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DIARY: EU purgatory, Dan Brown’s purgatory, Leveson online, French drones, Poppycock Watch: A banker’s wisdom?, Profundity of the Week: Emerson
* * * * *Talking of purgatory, Dan Brown's new novel investigates Dante's Inferno and it's out on the 14th of May. Harvard professor of symbology, Robert Langdon, will again be on the trail of the "real meaning" of the text and all the shenanigans surrounding it. I predict it will be a cracking tale with hardly a let-up from start to finish -- a juicy prospect. I look forward to it for two reasons. First, I usually enjoy his novels, especially The Da Vinci Code, and secondly, I bought A.N. Wilson's Dante in Love, plus a magnificent presentation volume of the complete Divine Comedy early last year. I still haven't read them. The news is just the prod I needed. I can already hear the groans of the Metropolitan literati set. They really don't like Brown at all. How very vulgar that his books have sold 200million copies to date, and 80million tills have rung for Da Vinci alone. It won't win the Man Booker prize, that's for sure, but it will tingle the spines of millions worldwide. And teach them a bit of history too. You can't say fairer than that. We sometimes take ourselves too seriously.
* * * * *Recent polls show that the French are among the most mocked and disliked people on the planet. How has this happened? Is it recent, or well established? I looked through my archive of writings and came up with this little gem from October 2005. Here's an excerpt: Now here’s a conundrum. Is it possible to maximize your returns with the minimum of effort? According to a runaway bestselling book in France, it is. Bonjour Laziness (in the US), Hello Laziness (in the UK) by French economist, Corinne Maier, attempts to dethrone all those American business gurus who entreat hard work and perseverance. To prove it she has written this very slim volume, printed in large type, which … well … sort of proves her point … up to a point. A senior French newspaper correspondent in London recently said that 25 percent of the French people are still Marxists. He believed this would shock the Anglo-Saxon world. Well, it shocked me, I can tell you. Before, I’d only half-suspected it was true. This little book confirms it. Ms Maier is a senior economist with the private utility, Electricite de France, which is nothing like an American corporation. She believes that almost no work is done in France except by a small minority of drones, who work their socks off. She even likens them to slaves. Judging by the length of her book, Corinne isn’t one of them. “Business is dead”, she cries, more in hope than certainty. Her prescription for the helots? “Just play the part of the model worker, say the right words and do the right things, but without actually getting involved.” It reminds me of those student revolutionaries way back in 1960s Paris who shouted, “We have no policies, only demands!” Is it really that bad in France? But like all French anti-Americanism, you have to read between the lines to catch the envy. What do we make of: “companies aren’t funky or exciting. They’re boring ….” Have you tried Apple or Google, Ms Maier? This book will confirm every American and British prejudice against France, as well as French visceral dislike of the Anglo-Saxon business model. But, phew, it’s an eye-opening read. If someone like her can feel so badly about us, what on earth do all those Marxist drones think?
* * * * *In the Leveson aftermath, what is the position for those of us who write online? Here are some thoughts: In trying to formulate a code of practice for writers and journalists online I suggest we could start with previous attempts at defining human freedom of thought and expression. One of my favourite statements was made 2,500 years ago by Gautama Buddha. In the Kalama Sutta, sometimes called “The Charter of Freedom”, the Buddha tells the Kalama people not to bother themselves with what others think; not to listen to “wise” men’s pronouncements, or necessarily accept the views of authority. They should prove the truth of each statement by reference to their own personal experience. Even today, this is one of the most breathtaking expressions of personal liberty. It has, of course, been spun a lot, and explained away, since. But let the statement speak for itself : “It is proper for you, Kalamas, to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumour; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you yourselves know that these things are bad, blamable and lead to harm and ill, abandon them.” As a code for online writers and bloggers, it’s a very good start.
* * * * *Poppycock Watch In a report a while back: It Doesn’t Pay: Materialism and the Pursuit of Happiness, James Montier, once global equities strategist at Dresdner, Kleinwort Wasserstein, claimed that people who pursue materialistic goals are not happy. He singles out those who think they need the latest technological gadgets as more likely to have attention deficit disorder, paranoia, narcissism, and tendencies to histrionics and dependency. Well, that explains a lot. One other interesting bit is his view that an income of $44,000 (around £25,000) a year is enough for optimal happiness. This, he says, echoing Abraham Maslow, is all you need for food, shelter and healthcare. Beyond that, breaking with the need for fashionable designer clothes and the latest gizmos, is the first step on the road to happiness. Personal growth is what counts. We should concentrate on experiences rather than goods. One thing intrigues me. Montier is a banker. His report presumably had his bank’s imprint. Why would a bank advise us to forego the usual financial goals that banks do very well on?
