Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Today’s dare: patronise a Scotsman, then run for your life. As for the Union: keep it – better the devil you know. And it’s official: winter can sometimes be a bit chilly and we might even get a bit of snow (but probably only on high ground)

I am an Englishman who spent four happy years at Dundee University in the late Sixties and early Seventies and who came to like, admire and respect much about Scotland and the Scottish. More to the point, I came to understand how completely bloody irritating it is for Scots when they are patronised by the English, and, as Canadians, Americans, Indians, Pakistanis, Australians and New Zealanders know only too well, no one can patronise quite as well as the English. It is almost an art form. So the rise and rise of the Scottish National Party does not surprise me and that popular support for the party has managed to get Scotland within a referendum’s vote of independence.

As for Scottish independence, I am neither for nor against ‘preserving the Union’ ‘on principle’. (In fact, I am a man of few principles and find that one or two of them go a long way. Broadly speaking, be doubly wary of anyone or everyone who loudly proclaims his or her principles. Principles are essentially a private matter and when they are noticed, it is best in how someone does or does not behave. Someone who thinks the rest of the world is just dying to hear all about his or her principles is usually very boring and most certainly bad news.)

One the question of the Union (the British one not the American one), one can take the view that all things must pass, that the time of the Union has gone and that, all things being equal, if a nation would prefer independence over the status quo, they are fully entitled to it. To clarify my view a little more: I regard it as a certain kind of nonsense to speak of any nation ‘asking’ for independence. As far as I am concerned true independence is declared and that’s the end of the matter. But, sadly, I don’t think all things are equal, and, purely on pragmatic grounds, I feel the two countries should stick together.

My reservation is that I feel Scotland as well as England would be a loser if the union between the two countries came to an end. An end to the Union would, I suspect, diminish and impoverish both. Furthermore, I rather fear that gaining independence would not leave Scotland as a promised land it might seem to some at present.

For one thing, the SNP, until now united in its common objective of gaining independence, would slowly, but surely, split into left, right and centre factions with all the petty politicking that would entail – a multitude of largely pointless skirmishes between rabid lefties, rapacious righties and treacherous centrists would still be the order of the day.
Any Scot craving independence shouldn’t imagine it will all
be sweetness and light once the nation is shot of perfidious Albion and has reached the promised land. As one famous Scot once observed, to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.

I should also point out that from where I sit south of the border the SNP’s leader Alex Salmond stands head and shoulders above the rest in his party and I doubt the Nationalists will benefit from the same decisive and dynamic leadership once he decides to spend more time with his slippers. If I remember, he had previously retired, but had to come back to head the party again because those who took over made such a dog’s dinner of everything. Can Scotland really be sure that might not happen again?

There is also the small, though embarrassing, point that not all Scots have have each others' interests at heart. We shouldn’t forget that Sir William Wallace was finally brought
down by other Scots who felt their own interests were best served by sucking up to Edward I of England, and that at Culloden more Scots fought under the Duke of Cumberland’s colours than fought under the Jacobite banner of Charles Edward Stuart.
These are, admittedly, two examples from the past and not necessarily representative of modern Scottish manners, but the treachery of some Scots at their fellow countrymen’s expense cannot be ignored.

I suspect that if only the English could be relied upon not to be so patronising, Alex Salmond would be on shakier ground, and his suggestion of ‘devo max’ as a fall-back position persuades me that he is already several moves ahead of the pack. Out-and-out nationalists must, of course, pray that the English continue to lord it over everyone else until it’s too late. Me, I’ll repeat: united we stand, divided we fall, even though union with those sassenach ejits does try the patience of even the most patient of Scots.

. . .

Now there’s a funny thing: it’s winter, so it gets cold and it snows. Well, bugger me! Who’d have thought it? Yet every year the Brits greet the news (December and January were mild this year, but that was exceptional. Usually temperatures are average for this time of year - low) with the kind of surprise and dismay a 12-year-old might show when it dawns on him that Santa doesn’t exist. The headlines scream (even in the ‘broadsheets’ these days, which are also known by some as the ‘serious papers’ although I really don’t know why) ‘Winter wipeout!’ ‘Country blanketed by 3in of snow!’ ‘Santa just a myth: official!’ ‘Temperatures plummet to -5c!’ Well, Lordy me. And there was me hoping that it would be so mild this weekend that I could strip off, lie on the grass in the garden and get a tan. Better shelve that idea, pronto - the might be a flurry of snow!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Amazing! Or not. And the latest wheeze ‘to save the euro’ is launched to universal derision

Two weeks ago tomorrow (and try translating that into Italian. I could never get the hang of the future past, or whatever boring grammarians call it, when I spent five months teaching English in Milan in the early Seventies and was slowly learning to get by in Italian - ‘non sono tedesco ma inglese, mia madre est tedesca et mio padre est inglese’ I kept having to tell people because apparently I spoke Italian with a pronounced German accent. Which is all by the by) and on a whim - that sentence while make a lot more sense if you start again at the beginning and ignore what I have written in parentheses (OK, brackets) i.e. go straight from ‘tomorrow’ to ‘and on a whim’ and cut out the crap in the middle which is pretty bloody irrelevant at the best of times and - don’t we know it - these are not the best of times. Still with me? Probably not, because if the truth be told, I’ve even lost myself.

