Archive for August, 2009

Recent listening 2: Johann Vanhal

Because Joseph Haydn died in 1809, there have been many celebrations of his music this year.  Even Cottonopolis held a mini-fest of his symphonies earlier in the summer.   For a very long time, I did not enjoy Haydn’s symphonies, hearing them as light-weight, shallow and frivolous.  The musical jokes were mildly amusing the first time you hear them, but are not amusing after repeated exposure.  Rather, in marked contrast to his sacred music, Haydn’s symphonic music struck me most forcefully as twee. Perhaps there was something in the social circumstances of their commissioning or their performance that precluded the intense and the profound being expressed in his symphonies.  El Papa’s symphonies have a flippancy one can also hear in lots of Mozart (excepting inter alia his last four Symphonies), in Beethoven (when he’s not being self-consciously serious), and stretching, in what seems to me became a peculiarly-Viennese tradition, all the way to the waltzing Strauss family and even to Mahler.  With the Strausses, it is all foam, all the time.   This Viennese flippancy virus even infected composers far away, such as Mahler’s great admirer, Shostakovich, whose Concerto for Piano and Trumpet (for example) is one long musical joke.   Perhaps only in a city surrounding an imperial court could music so frivolous, so lacking in gravitas, be desired, written or admired.

However, by chance a few years ago, I heard one of Haydn’s so-called Sturm-und-Drang (Storm and Stress) Symphonies.  Here at last was the serious Hadyn I knew from the oratorios and the chamber music, writing music which expressed deeply-felt emotions, and which evoked them, and did both intensely.    These symphonies from his middle period, written between 1768 and 1772 when he was in his late 30s, and usually counted as numbers 44-49, are more powerful and intense than his other symphonies, in my opinion.  In comparison to the music of the practical jokester, they are strange and difficult.  They were clearly written by someone experiencing some emotional torment, and they make for uncomfortable listening.

Vanhal2

Recently, I heard a radio broadcast of a symphony which at first I thought was another Haydn sturm-und-drang work, but which I did not know. It turned out to be a work by one of Haydn’s contemporaries, Johann Baptist Vanhal (1739-1813), a Czech composer who lived mostly in Vienna from 1760.   I have since listened to all his works I can find recorded.   Here is music to be reckoned with – deeply intense, emotional, profound, technically sophisticated, and much better than Haydn’s best symphonies.   Technically, Vanhal strikes me as more adept than Haydn, innovative in his choice of instrumentation, and approaching the level of Beethoven in his manipulation and development of musical ideas to achieve profound and moving effects.   The thrilling opening of Symphony bryan c2 (the second in c minor in the numbering system of Paul Bryan) is surely one of the most exciting of the whole 18th century, sending the hairs on my neck straight up.   And the theme is then developed to a place of intense sadness and feeling.  The final movement of this symphony is also quite thrilling, with fast, high string figures repeated while the harmonies beneath them move.    Similarly, Vanhal uses a moving bass line to add a profound edge to a somewhat frivolous melody line in the third movement (Allegro) of Symphony bryan D4 (the fourth in D major).    The fourth movement of Symphony bryan d1 is also intense and thrilling.

In the 4th movement of Symphony bryan g2, Vanhal uses a development idea which is often found in Bach – a figure is played three times, descending a tone each time, over six elements of a circle-of-fifths harmonic progression (eg,  E – A, D – G, C – F).   (To be fair, Haydn also uses similar gadgets – for example, the thrilling circle-of-fourths progression in the development section of the first movement of his Symphony #48 in C, Maria Theresa.)  Supposedly one of the pleasures we gain from listening to music comes from anticipation – our brains are continually predicting what will come next, and when it does we gain enjoyment – and hearing this figure always provides me with great pleasure.    In the intensity of his music and in the development sections, we hear also a prefigurement of Gossec and Beethoven and later symphonic composers.

Why do we not hear more of  Vanhal’s music?  Why are all his symphonies not yet recorded?  Especially in this year of Hadynolatry we should be hearing the music of his contempories and those who influenced him – Vanhal, von Dittersdorf, Michael Haydn – or vice versa, especially when they wrote better music and music which clearly influenced later composers.   If the BBC took seriously its mission to educate as well as to entertain, we could perhaps expect better.  Instead, we get to hear once again Haydn’s musical jokes, as if these were new to us, or funny.