* * * * *Profundity of the Week If a man write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbour, tho' he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door. Ralph Waldo Emerson John Evans ... who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers. Coming eventually: Mystology: A different way of looking at the world. Also a website, mystology.com. Recent Related Articles
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Equality kills quality. Therein lies the rub. The obsession of Britain's political class with the abstract, and virtually impossible, notion that equality can be achieved in a pluralistic society is destroying not only social cohesion, but also the power to act decisively. Laws based on equality are, by their nature, fiendishly complex and barely justicable, except by using unreasonable force. They are specifically designed to restrain rather than set free. They represent an unwelcome European intrusion. Thus, while China builds 50 new airports, the UK struggles with a single runway. Boris Island, an airport tentatively planned for the Thames Estuary, is out of reach for at least 30 years and probably eternity. The buzz word of the equality movement is "fairness". I doubt Nick Clegg ever opens his mouth without that baleful word coming out. It's beginning to sound like the obsession it is. Let's take a look at what fairness is, and what it's intended to convey to voters. 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 isn't yours is clearly theft, even when prosecuted by government. In olden days, the Sheriff of Nottingham would store his loot/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 in those days. Today, the wealthy are one of 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 productive driving force. In the end, that penalises 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 tailored to their talents, not a portfolio of welfare benefits. As a natural-born conservative, I’ve always been attracted to Edmund Burke’s idea of the “natural society”-- one in which people find their own social levels according to ability and inclination, and are able to speak out freely as they wish. It seems obvious to me that such an arrangement results in a generally contented population, and therefore a peaceable one. The recent, unlamented Labour government destroyed that homely consensus. Early on, it introduced a rigid system of Marxist equality legislation, based on class war principles, which imported alien doctrines and rigidities into Britain. All manner of inoffensive folk were inexplicably demonised, and often criminalised, for views and actions that would not have been remarked upon in normal times. Ideological correctness was the order barked from above. An Orwellian State sprouted up where once civility and civilisation stood. Society as a whole became disorganised and sullen, with serious outbreaks of violence on the streets, especially among the young of all classes. Alcoholism is now commonplace, as are hard drug habits, knife and gun crime. All this recent misery and disorder can be traced back to obsessive social engineering by government ministers we wouldn’t trust to assemble a flat-pack whelk stall. Equality is a dangerous matter for politicians to touch. They have no idea what complex areas of the mind they are meddling with. Equality before God, the Common Law and the Ballot Box is as far as a democratic society should go. The nation's rule book should be vigorously defended, as it is in America. If people are forced to bottle up their natural instincts and inclinations, with no outlets for expression, they develop severe anxiety neuroses and tensions that will increasing boil over into social disorder. People who are discontented most of the time inevitably reach for the bottle and the needle to calm their inner turmoil. Enforcing equality of attributes is a minefield best left alone. It is also self-defeating because attributes are, by their very nature, unequally distributed across the human population. Every parent observes that fact in the personalities of their children, which are anything but equal, despite sharing a genetic makeup. Nothing, save losing a war on homeground, is as explosively destructive of civilised values than enforced equality of attributes. Karl Marx, like all socialists, never understood human nature. European legislation, based mostly on Napoleonic law always rankles with the instincts of a Common Law country like Britain. Parting with those freedoms since 1973 has left our leaders unable to act on the nation's behalf. Everything is decided in Brussels and passed through a sieve labelled "Equality". Britain can no longer take strategic decisions because its leaders hold none of the levers of power. They are bound like Gulliver at the behest of pygmies, and seem content to occupy that demeaning position. Only a fresh start will unlock British enterprise and release the dynamism last seen in the Victorian Age. John Evans ... who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers. Recent Related Articles
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Diary: EU misses UK already, Costa Losta, Mitt’s a hit, Poppycock Watch: Ed Balls, Profundity of the Week: Midwinter
Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper (FAZ) cautions the European Union against shrugging away a precipitate British withdrawal. "... the consequences for the EU itself would be harmful. For foreign, security and defence policy action in Europe excluding the UK -- that's a pretty ridiculous idea. Just a Europe that exists in the world, wants to protect its interests and exert influence, should do everything possible to bring along a country like Britain. "Of course, its idiosyncrasies are not easy to bear, [Cameron's] demands extremely selfish. But Britain's position is not just wrong because the British national institutions (much) closer than the European, and they tend to look at institutional development in general as misplaced priorities." (Translation by Google) What this illustrates is that Britain has an unassailable bargaining position in forming exactly how the trading relationship -- minus the rest -- will develop in the near future. I am reluctantly coming round to Open Europe's position that a straight in/out referendum could trap the UK in EU membership for decades if the electorate panics and votes for the status quo. This is perilous territory and could be manipulated by europhiliac politicians playing a sneaky game. Don't rule that out. Let's use the muscle we have to state clearly that Britain wants a return to full self-government, trade freedom and fishing rights, plus the elimination of swathes of regulation from Brussels. Britain must no longer be owned by the EU. Uniquely, that would be possible if the view of FAZ's foreign bureau chief is acted upon with dispatch and determination. I enjoyed his opinion of our weirdness, though: "Of course, its idiosyncrasies are not easy to bear, [Cameron's] demands extremely selfish." Hurrah!