Start again: two weeks ago tomorrow and on a whim I decided to stop eating all wheat products - bread, cakes and biscuits. I really can’t remember why, but I am already noticing a marked difference. I feel more energetic and less tired, my body feels ‘tighter’ and generally I feel a tad brighter all round. I am not gluten allergic or anything like that, it’s just that I decided to give up wheat and feel all the better for it. Admittedly, I am now eating more fruit and salads, which has got to be a good thing, but I’m not stinting myself in any way and haven’t, for example, given up other carbohydrates, alcohol and sugar.

I should stress that I am no faddist - in fact, faddists piss me off big-time (‘You know when you have that first pee of the day, you know, first thing in the morning, out of bed and into the loo and just let it all out, well apparently, according to researchers in Brazil, there are an unbelievable number of nutrients in that first batch which we are all getting rid of because, you know, overnight your body does some sort of housekeeping operation but very often overdoes it, so, according to these Brazilian researchers, we are actually not just getting rid of waste matter but proteins and vitamins and stuff which our bodies actually need, you know, we’re literally just pissing it all away which can’t be a good thing, can it? Mind it’s that very first piss of the day, not the rest that follow them, that’s just waste matter. Anyway, they say that we should catch it all, after what you piss in the first few seconds, your don’t bother with that, you know, like you do when you have to give the doctor a sample, you don’t bother with what comes out first, but then you catch it all in a cup and drink it. Yes, I know it sounds awful and the Brazilians say it’s quite OK to flavour it a little with a small measure of tequila or rum or something just to get rid of the piss taste, but anyway I’ve been doing it for a few weeks now and I feel totally different, I mean totally, it’s as though I’ve been reborn. Yes, it sounds daft but, you know, loads of things sound daft at first but they’re not, I mean if you told someone about nanotubes even five years ago they would have called out the men in the white coats pronto, but, you know, it’s the future, and we would be silly to turn our backs on stuff just because it sounds totally off the wall. So give it a go, there’s only one way to persuade yourself and that’s by trying it yourself. As I say, the researchers recommend a slug of something or other to tone it down a bit, although wasn’t there that Indian prime minister or president or something who used to drink his piss every day and he lived to a ripe old age, so - well, it can’t be that stupid, and now the Brazilians have done some science on it and it seems it’s all pretty kosher. I know I feel totally different, and I’ve only been doing it for a few weeks.’

But let me reassure you, dear, dear bloggees, I have only gone down the wheat-free road. I shall leave the ‘drink your own piss’ salvation to hardier souls. I'll keep you posted on the wheat-free thing.

. . .

The other thing I wanted to mention was how totally - and I mean totally - fucked off I get with the use of superlatives on TV these days. Everything is amazing, and you and I all know that hardly anything is amazing, so why do they keep using that attitude. I used to enjoy TV documentaries about more or less anything, from Anglo-Saxon to dolphins mating to new solar system being born to how the Mesopotamians first invented surgery to how medieval kings used to use shorthand to pass on cookery tips - anything - and in the olden days they just got on with it. They told you what was what, it all lasted half and hour, then it was on to something else. Now? Now everything is bloody ‘amazing, with the presenter claiming he or she feels ‘humbled’ just to be able to open a 700-year-old book. Why ‘humbled’?

I used to think that there was something wrong with me, that a small part of me had some kind of sociopathic tendency because I didn’t faint when I saw an original da Vinci, that I wasn’t moved to tears when I was fed some concoction cooked the way the Aztecs used to cook it. Now I know I need not worry: it’s just the latest fashion in documentary-making. Roll on the next, although going by past developments it will probably be even more insufferable, although at this point I can’t quite imagine how.

. . .

How anyone can hope that the eurozone crisis will end in peace and harmony and rueful smiles and promises that ‘we mustn’t let that happen again’ is beyond. I have no idea exactly when the shit will hit the fan - no one does - but hit the fan it most certainly will, and it will be ugly, ugly, ugly for everyone the world over. But there still are many benighted souls (my sister is one, sorry M.) who think ‘it can all be sorted out, if only we pull together’. Yet the latest ‘proposal’ to sort out the mess should tell any one that the whole exercise is doomed to fail. And you don’t need to know anything about finance: you just need to have a passing acquaintance with European history and human psychology.

