Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

DIARY: Nick’s mea culpa, South West Pickled, Cyril Hoskin, Poppycock Watch: UKIP, Downton Abbey Dames, Profundity of the Week: Alan Watts

Lobsang Rampa Nick Clegg's miserable apology to the nation for breaking his word on student tuition fees was perked up enormously when a prankster set it to music. It's now riding high in the charts and probably being closely studied for tips by the Obama and Romney teams in the US. Truly, serendipity makes jokers of us all. But why stop there. Nick should hire the same musician to set his Wednesday Leader's speech to music. The world would surely tune in en masse, girls mobbing him in the street. Politics would finally have achieved the status of soap opera.
* * * * *
Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, has abolished the hated EU regional structure imposed upon us by the Labour government. For us in the Westcountry, it means that the South-West region disappears completely and English counties, such as Devon and Cornwall become individual entities again. We who live at the pointy end of the Westcountry peninsula were baffled that the administrative centre of gravity rested in far-flung Bristol and not in Exeter and Truro. That has now changed. Physically, it's not an immediately apparent change, but old boundaries are important down here. Witness the furore over a Devonwall constituency which bestrode the Tamar river and shattered the unity of Cornwall, a Royal Duchy. As Eric Pickles puts it, the regions are "arbitrary lines on a map that have no resonance, in contrast to England's long-standing cities, boroughs and counties which have a real sense of local identity and popular support, dating back centuries." Let us hope that the move also means the end of the ludicrous attempt by Brussels, assisted by expenses-cheat Hazel Blears, to merge the South of England with northern France in a new EU region. After Pastygate, peace and commonsense return. Three cheers for Eric Pickles, a Yorkshireman who understands the world outside the Metropolis and, most importantly, acts upon it.
* * * * *
Tibet has long fascinated the western imagination for its purported magic and mystery. Tales of mystical wonders have leaked out of the country for centuries, often via British India, and were eagerly snapped up by a credulous British and European audience. There were the lamas who could run a hundred miles in no time at all by taking gigantic Bob Beamon style leaps. Tulkus who could appear magically wherever they chose, and immense longevity among the priestly caste. The book and film Shangrila were typical of the genre. All this was fuelled by theosophical writers and explorers searching for "the secret doctrine". Such was the interest that books about Tibet became instant bestsellers. Perhaps the strangest individual was Lobsang Rampa, later outed as Cyril Hoskin, a plumber from Plympton in Devon, whose book The Third Eye created quite a stir. It was published by Secker & Warburg, no less. Apart from a gullible book-buying audience, it also attracted the attention of a number of experts on Tibet who questioned its authenticity. Cyril Hoskin claimed to have been a lama in Tibet before switching to the body of an Englishman. Since the Chinese invasion of the country, and the exile of the Dalai Lama, the mysticism has been replaced by mining operations and development. A sad end to a small, proud country. In a strange reversal of fortune, a Tibetan author, Sogyal Rinpoche (a high spiritual leader), in his influential book, The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying writes that his favourite account of the afterlife was written by an 8th-century English monk, the Venerable Bede. How times have changed.
* * * * *
Poppycock Watch While we are on the subject of Shangrila, I was interested in Evan Davis's take on the UKIP party Conference on the Today programme. "It's full of mystics and oddballs," claimed the always scrupulously neutral presenter. Sounds just like the party for me, then.
* * * * *
Downton Abbey, the hit television series, is upon us again. It's one of those TV events that you swear you'll never watch until you walk into a room where someone else is. Then you're irretrievably hooked. In the last episode, I was fascinated by "the battle of the dowagers", the incomparably theatrical Maggie Smith and the American pantomime dame, Shirley Maclaine. The latter burst into the genteel environment with a voice like a Brooklyn auctioneer and a face so plastered with slap it was rendered almost immobile. Now, as someone who once wrote broadcast scripts for a living, I spotted writer Julian Fellowes's dilemma right away. In real life the Maclaine character would not wish to embarrass her daughter, the wife of m'Lord of Downton, so would have hired a posh Englishwoman in New York to coach her in proper behaviour. But there's no drama in that. So in she comes screeching like a Harlem alley cat and attempting to take control of everything. Downton Abbey may be addictive, but it sure ain't real life.
* * * * *
Profundity of the Week "We are going, in a symbolic sense, back into the forest like the hunter of old who has nobody around him to tell him how he ought to feel and how he ought to use his senses. Like the hunter, we must therefore find out for ourselves. "It's in this exploration that a person becomes, in the truest sense of the word, a "self", an original, authoritative source of life, as distinct from the person in its original sense, a mask, a role that he is playing in society." Alan Watts, author of The Way of Zen 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. Spiritual Mystics in the Modern World is coming soon.
Recent Related Articles
Do you have a view? Comments Off

