Saturday, 30 August 2014

And then there were four

I had thought that nominations for Liberal Democrat party president had closed, but another contender, local campaigner Daisy Cooper, has thrown her hat in the ring. I have mixed feelings about this. It is good to see a younger person contesting the position, but I fear that for the reason I gave in my posting about Pauline Pearce, she will be tailed off behind the better known party figures of Sal Brinton, Linda Jack and Liz Lynne. At least she will not suffer from the Hackney Heroine's lack of access to the Internet or of Web savvy.

So that is now four women in the battle. Will there not be even a token male?

Friday, 29 August 2014

Flight of Stone's fancy

It was originally these two significant space exploration events which prompted me to quote from the Pelican selection of IF Stone's writing yesterday. Then I was sidetracked by his prophetic words about Palestine. Here now is that piece, published on 8th August 1955, about the warlike aspect of mankind in general:

Note to the Rest of the Universe 

Within two years you may see a flaming ball rocket up from the earth's surface and swing into position in an orbit around it. Do not regard the spectacle with complacency. These satellites will grow larger and more numerous; men will go up with them. Voyages to the moon will follow. After that the distant realm of planet and star will lie open to Man. Beware in time. This is a breed which has changed little in thousands of years. The cave-dweller who wielded a stone club and the man who will soon wield an interstellar missile are terribly alike. Earth's creatures feed upon each other, but this is the only one which kills on a large scale, for pleasure, adventure and even - so perverse is the species - for supposed reasons of morality.

Should you drop a secret mission of inquiry in alarm, you will find that the sacred books on which the young of the various tribes have been brought up for thousands of years glorify bloodshed. Whether one looks in Homer, or the Sagas, or the Bible, or the Koran, the hero is a warrior. Someone is always killing someone else for what is called the greater glory of God. 

This is not a creature to be trusted with the free run of the universe. At the moment the human race seems to be temporarily sobered by the possession of weapons which could destroy all life on earth except perhaps the mosses and fungi. But the planetary rocket may revive recrimination. The currently rival tribes, the Russians and the Americans, fear the other may use the new device against it. They may soon be transferring to outer space the hates that in every generation have brought suffering to the earth. It might be wise to sop them now, on the very threshold of the open and as yet unpolluted skies.

Sputnik-1 was launched on 4th October 1957 and man stepped onto the Moon in July 1969.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Farewell to the "Boy Friend" composer

It would be outrageous to suggest that Jules & Sandy, the pair of bona omis who decorated the radio series Round the Horne, were based on real figures rather than what they were, caricatures of camp characters. However, they were originally introduced to the listeners as Sandy Slade and Julian Wilson, exchanging the first and second names of the two dominant figures in British musicals between Noël Coward and Rice & Lloyd Webber. There was a distinct air of whimsy about both Slade and Wilson's productions, to which Rice/Lloyd Webber was in large part a reaction.

Julian Slade, who wrote Salad Days, died in 2006 and now Sandy Wilson has followed. I believe there is a place on the musical stage for both the hard centre of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita and the frivolity of Boy Friend and Valmouth and I mourn his passing.

IF Stone

He was known familiarly as Izzy, so I guess his given name was Isadore, but to the public he was known only by his initials. Neil Middleton, in his introduction to the Pelican The Best of I.F. Stone's Weekly saw him as a transatlantic William Cobbett. Peter Osnos, introducing his selection (pdf here) has a more personal take. Whatever, he was a campaigning journalist from the 1930s first for other publications and then for his own Weekly until the end of 1971. He founded the latter at a time in the USA when it was hazardous to ones livelihood to be critical of the establishment, especially if one were also Jewish (some commentators have seen the McCarthyite witch-hunts as anti-Semitic as much as anti-Communist). In his "retirement" he turned his gift for research into contemporary documents, picking out gems missed by other correspondents, to ancient Greece. Even that phenomenal classical scholar, Enoch Powell, admitted, when the book was promoted in the UK, that Stone had done a decent job with his The Trial of Socrates - though naturally Powell disagreed with some of its conclusions.

He was a passionate advocate for an independent Israel, which he supported physically on the front line as well as with his pen. But he also consistently called for a two-state solution and blamed both the UK and the USA for effectively vetoing such a plan at the United Nations through 1947 and 1948. His accounts of the history of early modern Israel make painful reading for anyone who still believes in British ethical behaviour abroad. Moreover, he was sensitive to the plight of the displaced people of Palestine. In September 1970, after Golda Meir had appeared on an American TVpolitical interview show, he wrote:

"Friends of peace must deeply regret the way in which Mrs Meir handled questions about the Palestinian Arabs in appearance on Face the Nation. She rejected any idea of talks with them and any responsibility whatsoever for the Arab refugees. She implied that they had only themselves to blame because they had not accepted the 1947 U.N. partition plan. But how can Mrs Meir invoke the 1947 partition resolution, the legal basis of Israel's existence, and then ignore the 1948 U.N. refugee resolution, which is the legal basis of Arab rights to repatriation or compensation?

