Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

DIARY: Mental health, Dennis Wheatley,, Annoyment, Muddled Europe, Pics of the Week

Mad Dog How I dislike the phrase “mental health”. In its benign form it has a pastel, slightly perfumed air about it — something and nothing, as we say. Add the word “problem” and it becomes a spitting mass of contradictions and false positives.

Thanks to new American proposals, “psychosis” is set to become the badge of choice for mental health problems and perceived deviations from “normal” behaviour.

I once wrote an article on the mystical experiences of a few famed saints of the Church. “Hmm,” said an expert, “it’s probably bi-polar disorder.”

Nothing is allowed to exist beyond the current orthodoxy.

Descartes’s I think, therefore I am is a genuine symptom of psychosis because it locks us into random processes of brain activity. This extreme narrowing of experience is a prison cell for the mind, a place where the rest of existence is “other” and therefore threatening. It is characteristic of bullies, dictators, and authoritarians (who think they are always right) and scientism, which restricts all experience to pathways defined by blind intellect.

Only the narrow-minded could classify most human behaviour as illness.

We British should stop listening to American and European narrowlogues and revisit our famed tolerance of quirk, difference and benign oddity. That’s what made our predecessors such good inventors — and among the freest people on earth.

Apart from Boris, where have all the English eccentrics gone?

* * * * *

History teaching is rightly back in the educational spotlight under the new Coalition Government. Schools’ chief Michael Gove is determined to bring back rigorous teaching standards, including a detailed treatment of narrative history.

Pupils need to be able to position themselves in time and space. History gives them temporal awareness of their place in the scheme of things. Labour neglected the subject, appearing to believe that historical accuracy would turn students into Tories. They were probably right.

In my school, I was regarded as a whizz on the French Revolution. I was able to field questions that even the history master couldn’t answer in detail. What was my secret?

I hadn’t then read Edmund Burke’s famous work on the subject, nor yet Carlyle’s. Even Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities was a pleasure for the future.

The source of my devilish knowledge were the novels of Dennis Wheatley, who also wrote extensively on occultism. Anyone who has read the swashbuckling tales of one Roger Brooke, a fictional Englishman who spent the entire period in revolutionary France, will have a sound grasp of that important slice of French, and British, history.

I was lucky to live close to one of the last of the private libraries. It kept every book it had ever possessed, so was a treasure store of old fiction. I lapped it up in huge gulps.

My main point is that fiction can be an effective way of introducing youngsters to historical narrative. I happen to know that Michael Gove is a fan of Dennis Wheatley — who incidentally worked with Winston Churchill during the war.

Might we soon see the old boy back in favour in English classrooms?

* * * * *

Ever since I set up this website, Syntagma, along with Syntagma Media in 2005, I’ve regretted having to use instead of a plain syntagma domain.

All things come to him who waits. The new .co domain suffix, which arrived on July 20, presents a clean sheet for those of us with impure business domain names.

As well as nabbing (a triumph, I assure you), I’ve managed to secure The “co” signifies “company”, so is a dignified top-level alternative to .com, and is not local like

The present Syntagma site will remain on for familiarity’s sake.

That vanity of vanities, a website in one’s own name, in this case John Evans (dot co) now exists: John Evans’s personal website.

I may yet regret this.

* * * * *

Annoyment of the Week

I haven’t really been annoyed by anything this week. A Conservative Government, albeit a tad diluted, is a serene experience for most of us.

Even Dave’s brutalist approach to diplomacy gives a front-foot feel to the new politics.

Does it get any better than this? When a chap can’t get steamed up about politics, might he be tired of life?

Now I’m starting to talk myself into artificial annoyments. I shall desist and bid you all peace and goodwill.

* * * * *

Germanic sense is beginning to overcome French pursuit of glory.

Wilhelm Nolling, one of five German professors challenging the legality of the European Union’s response to the financial and economic crises, is predicting social unrest.

“A transfer union [money flowing from rich countries to poorer ones] will destroy the social peace in Europe”, he said. “We need to form a new heart of the euro: France, Germany, Finland, Austria and the Netherlands. All the other states should be given their freedom back. That would give them a real opportunity to increase their competitiveness through currency devaluations.”