* * * * *If you have ever been to Totnes in Devon, you will have come away with one of two impressions. Either, it's a town for eco-nuts and vegetarian throw-backs, or it's a place of magic and mystery in an idyllic, unspoilt country setting. As a confirmed worshipper of the West Country in all its aspects, I naturally hold the latter view. Totnes is unique partly because its picturesque main street on a hill is filled to overflowing with independent businesses and shops of the craft, hand-made, medieval variety. It is a throw-back, but in the best possible taste. This year one of the big, bustling high-street chains threatened its integrity. Costa Coffee was all set to take over the spacious premises of a health food store. It had already signed the lease and had council approval. But, hell hath no fury like perfection scorned. The extremely vocal locals sprang into action. The story even made the nationals in the form of Minette Marrin's column in The Sunday Times this summer. Costa knew it was doomed. Today we heard it had backed out and left the battlefield with its tapas between its legs. The modern world had been splattered and sent packing back "up country" where it belongs. The magic spells did their trick.
* * * * *After watching the US presidential election debates and devouring the views of various pundits and commentators on both sides of the argument, I've come to the ineluctable conclusion that Mitt Romney should be the next President of the United States. Barack Obama looks tired after four years in office, and with the country mired in debt -- $15 trillion, can you believe? -- and a massive "fiscal cliff" looming in January, the situation is becoming desperate. If the United States tips into that chasm, it will take down most of the world's economies with it, especially in Europe. Republican Mitt Romney in the White House would rein back the GOP's intransigence over the fiscal deadlock, at least enough to get past the latest crisis point. He will know that the previous Republican president, George W. Bush contributed to the present budgetary dangers and will seek to steer the ship of state into calmer waters. ObamaCare will probably be doomed, or drastically amended. Defence spending will surely be trimmed by the imminent Afghan withdrawal and a redrawing of defence priorities from the Atlantic to the Pacific. All this might happen whoever wins, but Romney's sharp business sense could make a difference to America's prospects in a uniquely turbulent world. Britain should welcome that outcome.
* * * * *Poppycock Watch Ed Balls is one of those politicians who think they can blag their way out of anything. Take the structural deficit, for example. This is the part of a government's budget deficit that covers ongoing public services and employment. Payments recur regularly until the recipients are laid off and services scrapped. Thus reducing a structural defict is painful and can lead to other built-in costs through the automatic stabilisers: unemployment benefits and social security safety nets. These are normally benign and can provide a balancing stimulus in hard times, unless they get beyond the capacity of an economy to pay. That is where we are now. As Gordon Brown's mentor-in-chief, Balls was behind a catastrophic increase in these state liabilities, not least the burgeoning of risible non-jobs in the public sector. Following today's announcement of a welcome 1pc increase in the nation's economic growth, Balls has been trailing round the media centres claiming there was no structural deficit when he was in power. Naturally, the astute political editors and commentators have gone to town on him. He might have been a little contrite, but that was never New Labour's way. Instead, he has now lost all credibility and joins Blair and Brown in political purdah.
