England

The unmasking of the overrated Martin Selmayr

Friday, 29 December, 2017 0 Comments

This is deft and devastating: “The Selmayrs are by origin Bavarians, who have always seen themselves as European rather than Germans — except during the Third Reich.” That pause there is masterful and it’s the work of Daniel Johnson in the current issue of Standpoint magazine.

Martin Selmayr is the latest scion of this ancient family to make news and he bears the capital title of “HEAD OF CABINET” in what the Brussels bubble calls “President Juncker’s team“. The admiration of the young bureaucrat ends at the English Channel, however. Selmayr has few friends in London as he is “blamed for a series of malicious leaks during the Brexit negotiations, ranging from unflattering remarks about Theresa May’s appearance to preparatiosn for the fall of her government,” notes Daniel Johnson, who sees him as a combination of “gatekeeper, enforcer and eminence grise in a manner reminiscent of the Merovingian emperors of the Dark Ages, who were ruled by the mayors of the palace.”

For Johnson, much of what makes the junior Selmayr what he has is and what he has become can be found in the ‘journey’ of Josef Selmayr, a truly opportunistic, amoral piece of work. Snippet:

“Martin’s grandfather Josef was a professional soldier during the Weimar Republic and later rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Wehrmacht. He was imprisoned for war crimes in the Balkans, but only briefly. Josef Selmayr’s experience made him useful in the Cold War and led to his rehabilitation: first as a member of the shadowy Gehlen Organisation, a CIA-funded group of former Nazi intelligence officers, then from 1955 to 1964 as the first director of MAD, the German Military Counterintelligence Service, with the rank of Brigadier. His career paralleled that of Kurt Waldheim, whose role in war crimes in the Balkans did not prevent him later becoming UN Secretary General and Austrian President.”

Daniel Johnson points out that the Selmayrs are a family of public servants in an long-standing German tradition of an elite offering its skills for the development of an idealised sate. “Fatally, they conflated the Nazi state with the rule of law.” To make amends for this blot on the copybook, as it were, Martin Selmayr “has always seen Europe as a source of redemption from Hitler’s toxic legacy.”

For these people, Britain was, and Brexit now is, the nemesis. It threatens their vision of Utopia and no amount of Utopian Europe, with its killing fields, bloodlands and mass barbarism, can deter them. The Project must be completed.

Martin Selmayr


Swift joke: Bankers and lawyers in hell

Monday, 27 November, 2017 0 Comments

On Thursday here, we celebrate the 350th anniversary of the birth of the satirist Jonathan Swift and on the same day we’ll mark the 50th anniversary of the death of the poet Patrick Kavanagh. Therefore, the daily posts this week will commemorate these two significant figures in global and Anglo-Irish letters. First up is Swift, the most influential political commentator of his time, in both England and Ireland. His writings include some of the greatest works of satire in the English language and his poems and pamphlets display an extraordinary versatility in a range of genres. But before we examine his legacy, let’s have one of his jokes.

Swift told the one about a friend of a friend, a struggling writer, who had six brothers — three of them bankers and three of them lawyers. They prospered, but the writer didn’t and he died young and in reduced circumstances. Still, he was a decent man and had never harmed a fly so the expectation was that he’d go straight to Heaven. Imagine, then, his shock upon arriving in Hell. It was, however, a clerical error and once the Satanists discovered the mistake, they transferred him right up to Heaven.

“What was it like in Hell?” asked the curious Saint Peter.

“Oh, it was just like being at home,” answered the writer. “You couldn’t get near the fire for bankers and lawyers.”


Jane Austen endures and entertains

Tuesday, 18 July, 2017 0 Comments

“How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” — Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Two-hundred years ago today, 18 July 1817, Jane Austen departed this world, taken by a mysterious illness. She was just 41 years old.

Two-hundred years later, she has never been more alive, more popular, more relevant.

The novelist who gave us Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy — the mismatched lovers of Pride and Prejudice — is as endurable as Shakespeare. The eternal entertainment she created in a handful of Regency novels is based on life’s fundamentals: society, money, friendship, love, marriage, pride, prejudice, vanity and all the other shortcomings of human nature. Our world, with its excesses of sex and suicide bombers, appears deranged by comparison and the difference is that in Austen’s world decorum dominates while restraint rules. People observe a code of behaviour, especially regarding feelings and in what they are allowed to say. We don’t face such restrictions. We can say whatever we want. And we do. “Angry people are not always wise,” Austen noted, wisely, in Pride and Prejudice.

“Jane Austen was born before those bonds which (we are told) protected women from truth, were burst by the Brontës or elaborately untied by George Eliot. Yet the fact remains that Jane Austen knew more about men than either of them. Jane Austen may have been protected from truth: but it was precious little of truth that was protected from her.” — G.K. Chesterton


Late June poem

Wednesday, 28 June, 2017 0 Comments

On 24 June 1914, a steam train carrying an unknown English poet made an unscheduled stop at a village station called Adlestrop in Gloucestershire. The obscure poet was Edward Thomas and he immortalized his glimpse that day of “willows, willow-herb, and grass / And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry” in Adlestrop. The train moved on and a year later Edward Thomas enlisted in the Artists Rifles regiment. He was killed in action soon after he arrived in France at Arras on Easter Monday, 9 April 1917.