Just two years ago such sentiments were unthinkable. Now they are commonplace.

The shine has come off the EU and the eurozone. How soon before this absurd political confection is holed beneath the waterline?

* * * * *

Pics of the Week

July 12 July 22

The pictures show the Cathedral Green in Exeter 10 days apart. The first was shot on the 12th of July, the other on the 22nd.

What a difference a splash of rain makes.

John Evans

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DIARY: Big Society Watch, PMQs, Annoyment: haircuts, Alas poor Times, Immortality site, Pic of Week

Big Society Watch

Cut that grass

I’ve been doing my bit for Dave’s Big Society all week as our local council has stopped performing a variety of tasks, including grass cutting, to save money.

I live in a “Clean City”, as the signs keep telling us. It also has a Beacon Council, whatever that means. I must say normally it performs quite well, dispensing both cleanliness and a civilized living space.

Out walking this morning I noticed a long line of tall weeds running along the curbs of an adjoining street. From a distance they resembled those rows of poplars that line the French countryside. Up close, they are no such thing, just rank, ugly weeds.

Grass verges are in the same state — unmowed — while most council land is a mess. I’ve been clearing up the road outside my house, and some others have followed suit. In the lane, weeds were at waist height until some of us set about them.

Now I don’t mind making a contribution if it really is necessary. The problem is, councils tend to cut costs indiscriminately, without thought for the outcome.

Today, we had a “Community Safety” event on the Cathedral Green. Dozens of police officers, fire crews and safety people were milling around waiting to answer our queries about safety. There were few takers when I was there.

Call me naive, but isn’t that precisely the sort of thing that should have been cut first instead of the grass cutting?

Here’s a suggestion for our beleaguered councillors and officials: give the Secretary of State’s office a call; if you can get through to the Great Pickles (Eric) himself, so much the better. His bluff Yorkshire common sense should solve all your problems.

Ask him, or whoever is available, if the Coalition can waive all those daft edicts issued by Labour ministers in the tangled undergrowth beneath primary legislation. They cost too much local wealth to enforce.

Anything politically “correct” or safety related can comfortably go. So-called equality and diversity nonsense, ditto. Bonfire it all away, it doesn’t need an Act of Parliament.

Then perhaps they can start cutting the grass again.

* * * * *

Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons (PMQs), was more than usually interesting today. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg presided in David Cameron’s absence, the first Liberal to do so since the Whigs, or at least Lloyd George.

Note he said “Liberal”, not LibDem. Is Clegg beginning to distance himself from the leftie Social Democrats in his party? He seems to be comfortable in a Conservative environment, even though his Europeanism is driving some of us up the wall.

Fate blessed him today by throwing up a ghastly Jack Straw as his principal antagonist. Ancient old Jack, voice like a chainsaw, rasped across the dispatch boxes like a soul demented. His rambling orations were mostly drowned out by a very frisky House of Commons.

Speaker Bercow acted as if he were God, batting down anyone who irritated him, including Cleggy. What a bully this little man is becoming. Time for a guillotine, methinks.

Straw was truly awful — he won’t be back. Most of the other questions were locally based and seemed trite in the national Parliament. The Labour benches disgraced themselves yet again. Don’t they know they lost the election?

But Nick Clegg was the star. He replied coolly and competently, neatly sidestepping the elephant traps. Not bad for a chap on his first outing as Prime Minister Designate Surrogate.

Watch out, Dave. Don’t leave the capital too often.

* * * * *

Annoyment of the Week

With the results of the European Union’s rather tepid “stress” tests of a selective group of EU banks due out on Friday, there’s much talk of the “haircut” each country’s sovereign debt is likely to take.

In financial terms, a haircut is a market-imposed discount applied to dodgy debt, in this case government bonds. Greece is said to face a haircut of just 17% — many commentators think it should be closer to 50%.

The problem arises from the bit of the debt that’s counted. Bonds issued via “special vehicles” are not taken as state debt as they are “off-balance sheet,” a ploy much favoured by the US deceased corporation, Enron and Gordon Brown. They still have to be paid up or rolled over though.

All this talk of sovereign haircuts of up to 50% must worry Prince William. He’s already lost half of his.