References:

Josef Haydn:  “Sturm und Drang” Symphonies, nos. 44-49.  Symphony Orchestra of Radio Zagreb, Antonio Ianigro (conductor).  Artemis Classics, 2004.

Johann Vanhal: Symphonies.  London Mozart Players, Matthias Bamert (conductor). Chandos Records, 1998.  Contains Symphonies Bryan g2, D4 and c2.

Johann Vanhal: Symphonies. Concerto Koln (no conductor listed).  Elatus, 1996.  Contains Symphonies Bryan d1, g1, C11, a2 and e1.

Johann Vanhal: Symphonies Volume 1. Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia, Uwe Grodd (conductor). Naxos, 1999. Contains Symphonies Bryan A9, C3, D17, and C11.

Johann Vanhal: Symphonies Volume 2. City of London Sinfonia, Andrew Watkinson (conductor). Naxos, 2000. Contains Symphonies Bryan Bb3, d2, and G11.

Johann Vanhal: Symphonies Volume 3. Toronto Camerata, Kevin Mallon (conductor). Naxos, 2005. Contains Symphonies Bryan D2, Ab1, c2, and G6.

Johann Vanhal: Symphonies Volume 4. Toronto Chamber Orchestra, Kevin Mallon (conductor). Naxos, 2008. Contains Symphonies Bryan e3, C17, C1, and Eb1.




Saving Kim Dae-jung

One event that always intrigued me about the life of Kim Dae-Jung was his release by the Korean CIA after their kidnap and torture of him in 1973, a release apparently forced on the Koreans by the US Government.  Such concern for the human rights of opposition dissidents in US-allied countries always struck me as very uncharacteristic of the brutal and cynical real-politic, bordering on madness,  of the Nixon-Kissinger White House, and I always wondered what prompted the concern on that particular occasion.  Now we learn from an op-ed article in the International Herald Tribune that Nixon and Kissinger knew little or nothing about the pressure their administration brought to bear on the repulsive Park regime to release Kim unharmed.  That pressure, which was intense and concerted, was the work of two brave US Government officials, State Department Korea expert Donald L. Ranard and then US Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, Philip Habib.

Reference:

Donald A. Ranard [2009-08-25]:  Saving Kim Dae-jung.  International Herald Tribune, page 6.  For reasons known only to themselves, and as further evidence of the MSM’s failure to understand the 21st century, this article appears not to be in the New York Times online archive (at least, it is not accessible via its title, its author, or any of the people mentioned in it!) 

Postscript (added 2010-08-09):  Here is the article on the site of The Boston Globe.




Guest Post: Michael Holzman on Writing Intelligence History

In response to my review of his book on the life of Jim Angleton, Michael Holzman has written a thoughtful post on the particular challenges of writing histories of secret intelligence organizations:

Histories of the activities of secret intelligence organizations form a specialized branch of historical research, similar, in many ways, to military and political history, dissimilar in other ways.  They are similar in that the object of study is almost always a governmental institution and like the Army, for example, a secret intelligence organization may produce its own public and private histories and cooperate or not cooperate with outside historians.  They are dissimilar due to the unusual nature of secret intelligence organizations.

The diplomatic historian has at his or her disposal the vast, rich and often astonishingly frank archives of diplomacy, such as the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS).   Needless to say, there is no publication series entitled the Secret Foreign Operations of the United States (or any other country).  What we have instead is something like an archeological site, a site not well-preserved or well-protected, littered with fake artifacts, much missing, much mixed together and all difficult to put in context.

The overwhelming majority of publications about secret intelligence are produced by secret intelligence services as part of their operations, whether purportedly written  by “retired” members of those services, by those “close to” such services, by writers commissioned, directly or through third or fourth parties, by such services.  There are very few independent researchers working in the field.  The most distinguished practitioners, British academics, for example, have dual appointments—university chairs and status as “the historian” of secret intelligence agencies.  There are, of course, muckrakers, some of whom have achieved high status among the cognoscenti, but they are muckrakers nonetheless and as such exhibit the professional deformations of their trade, chiefly, a certain obscurity of sourcing and lack of balance in judgment.