Adlestrop

Yes. I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop — only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas (1878 – 1917)


Brexit: The Big Decision

Friday, 8 July, 2016 0 Comments

The poem Che fece… il gran rifiuto has appeared in publications with the title translated simply as “The Big Decision.” C. P. Cavafy took the heading from Dante’s Inferno and the original couplet refers to the decision of Pope Celestine V to abdicate the Papacy in 1294 and allow Dante’s enemy, Pope Boniface VIII, to gain power:

Vidi e conobbi l’ombra di colui
che fece per viltade il gran rifiuto.

(I saw and I knew the soul of him,
who cowardly made the great refusal.)

A fortnight on from the historic Brexit referendum that resulted in an overall vote for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, that Big Decision has upended British politics and sent shockwaves around the globe. Deciding to declare “the great Yes or the great No” has consequences, whether in the 13th or the 21st century, says Cavafy.

Che fece… il gran rifiuto

For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It’s clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,

he goes from honour to honour, strong in his conviction.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he’d still say No. Yet that no — the right no —
drags him down all his life.

C. P. Cavafy (1863 — 1933)


Tyler Cowen: Why Brexit happened

Wednesday, 6 July, 2016 0 Comments

“This vote was the one lever the English were given for sending a message to their politicians,” says Tyler Cowen, the American economist, academic and writer. He describes himself as “pro Remain, and also generally pro immigration,” but he admits that the desire of the Leave voters to preserve the English nation “as English” was stronger than he had thought. Why Brexit happened and what it means is one of the more reasoned pieces written on the referendum and Cowen is to be credited for acknowledging a truth that many “Londonists” refuse to accept:

“Quite simply, the English want England to stay relatively English, and voting Leave was the instrument they were given. That specific cultural attachment is not for Irish-American me, no, I feel no sentiment, other than perhaps good humor, when someone offers me ‘a lovely biscuit,’ or when a small book shop devotes an entire section to gardening, but yes I do get it at some level. And some parts of the older England I do truly love and I am talking the Beatles and Monty Python and James Bond here, not just the ancients like Trollope or Edmund Spenser.”

Cowen is on the money when he notes that voting Leave was “the instrument” people were given for sending a message to the UK’s leaders, and many Americans, frustrated with their political system and how it has been corrupted by the political professionals, will have taken note, no doubt. Donald Trump is the instrument being offered to US voters in November for expressing their rage with Washington and some will choose it and use it despite many of the warnings being expressed by his opponents. Given the opportunity, those who feel excluded and ignored are sending the message.


The toxic elites combined

Monday, 4 July, 2016 0 Comments

“In shorthand, Britain’s EU problem is a London problem. London, a young, thriving, creative, cosmopolitan city, seems the model multicultural community, a great European capital. But it is also the home of all of Britain’s elites — the economic elites of ‘the City’ (London’s Wall Street, international rather than European), a nearly hereditary professional caste of lawyers, journalists, publicists, and intellectuals, an increasingly hereditary caste of politicians, tight coteries of cultural movers-and-shakers richly sponsored by multinational corporations. It’s as if Hollywood, Wall Street, the Beltway, and the hipper neighborhoods of New York and San Francisco had all been mashed together. This has proved to be a toxic combination.”

Peter Mandler teaches British history at Cambridge University. According to Dissent, which published Britain’s EU Problem is a London Problem, Mandler “voted Remain, so he is probably part of the problem.” In an admirable example of fairness, however, he takes his own side to task for its arrogance:

“Rather like the New York Times’ attitude to Trump, Remain thought it could laugh off Leave, or dazzle it with ‘facts.’ A very large part of the Remain campaign was focused on troupes of ‘experts’ — investment experts, science and university experts, fiscal policy experts—signing collective petitions and open letters declaring their loyalties to Europe. This played directly into anti-elitist sentiment. A very telling point late in the EU referendum campaign came when Michael Gove, one of the right-wing Conservative leaders of the Leave side, was quoted as saying that ‘people in this country have had enough of experts.’ Much fun was made of this remark. But it touched a nerve. The next day a leaflet came through my letterbox from Remain. ‘Find out what trusted experts say’: a range of views from left to right backing Europe, including a trade unionist, a military chief, a scientist, a banker, and a billionaire entrepreneur. All live in London and the southeast except for one Scot and the billionaire, who lives in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands. That billionaire, Sir Richard Branson, took out full-page ads in all the major papers in the last days of the campaign, extolling Europe.”