"We know the situation is a complex one for Israel but we wish Mrs Meir had voiced some sympathy for their plight, some readiness to help, some hope for reconciliation. Her coldness was unworthy of a Jewish leader. It is said that Moses kept the Jews forty years in the desert to purge them of the habits acquired in slavery. Leadership, like hers, in forty years of siege and war, will purge the Jews of the compassion acquired in Exile. While the Palestinian Arabs are beginning in their homelessness to talk like Jews in a new Diaspora, the Israeli leadership is beginning to sound more and more like unfeeling goyim. This reversal of roles is the cruellest prank God ever played on His Chosen People."

The forty years since those words were written have now passed and they have come to seem horribly prophetic.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Nuts and May

Boris Johnson, clearly seeing on what ground the next Conservative leadership is to be fought, is trying to outdo Theresa May in the demonisation of young adventurers. (Perhaps the majority of those leaving for the Middle East are Muslim and intent on fighting against Bashar al-Assad, but it should not be assumed that all are in both categories. Some are known to have gone out of humanitarian motives, for instance.) He writes that "The law needs a swift and minor change so that there is a 'rebuttable presumption' that all those visiting war areas without notifying the authorities have done so for a terrorist purpose."

Matthew Norman has already roundly mocked the idea, but it occurs to me that if Johnson's concept had been in force at the time of the Spanish Civil War, the cream of transatlantic intelligentsia would be either made stateless or locked up for the duration. That would include not only the likes of George Orwell, Laurie Lee and the TGWU's (and Pensioners Alliance's) Jack Jones but also those few who supported the anti-Republican Government side, such as Roy Campbell, who I would have thought a BoJo soulmate.

Thomas Paine on film

I was privileged to be in the audience at the Dylan Thomas Centre when, shortly after its opening, Pembrokeshire's own Kenneth Griffith screened among other gems his interpretation of the life of Thomas Paine. Griffith grieved for Paine's lack of recognition in the two nations whose revolutions he had inspired (Paine was gaoled by the French, being freed only on the intervention of US ambassador Thomas Jefferson, and was buried uncelebrated in the States) but reserved his greatest scorn for the BBC, who had shown the production only once. Fortunately, it has escaped to VHS (why no transfer to DVD?) and there are YouTube links here.

Griffith did rather better than the late Lord Attenborough who promoted both a statue of Paine and an epic movie, for which he commissioned a script from Trevor Griffiths (no relation, as far as I know). The whole sorry story of why the film was not made in Attenborough's lifetime is laid out by Geoffrey Macnab here. Waste not, want not, Griffiths turned his screenplay into a book and also extracted a stage play from it.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Aldi not environmentally conscious

 In what seems like a deliberate affront to the Ecology Building Society in its decade-old ecofriendly headquarters in Silsden in the Yorkshire Dales, Aldi has destroyed an ancient lime tree in razing the ground for a new supermarket next door. The case for preserving the tree seemed strong to me, but the bottom line is holy writ for Aldi and other foreign competitors for Tesco, Sainsbury and  Morrison. 

The minimal furniture of Aldi and Lidl stores is to be applauded, but their basic architecture, while saving on capital cost, must be as energy-efficient as the average shed. Tesco (as in its store at Llansamlet) has been at pains to reduce its carbon footprint. It would be a pity if this policy were to end as a result of a race to the bottom.

The picture is of Ecology HQ on the occasion in 2004 of the first open day after its occupation. The photo does not include the lime tree, but you can just make out the green roof

Richard Attenborough

It was gratifying to see tributes from people who are young enough to be Lord Attenborough's grandchildren. So many of the key figures of the post-war British film industry have been forgotten, or known only for perhaps a character part in a Hollywood blockbuster. It helped, of course, that Richard Attenborough continued working into his 80s. However, the BBC TV obit at least showed a key early part, that of Pinkie Brown in Brighton Rock (in which his second-in-command was played by the first Dr Who).

So there is little to add about a man who was always there when I was growing up. When he was not on screen at the ABC, the Odeon or the Phoenix cinema round the corner, he was on the radio, usually with his wife Sheila Sim (our thoughts must go out to Lady Attenborough, who survives him). Along with Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray, they were the golden couples of British show-business.