* * * * *

Alas poor Times website. I’m hearing that not many people have signed up to it, which means a sharp drop in advertising revenues not matched by subscriptions.

I have to confess I’ve not yet taken the plunge either. The application form is annoyingly intrusive and it requires a direct debit instead of a simple credit card — although the micropayment method uses cards. Confusing.

Frankly, I just can’t be bothered with the whole thing. It makes life too complicated. Imagine going through all that rigmarole for every paper or magazine you read online. The FT is a nightmare.

I buy the Sunday Times print version anyway, so it’s a little less for me to read during the week. Now where did I put my bookshelves?

Andrew Marr has signalled on the BBC website that he will use the IPad 3G download alternative, which is more convenient. Amazon’s Kindle has a similar scheme for newspapers. Iain Dale has also balked at the News International sign up process. And there are many others.

When might we expect that particular paywall to come down?

* * * * *

Immortality Quest is a new website I’m in the process of setting up to concentrate my online content on the topic.

There are articles and links available from the header tabs and newer content will appear regularly on the frontpage. I’ll also try to source other writers’ quality content from time to time.

So, if you’re interested in all things immortal, especially yourself, head on over and take a look:

PS: don’t forget the “org”.

* * * * *

Pic of the Week

A swan that thinks it’s a giraffe:

Swan Giraffe

Photo: DCO

John Evans

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Coalition Watch: As the eurozone slowly disintegrates, should Cameron start listening to Daniel Hannan?

The Plan I always enjoy reading Daniel Hannan’s* Telegraph blog mainly because I usually agree with him.

Take this short post: Britain should rejoin EFTA [European Free Trade Association]:

“You really can have your cake and eat it. Switzerland managed to strike a deal with the EU which gave it full access [to the] market without pressing it into common political structures. The Swiss export more than twice as much per capita to the EU as the British do. Yet they control their own trade policy, foreign policy, borders, home affairs and employment law. Being outside the EU, they are free to disperse power through cantonalism, referendums and competing tax jurisdictions. Result? They are the wealthiest people in Europe.

“Do we really imagine than 60 million Britons couldn’t negotiate at least as favourable a deal as seven million Swiss? We are, after all, a larger market for EU exporters. We are an existing member state, with commensurate leverage. And, of course, we buy far more from the rest of the EU than we sell to it. It isn’t normal, in any transaction, for the salesman to have the upper hand over the customer.”

The Dutch bank ING calculates that any defaults within the eurozone — which in my opinion are inevitable — will spread deflationary shocks and depression around the world. It also suggests that the one-off effects of eurozone break-up “would dwarf Lehman Brothers collapse”. Isn’t it time we distanced ourselves from this dangerous organization? Whichever way the dice fall, Britain is going to lose trade.

Better at arm’s length than in the thick of it.

* Daniel Hannan is a British Conservative MEP and joint author of The Plan: Twelve Months to Renew Britain.

Update: Read Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s brilliant blog post over at the Telegraph tonight. Excerpt:

“In a sense, the Verfassungsericht [German Constitutional Court] has become the defender of democratic freedom and liberties for the whole of the European Union since other national courts are largely craven (Though not Ireland’s supreme court) and since the Hegelian ECJ [European Court of Justice] has demonstrated in a series of key cases that it has no respect whatsoever for human rights and acts a mere enforcer of authoritarian power-grabs by the EU’s executive machinery. As such, the ECJ is a dangerous organization.”

I do hope David Cameron and William Hague are listening to this debate.

John Evans

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DIARY: Football: the Syntagma Regime, Dying eurozone, Annoyment: Fairness, Dave at G20, Miliband’s banana, Pic of Week

Headless Chickens What went wrong? everyone is asking — as if it isn’t obvious.

German coach, Franz Beckenbauer got part of it right when he said that the English Premier League, with its two cup competitions, leaves players exhausted by early summer and “burnt out” before major international competitions: the European Championship and the World Cup.

This is known as the Headless Chicken Syndrome, which was clearly visible in the team’s performances in South Africa. What to do about it?

1. Reduce the league by one third and disallow Premier clubs from playing in what used to be called the League Cup. That would help. What else?