Thought for the Day: Beeb on the blink

Evan Davis Evan Davis, a presenter on the BBC's Today programme (pictured), says that the 3-minute Thought for the Day religious slot should be extended to include “spiritually minded secularists”. If someone is spiritually minded, they are in tune with the essence of religion, especially when stripped of its outer personality, liturgy, ritual, books, clergy and buildings. Being spiritually minded is the ultimate heart of every religion, no matter how primitive. The rest is dispensable, as I pointed out here: Midweek Mysticism: Mysticism is not religion but more like science and is the basis of both. I rather like TFTD. Richard Dawkins would be unnecessarily provocative and counter-productive, since on the subject of religion he doesn't think, but emotes from a deep well of outrage. He is often incoherent on the topic and falls below the BBC's high standards of unbiased commentary [Wink]. I don't think anyone would object to Martin (Lord) Rees, former Astronomer Royal, who claims to be an atheist -- it's very fashionable now -- but attends Church of England services "because it's what my tribe does". Not a believer but a tribalist. It's a new one on me too. Nor even Dr Rupert Sheldrake, a spiritually minded biologist and one of the most original thinkers in his field. That would be good. Here's a thought for the Beeb's editors: how about an additional version: Philosophic Thought For the Day at ten minutes to seven, a time most sensible folk are still in bed. 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. Recent Related Articles
Do you have a view? Comments Off

DIARY: Global Gordon, Sunspot crash, Annoyment, Headbanger, a Glasgow smile, Bo Jo

John Evans John Evans, Headbanger -- not me.
Gordon Brown's speech at the Mansion House last night had an air of the valedictory: a last throw of a man utterly out of his depth, despised and ridiculed by everyone in sight, including his closest colleagues. The more he bellowed about a "global society" and "global institutions", the more he resembled some ten-a-penny dictator stamping out democracy at home while deflecting attention abroad. His "global vision" is nothing other than the defeated international Marxism of his youth, in which a cross-borders' working class was urged to band together to overthrow greedy capitalists. The only difference is, the workers are replaced by a political elite. There was something almost deranged about his obtuseness and desperate attempts to cling on to a failing dream. It was "global solutions", with no bulkheads in between, that brought the world crashing down in 2007. More of the same will not do any better. Now he has in mind to allow the UN to tax us and impose controls on our energy usage. Thank God for the US Senate which would rather blow itself up than pass anything of the sort. Conservatives should beware of getting caught up in this contagion. It was their own Virginia Bottomley, in 1989, who signed us up to the UN's Convention on the Child, which led to her unworkable Children's Act and allowed the representatives of grizzly dictatorships to criticize how we bring up British children. The Tories should seek to emulate the US Upper House in its intransigence to global solutions. Only failed and fading politicians grasp at such straws.
* * * * *
Following on from my Saturday piece on, among other things, climate change, today's Times carries an article by Dr Stuart Clark of Princeton, which brings fresh information to the argument. Writing about the continuing "sunspot crash" he makes some interesting points: "... if the trend continues at its current rate, the Sun will lose its ability to produce sunspots by 2015. That would take it back to its condition in the latter 17th century, when hardly any sunspots appeared for 70 years — and Northern Europe underwent the worst years of the so-called Little Ice Age." In that case, let us hope that man-made pollutants do warm us up a bit. Cutting them back now might be disastrous. His point though, is that it's an ideal time to measure these effects and settle the climate debate once and for all. For that, we need open and honest scientists to take the measurements and trustworthy politicians to draw the correct conclusions. We certainly shouldn't allow people like Gordon Brown or the Miliband brothers anywhere near the action.
* * * * *
Annoyment of the Week A Gordon Brown-free zone Some people love to stand out from the crowd. As a rugged individualist myself I have no objection to that, provided it's an improvement on the norm, and is not done purely for attention-seeking purposes. What BBC man Evan Davis wears in bookshops has no interest at all for me, although the last time I saw him on TV, he was so thin he could have been a bundle of sticks in a suit. When it comes to professional activity on the BBC's Today programme, though, some line must be drawn. This is a show listened to largely by a middle-aged and elderly audience. The programme's content and presenters mostly reflect that fact. Last week it was discussing the Rosetta project. Rosetta is a spacecraft designed to land on a passing comet in 2014. To build up sufficient velocity to get to the rendezvous, it has to be swung around the Earth and Mars three or four times, rather as a discus thrower will twirl around before launching his projectile down the track. Who on earth thinks up these schemes? Surely this one must come from the same stable as our chum, the Large Hadron Collider? Yes, it's the European Space Agency, and we are paying for it. Warm glow? Thought not. Rosetta is currently being swung around the Earth, by the way, hence the interest. Anyway, Evan's contribution to the project was groanworthy. While both the newsreader and the science correspondent, Pallab Ghosh, used "miles" to describe its trajectory around our planet, our hero preferred kilometres. Grinding of gears as ageing audience attempts to divide by eight and multiply by five, thus missing the rest of the item. Oh dear!
* * * * *
A word of thanks to Google. A couple of weeks ago I complained that I had been relegated to page 3 of the search engine's results for my admittedly rather common name "john evans". Top of the bill was a John Evans who could carry "very heavy weights on his head, including bricks and cars" (pictured above). Now while I have enormous admiration for my namesake, and certainly couldn't emulate him in the motorhead stakes, page 3 was the equivalent of a Siberian salt mine compared to the top-five slot previously held. I'm delighted to report that the Google guys have relented and yours truly is back in third spot. Thanks to everyone at the Googleplex. Now could you please restore our PageRank of 5 to this site?
* * * * *
The by-election result in Glasgow North East was welcomed by a drowning Labour party much as a shipwrecked man might clutch at a floating matchstick in stormy seas. The idea is that they now have the incumbent SNP on the run north of the border. The newly "insurgent" Labour party believes it can retain at least some of its traditional stronghold base in Scotland at the General Election. I've no doubt it can, but much good will it do them. However, I must admit to having a secret wish for a Labour wipeout in all its heartlands, even if it entrenches the nationalists in Edinburgh. Alex Salmond is reported to have a pact with David Cameron on events following a Tory victory in England, Wales and possibly Northern Ireland. One thing's for sure, he's going to find it hard to win a breakaway referendum under current economic conditions. The United Kingdom is not the European Union and 300 years carries a darn sight more weight than 37. A Glasgow smile, anyone?
* * * * *
Bo Jo, or Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, if you're not in the loop, is fighting a splendid battle to save the City of London and those love-to-be-slimy bankers who burrow like Hobbits there. He's fighting on two fronts. Brown seems determined to give them a good kicking before he slopes off into sullen oblivion in May. The European Commission, backed eagerly by the French, are hell bent on denuding Britain of its massive colony of alternative investment managers -- Hedgies, to you and me. It looks like a lonely battle. The Conservatives are reluctant to throw their weight behind unpopular bankers and are currently hiding behind a wall of technical adjustments. Have no fear, Bo Jo, Syntagma is with you all the way! John Evans Bookmark and Share Recent Related Commentary DIARY: Pravda, The British Realm, Annoyment, Newsnicht, Chumpishness, Rompuy for ever
DIARY: Syntagma Books, Annoyments, Scottish calumny, David Milibug, Advice to Cabinet, Zealotry
DIARY: Hague in The Hague, Annoyments, Pelagius strikes back, Mad Aid, Googling yourself, The Zen of consultancy
DIARY: Mayan prophesies, Oil shale, Met Office winter, Policy wonkers, Historical historians, Publishing a book
Do you have a view? Comments Off

