All the rules of the road have been lodged,
it's just people's games that you've got to dodge,
and it's alright ma, I can make it...
I wish I'd said that in 1965. The young man who did has just been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Elsewhere on this blog you can find a 15,000-word appreciation of some of the words and music of Bob Dylan.
However, he's not the subject now. Those lines from Dylan's song It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) reminded me of why I try to avoid watching television news, listening to radio news or making the mistake of reading newspapers (I glance at the odd one or two). After a lifetime of getting excited about what's in the news I've learned that news is another kind of fiction, compiled by people under pressure to get results, generate heat not light, rather than get at the truth. Maybe that's because not many journalists are good at asking the right questions.
In the week gone by I've heard the Home Secretary call for public demonstrations outside the Russian Embassy in London while another Tory MP seriously suggested that British and American forces should shoot down Russian aircraft that flew across Syrian airspace, presumably believing that what Turkey got away with earlier this year we could get away with as well.
I've also heard Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon talk up the possiblility of a second Scottish referendum on independence in retaliation for the British Government actively taking steps to leave the European Union through Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
To deal with this matter first. For the past four or five years Lesley and I have been going to the Highlands for a summer break. We love it. Just before the first Scottish referendum we were there, in Scottish nationalist territory I was led to believe, and spoke to two or three people. Two were Scots Nats. They said they were in two minds about the SNP case, principally because of economics. The third man, a farmer on the Black Isle, declared that if Scotland voted for independence he would sell up and return to England.
During the EU Referendum (we were there when the result was declared) I saw more 'leave' flags and posters than I thought I would, but then the fisher folk along the North East coast were bound to be a touch tetchy about the EU. I don't think they're going to be impressed by being asked the same question again, not even to save the political career of a foundering Sturgeon. Nicola, I think, is in a picklola.
Those ardently in favour of the EU have claimed that Parliament should have a say in the British Government's negotiating stance with the EU. Given the amount of war-mongering tosh spoken in the House of Commons this week does anyone seriously think this would be a good idea? Of course it's a ruse, an attempt to prevaricate, delay and ultimately prevent the Government activating Article 50.
But not even the High Court in London, I think, is going to, was ever going to, line up with Parliament against the Government on a non-constitutional matter. The June 23 Referendum was an instruction to the Government, the executive, not to Parliament, the legislature. Had the vote gone in favour of remaining in the EU the House of Commons would not be an issue.
The games will go on. Mark Carney, Bank of England Governor, has already chipped in his twopenny-worth, talking down the strength of the economy talking up the likelihood of future inflation. The money men in the City take note of the games and make their profits accordingly, as the value of Sterling falls while the FTSE100 rockets through the 7,000 point mark. Sterling and the Stock Market are two buckets in a well: as one falls the other rises. There must a law to it. Somebody should ask Robert Peston, the Jurgen Klopp of television news, to explain.
As for the US Presidential Election, really, does anybody care? Do the Trump-haters seriously believe that salvation lies in Hillary Clinton? Do Trump's Hillary-haters seriously believe that tomorrow belongs to them? I suspect the answer to both questions is yes. Perhaps this is some kind of moral and spiritual purgative or enema that the United States has to endure for some unforeseen future good. I don't know. I don't suppose Bob Dylan knows either.
On November 8 America will be in need of a blessing. I might just watch the movie Lincoln, to remind myself of the words of another song and dance man, Leonard Cohen: May the light from the land of plenty, shine on the truth some day.
Saturday, 15 October 2016
All the rules of the road have been lodged,
Saturday, 1 October 2016
Donald Trump didn't invent the Mexican Wave; but the wall he proposed for the border with Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants has been reviled by his detractors in this country and elsewhere in Europe.
However, the UK Government is paying for a wall to be built outside Calais to deter would-be economic migrants from Africa, Afghanistan and elsewhere from getting into Britain. And this weekend the people of Hungary are likely to vote against a European Union proposal to share out 160,000 refugees among its member states.
The wall is the nearest thing to a world-changing idea that Donald Trump can claim for himself. The rest, to rephrase the last line of Hamlet, is ridicule. Mostly.