2. Back in the early 1990s, Denmark failed to qualify for the European Nations Cup. The players were dismissed for the summer and they trailed off to the Med for a spot of the sybaritic life.

A few weeks later, Yugoslavia, which no longer exists, had to withdraw because of the wars in the Balkans. As next in line, Denmark was called up for the Finals. Back trooped the sun-soaked team, with no preparations whatever for the matches. They won the Championship.

England should adopt a similar relaxation routine before major tournaments.

3. I would also scrap the manager’s position and select an experienced team captain to pick the team and lead it on the pitch. That would meld the players better, and eliminate neurotic influences off the pitch and from the sidelines. It would also save the FA around £12 million a throw.

I’m no expert on football, but surely the team couldn’t do any worse under the Syntagma Regime?

* * * * *

The eurozone, and hence the European Union, is dying. Like a rotting mackerel in moonlight, it shines and stinks.

Labour’s continual bleating about “supporting the economy” for another year, now seems like a reedy squeak amid the worldwide scramble for retrenchment. California alone is said to have cut its spending this year by as much as Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Romania and Hungary combined, despite Obama’s scratchy comments against European deficit cutting.

The major cause of this growing panic is the eurozone’s acute sovereign debt crisis and the approaching European banking collapse. There’s not enough money to solve these problems. They won’t go away. The fuse is lit.

The Bank for International Settlements has stated that sovereign debt problems are nearing boiling point in half the world economy.

Unless Germany immolates itself to save the Mediterranean countries, a bewildering realignment of nations is about to take place. America can probably sit this out, given its self-sufficiency and huge in-house resources. With the Fed printing money again at industrial levels, the US will get through this crisis, emerging at a lower level of wealth, but comparatively richer than the rest of the world. China is not immune either and may have severely overstretched its resources.

For Continental Europe, almost certainly it will mean the splitting of the eurozone and the end of the European Union as we have known it. Quite how it will fragment, and what bits will be left clinging to each other is hard to say. But Germany will have to regurgitate the south of Europe and retrench within itself by relaunching the deutschmark. Berlin is said to be printing the banknotes as I write this.

Other northern countries will follow suit, while negotiating their own relationship with the central-European giant.

The UK — luckily, and only just, under a Tory regime — will retreat into itself and sort out the inherent problems. With discipline it could emerge the stronger for it.

The resulting chaos looks set to mark the end of the post WW2 global settlement of downgrading nation states in a world run by international socialists. In the longer run, despite the chaos, this could be a positive development.

* * * * *

Annoyment of the Week

Fairness is a very annoying word. It’s being used obsessively in British political discourse now. Why?

Ask someone to define it and it usually boils down to: “something that works to my advantage”. That’s how Gordon Brown’s Labour Party defined it. So too the Liberal Democrats who now use it more often than Labour, even from within the Coalition.

For most people, a vague sense of Robin Hood hangs about “fairness”. Taking from the rich and giving to the poor is seen to be fair, although taking anything that is not yours is clearly stealing.

In olden days, the Sheriff of Nottingham would store his loot … er … taxes in large caskets piled up in his personal treasury. There it would lie, perhaps for years, a huge chunk of spending power wrenched out of the local economy. No wonder they were mostly dirt poor.

Today, the wealthy are the main drivers of economic activity by investing their treasure in companies via the stock exchange or in special bank deposits. Cash is recycled into the most profitable channels, boosting jobs and growth.

Thus, if you take from the rich and give it to the poor, who do not invest because they have no surplus, you are depriving the economy of much of its driving force. In the end, that penalizes the poor most.

The simple concept of fairness used by politicians is merely a vote catcher. It has no validity in the real world. It’s usually linked with “equality” which doesn’t exist in reality either. A top-down equality, forced by the state, would look very like North Korea.

Real political fairness is when everyone has a genuine job, not a portfolio of welfare benefits.

* * * * *

David Cameron did very well at the G20 in Toronto. He has a natural way of being a Prime Minister that allows him to get along with all the others.

Where Gordon Brown had to chase Barack Obama into a hotel kitchen to beg for a bilateral on-camera, Cameron sat easily side by side with him, exchanging bottles of beer and jokes, while hitching a lift in the President’s personal helicopter. Obama even mentioned the “special relationship”, a subject which embarrasses most British people I know, because it’s not something that should be talked about.