Thus, an academically trained researcher, taking an interest in this field, finds challenges unknown elsewhere.  The archives are non-existent, “weeded,” or faked; the “literature” is tendentious to a degree not found otherwise outside of obscure religious sects; common knowledge, including fundamental matters of relative importance of persons and events, is at the very least unreliable, and research methods are themselves most peculiar.  Concerning the latter, the privileged mode is the interview with secret intelligence officials, retired secret intelligence officials, spies and so forth.  Authors and researchers will carefully enumerate how many interviews they held, sometimes for attribution, more often not, the latter instances apparently more valued than the former.  This is an unusual practice, not that researchers do not routinely interview those thought to be knowledgeable about the subject at hand, but because these particular interviewees are known to be, by definition, unreliable witnesses.  Many are themselves trained interrogators; most are accustomed to viewing their own speech as an instrument for specific operational purposes; nearly all have signed security pledges.  The methodological difficulties confronting the researcher seem to allow only a single use for the products of these interviews:  the statement that the interviewee on this occasion said this or that, quite without any meaningful application of the statements made.

An additional, unusual, barrier to research is the reaction of the ensemble of voices from the secret intelligence world to published research not emanating from that world or emanating from particular zones not favored by certain voices.  Work that can be traced to other intelligence services is discredited for that reason; work from non-intelligence sources is discredited for that reason (“professor so-and-so is unknown to experienced intelligence professionals”); certain topics are off-limits and, curiously, certain topic are de rigeur (“The writer has not mentioned the notorious case y”).   And, finally, there is the scattershot of minutiae always on hand for the purpose—dates (down to the day of the week), spelling (often transliterated by changing convention), names of secret intelligence agencies and their abbreviations (“Surely the writer realizes that before 19__ the agency in question was known as XXX”).  All this intended to drown out dissident ideas or, more importantly, inconvenient facts, non-received opinions. 

What is to be done?  One suggestion would be that of scholarly modesty.  The scholar would be well-advised to accept at the beginning that much will never be available.  Consider the ULTRA secret—the fact that the British were able to read a variety of high-grade German ciphers during the Second World War.  This was known, in one way or another, to hundreds, if not thousands, of people, and yet remained secret for most of a generation.  Are we sure that there is no other matter, as significant, not only to the history of secret intelligence, but to general history, that is not yet known?  Secondly, that which does become available must be treated with extraordinary caution in two ways:  is it what it purports to be, and how does it fit into a more general context?  To point at two highly controversial matters, there is VENONA, the decryptions and interpretations of certain Soviet diplomatic message traffic, and, on a different register, the matter of conspiracy theories.  Just to approach the prickly pear of the latter, the term itself was invented by James Angleton, chief of the CIA counterintelligence staff, as a way for discouraging questions of the conclusions of the Warren Commission.  It lives on, an undead barrier to the understanding of many incidents of the Cold War.  The VENONA material is available only in a form edited and annotated by American secret intelligence.  There are, for example, footnotes assigning certain cover names to certain well-known persons, but no reasons are given for these attributions.  The original documents have not been made available to researchers, nor the stages of decryption and interpretation. And yet great castles of interpretation have been constructed on these foundations.

Intelligence materials can be used, indeed, if available, must be used, if we are to understand certain historical situations:  the coup d’etats in Iran, Guatemala and Chile, for example.  The FRUS itself incorporates secret intelligence materials in its account of the Guatemala matter.  But such materials can only be illustrative; the case itself must be made from open sources.  There are exceptions:  Nazi-era German intelligence records were captured and are now available nearly in their entirety; occasional congressional investigations have obtained substantial amounts of the files of American secret intelligence agencies; other materials become misplaced into the public realm.  But this is a diminuendo of research excellence.  The historian concerned with secret intelligence matters must face the unpleasant reality that little can be known about such matters and, from the point of view of the reader, the more certainty with which interpretations are asserted, the more likely it is that such interpretations are yet another secret intelligence operation.

