdin’s murder mysteries that the true nature of contemporary Italian society became clear. The books are filled with vice, la dolce vita, politics, passion, omerta, commerce, history, humanity, food, wine and love of place. Zen teaches the reader that Italy is not a modern nation-state, but a set of city-states living in constant familial rivalry with each other. But despite the fragmentation, the sum of the parts is still a force to be reckoned with. Reuters headline this morning: “Global shares, euro tumble on economic concerns, Italy vote.”

BBC Scotland and Left Bank Pictures produced three dramas based on the Dibdin books. Shot in Rome, they starred English actor Rufus Sewell as Aurelio Zen, and Italian actress Caterina Murino is Tania Moretti, his colleague. Eccellente!

Girlfriend in a Coma

Wednesday, 20 February, 2013 0 Comments

“Our aims are to build awareness in Italy and around the world of the true nature and severity of the decline of this once-great western democracy, to warn other countries that a similar destiny could await them, and to serve as a call to action, at all levels of society.” So say Italian journalist Annalisa Piras and Bill Emmott, former editor of The Economist. Between them, they have made of Girlfriend in a Coma, a declaration of love and apprehension about the object of their passion: Repubblica italiana.

[iframe src=”http://player.vimeo.com/video/51765618″ width=”100%” height=”380″]

Bill Emmott kindly took some time from his busy schedule to take part in a Q&A with Rainy Day. Here goes:

Eamonn Fitzgerald: Girlfriend in a Coma, Italy and its Discontents by Paul Ginsborg, The Dark Heart of Italy by Tobias Jones… There’s no shortage of concern for the state of Italy by British intellectuals. But why Italy, and not, say, Germany or Spain? How do you explain this British anxiety about Italy?

Bill Emmott: Our extra interest in Italy goes back centuries: we see Italy as the font of western civilisation, a sort of lesson in how to be cultured. But also now there is a kind of horrified fascination: at the danger Italy might bring down the euro, at the way Berlusconi has become the anti-culture symbol, but also at fear that some Italian trends might might precursors of what might befall us too, if we are not careful.

Eamonn Fitzgerald: Italy has lurched from crisis to crisis over the past six decades, but life goes on and the Italians seem to have developed the ability to cope. Why do you think that the current crisis is more serious than the preceding ones?

Bill Emmott: This crisis is genuinely worse. Incomes are falling, private savings have halved, and the young are living off the pensions of their grandparents. It cannot go on like this. As Sergio Marchionne of FIAT says in our film, Italy is on “l’ultima spiaggia“, the last beach.

Eamonn Fitzgerald: In his 2004 thriller, Medusa, the late Michael Dibdin has his protagonist, Aurelio Zen, describe the everyday reality of corruption, intrigue and distrust as “Italia Lite”. It is, says Zen, “the new culture of empty slogans, insincere smiles and hollow promises overlaying the authentic adversarial asperity of public life.” Did Dibdin, the novelist, get it right?

Bill Emmott: A principle of journalism, espoused even by a predecessor of mine as editor of The Economist, is that we “simplify, then exaggerate”. So did Dibdin. But his books contained a lot of truth.

Eamonn Fitzgerald: This question is related to the previous one in that it deals with matters cultural. How come Italian artists, filmmakers especially, have created nothing extraordinary about the current state of Italy? What’s happened to that famed creativity? Where’s the Pasolini, were’s the Sciascia in this time of need?

Bill Emmott: Domination of the media, of film distribution by a few hands, combined with the politicisation of so much of the cultural industry, have combined to stultify creativity. Not entirely, of course, but substantially.

Eamonn Fitzgerald: The international press depicts Berlusconi as a gangster, a buffoon or a Casanova, but in-depth analysis of his popularity is rare or non-existent. Is this because the international media is unwilling to confront the fact that many Italians have very different values to the Tuscany set, as I call liberal/leftist international commentariat?

Bill Emmott: No, I think the Italian media makes the same mistake too. They love his showmanship, so they amplify it and connive in his use of it to cover up his real aims.

Eamonn Fitzgerald: How will Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement fare in the coming election?

Bill Emmott: Quite well. They are the only really new force, and feed off anger and despair. They will be a big force in the next parliament.

Eamonn Fitzgerald: Final question: Is Italy doomed, or do you see light at the end of the tunnel?

Bill Emmott: There will be light when Italians really face up to the reality of their situation.

Thank you, Bill. And now, over to The Smiths: “Girlfriend in a coma, I know. I know — it’s serious.”

The digital foxes are in charge of the human rights henhouse

Thursday, 15 November, 2012 1 Comment

On Tuesday, swelling with regional pride, Al Arabiya noted, “UAE wins seat on U.N. Human Rights Council, garners highest Asia vote“. The foreign affairs minister of the UAE (United Arab Emirates), Mohammad Gargash, welcomed the “victory” with the following quote: “The win crowned a series of achievements made by the UAE in its human rights […]

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The people have spoken

Wednesday, 7 November, 2012 0 Comments

American flag by Jasper Johns And half of US voters have rewarded Barack Obama with a second term. The challenges facing the United States in the coming four years of his presidency are daunting. Nearly a third of Americans now depend on food stamps, welfare, disability payments or some other form of government support. Even greater dependency is just around the corner as the “baby boomers” begin to retire. Then, the percentage of Americans over 60 will jump from 16 percent of the population to 25 percent. As their requirements for federal government assistance rise, that same government’s capacity to finance even more largesse will fall as the rest of the world cannot be expected to fund American well-being in perpetuity.

More numbers: With just 58 percent of the US working-age population employed today, the budget deficit is now running at more than a trillion dollars a year. During the past year alone, the US Treasury borrowed $1.2 trillion. This cannot continue. But a second term for Barack Obama means more of the same: more dependency, more spending and more debt. All against the backdrop of a profoundly divided country, with the popular vote virtually tied, not to mention the 90 million Americans who didn’t even bother to vote. Change? Hope?

Those who did vote for Obama have placed a big bet on hope. At home, they hope that he’ll use his second term to foster prosperity, security, tolerance and justice. On the international front, they hope that he’ll address the Palestinian tragedy, face down the anti-democratic Middle Eastern petro-monarchies, bring Iran to the negotiating table, engage meaningfully with Russia and manage the pivot to Asia in a way that avoids conflict with China. Over to you, Mr President.

China: The Economist flatters; the New York Times reveals

Friday, 26 October, 2012 0 Comments

The latest issue of The Economist features Xi Jinping, soon to be named China’s next president, on the cover and the editorial accompanying the title mentions the word “corruption” three times. Here’s the penultimate paragraph: “The Chinese Communist Party has a powerful story to tell. Despite its many faults, it has created wealth and hope […]

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