According to the Financial Times, the latest EU wheeze to pull the bacon out of the fire is for a Brussels-appointed commissioner to take control of Greek’s budget. It is a measure of how deep we have already ventured into la-la-land that not quite as many jaws are dropping as should. To make matters worse, the wheeze was dreamed up by the Germans. Need anyone be reminded that the Germans are best advised to make discretion their watchword in view of, er, their not so distant past? I yield to no one in my admiration of the country and its people, but they do have a tendency to precede with a total lack of nuance. Put it this way: if the idea was going to be mooted, was it not beyond the wit of someone in the candy store known as the EU HQ in Brussels at least to ensure it came from the French, the Dutch - anyone but the Germans? Well, yes it was. Oh, well.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How to alienate people. Simple: praise one Margaret Thatcher

Off to see The Iron Lady some tomorrow or Friday with my stepmother, who rarely gets out. There have been mixed reactions to the film, including the comment that releasing it before the good lady has passed on is rather odd. My theory is that is was conceived, approved and planned several years ago, and the, somewhat cynical, expectation was that Maggie would have popped her clogs long before the film was released. Those who have seen it say both that it is a tour de force by Meryl Streep as the lady herself (or The Devil Incarnate as those even ever-so-slightly on the left like to call her) but that there is something a little out of kilter about it all, as well as one or two bizarre in accuracies. I understand the film takes the form of a woman with dementia looking back on her life in her more lucid moments, including the Falklands War and the Brighton IRA bombing, so it is a little odd not decently to wait until she had shuffled off her mortal coil.
I am neither ‘of the Left’ or ‘of the Right’ and most certainly try not to belong to any kind of glee club shouting the virtues of this, that or t’other politician. But I must come out and say quite unequivocably that Maggie, Mrs Thatcher, Mrs T or however you want to refer to her stood head and shoulders above the other politicians of her generation and that she and her achievements will be remembered not just in years to come but in centuries to come. She will, I believe, be numbered among the great Prime Ministers alongside William Pitt the Younger, Sir Robert Peel, Palmerston, Disraeli, Gladstone, Lloyd-George, Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee. (Incidentally, I looked up a list of PMs to familiarise myself with who was actually a Prime Minister, and I was astounded at how many come from the ‘aristocracy’. It seems that it wasn’t until the beginning of the last century – strictly the last century: for me that still seems to mean the 19th century – that ‘commoners’ became Prime Minister.) Our recent PMs, Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, James Callaghan, John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown will, I’m afraid to say, be mere footnotes in history textbooks, if they are lucky.
I realise that Mrs Thatcher can divide Britain almost like no other political figure and that what I have referred to as her achievements are anything but to many others. For example, she emasculated the trade unions and brought them into line, she revitalised the economy by introducing a more modern way of looking at business and the role of the state (there would never have been Tony Blair and the revival of Labour were it not for Thatcher and Blair cannily building on attitudes she had established) and she managed to keep Britain out of much of the lunacy which passes for the ‘European Project’. One of her few failings was not realising that the best time to quit is when you are ahead, and so her fall from power was in many ways pathetic.
But she had real conviction: none of this phoney litany of ‘I’m passionate about…’ and ‘I’m committed to…’ which is intended to pass for principle and conviction these days. She believe in ‘sound money’ as everyone else should do. In the great Keynes v Hayek debate, she was most definitely in Hayek’s camp and her economic princples, like his, like his, was simple: if you spend more than you earn, you will eventually pay the price. Nothing wrong with that. (Yes, certainly there is virtue in Keynes’ view of the virtue of spending to create work and grow the economy, but it can always only be part of a solution, not the solution. Sooner or later the bills have to be paid, and if not by you, then by your children and grandchildren.)
As for seeing off the unions, you had to remember the shambles that Britain had become after the Sixties to understand why that was so necessary. I am a firm supporter of trade unions – the Law Society and the British Medical Association are nothing but unions by another name – and someone must most certainly protect the interests and wellbeing of those who are for whatever reason to weak to do so themselves. But by the Seventies, our British unions were reacting to a bygone age: they had been born of the era of heavy industry, the factory fortnight, wages delivered weekly in little brown envelopes, a true ‘working class’ and the country was moving one. It had no heavy industry to speak of, coal was cheaper when imported, and the unions themselves were beginning to behave like the industrial fatcats they purported to despise. They were, almost to a man – there were one or two outstanding unionists such as Brenda Dean, but it was still a man’s world – almost old-style Leninists who, at heart, were campaigning for a proletarian state. This at a time when the Left in other European countries had long since jettisoned such old-fashioned ideology and were firm Social Democrats. And, ironically, young Margaret Roberts, as she was, of Grantham, had, despite her father’s ownership of two grocery stores, far, far more in common with ‘the working class’ – for which read aspirant working class – and the ‘ordinary man and woman’ than her rich and titled predecessors at No 10 Downing St. That is probably why so many identified with her, accepted her and supported her. And because she was, while leading the party its backbone, that is why the Tories simply collapsed into a sorry heap once regicide had been committed and – John Major’s frankly bizarre election victory in 1992 notwithstanding (Major didn’t win, Neil Kinnock lost) that is why they didn’t get even a sniff of power for another 13 years. And even then they could only manage it by forming a coalition with the Lib Dems. (That, ironically, was, I am prepared to argue, an incredible stroke of luck in that the more outrageous Conservative dinosaurs were forced to keep quiet if they wanted their party to form the government. I doubt there would have been stable government in in Britain had David Davis become Tory leader: although he is a much different man to Edward Heath, Britain would now be going through a similar nonsense as it did in the Heath/Wilson years. I’ll maybe argue that another time.)
Love her or loathe her – and I do neither – only a dishonest fool would deny that Margaret Thatcher was a one-off and did more for the country while leader than many a PM before or since. Now for the hate mail.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Mitt, Newt, Rick and Ron Show - the current Yankee response to good old English cricket