— Michael Holzman




Kim Dae-Jung RIP

The death has just occurred of Kim Dae-Jung (1924-2009), brave Korean dissident and opposition leader, who later became President.  The Guardian’s obituary is here.   He survived imprisonment, a death sentence, a kidnap and beatings by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, speaking out bravely and persistently against the ruthless Park and Chun dictatorships to become the Republic of Korea’s first non-Conservative President.   However, the military-jaebol complex which has run the country since WW II proved too strong for him, and he was not able to enact the reforms he desired.  His strong desire for peace and possibly unification of the two Korean states may also have led him to a certain naivety in dealings with the criminal gang who enslave the North.

The Guardian has a photo gallery of the life of Kim Dae-jung here.




With the Brotherhood against Germaine

Although born a Melbournite and raised a Catholic, Germaine Greer, while she was a post-graduate student at Sydney University, was a late child of one of Australia’s Bohemian moments, The Push.  How odd, then, that she should take against that earlier group of Bohemian artists, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

In her Guardian column, Germaine Greer first criticizes the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) for not being original as artists, since their style resembles that of the slightly earlier German Nazarenes.    I question the fairness of such a criticism for art made in the days before public art collections, colour photography, satellite TV, and international blockbuster exhibitions.  But at least from this we know that she values originality in art over other criteria, and thus reveals herself captive to that insidious idea which has held most of our cultural critics hostage these last two centuries:  that only those with something new to express should be permitted to make art.    Nice to see you using your own critical faculties there, Dr Greer, and not just swimming with the art-critical tide.

She goes on to say:

It will be obvious to many that, while France was experiencing the dazzle of the impressionists, Britons were happy to applaud and reward the false sentiment, fancy dress and finicking pseudo-realism of a dreary horde of pre-Raphaelites.

The PRB led its followers into a welter of truly bad art: stultified, inauthentic, meretricious and vulgar. Where the Nazarenes went for luminosity, simplicity and piety, the PRB wallowed in elaboration, erotic suggestion and overheated colour. If they hadn’t had sex with their models, they wanted you to think they had. They realised pretty early on that nudes are not erotic; their languorous models drooped, swooned, gasped and died in ever more elaborate, flowing gowns shot through with new synthetic colours: arsenic greens, cobalt blues, alizarin crimsons.”

We learn that she does not like their art.   But the justification of her taste leaves a lot to be desired.  The art of the PRB is both “dreary” and uses “overheated colours”.  How exciting to find an English text by a writer as good as this where precisely one, but only one, of two adjectives is used with the opposite of its usual meaning.   But which one?  Clearly, her writing is testing our wits here – challenging us to find a version of reality which enables both these conflicting descriptions to be simultaneously true of the same art.

The percipient Dr Greer clearly doesn’t like bright colours, although (as one might expect from someone with a PhD in EngLit) she enjoys finding the precise words to denote them: “arsenic greens, cobalt blues, alizarin crimsons”.  Nicely put, and not merely the three primary colours, either.  But one does not need the advice of a professional art critic to decide whether one likes certain colours or not.  Any child can do that. And nothing provided by the indefatigable Dr Greer justifies – or could ever justify – her individual, peculiar preference here, because colour preference is entirely a matter of personal taste (itself perhaps partly of biology, for the colour blind), and not of art theory or art criticism or even of art newspaper mongering.   I find the PRB’s colours and colour combinations riveting, electric and enchanting.

Consider some of those other adjectives the irrepressible Dr Greer applies:  “false sentiment”, “inauthentic, meretricious”.   How, precisely, does one determine that a work of visual art is inauthentic or meretricious?  Oh, I am sure one can do this with literature:  a writer’s choice of words may reveal his or her true thoughts even when the surface description is pointing elsewhere.  The novel, The Godfather, by Mario Puzo, for example, seems to show a writer reveling in the violence which his own text ostensibly deplores.  But those arts which do not use language – visual art, music, dance, etc – have a murkier connection to the world they inhabit, and they do not have this capacity for self-reference and hence self-revelation.  So how can the good Doctor actually determine the authenticity or otherwise of a painting?   Perhaps by comparing its subject with its treatment, for example if a serious scene were painted in a slapdash manner, or the reverse.  But against such an argument, one could just as easily argue that the means do not necessarily vitiate the ends, but instead may empower or ennoble them:  ie, a careful, finicky, technically-adept painting of an apparently flippant subject could actually enhance the subject and bring it to our attention, as in Mozart’s operas with their silly plots or those Haydn symphonies containing musical jokes or even Duchamp’s Fountain.  Or indeed, with the PRB’s careful, elaborated, and finely-accurate paintings of imagined scenes from myth and history.  No, arguing the inauthenticy of visual art would only ever be persuasive if done painting-by-painting, and even then would need greater intellectual subtlety, depth and heft than the inestimable Dr Greer has chosen to provide here.