There was little that was flashy about the look of the films he directed, but he was not only an actors' director, but also a master of handling large forces - as remarked by William Goldman in "Adventures in the Screen Trade".

The liberal family values he and his brothers were brought up with are clear from this blog and this obituary in the Times of Israel. As that article also shows, "Oh! What a Lovely War" was not his first activity behind the camera. He was a co-producer with Brian Forbes of "Seance on a Wet Afternoon" and "The Angry Silence". The latter film showed that he was not a blinkered Labour follower, critical as it was of one of the more unsavoury tactics of some trade union branches.

One of the broadcast tributes ended: "we shall not look upon his like again". Usually this is an unthinking platitude, but in Richard Attenborough's case it is all too true.

Monday, 25 August 2014


Reading Jonathan Fryer's piece reminded me of the screenplay I, a mute inglorious Milton, conceived many years ago when I was working in London. One incident was a murder on London Bridge. The victim was stabbed in the midst of rush-hour crowds who were no more than annoyed at this impediment to their progress between London Bridge station and the City. When eventually someone who wasn't a wage-slave found an unvandalised phone box (no cell phones in those days, of course) action was delayed while the Met. and the City of London police argued over whose responsibility it was. (The body would have had to be at the Southwark end of the bridge, rather than symbolically in the middle. The bridges are maintained by funds returned by extensive house estates via a body of which the City of London corporation is a trustee.)

The main figure was to be a senior officer in the Met, who had become corrupted by marrying into what turned out to be a South London crime family. His cynicism had been given a kick-start at a state grammar school where he had been forced into a sexual act by the headmaster. I can't claim to have made predictions; I'm pretty sure these themes were about in contemporary literature and films, if not in factual reporting in the press - though the degree to which the Krays had penetrated the loucher end of Westminster was known to several journalists.

Nothing changes, but we are constantly surprised.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

EFF in South Africa

Their rhetoric is redolent of Communism, but the Economic Freedom Fighters of South Africa are attracting admiration if not support across the board. From virtually nowhere, they gained 25 seats in this year's South African elections, making them the third party in the National Assembly after the 89 seats of the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance. After hitting the headlines with a spectacular breach of the parliament's dress code, they have continued by pursuing the corruption and cronyism of the ANC administration.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Police Commissioner voting farce

BBC reports that the West Midlands Police & Crime Commissioner by-election has been won by Labour's David Jamieson on a 10.4% turnout:

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Meteorology and the causes of war

I posted last year about Lewis Fry Richardson, the Quaker mathematician and scientist whose development of Bjerknes's work on weather-forecasting was ahead of its time. It needed the advances in computer technology which occurred after his death to put his techniques into practice. It appears from this recent article that his final work, on predicting conflict, is also going to yield to state-of-the-art IT.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Pauline Pearce

What a pity Grace Dent did not carry out some research before writing for yesterday's Indy. If she had looked at the Hackney LibDem website she would have seen that Pauline Pearce remains a local spokesperson , with the very visible support of Nick Clegg. She is also on the Federal Conference Committee as a result of Kelly-Marie Blundell's resignation.

So far from "only Yes men and those with squeaky clean histories [being] permitted to hold the reins" all the remaining presidential candidates are female. All the candidates submitted to a Q&A from Mark Pack. The last question was as to whom the respondent would endorse as party leader. The only person who gave a ringing endorsement to Nick Clegg - so a "yes-woman"? - was: Pauline Pearce!

I can also confirm that as soon as Miss Pearce's video appeared on social media, sympathisers in the party asked for contact details so that they could reassure her. I'm glad to see that she has no intention of leaving, but I have to admit that too few people in the party outside the capital were aware of the role she played during the 2011 London riots. If nothing else, her entering the presidential race and then spectacularly leaving it has corrected that. I will be surprised if she is not elected to at least one party committee in her own right in the next round of elections, rather than having to rely on appointment as runner-up to fill a vacancy.

It is also unfair to criticise a party which put Navnit Dholakia (a former party president!), Kishwer Falkner and Floella Benjamin in the House of Lords for lack of diversity. Incidentally, the first non-white MP was a Liberal: Dadabhai Naoroji.  At the end of the nineteenth century, he represented Finsbury - another North London constituency.

[Posting updated at 11:45]

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

A law unto themselves

I have just listened to Helena Kennedy's interview of Eva Joly on Radio 4. It brought out a sobering account of big business stealing public money, not only in France and Francophone Africa, but also on a global scale. Having successfully prosecuted corrupt politicians and business people in France, she went on to investigate what happened to aid money in Afghanistan and found that less than 20% found its way to the citizens it was intended to help. Most was diverted to bank accounts in Dubai where the authorities have resisted forensic attempts to obtain further information.