For certain kind of Englishman (of which, obviously, I am one) one of the better spectator sports around is the quadrennial hoopla the United States goes through as it elects a new president or re-elects the old one. I recently wrote about cricket and indicated that it wasn’t the most intuitive sport to get your head around, and much the same is true of the apparently ramschackle process the U.S. has adopted to elect a president. The vote itself is in November and the winner is inaugurated in January. But the race itself starts several years earlier when various would-be contenders to be nominated as their parties candidate begin to test the water to see whether they have a realistic chance of gaining the nomination or whether they are vainly – in this case in two senses – pissing in the wind. As the current president (and I’m sorry, but I refuse to dignify the post with a capital p – the Yanks are too self-important as it is) is a Democrat and is seeking re-election, it is a line-up of Republican hopefuls are who doing all the baby-kissing and God-fearing and hoping to persuade all wings of the party that they are the man – the two women would-be candidates have already dropped out – who can take on the incumbent and win.
Once would-be contenders have convinced themselves – or been convinced by others that by putting themselves forward they won’t necessarily make a complete arse of themselves by coming last; and once they have assured themselves that they a sufficient number of rich fuckers are prepared to part with the necessary moolah to pay for the whole shooting match, it’s on to the next round when all 50 states decide who should be the one man or woman to stand for their party. I think.
What makes the whole process so thoroughly entertaining is that by the time you think you have got the hand of the whole primaries system, something occurs to demonstrate that you are not even off the starting block and haven’t a clue as to what is going on. In some states only registered Republicans can vote for whoever they think will make the best candidate, in others any registered voter – whether
Republican or Democrat – can vote. In yet others, interested parties get together in smaller caucuses to discuss who they think it should and then nominate one of their number to pass on that decision to a higher caucus. And, undoubtedly, every last word I have just written by way of explanation is complete nonsense and doesn’t even begin to describe the process. That’s what makes it all so highly entertaining.
The origins of such a convoluted process – that should be of such convoluted processes – lie in the evolution of the United States, with each state becoming part of the Union at a different time and having, in the meantime, evolved it’s own method. Seen in that light, the complications of the process are understandable if not comprehensible, i.e. blame the mists of time. The U.S. citizen’s right to ‘bear arms’ and keep as much lethal weaponry in his house as his psychopathy will allow is similarly understandable, although to use lily-livered Europeans utterly incomprehensible.
In those far-off days when ‘obesity’ was still a purely medical term, in many of the less populated states those eligible to vote didn’t see their neighbours from one month to the next, so getting together to decided who should pursue their interests in the coming presidential election was something of an occasion. Given that everyone and their four-year-old now drives a car – it goes with the collection of handguns one is obliged to own, apparently – and that hardly anyone lives more than a few hundred yards from their neighbour, it all makes rather less senses, but as a Brit I am on thin ice here, and would be well-advised to exercise discretion when it comes to discussing the full range of Yankee foibles.
. . .