Pre-Raphaelite art, for reasons unclear to me, has almost always been unpopular with art critics.   Depending on which historical era you select, art critics of the time have tended to believe that all art should celebrate us, or uplift us, or provoke us to thought, or confront us, or even attack us.  Almost never have art critics wanted art merely to entertain us, to give pleasure to us, to be enjoyed by us.  One has to ask what is wrong with a profession so opposed to simple beauty and pleasure.   And what does our Germaine think?  Well, she describes the PRB’s art as “vulgar”.  Now this is a very interesting adjective, and in this word I believe we have found the deep ground of her dislike.   This word is usually used to refer to objects and activities which are popular, which ordinary people do or which they enjoy, but of which the person deploying the word disapproves.   That one word “vulgar” gives her game away. It is a word heard often by anyone having an Australian Convent education. And it is certainly indicative of the irony-rich subtlety of Greeresque thought that this word should be deployed by someone who has appeared on reality TV.

By an accident of historical timing, one of the great world collections of Pre-Raphaelite art is in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, in Sydney.  I have no way of knowing if that collection and her time in Sydney and in The Push are connected to her present dislike of this great, technically-sophisticated, life-affirming, ennobling, and pleasing art.  By the very same accident of timing (local people made good, collecting the latest in British art when the PRB were active), the other great world collections of Pre-Raphaelite are in the northwest of England, particularly the Walker Gallery in Liverpool, the Lady Lever Gallery in Birkenhead, and Manchester City Art Gallery.




Oz-NZ Cabinet Meeting

The Australian and New Zealand Governments are to hold their first-ever joint Cabinet meeting, in Sydney on this Friday 24 August.  The political parties in charge of the two countries are currently of opposite hue:  Labor in Australia, and National in NZ. 

In some respects, the only surprise here is why this took so long.  For a period  before it was self-governing, New Zealand was a dependency of the British colony of New South Wales, and indeed NZ achieved self-government four years before NSW did (1852 vs. 1856).  The preamble to Australia’s Federal constitution mentions NZ as one of the founding states, which would still provide NZ fast-track entry to the Federation should it ever wish.  Immediately following Federation in 1901, both countries had cabinet ministers born in the other country, and New Zealand cabinet ministers (along with those from Papua New Guinea and from Norfolk Island) are now regular participants in the various Ministerial Council meetings of COAG, the Council of Australian Governments, the Australian Federal-State body tasked with co-ordinating policy.   (As a consequence, COAG meetings, which rotate locations, sometimes take place in NZ or PNG.)  The two countries have agreed freedom of trade in almost all products and services and freedom of movement (at least for each others’ citizens), and have even talked about a common currency.  They have shared defence activities since at least the joint ANZAC force landed at Gallipoli, Turkey, in 1915.

Apart from actual political unions, such as the USA and the EU, I wonder what other two political entities have this degree of co-ordination.  Even the British-Irish Council of the Isles, which links the various national assemblies of Eire, Great Britain, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Northen Ireland, Scotland and Wales, does not involve much substantive collaboration.  No doubt different languages make joint cabinet meetings difficult across many borders:  The only example I can recall in recent years were the joint Franco-German cabinet meetings held under Francois Mitterand and Helmut Kohl.




Poem: 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Today the poem is Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, by Wallace Stevens, first published in 1917.  I don’t know if Stevens had in mind the popular meaning of depression, aka the black bird  – as, for example, in the 1926 song Bye, Bye Blackbird (music by Ray Henderson, lyrics by Mort Dixon).  Viewing the meaning that way changes the poem from simple descriptions of nature to something more moving.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

I
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

II
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

III
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

IV
A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

V
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

VI
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

VII
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

VIII
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

IX
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

X
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

XI
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

XII
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

XIII
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.




