Staring us in the face…

Going hand in hand to an uncertain future

Michel Barnier continues to huff and puff about what he clearly considers to be a reincarnation of Perfidious Albion while Europe itself, that is the entity that is the European Union rather than the real thing – from Ireland to the Urals – faces what many diagnose as an existential malady. And that’s not Covid19.

The editor of The Week, Theo Tait, in the current issue of the magazine, asks, ‘What is the “existential problem” facing the EU? The euro’s many crises? The bloc’s democratic deficit? Immigration in the Mediterranean? The coronavirus apocalypse? 

None of the above, he suggests, taking up the theme of the current EU President, Andrej Plenkovic, the PM of Croatia – which currently holds the EU presidency.

It is none of these,  Plenkovic maintains. it’s the depopulation of large parts of eastern and southern Europe, due to migration and low birth rates. 

The demographic reality is that since 1989, the population of the Baltic republics has declined by almost a third; Bulgaria lost 20% of its people, and is projected to lose 20% more in the coming 30 years. Romania’s population fell from 22.4 million in 2000 to 19.5 million in 2018. Between 2013, when Croatia joined the EU, and 2017, some 5% of its people moved to other member states. Since the financial crisis in 2008, Greece and Spain have also seen great waves of emigration to other parts of the EU.

It is a startling picture and there is no sign of a swing in any other direction just now. The UK, which suffers from the same malady has just revealed that it kills one in every four children who begin life in the wombs of their mothers. It is – apart from its immorality – demographic and economic madness rooted in myopic selfishness, blinding the carriers of the virus to the fate they will be facing in thirty of forty years from now.

In the shorter term the migration of populations is showing what will be happening decades from now in whole countries left with just elderly people living on diminishing incomes and in economic wildernesses.

As Tait points out, in relation to migration, in most cases, it’s the young and well-educated that leave. “This drives a pan-European version of the regional inequality that we see in the UK: profitable companies and younger, highly-skilled people cluster together in thriving cities, leaving older, less successful areas far behind. A recent Guardian study found a series of “youth deserts” across the continent: in eastern Germany and rural Spain, Romania and Greece. It’s demoralising for those who stay, and it changes the politics too: older areas skew to the right. The EU appointed a new commissioner for “democracy and demography”, Dubravka Šuica, last year. She has a great deal of work to do.”

She will be wasting her time unless the wholesale destruction of future populations is tackled. A culture and its supporting education system which glorifies selfish individualism will never provide anything other than a quicksand foundation for the work that has to be done.


‪Courtesy of The Spectator:‬

‪”Is climate change making it more windy? Average UK wind speed in knots:‬
‪Mean 2002-2011 8.9‬
‪2012 8.2‬
‪2013 8.6‬
‪2014 8.7‬
‪2015 9.4‬
‪2016 8.4‬
‪2017 8.7‬
‪2018 8.5‬
‪2019 8.2‬
‪Source: Dept for Business, Investment and Industrial Strategy”‬

Young, smart and really rather wonderful

From Neil McCormick of the Daily Telegraph

There is a boldness to Eilish’s persona that reflects the environment in which her talent has been nurtured. Although very pretty, she has avoided the sexualised way most young female pop stars are presented. Not for her acres of flesh and body-hugging clothes, or borderline pornographic videos. Her unique style tends towards flamboyantly baggy sportswear and vivid goth makeup, everything oversized, overloud and impishly androgynous. She has called fashion “a defence mechanism” that allows her to avoid “body shaming.” For a social media selfie generation where such body dysmorphia issues are a growing concern, Eilish’s refusal to play the glamour game has become defiantly inspirational. “Nobody can be, like, ‘she’s got a flat ass’, ‘she’s got a fat ass’,” she has remarked. “Nobody can say any of that, because they don’t know.”

In common with many teenagers, Eilish has grappled with depression and anxiety. These are the subjects and emotions her songs explore, rather than diverting towards romantic pop clichés. Yet her lyrics are not morose or self-indulgent but full of wit and empathy, with a strong streak of irreverent black humour. On album track All The Good Girls Go To Hell, Eilish takes the role of “God herself” pondering the fate of mankind. “Your cover-up is caving in/ Man is such a fool, why are we saving him?/ Poisoning themselves now/ Begging for our help, wow/ Hills burn in California / My time to ignore ya/ Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.” Her sassy brand of provocative pop is leagues ahead of her contemporaries. Young, smart and really rather wonderful, Billie Eilish is the pop star the world needs right now.

Read Neil McCormick’s full article here.

The eve of destruction?

Ross Douthat is giving us more to worry about in this weekend’ New York Times. He writes about a package of essays he has read which seem to confirm everything Eliot grumbled about in The Waste Land.