Television news clips from America about Donald Trump, prospective Presidential candidate for the Republican Party, are almost wholly negative. He is an object of mockery on programmes like the News Quiz on BBC Radio 4. No self-respecting social satirist or commentator has a good word to say about him though there are plenty of others, such as sexist, racist and misoginystic.
It reminds me of the time when George W Bush was in the White House. Clever people on radio and television took to referring to him as "Gyeorge Wyuh", as though they knew him personally. The contempt had the opposite effect it was supposed to have on me: even after the invasion of Iraq in March, 2003, which I supported, I was inclined to extend more sympathy to him than he merited.
I wish I could say the same about Mr Trump. While the chattering classes enjoy themselves depicting him as the great Satan - reminiscent of the sentiment that used to come out of the Islamic Republic of Iran about all things American - I ruefully reflect on the man I used to enjoy watching as the hiring and firing boss of American Apprentice and Celebrity American Apprentice. It was one of the few reality TV shows that I liked.
The BBC used to screen back numbers of the series, so that in 2010 I was watching shows that were three or four years old. That didn't matter to me: the pleasure was in the interaction of the contestants and Donald Trump's comments and judgements. In his mid to late sixties he was an object of fascination: the conspicuous ostentation - the Trump brand on everything, the helicopter, the jet, the sleek limos, the golden apartment in Trump Tower, the sharp suits and (especially) the immaculate ties of red, blue or gold, that hung perfectly below his chin like a Roman sword. Here was a man who seemed to be innately self-confident. My admiration had nothing to do with a desire to emulate him; I just felt he was a larger-than-life character who got things done. Of course, I suspended my disbelief.
That's why on the afternoon of November 17, 2009, I bought a copy of his book Think Like a Champion, sub-titled An Informal Education in Business and Life. Only an innately unself-confident person would buy a book with that on the cover. I underlined many passages in pencil as I read. Afterwards I appended, in pencil, a list of the 48 Laws of Power as compiled by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers, as well as the following by Steve Jobs:-
Don't waste time by living somebody else's life...Don't be trapped by dogma...Have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition. They already know what you want to become...Stay hungry...Stay foolish.
The chapters of Think Like a Champion are no longer than two to three pages and each chapter starts with a maxim. Plato, Pythagoras, Oscar Wilde, Pearl S Buck and Aristotle, are among those quoted. The chapter Have the Right Mindset For the Job, for example, starts with one from Henry Ford:-Don't find fault. Find a remedy. This is what Donald Trump says on page 67:-
I've also noticed how much time The Apprentice teams spend bickering and infighting, which is not only a waste of precious time, but annoying and sometimes even embarrassing. These people are highly qualified, and to see and hear them carrying on at length, many times over in inconsequential things, is a clear indication that they should heed Henry Ford's advice about finding a remedy instead of finding fault.
Mr Trump would have done well to have refreshed his memory before he started his campaign. A few quotes from Abraham Lincoln,, Carl Jung or even one Donald J Trump - 'Is it a blip, or is it a catastrophe' would have set a statesman-like tone. The TV debates with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic prospective Presidential candidate, could have done with one or two.
The clips that I saw on television in the UK made him look condescending, petty and disruptive. He looked puffy and heavy in his dark blue suit. Mrs Clinton, head to toe in her Santa suit - a motorway diner bottle of ketchup - seemed lighter on her feet. Overall, what I was shown was depressing - as I knew it probably would be - as was the thought of either of these two in the White House. I could imagine the late Allen Ginsberg declaring, in a state of irony and shock: America! Is that the best you can do?
Donald Trump should have stuck to building golf courses and apartments for the super-rich and to hosting American Apprentice. Blip or catastrophe, I'll miss those ties.
Friday, 15 July 2016
A friend of mine used to say that the only certainty in life was its uncertainty.
But now it seems all manner of things are being blamed for the uncertainty created by the Referendum vote to leave the European Union. Travel firms go bust – post-Brexit uncertainty is the reason given. The Governor of the Bank of England talks about cutting interest rates and then doesn’t do it – post-Brexit uncertainty is the reason given. Prime Minister Theresa May appoints Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary – post-Brexit uncertainty is…wait a minute, I’ll come on to that later.