Since the round of primaries started two weeks ago – a fortnight ago in Brit parlance – several would-be contenders, including the women, have thrown in the towel. That means by the time Super Tuesday arrives – on March 6 this year – and primaries are held in a number of states, it should be a lot clearer who the viable candidates are. I think it will boil down to a Mitt Romney and a Newt Gingrich - American names also provide us supercilious Brits with no end of amusement – we prefer our politicians to be called David, Nicholas and Edward, although now that our colonial past is rapidly catching up with us, there are already several Tariqs in the Commons and fine, upstanding chaps they are, too (he said carefully, with one eye on the jungle of equality laws now in place which make discussion in Britain something of a parlour game, ideally played only by lawyers). I think a chap called Rick Santorum – another silly name – is still in the running, but as he would like to see all homosexuals boiled in oil once all their limbs have been torn off, I suggest that his long-term prospects are limited. There is also a certain Ron Paul – decent name, decent chap as far as I can tell, but a Michelle Bachman and a Rick Perry have called it off, as has Sarah Palin, who as far as I am concerned gave loopiness a bad name, was weeded out long ago, apparently to almost universal sighs of relief among the more serious-minded Republicans.
My money is on Mitt Romney. He strikes me as not the flaky sort and comes over as presidential, which is undoubtedly
down to some very intense coaching be whatever bods are paid enormous sums to undertake such intense coaching. He might be a Mormon and I might think that Mormon theology is just too deep in la-la-land for comfort, but as I was born and brought up as a practising (the ‘s’ is correct in UK English, by the way, it’s just another of the spellings which distinguish us sophisticates from our colonial cousins) Roman Catholic, I would be well-advised to keep quiet on matters of loppy theology. Furthermore, Mitt looks to be the one who could take on Barack Obama and beat him. Most recently crawling out of the woodwork is said to be some scandal to do with taxes, but I know no detail on that so I shall let it pass.
A great deal less to my tastes is the other main contender, a Newt Gingrich. From what I have heard Newt is something of a hypocritical little shit who was actively pursuing an
adulterous affair at exactly the time he was trying to hound Bill Clinton out of office for his philandering. Actually, I think ‘hypocritical little shit’ is putting it a little too mildly. After the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries Mitt seemed to be in poll position, but then the hypocritical little shit known as Newt took South Carolina, which through everything into disarray. At some point I heard that in that past the candidate who took South Carolina invariably went on to become his party’s candidate, but perhaps it is now yet a universal rule. Roll on Super Tuesday.
Incidentally, I read somewhere that with several of his mistresses, Newt would only engage in oral sex because he felt he could then argue that he hadn’t ‘committed adultery’. My dear friends in America, you don’t want a cunt like Newt running your country (although under Bill Clinton it seems you did).

. . .

An interesting and well-made four-part documentary about Vladimir Putin started on BBC 2 a few days, which has the virtue of being informative. I’m looking forward to the next three parts. More once I’ve seen them.

Friday, January 20, 2012

And old fart writes: ‘Euthanasia? Over my dead body!’ And sweet Mandy gets yet another look in. If you’re reading this, Mandy, ask me out

Having reached the venerable age of 114, I’m bound to meet the truth halfway and admit that I am - my good looks notwithstanding - no spring chicken. But physical age apart - I would say ‘temporal’ age if it didn’t sound a little fatuous - there are one or two things which distinguish us 114-year-olds from one another. That is to say some 114 could be well over 160 given their asinine grumpy, complaining outlook on life, whereas others, if the light is right, could well pass for 85, given that they have, somehow, retained a sunnier, younger, more optimistic outlook (though if they live in California, all bets are off). And I like to think - and here I am obliged to take a deep breath - that I belong to the second group, that I am not the oldest old fart on the block, that I have, somehow, retained that sunnier, younger, more optimistic outlook on life which so eludes some my fellow travellers on the train of life.

Take my wife, for example: it might not be particularly gallant to say so, but she is not just a glass-half-empty type of women, she is so bloody negative about everything that she gives pessimism a bad name. Matters are so bad, in fact, that any number of dyed-in-the-wool local pessimists, people who wouldn’t have a good word to say about the Devil, will cross the lane rather than cross swords with her. It brings them down too much. Why is he telling us this, you ask, why is he being so open about it all? Simple. Not only does she not read this blog - as part of a broader strategy of not taking the blindest interest in any aspect of my life - but she wouldn’t even know how to turn on a computer. So the chances of her finding out that I am blackening her name with abandon and without ruth are closer to zero than the chances of Iran’s President Amadinejad being guest of honour at a bris. Am I exaggerating? Ask my sister, late of Istanbul, now resident in Warsaw. (I managed to convince her of the usefulness of staying one step ahead of the law.)

So being a - rather good-looking, quite charming, if somewhat raffish - 114-year-old but of a younger persuasion, I am concerned that I don’t develop that awful and awfully boring habit of complaining about everything, because complainers piss me off. At this point my wife might feel inclined to make another guest appearance, but I feel you already have the picture and if there’s one thing worse than perpetual complaining, it is banging on a little too long. (The danger is that people might start to ask themselves: who’s the problem, her or you?)

I know you will be familiar with the type: they insist that not only do trains run half as efficiently and punctually as once they did, but people have forgotten the importance of manners (especially on trains, apparently), progress - ‘so-called progress’ - is anything but, why do they insist on

printing everything far smaller than they used to, time was once when a pint of beer/glass of wine/quick shag in the local brothel didn’t cost an arm and a leg and - a favourite of gentlemen of a certain age - pissing used to be so much easier (and you were able to empty your bladder in one go - there was none of this getting up and going to the john every 30 minutes. Bloody progress!

The gentler sex - and whoever thought up that phrase had a bone-dry sense of humour - have nothing to be smug about: one old bat of my circle who is way into her 90s complained to me the other night that she had not been propositioned in over 40 years. What was becoming of the male sex? she wondered.