Recent listening 1: DVA / Fonok

DVA photo Klub ICCT-Kosice-20070601

I’ve been listening lately to an album Fonok by a Czech duo, DVA, comprising husband and wife: Jan Kratochvil and Barbora Kratochvilova.  They describe their music as the folklore of non-existent nations, and it is  a wonderful combination of electronics, acoustic instruments, nitrous-oxide-inflected voices, Slavic language chants (I think the language is Czech, but I am not certain), ostinato rhythms, and jazz sensibilities.   The sax licks could be by James Chance, and the overall sound places this folklore firmly in that no wave, nao wave, post-punk nation of 1980s downtown Sao Paulo.

DVA-Fonok

DVA [2008]:  FonokIndies Scope.

DVA website is here and myspace page here.




Australian political debate: the teenage years

Australia’s Federal Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, is never a man one could describe as “no drama”.    Apparently his histrionic side began very early, as this letter in today’s Sydney Morning Herald recounts.   The letter-writer is Alison Lockwood of Katoomba.

“Can you do anything with this completely true reminiscence?” she writes. “In 1969 my family arrived in Sydney and I was enrolled at SCEGGS Darlinghurst in year 9 (age 13). As I was ‘academic’ I was required to be part of the debating team with our ‘brother’ school, Sydney Grammar. The topics for debate were contemporary and highly debatable subjects such as ‘Should women receive equal pay for equal work?’ and ‘Is ”no blame divorce” a good thing?’ It was, nevertheless, slightly risque for the times to propose the topic ‘Should the age of discretion (i.e. consent) be lowered?’ ”As designated first speaker I spent days preparing my arguments carefully, and my well-ordered palm cards referred to meticulously researched areas such as ‘Marriage in Hindu cultures’, ‘Underage marriage in Appalachian societies’ and ‘The menarche 1860 to 1960’. My English teacher, the enthusiastic Mrs Black, helped me refine the most pertinent points.

”I felt well prepared and as excited as any 13-year-old engaging in an activity at night time and in a boy’s school. The debate was held at Sydney Grammar and my opposite first speaker was a podgy school boy called Malcolm Turnbull. Unfortunately, there were two factors in this debate that the worthy Mrs Black had neglected to tell me were relevant.

”1. This was a mock debate; 2. I was prepubescent.

”When all the mostly male student and teacher body were assembled, and before I had any chance to speak, Malcolm Turnbull rose from his pew and announced, ‘As my opposite first speaker has obviously not reached the age of discretion I move that she be removed from this debate.’

”After which a pimply boy hooked an umbrella around my neck and dragged me into an adjoining room, to the accompaniment of loud guffaws from the audience.

”Mrs Black fussed around me uselessly, and I myself hadn’t much idea quite what had happened. I was vaguely aware I had been humiliated and that the debate was now continuing without me because …?

”As you can imagine, Ms Crabb, this was a seminal (excuse the double entendre) experience. Months later, I both reached the ‘age of discretion’ and read The Female Eunuch. I figured it out.

”Malcolm, I’m afraid, remains an opportunistic bully.

”Kind Regards, Alison Lockwood.




Obama Felix

I have never thought much of historian Niall Ferguson’s ideas.   For years he has been arguing that America and the West suffer from too little religion, while simultaneously arguing that the Islamic world suffers from too much.    One is tempted to ask for this spiritual Laffer Curve to be quantified and differentiated, so that we can determine the optimum level of religion for our society once and for all.  At least we could then stop having to accuse him of inconsistency, which surely must wrankle him.

But, despite the shere impossibility of the task, he has managed to plumb even shallower waters.   Barack Obama is like Felix the Cat in that firstly . . . ahem, how do I put this without upsetting those of you who’ve been asleep at the back of the class these last few months?  . . .   apparently, they are both black.   Are such superficialities bordering on racism the content of lectures these days at Harvard Business School?   Shame that some adult at the FT did not object before publication.

And, as further evidence of his tin-ear for conversation in the public square, his defence is a doubling-down.