Wednesday, 6 July 2016
Having announced our intention to formally remove ourselves from the European Union, I hope that in future a British government will take steps to cut the Gordian Knot that binds us to the United States.
The "special relationship" referred to by David Cameron in the House of Commons today appears to be extremely one-sided. The current US President feels free to lecture British people about the merits of remaining subject to the control of an unelected, unaccountable European Commission, warning us that in the event of us ending that control we would lose out on future trade agreements with the United States.
I hope we do. I am sure this country could do a lot better by cutting loose from protectionist America which ensures that every deal it does benefits its own people at the expense of everyone else. Britain has paid off the Lend-Lease debt imposed by the United States during World War 2. Since then we have spent mega billions buying into American nuclear missile systems that we are never likely to use and all for the benefit of American armaments manufacturers.
American bankers and market traders wrecked the economies of the West in 2007/8, making fortunes for themselves by dealing in mortgages that were virtually worthless, bequeathing us budgetry austerity ever since. Thanks guys. You sure know how to treat your allies.
And now we know that a former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, told former President George W Bush, a year before the invasion and occupation of Iraq, that he, Blair, was "with him all the way." And he was. In Iraq, then in Afghanistan. Six hundred and thirty-two British service personnel came back from those places in coffins. Hundreds more returned in wheelchairs.
Tony Blair evidently decided that Bush junior needed support in his attempt to live up to his father, George senior, and glorify his presidency with the laurels of military victory. I heard Blair apologists say today that in 2003 Iraq's President Saddam Hussein was a dangerous unknown quantity who, following 9/11, might supply Islamic terror groups with stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.
Britain and the United States probably supplied Saddam with the technology between 1980-88 when, on their behalf, he sent his soldiers against the Islamic Republic of Iran. He was their regional ally. Al Qaeda was never active in Iraq when he was in power. That only happened two or three years after the American-led coalition invasion in 2003.
Go back a bit futher if you like to the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by the former USSR, the time-scale of which almost exactly parallels the Iraq-Iran War. If the United States had not poured millions of dollars as well as weapons of massive destruction into Afghanistan (via Pakistan) to equip and train the mujahidin, the whole bloody mess that followed, and which prevails today, might not have happened. One of the consequences of that particular insurgency was the formation of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda group of trans-national Islamic fighters.
In short the United States helped to create the state of the world that now exists between Afghanistan and Africa by meddling in matters of no long-term interest to Washington. My last American hero was not President J F Kennedy but General George Marshall without whose plan, backed by about 17 billion dollars, much of Western Europe would not have so rapidly recovered after World War 2.
There was no such long-sighted, well-funded, plans for either Afghanistan or Iraq. I wouldn't be surprised if George W Bush had never heard of George Marshall. Do US presidents, as a rule, understand that other countries of the world do not exist specifically for the purpose of supporting the economic/political/military interests of America?
I dare say I won't see Britain cut the tie with the Star Spangled banner in my lifetime. But then I thought that about the European Union.
Saturday, 18 June 2016
Amid the Diana-fication, almost the beatification, of murdered backbench Labour MP Jo Cox, it would be easy to lose sight of the fact that Thursday’s referendum is simply that: it is not a General Election.
Saturday, 4 June 2016
The hope of the Remain campaigners in the EU Referendum, is that the public will come to regard the Leavers as a bunch of opportunistic Little Englanders with all the associations of Far Right bigotry that that implies.
Judging by what I've seen of the media-arranged great debate, there is little to suggest that the Leavers will think their way round that one by calmly pointing out that they are neither Little Englanders nor Little Europeans, but citizens of the world and as such see no point in remaining part of a moribund political proces devised by deception and sustained by duplicity, especially when the majority of laws and regulations passed on by Brussels derive from international organisations based in Geneva, Rome, New York and Washington.
The BREXIT vision of an EU-free future, if indeed the non-FLEXCITEERS among them have one, should include a vision of what's likely to happen if the UK decides to stick with the political status quo - yet another EU treaty, more euro crises and more bail-outs, more union, less independence, general instability.