Joly made the point that she was able to succeed in France because investigating judge is a career path one can embark on, and be trained for, from an early stage there. (The option also enables more women to enter the ranks of the judiciary than over here.) She also asserted that, because so much detailed investigative work could be cleared beforehand, trials were shorter and the outcome more certain than under a common law system like that of England and Wales.

That cannot be the whole story. It is surely significant that Eva Joly was an outsider, brought up in a Nordic country where public morality is ingrained and the Gallic shrug is abhorrent. Moreover, one has not seen high-profile prosecution of financial miscreants in Scotland, which has a basically similar judicial process as France. Remember the Royal Bank of Scotland, headquartered in Edinburgh?

She is surely right in calling for action on a global scale, though, and expansion of the anti-corruption network, sharing information, which she assisted in creating.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Normalising relations with Cuba

Some MEPs are trumpeting EU moves towards Cuba. However, I believe that the EPRS document is wrong to criticise the US, when the Obama administration is taking the same line.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Conservatives and "boots on the ground"

Thanks to Liberal Democrat Voice, I now know that the dialogue I quoted a few days ago was from a Larry King interview. The full transcript is here. My eye was caught by the interchange which preceded the Facebook clip, because I remember a "Letter from America" which recalled the same whistle-stop campaign.

KING: Have you always been politically motivated?

BACALL: I have. I have. I come from a...

KING: You go back -- In fact, I saw you.

BACALL: I saw you?

KING: I saw you speak for Adlai Stevenson.

BACALL: You did?

KING: In New York. I believe bogey was with you.


KING: In '52.

BACALL: '52. That's when my -- two of my greatest friendships began with Arthur Schlesinger and Alistair Cooke, 1952.

KING: And what a man Stevenson was.

BACALL: Oh, what a great man. (INAUDIBLE) you see this country. Please. Don't get me started, as they say.

KING: So we missed a good opportunity. I think, even his critic was say that Adlai Stevenson was a great...

BACALL: He was a brilliant, brilliant man. But no one had heard anyone except Roosevelt speak with wit. You know, they couldn't figure out what that was all about. Couldn't be serious.

If I recall correctly, Alistair Cooke's piece was part of a memorial to Adlai Stevenson, the last presidential candidate who Cooke so closely involved himself with. After that, he maintained a studious distance, though from time to time in the "Letters" he sought to correct what he saw as British misconceptions about such figures as Barry Goldwater and LBJ. What stuck in Cooke's memory was that while the Stevenson party was relaxing on the train the news came through of a speech by Eisenhower in which he promised to bring "our boys" back from Korea. At that point, they all realised that the election was lost for Stevenson - but he conceded that a liberal Democrat could never with credibility have made the same pledge.

It always seems to be conservatives - like Nixon, GW Bush and David Cameron - who gain kudos from withdrawing troops from foreign theatres of war. Contrariwise, they have - Churchill and Thatcher apart - managed to avoid committing fighting men. It was Truman who took US into the Korean War, Kennedy & LBJ who took up where the French left off in Vietnam, and of course Tony Blair's ventures remain fresh in the memory.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Metropole Orchestra

Dolf van der Linden is a name I used to roll around my tongue in childhood. It seems that the Metropole Orchestra was always around on the Light Programme. I'm surprised that it has taken so long to bring the current incarnation to the Proms - perhaps too "light music" for earlier Proms controllers - but its straddling of the worlds of jazz and symphonic music seems just right for today's Proms. Next Tuesday's concert featuring Laura Mvula should be something special.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Bacall more than a screen icon

Sometimes Google comes up with a pleasant surprise. In trying to find the source of this quotation attributed to Lauren Bacall on a Liberal Democrat Facebook page -
Being a liberal is the best thing on earth you can be. You are welcoming to everyone when you're a liberal. You do not have a small mind... I'm a total, total, total liberal and proud of it. And I think it's outrageous to say "The L word". I mean, excuse me. They should be damn lucky that they were liberals here. Liberals gave more to the population of the United States than any other group.
 - I found this article, celebrating Betty Bacall's Jewish roots and including the (to me) surprising information that she was a first cousin of Shimon Peres, the former Israeli president.

She had been one of the prime movers of the campaign to support the Hollywood Ten. As I understand from an IMDb blog, she was the one who persuaded husband Humphrey Bogart to join the protest. As it turned out, his misgivings proved well-founded and both had to backtrack later, but it was a demonstration of her courage. Surprisingly, she confessed on chat-shows to being not half as bold in private life as the screen rôles she was identified with, but she certainly made some brave choices.