A powerful new caste has come to believe it deserves to rule the world. It combines a brazen devotion to self-preservation with contempt for ordinary people, who are increasingly set against one another in a battle for survival. It ignores the declaration made on this day in 1776 in Philadelphia that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”


Word of the Day: amain

Thursday, 30 June, 2016 0 Comments

On this day in 1666, the English poet Alexander Brome died. A lawyer by profession, he wrote satirical verse in favour of the Royalists and in opposition to the Rump Parliament. Following the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Brome published Songs and other Poems, which contained ballads, epistles, elegies, epitaphs and epigrams.

“Then I’ll fall to loving and drinking amain” is how Brome’s poem The Mad Lover ends. In this context, the archaic word “amain” means with great haste.

The Mad Lover

I have been in love, and in debt, and in drink,
This many and many a year;
And those three are plagues enough, one would think,
For one poor mortal to bear.
‘Twas drink made me fall in love,
And love made me run into debt,
And though I have struggled and struggled and strove,
I cannot get out of them yet.

There’s nothing but money can cure me,
And rid me of all my pain;
‘Twill pay all my debts,
And remove all my lets,
And my mistress, that cannot endure me,
Will love me and love me again, —
Then I’ll fall to loving and drinking amain.

Alexander Brome (1620 – 1666)


Hodgson’s choices (end)

Tuesday, 28 June, 2016 0 Comments

This is the third and final post in a series about the choices made by the England manager Roy Hodgson during the course of his team’s erratic odyssey through the Euro 2016 tournament, from the opening shambles against Russia to last night’s humiliation at the hands of gallant Iceland. The post dated 12 June was scathing, while that of 17 June was positive, mainly. “Later, he brought on the gifted young Marcus Rashford,” we noted on 17 June and last night Hodgson waited until the 86th minute to take off a fatigued Wayne Rooney and replace him with the dynamic Rashford. Too late.

It wasn’t all the manager’s fault, of course. Many of his players served up truly shabby performances. Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Joe Hart, were especially awful throughout.

Roy Hodgson made baffling, damaging, wrong choices from the start to the finish of England’s tournament and must now make the right one. He’s yesterday’s man.

UPDATE: Roy Hodgson resigns after England lose to Iceland


The chavs vs. the guardians

Sunday, 26 June, 2016 0 Comments

The shockwaves from the decision on Thursday by a majority of UK voters to leave the European Union continue to reverberate. The governing Tory party was bitterly divided on the issue before the campaign and now the aftermath turmoil is ripping the Labour party apart. Collateral damage has been caused to language, too.

In a result that was driven by contempt for the establishment, demands to restore sovereignty and fear of mass migration, puzzled pundits have been looking for explanations. This is trickier than it sounds because it’s clear that the majority vote for leave was made possible by those who live outside London. What to call these people? We’re in tippy-toe area here because many in the commentariat would like to say the leavers are “English” in a manner that implies “little Englanders,” but the Welsh voted for leave as well, so a bigger umbrella is needed. Behind the hand, racist and populist and all the other pejoratives are being thrown around, but they cannot be used in public as they say almost as much about the speaker as the subject.

Chav gear Here’s a solution: chav. And before people reach for the off button, consider this: “Chavs are supposed to wear a lot of flashy jewellery, white trainers, baseball caps, sham designer clothes. Girls expose a lot of midriff. Nothing racial about it all, I should say.” So says linguistics expert David Crystal. They live mainly on council estates in middle England and they love their telly and tabloids, do the chavs. Perfect.

And those who opted to remain? How about guardians? They wanted to guard Britain’s membership of the European Union more than their own union, and the Guardian newspaper is their intellectual platform. London is their base and they consider themselves post-national. But as Megan McArdle points out in ‘Citizens of the World’? Nice Thought, But …:

Journalists and academics seemed to feel that they had not made it sufficiently clear that people who oppose open borders are a bunch of racist rubes who couldn’t count to 20 with their shoes on, and hence will believe any daft thing they’re told. Given how badly this strategy had just failed, this seemed a strange time to be doubling down. But perhaps, like the fellow I once saw lose a packet by betting on 17 for 20 straight turns of the roulette wheel, they reasoned that the recent loss actually makes a subsequent victory more likely, since the number has to come up sometime.

In the referendum on Thursday, the chavs voted and the guardians tweeted. Now, the guardians are petitioning. That’s the difference. Or, put another way:


Rejection to Brexit: from getting in to getting out

Thursday, 12 November, 2015 0 Comments

On Tuesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron sent a letter to the European Council President Donald Tusk about the the reforms London wants in its relationship with the EU. If these are not forthcoming, Brexit might go from neologism to reality.

Back in 1967, however, Britain wanted to join the European club but couldn’t get past the velvet rope, which was being held by the French. History: The European Economic Community (EEC) was created by the Treaty of Rome of 1957. President Charles de Gaulle of France vetoed British membership on the grounds that the UK was a Trojan horse for US influence. Following de Gaulle’s resignation in 1969, things changed and the UK joined the body on 1 January 1973. Upon the formation of the European Union (EU) in 1993, the EEC was absorbed into the EU framework and ceased to exist.

UK EEC