The thought occurred to me that given the amount some of us less-than-young folk complain, there might well be something in this euthanasia malarkey. I mean it is the latest thing. Once folk use to show off to each other about where they were spending the summer or the winter. Then they hoped to impress those more gullible than themselves by apparently having far more ‘disposable income’. Now, given that quite a few are of ‘advance years’, they hope that espousing modern thought and being au fait with the a latest thinking might demonstrate that although they quite often look it, they are not wholly dead. And in the Year Of Our Lord 2012 there is surely no more modern thought than that we should kill off all our old folk before they become a burden and start to cost us some serious money.

Naturally, there are quite a few who are not quite as gung-ho about this ‘euthanasia’ (and will it be long before some bright PR spark attempts to popularise the doctrine by launching an ad campaign promoting ‘youthanasia’?). But there are more than enough folk who like to think of themselves as ‘quite bright’ and listen to Radio 4 far more often than is good for them who are rather taken with the idea. ‘Why,’ they ask rhetorically, ‘should I not die when and how I wish if I am suffering from incurable cancer?’

Now I don’t doubt that for some very ill people life can being unbearable. But nor do I doubt that in many cases a compassionate GP (that’s your doctor) has done what he or she felt was the kindest thing to do. But what is new about all this talk of ‘mercy killing’ is not that we are debating the morality of it, but that we are seriously debating whether it should be codified. And that, seemingly arcane point, is what I find most disturbing. On the one hand we bang the drum about ‘the right to life’ and our ‘human rights’, on the other we are quite prepared to sanctify abortion as a means of birth control rather than any of any number of perfectly rational and acceptable alternatives, and we are seriously debating the pros and cons of killing off our old people.

I can already hear the objections to my argument: euthanasia will and must be voluntary, its proponents will proclaim. To which I respond: that is your ideal now, but once you have conceded a little ground, you will, sooner or later, be obliged to concede a little more. What will ‘current moral thinking’ be 50 and 60 years down the line?
Yes, I know that what I have just written is one of
We know, we know, but it really is
what he would have wanted
the mainstays of almost every reactionary argument, but that doesn’t mean there might not be a grain of truth in it (and I dare not even start discussing the biggest of all in moral philosophy which can be described in many fashions but will I shall here describe by way of a question: just how seriously can we take our moral code if it can be reformulated almost at whim given what the current ‘current thinking’ might be?)

I didn’t set out to rumble on about euthanasia when I started this entry (and I am rather taken with my own joke about ‘youthanasia’), but it is a question we should settle sooner rather than later. The obvious objection is that unscrupulous beneficiaries might well hold off from outright murder - our modern caring police officers are rather good at tracking down that kind of thing. But they might feel less dainty about trying to persuade Mum or Dad that they should ‘consider others’ and see whether or not dying sooner rather than later would not be such a bad thing. And, who knows, if the aches and pains are playing up rather more one day, Mum or Dad might well thing they have a point and sign on the dotted line where in previous days they felt less inclined to do so.

But I should like to raise the more refined point: just how much can we claim to respect life, as we all too often claim to do, if we are seriously considering whether euthanasia ain’t all that bad?

NB I am not against abortion at all. But I am against the wholesale and unthinking demand for ‘abortion on demand’. In many case abortion can and is wholly justified. But killing a foetus just because ‘having a child now’, for example, is financially inconvenient, does strike me as pretty bloody repulsive. But those who think I am something of a pious prick might like to read this previous entry.

. . .

Like any modern man/woman/person with a link to ‘the public’, I keep an eye on my statistics. In my case the link is this blog. In other cases the man/women/person involved (and how soon will it be before we are obliged, on threat of several years in jail, to refer to the other as ‘the entity’?) might be an actor, a writer, a politician or a snake oil salesman. What we all have in common is, when we are feeling grand and on top of the world, is a desperate desire to know whether ‘they’ are amused, convinced, persuaded, ready to buy or simply ready. And when, on those rare, but all too dreadful occasions when we don’t feel on top of the world, we are equally desperate, but on these occasions demand any proof or even evidence that they haven’t sussed us, that they haven’t realised that we are total and utter charlatans, have defrauded them and that we are no more, and often far less, than they are. (That last is something they must never come to know.)

So being as just as egomaniac as you are, although with, perhaps, rather less justification, I look at my stats once and often twice a day. They tell me how many times my blog has been read, where readers live and what particular entries they are reading. And top of the list is this one. WThe title might not seem obviously attractive, and what exactly those who seek out this particular entry want to know is not immediately apparent, but when you realise that the entry also includes a picture of one Mandy Rice-Davies, the universal (well, sort of) interest becomes a little more understandable.