Saturday Ramble: There is nothing he can say that would make me believe him again

Listening to Evan Davis's futile attempt to interview Gordon Brown on Friday's Today programme, reminded me of a frantic inventor trying get his robot to perform a series of complicated tasks, while the robot insists on doing one simple thing over and over again.
Brown and Obama in Horseguards Parade Barack Obama and Gordon Brown in London
Robotic Brown repeated the same wearisome formula too many times for comfort. If the man can't present a believable argument to the country, what on earth is he doing as Prime Minister? Compare Barack Obama's "We'll do this ourselves, not wait for others to act," with Brown's defeatist "Britain will not emerge from recession this year unless there is emergency action in the Far East, America and Europe as well." The problem with "global solutions" is that they take an age to negotiate and rarely emerge as anything other than face-saving compromises. Brown's philosophy is dead in the loch and Britain may be as well if he continues in office. On Friday, Brown insisted that the present crisis is "completely new territory ... What we did not see, nobody saw, was the possibility of market failure." Yet we know -- from Edmund Conway who witnessed it -- that three Bank of England experts warned him in the summer of 2006 that a small blip in the markets could plunge the British banking sector into widespread insolvency. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer then, why didn't he act? Such systemic negligence would be a capital offence in any responsive organization, but in our system only the self-serving Labour party or the Queen can sack him. It won't happen. David Cameron claimed this week that Brown could be forced to go to the International Monetary Fund for a cash bail out. I don't believe the IMF would have enough money to make any difference. It's not £2.5bn we need this time, it may well be £2.5 trillion. Not even the Americans have, or would consider parting with, such a sum right now. Britain is on its own. Global solutions won't materialize in the form or the strength necessary, nor is the IMF an easy way out. We only have Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling between us and economic meltdown. Until now I've been uneasy about Barack Obama's capacity to take this crisis by the scruff of the neck. But his words at least show a willingness to try. Let's remind ourselves of them, and wish we had a leader capable of such drive and determination: "We'll do this ourselves, not wait for others to act." What could Brown do? He could start by taking his former adviser Matthew Taylor's advice and write off the next election -- throw it to the winds, where it's going anyway. This would give him the freedom and space to slash the grotesquely bloated public sector which he helped to create. Of the £650bn pot, an emergency £150bn cut would be relatively easy, if painful for some. Overpaid operatives in the sector could be offered the choice between a 25 percent pay cut or redundancy. This would rebalance the public finances and make room for tax cuts. Brown built this empire, let him now dismantle it for this country's sake. I've waited a long time for Brown to live up to the Britishness he idly claims for himself. Here's how: "We'll do this ourselves, not wait for others to act." John Evans Recent Related Stories Gordon Brown must resign or call an election
The State of the Union
Public failure and Superdemocracy
David Cameron makes a novice of Gordon Brown
Snake Oil Brown slips up
Do you have a view? Comments Off