* * * * *Profundity of the Week "I am a dweller in Old England. I am wholly content, for my calling is philosophy. I stand aside in life, and strike no blows and make no bargain, but I learn that which is hid from others." From Midwinter by John Buchan. John Evans ... who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers. Recent Related Articles
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DIARY: Predistribution, The Jesuits have it, Collapse of Centre, Poppycock Watch: Unions, Profundity of the Week: Thoreau
"The Jesuit Legacy", Jesuit High School, by Jack Jaubert."Predistribution" is Labour's new wheeze for winning the next election. Not surprisingly, it's getting a rough ride in the media. The consensus seems to be that, if this is the best idea they can come up with, they are far from ready to return to government, however poor the performance of the Conservatives. What does the word mean? Even socialism's new poster boy, the effortlessly smug Chuka Umunna, struggled to explain it on Saturday's Today programme. His inquisitor, Jim Naughtie was also somewhat lost for words. To clarify, here's the short Wikipedia version: "Predistribution is a term coined by Yale University Professor Jacob Hacker [not Jim Hacker?] that refers to the idea that the state should try to prevent inequalities occurring in the first place rather than ameliorating inequalities through the tax and benefits system once they have occurred as occurs under redistribution." So, it's public spending before the money is earned and taxed. It seems to be the well-worn credit-card route to bankruptcy and relies on even bigger government. It's also indistinguishable from higher taxes because it places an additional burden on private wealth creators to do the work of the public sector in advance. Everyone gets dragged into the public realm, not quite the Big Society. There's something Dr Whoish about predistribution's tinkering with time. Anticipating the future is fraught with risk, as any gambler will tell you. Neil O'Brien, Director of Policy Exchange, has called it "the sort of stupid made-up word that only a policy wonk could love." Even the Leftish BBC is sceptical. Its Political Correspondent Ian Watson has suggested that a "predistributive" policy might require a business, bidding for a government contract, to pay a living wage rather than the national minimum wage, something that might be difficult during times of austerity ... and lead to more unemployment. Ed Balls on the Andrew Marr show shrugged it off with a jowly, tigerish grin. At the next election, we will not see posters proclaiming: "Labour, the party of Predistribution". It will be a subtext concealed by the copywriter's art. Be warned.
* * * * *Europe is seeing a collapse of centrist parties and a sharp polarisation between Right and Left. With elections in Germany due early next year, the voice of voters is being taken more seriously. There is no guarantee they will put up with the Depression-making Eurozone deadlock for long. The defeat of Sarkozy in France and the arrival of Francois Hollande has seen a sea-change in European politics. Almost gone is the Franco-German axis as the post-war consensus breaks down. A new Latin Bloc has arisen, led by France, which suggests that an organic transformation of the EU into two distinct parts is underway. Realism is returning, albeit slowly. As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reveals today in a brilliant Telegraph piece from the Ambrosetti forum in Italy: "President Barack Obama found his intellectual soulmate in Mr [Mario] Monti, telephoning him for every update on Europe's drama, treating him as de facto president of Europe, concentrating the full might of the United States behind the very different Monti narrative of the crisis." Europe has not gone away. Two very clever technocrats, Monti, Premier of Italy, and Mario Draghi, head of the Euro central bank, both Jesuits apparently, are manipulating the levers of power to find a final solution to the crisis. I use the emotive term "final solution" advisedly. It's going to be bloody.
* * * * *Meanwhile, in Olympics-besotted Britain, the euphoria goes on, stoked masterfully by Boris, Mayor of London, basking in its afterglow. But with centrist politics collapsing around Europe -- and even America paralysed by a Left-Right fight to the death -- what lessons can we learn on this peaceful, Olympian side of the Channel? David Cameron will find he needs to do something akin to Hollande's breaking of the Franco-German alliance. The next election will be contested between "Old" Labour and sturdy Conservatism, with UKIP making the early intellectual running. Cameron will soon face a difficult choice. Ditch the Lib Dems and turn distinctively Right, or cling to the apparent Centre and drift to inevitable electoral carnage. His temperament suggests the latter course. But the Centre has moved. It has taken on a shade of Tory blue, unnoticed in the Downing Street bunker. The recent "refreshment" of his ministerial team has sunk without trace. Nothing decisive was achieved, just nudges toward various interest groups and the accursed lobbyists, in whose thrall he appears stuck, despite his promises to ditch them. When Tory peer and ex-Tesco and Vodafone head, Lord MacLaurin says he would not offer a job to a single member of the Cabinet, you must read the runes without prejudice. Cameron won't beat the resurgent Left under the two-Eded creature from Greek mythology unless he recreates the profoundly Conservative platform that so many people outside London yearn for. And Boris has proved that even London can fall to a proper Tory approach. If Dave doesn't develop a neo-Thatcherite stance well before the General Election, he could go down with a nasty thump, and "Predistribution" will take the country back to the Stone Age.
* * * * *Poppycock Watch It seems the cuddly leaders of our trade unions have watched the wild exuberance of the Olympic Games with awe. So much so they have decided to launch a union version. It's called a General Strike.
* * * * *Profundity of the Week "I am convinced that to maintain oneself on this earth is not a hardship, but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely. ... Simplify, simplify, simplify." Henry David Thoreau. John Evans ... who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers. Mystics in the Modern World is coming soon.
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