For me, the obituary which does her most justice is Veronica Horwell's in the Guardian. I would only add that the Bogart-Bacall partnership was assisted by radio, including a series entitled "Bold Venture", when film parts started to dry up.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Sporting mercenaries

I'm proud to be a member of a county cricket club which still draws the bulk of its staff from Wales, if not from the old county of Glamorgan. I remember the days when Yorkshire insisted that all its players were born in the county (though there were suspicions voiced over the Pennines that Fred Trueman was actually born in Notts and his birth certificate had been forged). Other counties had more open recruitment policies, but even then there were no more than two Commonwealth stars plus one or two others who couldn't find a place at home either because of stiff competition for places (for Yorkshire, in particular) or because their county had only a minor counties side (e.g. the Edriches of East Anglia, or Geordies before Durham made it to the top table).

The MacLaurin reforms and the money with which they came have altered all that and it is now rare to find a county which has more natives than foreigners. Even so, it was surprising to find that the Warwickshire side playing Glamorgan in Swansea today had only one player born in the county: Ateeq Javid.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Don't rush to judgement

The report of Yazidis being buried alive by the iState may turn out to be sound, but I shall wait for independent confirmation. There is history of hatred being whipped up against nations or groups by means of invented atrocities for the purpose of justifying a war - witness this article. As Robbins pointed out there, there is always the danger of a backlash, and there is more than enough attested evidence that Kurds, Christians and other sects including non-Sunni Muslims are in great danger unless we help them to help themselves.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Peter Hain: a new biographical website

I pass this on without comment save that it does not appear to have been endorsed by Mr Hain or the Labour Party.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

A couple of linguistic beefs

Devotees of sports programmes last winter could not get away from the application of "pedigree" to any half-decent athlete or footballer. (I watched the Football League Show last night and did not hear it used once, so one hopes that the fad has passed.) But as this definition among others shows, it relates only to someone or, especially, some animal that demonstrates qualities inherited from a bloodline. So the Ferdinands and, as I see from this article, Jessua Cruyff have footballing pedigree, but not most footballers.

The degradation of the English language as used by politicians is not new. It was a growing blight in the 1940s as this key essay by George Orwell exemplifies. Orwell attacked the dishonesty of extremist apologists, whether communist or fascist. However, in recent years, mainstream parties have been infected, led, it seems to me, by the Blair/Mandelson spin machine of the 1990s. For instance, "fact" usually means "assertion" and "it is clear" means "this may or may not be true, but I want you to believe". "Refute" has come to mean little more than the "tisn't" side of a "tis/tisn't" dispute. Anyone who has any experience of mathematical proofs or chess analysis knows that the word has a more precise definition. However, I checked with Nuttall's, a standard family dictionary of my grandfathers' days. It couldn't be more firm: "to prove to be false or wrong" [the only definition].

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Mitigating the effect of floods

By restoring part of a local river and its environs to something like their natural state, Maidstone Council avoided the worst effects of the heavy rain which hit Kent in 2013/14. This was in contrast to the flooding of property which had occurred in Maidstone town centre in similar weather conditions in 2000.

The deputy leader of Maidstone's Liberal Democrat group writes:

This time the re-naturalised banks of the River Len behaved very differently and instead of flood water (and debris) sheeting-off acres of hard standing, the River Len corridor, and its damp woodland and reed beds, dramatically slowed flows and held-back huge volumes of flood water and debris.

Remarkably, no properties were directly flooded in Maidstone town centre as a result of inundation by the River Len. Indeed, storm water was even pumped from the nearby, at risk, Loose Stream catchment into the River Len – and still no serious property flooding resulted

Tony Harwood goes on to draw the general conclusion:

Just imagine the damage and misery that could be averted were more of the UK’s riverside ‘flood-woodlands’ restored. Overly simplistic calls for increased de-silting and dredging of our watercourses in locations where at best it will make no difference to flood risk and at worst will exacerbate downstream flooding must be resisted.

It seems to me that DEFRA, in respect of the Somerset Levels, followed the second course but without doing anything about the first.

Locally, we have seen the effects which hardening previous natural "sinks" have on lower-lying properties. One hopes that Neath Port Talbot planners will resist such unsuitable developments in future, and that they will be backed by the Welsh government.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Julian Huppert MP on Gaza

One of Dr Hupper's constituents has passed on a letter the LibDem MP has recently distributed:

Many of you have written to me in recent weeks about the situation in Gaza.  
I wanted to write to let you know my views on the situation and the action 
that I have taken as your MP.

Like many others, I have found the images circulated on the TV and 
newspapers deeply distressing. Israel's full frontal military campaign has 
killed huge numbers of people, mostly civilians, with the latest count 
pointing to more than 1,800 dead, and tens of thousands have been left in 
extremely precarious conditions.