I think Cameron is aware that “the business of America is business”. If you can do business, you’re special, if not, not.

Brown never came across as special. David Cameron does.

* * * * *

David Miliband says his worst mistake was not eating that banana before he hit the streets during the Party Conference.

Why would anyone walk out of their hotel carrying a banana anyway? Did he think it was cool? Was it his Mr Bean moment? Did he suppose it would humanize him?

He was offering himself for the leadership of the party at the time. Which party did he think it was? The Orangutan’s? Is he trying to tell us something?

On Newsnight last week he was in a hustings line-up for the Labour party leadership … again. What qualities could he bring to the job? Well, he said, “I wrote the Climate Change Bill”.

Most of the programme’s audience must have glazed over with thoughts of nine slop buckets in every kitchen, and a bill of £18 billion a year until 2050 to reduce Britain’s carbon footprint by 80%.

No other country is offering anything like as much. It will bankrupt future generations and lop only 1% from global carbon emissions. In other words, it will have no effect whatever. That Bill is now the law of the land.

Neither David Miliband, nor his even more geeky brother, Ed, can ever be trusted with the leadership of Britain. After Gordon Brown, we should investigate every leader they put up for the job with scrupulous cynicism.

The Mili brothers have already ruled themselves out.

* * * * *

Picture of the Week

The River Exe last Sunday morning. Click through twice on the pic for a larger image.

Photo by John Evans

John Evans

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Coalition Watch: The strawberries and cream Budget

George Osborne Watching Gordon Brown’s fantasy Budgets often felt like consuming a large dish of soused herrings — sour, vinegary, and more chewy protein than was palatable.

By comparison, George Osborne’s first effort was chocolate cake topped with whipped cream and strawberries. Given the differences between them, you might think it should be the other way around.

No! Osborne satisfied our despairing appetite for realism, honesty and a massive aspiration for a healthy, self-funding economy in the medium term. How we enjoyed every cut-throat word of it.

Despite his detractors in the City and the media, Osborne’s reputation is made. This Budget will be remembered even more than Geoffrey Howe’s pitch perfect 1981 effort — in which he defied 364 top economists to return the country to growth within a year — simply because, in scale and in enterprise, it tops it by a mile.

The structural deficit will be eliminated by 2014, producing a surplus that will begin the long haul of lowering the UK’s massive stock of public debt. Under Osborne’s strict rule, it will top off at 70% of GDP, not the expected 100% from Labour’s deficit halving plans.

This is serious stuff. It will need reductions in departmental spending of up to 25% across the public sector — apart from Health and International Development. The latter, of course, are political choices not economic ones. Any half competent economist can spot the waste littering these inefficient agencies of the State. I am sure they are marked down for major surgery in the Conservatives’ second Parliament — minus the Lib Dems, perhaps.

One thing I enjoy about this hybrid administration is the zeal with which it scraps anything that has Gordon Brown’s stamp on it. Out goes the FSA, the laughable “Golden Rules”, hugely complex benefit mountains, and, as we’ll hear in the autumn spending review, much of Brown’s cretinous agenda for public sector dominance of personal behaviour.

Brown must wonder why he bothered to build such a vast top-down infrastructure of command and control, especially as all that treasure spent didn’t win him his coverted General Election victory. The Tories are clearly intent on total ruthlessness where corrupt Scottish Labour politics are concerned.

The question we have to ask is why our democratic processes didn’t protect the nation against the mafia-like tactics of Gordon Brown, Mandelson and the rest of New Labour’s despicable crew.

Osborne’s Budget gives us hope that we will never see their like again.

Speculation is rife that the social democrat contingent in the Lib Dems, led by Charlie Kennedy, could split away from the Coalition. I don’t see that happening for a year or two, at least until Labour starts getting decent polling results under a new leader. Harriet Harman is planting the seeds of that move furiously. It could happen within this Parliament.

Nick Clegg and the genuine Liberals may even unite with the Tories to form a real Liberal Conservative Party. His loyalty so far suggests that this could be a return to the old Conservative dominance of British politics for decades to come.

John Evans

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