Young Mandy (I am going by the picture below of a very attractive young women, but as she was born on October 21, 1944, she is approaching 70, so ‘young’, though a gallant word to use, is rather pushing it) gained ‘notoriety’ (as in she was found
out) in the ‘Profumo Affair’, but as she is subsequently quoted as observing that her life since those heady days has been ‘one slow descent into respectability’, she is forgiven everything, although even the notion that we should ‘forgive’ her is curiously offensive. I like to think that a young woman as attractive and witty as she was then (many South Walian women have a certain kind of wit which I find attractive, although in truth I am attracted to many women who have that kind of wit and not all of them come from South Wales. In fact, they often come from everywhere – it is that particular spark I like) grow into attractive and witty middle-aged, then older women. Well, that isn’t necessarily true, but a boy can dream. Here for all the Mandy Rice-Davies addicts is that picture again as well as one or two others I have been able to track down. And, Mandy, if you ever get to read this, why don’t you buy me lunch? Or me buy you lunch? Whatever.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cameron starts latest England v. Scotland cricket Test with a googly, Salmond blocks. Surely it's now time for tea? As for those damn, nasty Yankees/Ruskies . . . (delete as applicable and where your prejudice takes you)

I am now way into my 90th decade but it is only in the past three or four years that I can claim even to have started understanding the game of cricket. When I was younger, it used to bore me rigid, and I mean bore with a B. But with the technical advances in TV coverage I began to see the action from several different angles and in slow motion and little by little I started to get just the vaguest inkling of what might be going on and so I began to watch it a bit more. It was now no longer a case of sitting in front of the TV (or, on one occasion, in Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, where a gang of us had sloped of work early to take advantage of the post-4pm free entry and to down a pint of beer or three) watching a game in which apparently nothing happened at all for what seemed like days on end. You found yourself wondering whether to give it up as a lost cause and switch to the other channel - in those days there were only two - when suddenly there was a split-second flurry of action as a wicket fell. This excitement was then followed by several minutes of watching a group of men in white shirts and white trousers standing around talking to each other as the dismissed batsmen left the field and was replaced by a new batsman, before we were obliged to put up with several more days of nothing happening.

Modern TV coverage changed all that and once I was able to see what was taking place on the pitch, I was able to try to understand the game more and more. And slowly I did. But I have every sympathy with every ‘foreigner’ (and as every Brit will assure you, the world is full of foreigners) to whom the game is incomprehensible nonsense. Let me qualify that: by ‘every foreigner’ I mean ‘every foreigner’ whose country didn’t at some point in the past have the great good fortune to be ruled by the British. There are some ‘foreigners’ who have more than taken a shine to cricket and because of this love of the game might well qualify as ‘honorary British’. I mean, of course, the Indians, the Pakistanis, the Bangladeshis, the Sri Lankans, the New Zealander, the Australians, the South Africans and the Zimbabweans. But generally speaking the other ‘non-British foreigners’, such as the Yanks, are utterly, utterly baffled by cricket and appalled that, for example, a game which at Test level is usually played over five days can end in ‘a draw’.

Quite apart from being thoroughly entertaining – that is once you know what the bloody hell is actually going on - the game of cricket is useful as it gives the outsider an insight – or rather can give the outsider and insight – into how the English mind works and how they like to go about doing things. And I must stress that I am talking about the English mind, not the Irish, Welsh or the Scottish minds, which are anything but English and to a large extent far more rational. (Yes, and the Irish – don’t believe any of that shite about the Irish being away with the fairies. It’s just another piece of disinformation put about by the English who in many ways can teach the Irish a thing or two about being away with the fairies. Proof? Just two words: Morris dancing.

That insight occurred to me two days ago when our esteemed Prime Minister and former Etonian David Cameron made the first move in the battle ‘to save the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ for which read ‘preserve England’s hegemony over these British Isles. Cameron and other unionists, of which there are more than makes me comfortable, claim it is threatened by the stated intention of the Scottish National Party and is leader Alex Salmond to hold a referendum to ask the Scottish whether they would like to declare independence. Cameron’s move came three days ago when he suggested that it might be ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘unlawful’ for the Scots to hold a referendum. To which the answer of this disinterested – although far from uninterested – observer is ‘Hmm’. Really?