The fact that 3 UN schools have been targeted by the Israeli Defence Force, 
and around a quarter of those killed have been children, only makes the 
situation even more unbearable..

It is time for the international community to do something to bring about an 
end this nightmare. We cannot sit by idly and watch more and more innocent 
people die.

I have written to Philip Hammond, the newly appointed Foreign Secretary, and 
David Cameron, urging them to condemn Israel's actions. I have also asked 
them to bring about an immediate halt to all arms exported from Britain to 
Israel, and to ensure that Israel's "right to defend itself" is not used to 
justify disproportionate and retaliatory action.

I have been to Gaza and the West Bank; Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There is a 
downwards cycle, where every act from one side is used to justify negative 
actions from the other side. Extremists on both sides become stronger, and 
those who want peace - and there are many of them, on both sides, find their 
case weakened.

In my view, Israel is not only acting disproportionately, it is needlessly 
provocative, deliberately building settlements on occupied land. I also 
believe that it is acting against its own long-term self-interest. I cannot 
see how a system that relies on trapping 1.8 million people can ever lead to 
success; instead it fuels resentment and violence.

To break out of this will take bold steps. We must ensure that the 
Palestinian people_s right to an independent state is upheld. Gaza must also 
be opened up, and the blockade ended, so that there is the opportunity for 
Gazans to develop a normal life, with an economy that can employ people. 
That is the way to reduce conflict and weaken Hamas - to offer people the 
chance of a different life. Israel does not let that happen.

When I went to Gaza four years ago, I met a Gazan woman who'd been given 
permission to travel to Israel to meet an old colleague, an Israeli woman, 
and take her young daughter with her. Her daughter met her friend, and asked 
where she was from. When her mother's friend told her, she said: "That can't 
be right. Israelis are soldiers who wear masks and carry guns".

If Israel and Palestine are ever to live in peace with one another, 
preconceptions such as these must be challenged. But for this to happen, we 
need a change in approach from everyone. Crucially, Israel must pave the way 
for a Palestinian independent state, and extremism on both sides will have 
to be rejected in favour of genuine dialogue and reconciliation. Otherwise, 
violence and instability will continue to plague the region, blighting the 
lives of Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Best wishes


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Thursday, 7 August 2014

To boycott, or not to boycott

A reaction, including that by my friend Gary Lewis, to the IDF's disproportionate actions in Gaza is to call for a boycott of all things Israeli. However, even assuming that boycotts below national level are effective, a more nuanced approach is called for.

There is legal and commercial justification for stopping the import of produce from illegal settlements, as Aldi did last year and the EU has done this year. (There are earlier examples here.) On the cultural front, there will be few outside the "Israel right or wrong" brigade who would welcome the IDF orchestra at present - or any entity which the IDF sponsors.

On the other hand, blanket bans on any cultural or academic contact with Israelis are surely illiberal and verging on the anti-Semitic. They may also be self-defeating, as some of the most pointed criticisms of Israel's collective punishment of Palestinians have come from her cultural elite and in any case interchange of views must aid mutual understanding.

In between, there are some hard cases. I am grateful to Archie Bland in the Indy for presenting the fine detail of what headlines implied was a simple cancellation of a Jewish film festival in London. It seems that the Tricycle Theatre's artistic director, Indhu Rubasingham, insisted that the UK Jewish Film Festival return a grant from the Israeli embassy if it wished to continue at the theatre’s Kilburn venue. Tricycle offered to make up the shortfall, but the UKJFF felt that it could not accept that offer. Anyone who has seen "Waltz with Bashir"  or the first series of "Homeland" which was based on an Israeli original will have realised that the Israeli film industry is not a monolithic apologist for the government. Bland's opinion is that the Tricycle's line was not inherently anti-Semitic, but he draws some uncomfortable parallels.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Sale of visas

It's an old joke.

A man asks a woman if she would be willing to sleep with him if he pays her an exorbitant sum. She replies affirmatively. He then names a paltry amount and asks if she would still be willing to sleep with him for the revised fee. The woman is greatly offended and replies as follows:

She: What kind of woman do you think I am?

He: We’ve already established that. Now we’re just haggling over the price

In the middle of a speech yesterday full of high principle and some sensible proposals, Nick Clegg said:
I also want to see a more intelligent approach to the visas we give high value investors. At the moment they are asked to invest £1m in either a low-risk government bond or shares in a FTSE company and, providing they satisfy all of the other criteria, they are allowed to stay. That’s been the situation for decades, but it should now be changed to deliver better benefits for the British economy.