The package’s title is a single word, ‘Endgame’, and its opening text reads like the crawl for a disaster movie. ‘The academic study of literature is no longer on the verge of field collapse. It’s in the midst of it.’ Jobs are disappearing, subfields are evaporating, enrollment has tanked, and amid the wreckage the custodians of humanism are ‘befuddled and without purpose.’”

Simon During’s “essay is very shrewd, and anyone who has considered secularization in a religious context will recognize truths in the parallels it draws. But at the same time they will also recognize the genre to which it belongs: a statement of regretful unbelief that tries to preserve faith in a more attenuated form (maybe “our canon does not bear any absolute truth and beauty,” but we don’t want to live with an “empty heritage” or “disown and waste the pasts that have formed us”) and to make it useful to some other cause, like the wider left-wing struggle against neoliberalism.

“And if there’s any lesson that the decline of Christianity holds for the painful death of the English department, it’s that if you aspire to keep your faith alive even in a reduced, non-hegemonic form, you need more than attenuated belief and socially-useful applications.

“A thousand different forces are killing student interest in the humanities and cultural interest in high culture, and both preservation and recovery depend on more than just a belief in truth and beauty, a belief that “the best that has been thought and said” is not an empty phrase. But they depend at least on that belief, at least on the ideas that certain books and arts and forms are superior, transcendent, at least on the belief that students should learn to value these texts and forms before attempting their critical dissection.”

Read Douthat’s full column here.

A “deplorable” fallacy?

The Irish Progressive Ascendancy is a colonising bridgehead of the US Democrats and engages in full scale frontal diminishment of Ireland’s Catholic minority. It does so without any of the nervous reservations Williamson seems to have about the effect of this on the electoral prospects of the colonisers on their home turf.

“I believe that the over-secularization of the Democratic Party has not served it,” said Marianne Williamson who announced the end of her campaign Friday.”

“To borrow her language, it does not serve the political opponents of religious voters to diminish them, or laugh them out of their movements. That’s true even considering the country today is more secular as a whole than it was in the eras Williamson mentioned. Religious voters are still a robust enough bloc to matter.

— Read on

What happens when people who should think, don’t

“So you’ve got this political, societal section that says that being a racist is bad … and at the same time they go into court and say it’s not provably true, calling somebody a racist,” Glasser said. “I find that stunning.”

Glasser explained why he thinks CNN settled in its case with Sandmann, which ended up being for an undisclosed amount of money, instead of trying to win outright.

“The sympathy out there and the attitude of the American jury pool no longer sees reporters as Woodward and Bernstein crusading, but instead they think of Jayson Blair and Sabrina Erdely who make things up to suit their own agenda,” Glasser said.
— Read on

Getting it wrong – and getting it right

It can often be fun re-reading publications some time after their sell-by date. Like this example which I stumbled over yesterday.
 “It’s time for me to stick my neck out. The Tory push north will end in failure”
That was Matthew Parris in the 7 December issue of The Spectator.
I suppose he had to write something and the possibility of having a chance to write in the aftermath of 12 December,  “I told you so”,  was too tempting.
He did cover himself somewhat with this: “What follows is anecdotal and my hunches have  often been wrong.”
However, the only accurate phrase in this, from his opening paragraph, which came near to  matching yesterday morning’s reality was “Mr Johnson will win”. He could not foresee any “enduring shift northwards”. That might turn out to be right – but we will have to wait at least five years to find out.
Parris wrote, “Tory strategists’ hopes of surfing a tidal wave of new support from ‘tribal’ Labour voters in the English Midlands and the North will not be fulfilled. Mr Johnson will win this time, but there will be no substantial and enduring shift northwards of Tory support. “
But, I suppose he had a bit of fun writing it – as we have had reading it.

A far more enlightening and hopeful read in the same issue was Robert Tombs’ reflective speculation about the future of Britain – and Europe – in the aftermath of Thursday’s results. Tombs is a historian and knows how to take the long view of contemporary events. This one, he predicted would change “us and Europe, and have an impact on the wider international system.” And that includes Ireland.

That long view contrasted with the actual campaign so much that a sense of reality pervaded the past six weeks. He wrote:

Commentators focus on spending plans and personal foibles, but what will make next week’s vote historic is something else, something so momentous that we draw back from discussing it seriously. The Lib Dems boast of Stopping Brexit, knowing that as things are now they will never have to try.

We now know where that got them – oblivion for at least another five years.

Jeremy Corbyn pleads neutrality: the first leader not sure which side he was on since poor Henry VI in the Wars of the Roses.

Not many people know the sad history of Henry VI. Were it not for Shakespeare many fewer would know it. Unless James Graham writes a companion piece to his “Brexit: An Uncivil War”, even less will be known about Jeremy Corbyn.