Given that Britain doesn’t actually have a written constitution, any ruling on ‘constitutionality’ would consist, at best, of the opinion of several High Court judges who might or might not be to the liking of the Scottish Parliament and who might or might not (although very probably might or else they would not have been chosen to give their opinion) be in favour of ‘preserving the Union ‘. Alex Salmond is anyway, and unsurprisingly, having none of it: he has declared that whether or not Scotland decides to hold referendum is only Scotland’s business and doesn’t in any way rely on the say-so of the British government. And oor’ Alex also gave short shrift to Cameron’s other demand that if
a referendum is held, it should consist of one simple question to which the Scottish voters should give their yea or nay: do you or do you not want Scotland. He wasn’t falling for that one, either, because as the SNP knows well, there are those in Scotland who support outright independence and those don’t. There is also a substantial minority who don’t actually support outright independence but who most certainly want a greater devolution of power. So if the question is a bald: do you want outright independence?, the SNP fears, probably quite rightly, that it would not get a majority. But, dear reader, this is where I must bring the good old, utterly baffling, game of cricket back into the matter. Because at the end of the day our Dear Leader doesn’t give a flying fuck either way whether or not Scotland holding a referendum on the matter is ‘constitutional’ and whether or not a putative referendum consists of just one question or ten. What our Dear Leader really wants to do is simple: he merely wants to muddy the waters to such an extent and as early as possible so that quite soon no one knows what is going on. And if, unlikely as it might be, someone does know what is going on, he or she is utterly stymied in any debate on the matter because the opposite party will most certainly have another view entirely of what exactly is being debated. In that respect it is very, very much like a game of cricket: utterly baffling to the uninitiated and so arcane it takes well over 40 years even to begin to understand what it is all about. But it is most certainly very entertaining.

Incidentally, it is also worth bearing in mind the French have long regarded England as Perfidious Albion and, as a rule, choose never, ever to trust us. Forget all that brave talk of the ‘English sense of fair play’, the British preference for compromise and how our empire was, at heart, a force for good. Forget it and hit hard the next Englishman who tries to oblige you to believe it. The English are as two-faced as the next man, but their good manners and courteous manner has fooled many. And that is where cricket comes in.

. . .

Talking of national ‘sports’ – you’ll understand why I use quote marks in a minute - one way of looking at the former global spat between the Yankee Dog and the Soviet Devil (the Evil Empire ©Ronald Reagan) was to consider that the Yanks preferred baseball and the Russians had a penchant for chess. This is not to say that the Yankees didn’t have their fair share of intellectuals with a gift for long-term strategy or that the Russian Soviets weren’t above indulging in solutions which demanded the application of brawn rather than brain power, but broadly I’ll ask you to let my description stand. So where Uncle Sam would delight in throwing money, manpower and the latest latest at a problem, Uncle Vanya was more inclined to think it all through and consider where this, that and t’other course of action was likely to lead him. I have to admit that neither approach was foolproof, and both the Yankee Dog and the Soviet Devil ended up on the losing side from time to time. And what makes the analogy of a Great Game even more fatuous is that it was never time-limited, so there was no point at which one could definitively say: Well, the Yanks/Ruskies won. Pedants might point out that the Yanks did win because the Soviet Union no longer exists and that Ronnie Reagan strategy of outspending them paid dividends, to which I will respond, rather inscrutably: Well, perhaps. And perhaps they didn’t.

There is a theory that the lads at the KGB were aware that the things in the Workers’ Paradise weren’t quite working out, that it was not so slowly going bust and that Change Was Afoot. Their solution was to be part of that change, and it has to be admitted that in many ways nothing much has changed in Russia. Well, some things have in that Mother Russia can now boast of ‘having a middle class’ – glory be! – and that car ownership is now more widespread, the queues outside the grocery shops no longer exist (as far as I know) and you have a real choice of which state-regulated TV stations you watch. On the debit side, of course, the country is still ruled by a self-interested, self-perpetuating oligarchy with close links to both big business and the KGB’s successors, the FSB , there is apparently no rule of law, the police are said to be pretty bloody corrupt and, the clincher, it still gets very bloody cold in winter and not very warm in the summer. Does it really matter whether the gang of hatchet-faced gents are now far better dressed and don’t belong to the Communist Party. No, it doesn’t.

Not that the U.S. has that much more to crow about. A wet little liberal like me still finds it hard to cheer on the Land of the Free when it means in practice that it is a land in which you are free to starve if that is the fate life has in store for you, be denied medical help if you are not insured and free to be just as ripped off as any middle-class chappie in the former Evil Empire. Yes, I’ll admit that analysis is pretty broadbrush – everyone will be given emergency healthcare and the Americans are enormously community spirited loathe to see a neighbour helpless and the vast majority of them will really put themselves out to help even a stranger – but I do get fed up with all the claims that the U.S. is God’s own country which the rest of the world should damn well learn to emulate. If the U.S. is so keen on sharing its capitalist wisdom, why all the millions spent on keeping out illegal immigrants who simply want their moment in the Yankee sun? I happened to be looking up statistics the other day and was not surprised to see that the proportion of blacks in prison or without a job is far higher than the proportion they form of the U.S. population. All things being equal, the two proportions should be the same. And I still get fed up with all the Land of the Free posturing when to this day the U.S. will not admit to being responsible for the genocide of several million Native Americans. But before the Russians start crowing ‘why, the bugger is on our side after all’, they might care to reflect on their own, more recent, genocide which was the great Ukrainian famine. Several million Ukrainians are thought to have starved to death in that episode of the making of the Socialist Dream.

NB. I am on no one’s side.