Admittedly, we do not sell citizenship as Malta does, but even so this sale of privileges has always worried me and merely raising the ante does not alter the principle. It will be interesting to see how Glasgow conference reacts to this and Nick's other policy proposals.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The peace to end all peace

The settlement in Versailles not only reinforced German resentment but also described borders in Europe which took another war and the break-up of the Soviet Union to redraw into something more sensible - and there are still anomalies here and there. The effect on the Middle East was even more dire. We are living with its consequences today and there is no sign of a resolution.

But before that there was the German humiliation in November 1918 in the forest of Compiègne described by John Lichfield in one of the closing articles in the Independent's History of the Great War in 100 Moments. It was fitting that Lichfield, a train buff as well as the newspaper's Paris correspondent, should write this particular article, because it was in a Wagons-Lit carriage that a party of ministers and generals from Germany were forced to sign an armistice on Allied terms.

The reason for France's apparently unreasonable and vindictive settlement terms became clear to me when BBC showed the Great War film archive of Albert Kahn. The German strategy had been not just to defeat France but to destroy her fighting forces and her economy so that she would be powerless to support her ally Russia, Germany's ultimate target. The smoke and flames of burning farmland, so graphically shown in those early colour films, must have been fresh in the memory of the French in Compiègne and at Versailles, at a time when farming was even closer to the heart of Frenchmen and women than it is now.

There was, though, a price to pay. As Lichfield explains, Hitler used the point that the armistice was signed by moderate German politicians and obscure generals (the German commander Paul Hindenburg having carefully distanced himself from the surrender) to proclaim that political treachery, not defeat in the field, had forced capitulation. Thus, the seeds of another war and even greater German crimes against humanity were sown. The cycle of humiliation and revenge would only be broken by the more enlightened settlement after the second world war.

In an instance of failing to learn from history, the victors in Operation Desert Storm failed to force the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to sign that surrender document. He would claim that he was undefeated and continue in power for another twelve years, to the detriment of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs. It is reasonable to assume that if Saddam had been humiliated by a personal surrender, he would have been deposed by the Iraqi elite that had previously supported him.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Last but one of the falling dominos

Jackie Pearcey has twitted Google for not marking, via its Google doodle, the date that Britain entered the Great War*. I am therefore shamed into posting something more relevant than the anniversary below. However, it seems to me that in the grand scheme of things that 4th August is less momentous than the dates which preceded it - and one which came nearly three years later:

June 28th      Franz Ferdinand and consort assassinated
July 28th       Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia
August 1st    Germany declares war on Russia
August 3rd   Germany declares war on France
August 4th    Great Britain declares war on Germany
August 12th  Great Britain declares war on Austria-Hungary
April             United States enters the war

It is presumably this last date which Google will commemorate. As Margaret MacMillan has shown in her current Radio 4 series (I am so glad that it was not named "1914 on a daily basis") not one of the events was inevitable, though the two German war declarations were linked. Also, as the BBC correspondent in Belgium, commenting on this morning's commemoration in Liège, pointed out, if it had not been for the brave Belgian army holding up for two weeks  the German intended lightning advance, the Kaiser might have succeeded in his plan of knocking out France before she could defend herself and before Britain could come to her aid.

* "World War" probably entered the vocabulary until 1916, and "First World War" seems to have been coined by Fox in the mid-1930s.


Today would have been the 73rd birthday of C K Prahalad, who died in 2010 after a short illness. His name may not be familiar, unless you are a specialist in the study of management or business administration. However, he brought together and gave academic recognition to ideas which aimed to alleviate poverty, especially in his native India, through work such as  theory of core competence and the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. There is an obituary here.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The German Hansa

I have finally got around to reading "The German Hansa" (1999). This was originally written in French as "La Hanse" by Phillipe Dollinger, translated into German, retranslated with updates and amendments from the German edition for Macmillan, and latterly republished by Routledge Kegan Paul as the first volume of their series "The Emergence of International Business 1200-1800". That all sounds rather heavy, and indeed the (to my mind) Marx-influenced introduction by Mark Casson is even heavier, but I find it a fascinating history on many levels.

It had seemed to me that the Hansa was an organisation which demonstrated that it was possible for a cross-Europe trading organisation, which set its own standards, to exist independently of nation states without infringing the governance of those states. Having read most of the book, I realise that the Hansa was not a proto-EU, but there probably are lessons for the future of Europe in its story.

The Hansa flourished from around 1150 to the 1400s, before declining during the 16th and 17th centuries. It began as an association of north German merchants, grabbing trade from first the Frisians and then the Scandinavians and developed into a community of cities, with outposts far and wide including London, Boston, Edinburgh and Hull. It seems to have thrived in a period when the city state was the principal unit of secular government in the region, before the rise of German nationalism. (Misha Glenny dates the start of the latter to the Sack of Magdeburg in 1630-31.)