They could do worse than learn from a saying attributed to Socrates: The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but building the new. In other words: this is what we think the future could be outside the EU, this is how we go about achieving it, and this is how long it's likely to take to uncouple our wagons from the Euro-train. These three things seem to be what the general public wants to know. Some expect detailed costings; but it doesn't take a lot of wit to say that, like any divorce, detailed costings only arise once negotiations to part get underway. And in this case those negotiations cannot start until such time as Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is invoked.
FLEXITEER-in-chief Richard North warned right at the start that no campaign is won on a negative. The Remainers do not appear to have realised this and go on blathering about the dangers of cutting the EU apron strings, as though this had been an important feature of Britain's evolving development as a constitutional democracy. Good God, how did our ancestors manage to cope up until 1973? Personally, I think the public is fed up with being warned of fresh disasters to come by the likes of Michael Heseltine, Tony Blair, John Major, Neil Kinnock, George Osborne and David Cameron. What a joyless lot they and their colleagues are. Have they nothing to celebrate from 43 years' membership of this European club? It's up to the Leavers to evangelise the good news of what life could be like beyond the EU. That's if they have any good news, of course.
Let me know if any of them remembers another saying attributed to that ornery old coot Socrates: I am a citizen of the world, and my nationality is Good will.
Friday, 20 May 2016
Former BBC sports journalist David Icke's beliefs have a cult following all over the world. The conspiracy which resulted in the Treaty Of Rome and all other subsequent treaties, make the appeal of Icke's principal notion - that the world is ruled by shape-shifting lizards - easy to understand.
Who else but lizards in human form with delusions of grandeur would conceive of spending 100 million euros a year on transferring the European Parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg (and back again) every month? Jeremy Paxman couldn't explain this during his hour-long BBC television programme about the European Union. Any resemblance to the dual empire of Austria-Hungary with its two capitals of Vienna and Budapest is entirely deliberate.
But I suspect the unelected Hapsburgs had better sense of style than the unelected technocrats who see nothing wrong with hiring a special train to transport parliamentary staff and files on a monthly four-hour journey between Belgium and France. Paxman didn't say whether the 100 million euros covered living costs and expenses.
None of the various actors and artistes - Bill Nighy, John Hurt, Emma Thompson for example - who have spoken in favour of the UK's continued membership of the EU said anything about this arrangement. Nor, to my knowledge, have they offered an opinion about the EU Commission's history of ignoring referendums that don't go their way. The European Constitution that eventually became the Lisbon Treaty was rejected by the public of France, the Norway and the Irish Republic; but that didn't make the slightest bit of difference. Why would the Commissioners need democratic accountability when they've got a secure, ever-increasing, budget that hasn't been signed off by auditors for more than 20 years and no voters to explain themselves to?
The slithery politics of this monstrous two-headed hydra reminds me of another reptilian image, that ancient Greek sculpture known as The Laocoon.
This depicts the Trojan priest Laocoon and his two sons, Antiphantes and Thymbraes, being stranged to death in the coils of sea-serpents. These creatures were sent by Apollo or Poseidon because Laocoon had tried to warn the citizens of Troy that the wooden horse they had just dragged into the city as a trophy of victory would bring about their destruction.
If the beleagured Leave campaign is needs a classy, classical, image to symbolise the danger to Britain of the serpentine coils of the EU leviathan, it should consider The Laocoon. And if it wants an historical figure to give its arguments gravitas it should call up the spectre of Winston Churchill. He knew all about the terrible damage inflicted on the rest of the world by continental Europe from 1914 and again from 1939.
Churchill's post-World War 2 idea of a united states of Europe, I believe, had nothing to do with the creation of a federal superstate and certainly not supra-national governance. He would have sent in warships to sink the French navy than submit Britannia to mere subsidiarity status.
His vision was of Europe as a regional body made up of inter-governmental sovereign states supporting a central global body such as the United Nations Organisation. If the EU did not exist Britain would trade quite happily under the aegis of the United Nations Economic Council (Europe). But I don't suppose Bill, John, Emma and Jeremy know about that.
I won't be unkind though and suggest that none of them have heard of The Laocoon.