Wednesday, 27 April 2016


Let us turn away from the EU referendum, at least for a bit. Here are some other things you might like to read,

1. Trump. He tweets a lot. Like a South American political leader, in fact.

2. I don't know about North Korean Twitter, but what about this: "The popular image of Kim Jong-un is as an old-style James Bond villain: a pudgy tyrant with bad hair, variously throwing his uncle to the dogs, partying with eccentric former US basketball players and threatening to nuke the world. Yet the experts [who complain about cartoonish representations of the Kims] protest too much. Of six claims in the sentence above, one detail is false and only the hair is truly trivial. Kim Jong-un actually had his uncle Jang Song-thaek shot, though footage from North Korea, available online, does show dogs mauling other foes in effigy." From an interesting article in the TLS.

3. Also from the TLS, this is Luttwak on torture: "torture works. The one form of it that very many of us will have experienced is sleep deprivation, and there happens to be an expert consensus that extended sleep deprivation is the most extreme form of torture that leaves no permanent physical injuries. That is the reason, no doubt, why this method in one form or another is used by prosecutors and police interrogators all over the world to break the will of detainees who refuse to talk."

4. Staying in the literary world, if you haven't come across that chap who tried to be a badger, a fox and so on then here's a chance to catch up: "he takes us along the river banks, showing us otter spraints – faeces that otters use as territorial markers. Confirming his deep commitment to his mission, or his deep eccentricity, or both, Foster then makes his children leave their own spraints along a river bank to mimic otter behaviour."

5. Another visit to an alien world: Japanese tips on visiting America.

6. I'm not sure how any guide book can deal with this: "A 5’9″ white guy goes onto the University of Washington campus and asks students to explain why he isn’t a 6’5″ Chinese female child in first grade. They can’t do it." Sometimes people talk about North Korea (and similar things are said about other strange places or times in the world or in history) and ask: do they really believe all the things they say? This video is a good example. Could those students really believe that the man they were looking at was 6'5, 7 years old, Chinese or what have you? The answer is that, at some level, yes they could.

7. If you've seen the video at 6 then you might be in the right mood for this, your guide to neo-reactionary thought. Quite apart from being a rollicking good read in many places (look out for genuinely multi-lingual American Presidents (all dead), Conservia, "a sprawling empire of a billion people that has a fifth-dimensional hyperborder with America", and popular Disney films about subservient housewives), it is perhaps the best example of someone passing the ideological Turing Test (sensibly expounding a political view they do not agree with) that I have ever seen. Warning: it's on the long side.

8. Remember the time America nuked Spain by accident?

9. Alcohol guidance varies quite a lot around the world.

10. Last but by no means least, this chap writes sensibly about Star Wars. Here are 3 good bits: (a) "In his own view, Lucas was a bohemian auteur who got slightly sidetracked by creating the most popular and lucrative franchise in entertainment history", (b) "The question of whether or not Star Wars is a “good film” was almost entirely irrelevant to us ’80s kids. Indeed, to us, it was hardly a film at all, in the sense of something you sat down and watched from start to finish. It would be more accurate to say that Star Wars lived through us as a collection of hummable songs, snippets of dialogue you heard quoted on the playground and quoted in turn, robotic bleeps and bloops, alien languages, daydreams, arguments over trivia, rumors about stories untold" and, (c) on the Force Awakens, "... in one of the most appalling and unmotivated deus ex machina moments of recent cinematic history, R2-D2 simply wakes up. ... R2’s “awakening” is nothing less than the resolution of the central narrative problem our heroes have been trying to overcome for the entire film. It happens for no discernable reason whatsoever aside from the fact that the movie needs to end."

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Thoughts on the EU Referendum (7)

Here are sensible people saying anti-Brexit things.

1. The Economist, here with some facts.

2. Anthony Hilton. And is this true about Singapore? "Trade deals also have an impact on sovereignty. Brexit campaigners should take note of what happened in Singapore: chewing gum used to be banned in that country because it was deemed by the Government to be a public nuisance. US chewing gum manufacturers lobbied the US government and it became a condition of the US/Singapore trade deal that the chewing gum ban was rescinded. So much for Singaporean sovereignty. The lesson is that having “got sovereignty back” by leaving the EU, we would then have to surrender it again with each new trade deal."

3. "It’s a Eurosceptic fantasy that the ‘Anglosphere’ wants Brexit," says Nick Cohen.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Thoughts on the EU Referendum (6)

This one is from the Daily Mash: "Quantity surveyor Wayne Hayes, who believes himself a cut above the Little Englander types, argues that Brexit would make him look parochial and unworldly." See more here.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Thoughts on the EU referendum (5)

Macron: "I think UK is not about becoming Jersey or Guernsey."

Hannan: "Parliamentary sovereignty evidently suits the people of Guernsey. Their economy has been growing steadily at around 3 per cent a year, their GDP per capita is one of the highest in the world, unemployment is in the hundreds and crime is virtually non-existent."