The book also gives one a continental perspective on English history. One sees the great Edward III in a new light when reading that under his reign:
German loans became important. To go to war with France the king needed large sums of money. His principal creditors were English or Italian, but he did not disdain to appeal for financial help to the Hanseatics. [...] In 1338 he borrowed £1,200 from four Dortmund merchants [...], £750 from four Cologne merchants. A little later he borrowed various sums, in one case £5,000 from some Dortmund merchants. 
and after he had pledged his great crown and the queen's little crown to other Rheinlanders for similar sums of money, he was grateful to a Westphalian consortium of merchants for redeeming the regalia, which otherwise seem likely to have been sold by the impatient creditors. It is not surprising that the Hansa was granted many privileges in London.

There are linguistic byways. The term "steelyard", applied to the Hansa's Kontor or enclave in London, does not derive from the alloy.  It is the English version of Stalhof, Hof meaning court or yard and Stal a place where goods are offered for sale. The surnames Sutermeister and Sutomayor whose similarity intrigued me for many years, apparently derive from a word meaning "salt magnate".

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Buzz phrase generation

"Buzzword" means a fashionable term used to convey the impression of specialised knowledge. The usage seems to have originated in US college slang just after WWII. "Buzz phrase" carries the concept further, especially into the realm of management-speak. I first came across a "buzz phrase generator" in the late 1960s when it was documented in one of the computer journals, probably "Computer Weekly" - orotund and meaningless phrases seem to have come in with third generation computing. This cannot have been long after its inception over the other side of the pond as "systematic buzz phrase projector". I was reminded of all this when browsing Marcus Cunliffe's American Presidents and the Presidency (an interesting analysis of the way power has swung back and forth between the presidency and Congress over the years). Cunliffe attributes the "projector" to a Canadian official, but the authoritative attribution would be this,  which also carries the process a stage further.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Can EU stand by Hungary's totalitarian aims?

I am grateful to Liberal International for drawing our attention to this speech by the Hungarian prime minister. One might take it to be an exercise in irony, were it not for Viktor Orbàn's record in politics. Some excerpts:

 the Open Society Foundation published a report – this happened quite recently – in which it analyses Western Europe and makes statements such as the fact that Western Europe is so busy finding a solution to the situation of immigrants that it has forgotten about the white working class. Or the British Prime Minister says that thanks to the changes that have occurred in Europe, many people have become freeloaders on the backs of welfare systems.

 the most popular topic in thinking today is trying to understand how systems that are not Western, not liberal, not liberal democracies and perhaps not even democracies, can nevertheless make their nations successful. The stars of the international analysts today are Singapore, China, India, Russia and Turkey. 

 the new state that we are constructing in Hungary is an illiberal, a non-liberal state. It does not reject the fundamental principles of liberalism such as freedom, and I could list a few more, but it does not make this ideology the central element of state organisation, but instead includes a different, special, national approach.

what I see is that we are dealing with paid political activists. And in addition these paid political activists are political activists who are being paid by foreigners. They are activists who are being paid by specific foreign interest groups, about whom it is difficult to imagine that they view such payments as social investments, and it is much more realistic to believe that they wish to use this system of instruments to apply influence on Hungarian political life with regard to a given issue at a given moment. And so, if we want to organise our national state to replace the liberal state, it is very important that we make it clear that we are not opposing non-governmental organisations here and it is not non-governmental organisations who are moving against us, but paid political activists who are attempting to enforce foreign interests here in Hungary. This is why it is extremely justified that the Hungarian Parliament has formed a Committee to regularly monitor, record and make public foreign influence so that all of us, including you, can know precisely who the real characters are behind these masks.

I admit to highlighting the most threatening of Orbàn's pronouncements. Parts of his analysis are seductive, much as that of Mussolini's was in the 1920s and 1930s. Some of Orbàn's countrymen have drawn the same comparison, and with that of an inter-war Hungarian fascist, Gyula Gömbös.

For a number of years here and there one could find references to the similarities between the ideas of Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös (1932-1936) and those of Benito Mussolini. As prime minister of Hungary, Gömbös made great strides toward establishing a fascist state in Hungary. József Debreczeni, an astute critic of Viktor Orbán who uncannily predicted what will happen if and when Viktor Orbán becomes prime minister again, quipped at one point that comparing Orbán to Horthy is a mistake; the comparison with Gömbös is much more apt.

No doubt Farage and Cameron would applaud Orbàn's rejection of what they would see as the imposition of foreign values over the national will. Are they, however, really ready to accept a large free trade area which includes xenophobic and totalitarian states?