The Conservatives, whose hopes of office depend entirely on this issue, downplay its importance: ‘Get Brexit Done,’ ministers repeat, as if it were a tiresome distraction from real politics. Perhaps it is, if ‘real politics’ is only about mending potholes and recruiting nurses. But however much politicians, and perhaps voters, would prefer it all to go away, this election will change us and Europe, and have an impact on the wider international system.

There has always been something ironic about the Republic of Ireland’s stance on the British electorate’s Brexit decision. Tombs saw that essentially Brexit was about British independence. That Ireland, formerly – but no more – ferociously independent  did not sympathise with that psychologically was always a bit of a puzzle. The answer is, of course, on the economic side. Fear of serious economic discomfort trumped psychology. Not so for the British.

Tombs sees the Brexit decision as all about resistance to being driven down a path on which Britain would have become “a subordinate component of a larger sovereign entity” Their independence, as he saw it, was not primarily a matter of the details of European laws and regulations, however voluminous; or of the creation of a common citizenship with 27 other states; or even of the intended future development of EU control in still wider areas of government. It was primarily a matter of psychology.

“Britain voted in 2016 by a clear majority to be an independent state”.

The election he said would show whether or not the British electorate would back away from that decision, “perhaps through fear of the consequences following a constant battering with anti-Brexit propaganda, perhaps through the coming of age of a new generation for whom independent national democracy appears to have little meaning.”

It was a test of stamina. Were the two and a half years of chaoatic politics and the prospect of difficulties to come going to prove too much and lead them to “surrender ultimate control of their destiny because independence was too difficult.”

Writing over two weeks ago, he was optimistic about the outcome.

Despite a humiliating trail of mismanagement, the 2016 vote will be confirmed by an electorate angry at being despised. This means that most of those who govern us — or governed us — in politics, the media, the quangocracy, the business lobbies and the universities will have been defied. Despite their strenuous efforts, they will have lost. What we have seen emerge — as in a bloodless War of the Roses — is a divided elite. On one hand, a national elite that bases its legitimacy on identification with the nation and the majority will. On the other, a transnational elite — far bigger, more determined, and less respectful of our constitution than we could have imagined in 2016 — which draws authority and a sense of entitlement from its multiple links with the EU. Defeat of the transnational elite would be a kind of peaceful revolution; and like all revolutions, its outcome is unpredictable and for some unpleasant. Most, like the Abbé Siéyès, who said his great achievement during the French Revolution was to have survived, will accept the new reality and ‘move on’. Others, like Old Regime nobles who learned nothing and forgot nothing, will go into internal exile and do their best to make trouble.

After reflecting on Britain’s long and fraught – often chaotic – imperial history, in which it often spent as much time escaping from imperial entanglements as acquiring imperial responsibilities, he concludes:

The British have been adept at escaping empires, including their own: Adam Smith and Benjamin Franklin predicted that we would be part of a trans-Atlantic empire governed from New York, so the American Declaration of Independence in effect liberated Britain too. We made far less effort than the French to keep an empire after 1945. We seem to be about to escape again, this time from Mr Verhofstadt’s empire. We have long been used to relying on others for support and even to give us a sense of purpose: the empire, the Americans, the Europeans. Now that we have blackballed ourselves from the club, for the first time since the 17th century we may have to navigate our own course. We tend to put off thinking about essentials, and we shall probably vote on 12 December without having done so. But sooner or later we shall have to start thinking about what we have chosen, and what it will require of us.


Read his full article in The Spectator here.

Who was the real James Bond?

His name is Bond. James Bond. But as the trailer for the latest Bond movie comes out today, we wondered about the name’s origins.
The writer behind the super spy, Ian Fleming, was also an avid bird watcher. On a trip to Jamaica after World War II, he spotted a book, “Birds of the West Indies,” by an ornithologist from Philadelphia, who happened to be named James Bond.

Daniel Craig as James Bond in “Skyfall.” He says the coming “No Time to Die” will be his final Bond film. Francois Duhamel/Columbia Pictures and Metro Goldwyn Mayer
“It struck me that this brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon and yet very masculine name was just what I needed,” Mr. Fleming once wrote in a letter to the ornithologist’s wife.
But as in any good spy story, there’s a twist: Last year, the BBC reported that newly released records showed that an intelligence officer named James Bond had served under Fleming in a secret elite unit that led a guerrilla war against Hitler.
That Bond, a metal worker from Wales, had taken his spy past to the grave, his family said — and they suspected that Fleming had used the bird-watching Bond as a “classic red herring” to keep his identity a secret.

(Courtesy of the New York Times Daily Briefing)

Rock-bottom politics?

Is this not sad? Cynicism topped by bitter acrimony. Kamala Harris pulls out of the presidential race. The incumbent president, just on his way back from a meeting of world leaders tweets:


Too bad. We will miss you Kamala! 

Kamala Harris responds:

Don’t worry, Mr. President. I’ll see you at your trial.

For that vindictive bitterness she gets 618.4K Likes within a few hours.