(Hannan makes another good point about Guernsey and the remainers: "‘But you can’t compare us to Guernsey,’ the scoffers will then cry. ‘It’s tiny!’ But are we seriously supposed to think that small nations can thrive outside the EU, but large ones can’t? It’s extraordinary how quickly EU supporters switch from ‘Britain has to be part of a bigger bloc’ to ‘You can’t compare us to small countries’. Apparently, we’re simultaneously too large and too small to prosper.")

Or let's put it this way. Which of the countries in Europe has best provided for its citizens over the last couple of hundred years? Where were the best chances of living peaceably in your home town in freedom and in good health from birth to death? Where were the lowest chances of dying in a war, pogrom or other man-made catastrophe? What European nationality would you want your children to have in their back pocket, just in case? There's a pretty good argument that the answer to those questions is Switzerland. I'm serious. Forget that Third Man quote about the cuckoo clock - there's nothing noble or wonderful about a state that exposes its citizens to wars and disasters: it's a dereliction of duty. Surely the answer to Dean Acheson is that Britain's "role" is to provide peace, freedom and prosperity for its citizens, just as every other country should try to do and Switzerland succeeds in doing.

The question is not: how can we avoid becoming Guernsey or Switzerland? Quite the opposite. The question is this: does staying in help to build a bigger, better Guernsey or Switzerland? Or would leaving allow Britain to become more like Guernsey or Switzerland?

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Thoughts on the EU referendum (4)

"... the United States is about to hold a referendum on whether to stay in or to leave the Americas Union (usually known as the “AU”). Mitt Romney, the country’s President, undertook a “renegotiation” through the capitals of the western hemisphere – and is now “letting the American people decide”." More here.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Thoughts on the EU referendum (3)

I recently saw video footage of Ted Heath with the Queen at some bash to celebrate the UK's accession to the EEC. He was wearing his medals. He was involved in the Normandy landings and was mentioned in dispatches.

Sometimes one hears the argument that go along the lines of "we didn't fight a war with Germany only to let them take over by stealth afterwards". It's a cheap and bad form of argument, in my view.

No doubt there's a sadness in thinking of someone who had in mind the green and pleasant land of their childhood as inspiration for fighting the war, only to see it built over the moment he returned home, but it's no more than that - an emotion.

Is there anything we owe those who fought and died in a way, other than gratitude, respect and, if you're that way inclined, prayers? Perhaps some people died to keep the UK a Christian country: do their efforts or sacrifice add any weight to an argument against gay marriage, for example? I rather think not.

Let's say that Ted Heath fought the war - and worked throughout the peace - to bring out a more united Europe. Even so, we owe him nothing.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Thoughts on the EU referendum (2)

That Dean Acheson quote about Britain losing an empire but not finding a role - I suppose you've noticed that it gets trotted out again and again. Why?

Has a foreigner ever said the same thing that about, say, Portugal or Japan? And if they had done, would the Portuguese or Japanese spend so much time repeating it to themselves?

Could we have Japan's role when they don't need it any more?

Friday, 1 April 2016

Around the world in links

We start in the nowhere-and-everywhere land of upper-middle class parenting: a good and thoughtful piece from the good and thoughtful Ross Douthat on "having it all". It is not particularly new, but none the worse for that.

Then, how Britain lost Ireland. As Daniel Hannan says, "It is hard to read the history of Britain and Ireland without wanting to weep at the missed opportunities".

On a more global note, I'm sure Hannan needs no reminding of the flags that still feature the Union Jack.

Turning from the measured tones of Douthat and Hannan, we head back to London - and how about this for something rather more strident: "Goldsmith's leaflets also promised to improve policing in London after NRIs he met and talked with, particularly elderly ones, complained of being targeted by burglars for the expensive jewellery that is often found in Indian households. This most basic of political commitments - to protect vulnerable citizens from robbery - has elicited a nasty response from Khan's supporters. The prattling ignoramus Guardian columnist, Zoe Williams, dismissed the wish to help these NRIs as a "primitive programme of materialism and fear". She then contemptuously exhorted NRIs not to care about the "trinkets" of their ancestral heirlooms - full of priceless cultural and familial value - and to worry about things other than "what is under your mattress"." If you know the TLA "NRI" then you'll guess the viewpoint - but it's not a narrow one: look for the comments on anti-semitism too ...

Let's move further afield with some thoughts on African proverbs.

By the way, the new Great Game, fought in Syria, is turning into a weird and expensive solitaire: "Syrian militias armed by different parts of the U.S. war machine have begun to fight each other on the plains between the besieged city of Aleppo and the Turkish border...". Just to complete the picture, here's more American money being used to buy (in a good way) some Syrian children in Beirut.

Finally, you can cheer yourself up by going to a Wimpy's in Essex with Ruby Tandoh.