Long live the Queen


This might irritate some, but it shouldn’t. In reality it is all about reminding a people where they have come from, what their history is and how it has unfolded. It reminds them how it has given them the stable, even if imperfect, political system they – and much of the world – benefits from today.

Back Story, courtesy of the New York Times:

Queen Elizabeth II will announce Prime Minister David Cameron’s legislative program for the next year at the state opening of Parliament in London today.
Hours before her arrival, the royal bodyguards perform a ceremonial search of the basement of the Palace of Westminster, where the two houses of Parliament meet.

It’s a throwback to the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, when Guy Fawkes tried to murder England’s king and its ruling classes by blowing up the House of Lords.

Led by parading soldiers, the Queen arrives in a gilded carriage drawn by four Windsor Greys and guarded by coachmen who are still called bargemen because the monarch used to come by river.

Members of Parliament are ceremonially summoned to the House of Lords by her representative, known as the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.

In one of the more colorful rituals, he approaches the doors of the House of Commons, only to have it slammed in his face. The custom dates to the English Civil War and symbolizes Parliament’s independence from the crown.

Only after knocking three times with his ebony stick is he let into the chamber, where he announces, “The Queen commands this honorable house to attend her majesty immediately.”

Everyone then heads to the House of Lords, where the Queen recites the speech from her throne and wearing her diamond-encrusted Imperial State Crown.

Your Morning Briefing is published weekdays at 6 a.m. Eastern and updated on the web all morning.

The ghost of Edmund Burke at the Vatican?


A pearl of wisdom from Pope Francis’ Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia:

The lack of historical memory is a serious shortcoming in our society. A mentality that can only say, “Then was then, now is now”, is ultimately immature. Knowing and judging past events is the only way to build a meaningful future. Memory is necessary for growth: “Recall the former days” (Heb 10:32). Listening to the elderly tell their stories is good for children and young people; it makes them feel connected to the living history of their families, their neighborhoods and their country. A family that fails to respect and cherish its grandparents, who are its living memory, is already in decline, whereas a family that remembers has a future. “A society that has no room for the elderly or discards them because they create problems, has a deadly virus”; “it is torn from its roots”. Our contemporary experience of being orphans as a result of cultural discontinuity, uprootedness and the collapse of the certainties that shape our lives, challenges us to make our families places where children can sink roots in the rich soil of a collective history.

It echoes the writing of Edmund Burke so closely in his great debate with that apostle of isolationist individualism, Thomas Paine, that we might even think that the ghost of that greatest of Irishmen was among the Pope’s advisers before he presented us with this splendid document about life and love.

Jesse Norman, one of Burke’s most recent biographers, sums up Burke’s thinking:


As Burke shows us, the individual is not simply a compendium of wants; human happiness is not simply a matter of satisfying individual wants; and the purpose of politics is not to satisfy the interests of individuals living now. It is to preserve a social order which addresses the needs of generations past, present and future.

In his own life, Burke was devoted to an ideal of public duty, and deplored the tendency to individual or generational arrogance, and the “ethics of vanity”. His thought is imbued with the importance of history and memory, and a hatred of those that would erase them. He insists on the importance of human allegiance and identity, and social institutions and networks.


An interstellar option?


Back in the 1960s there was a hit musical – well, perhaps a minor hit musical – running in the West End in London called Stop the World – I Want to Get Off! Things were not half as bad then as they are now. But if that ever – ever since Noah built himself an ark – looked like the best option for any members of the human race who still have a head on their shoulders, it must be now.
The big hit from the show was What Kind of Fool Am I? It contained the lines,

What kind of man is this?

An empty shell

A lonely cell in which

An empty heart must dwell

Allister Heath sums up our predicament rather well in this morning’s Daily Telegraph, centering it fairly and squarly in the context of the apparent political disaster unfolding in the most powerful country in the world. Emptiness is abiding sense we get looking across the Atlantic today.

It is remarkable,
Heath observes, how a country that is so good at business, science, the arts and just about everything else can be so bad at politics. There are now 318 million Americans, including many of the world’s most creative and brilliant people: the US electorate ought by rights to be spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing its president.
Yet from this immense talent pool, the American political system has managed to narrow the race down to two supremely flawed human beings, neither of whom remotely deserves to be in the White House.
On the one hand we have Hillary Clinton, a scandal-ridden, uninspiring candidate whose Left-wing policies would destroy what is left of US exceptionalism; on the other is Donald Trump, a demagogue who specialises in whipping up hate and threatening cataclysmic trade wars.

The West End show ran for more than a year and ran on Broadway for 555 performances. It’s revival on Broadway 20 years later was a flop and it suffered a similar fate in Lonon in the late 80s. Perhaps it needs another revival now to remind us of the consequences of the selfish follies of our time
Read Allister Heath’s full article here.

A professor’s probing challenge


Professor Robert George of Princeton tells us on his Facebook page of  a fascinating challenge he makes to his students and of the somewhat depressing response he gets. Perhaps it was always like this? Has every generation been as myopic, as unschooled in any sense of the realities of historic time and place as this one? It again seems to confirm a everything that Professor Paglia fumed about in a post here a few days ago. Frighteningly it seems to be more evidence of the fulfillment of Allan Bloom’s dismal predictions of 30 years ago about the consequences of the ‘closing of the American mind‘.

Professor George writes:

Undergraduates say the darndest things. When discussing the history of racial injustice, I frequently ask them what their position on slavery would have been had they been white and living in the South before abolition. Guess what? They all would have been abolitionists! They all would have bravely spoken out against slavery, and worked tirelessly in the cause of freeing those enslaved. Isn’t that special? Bless their hearts.

Of course, it is complete nonsense. Only the tiniest fraction of them, or of any of us, would have spoken up against slavery or lifted a finger to free the slaves. Most of them—and us—would simply have gone along. Many would have supported the slave system and, if it was in their interest, participated in it as buyers and owners or sellers of slaves.

So I respond to the students’ assurances that they would have been vocal opponents of slavery by saying that I will credit their claims if they can show me evidence of the following: that in leading their lives today they have stood up for the rights of unpopular victims of injustice whose very humanity is denied, and where they have done so knowing (1) that it would make THEM unpopular with their peers, (2) that they would be loathed and ridiculed by wealthy, powerful, and influential individuals and institutions in our society; (3) that they would be abandoned by many of their friends, (4) that they would be called nasty names, and (5) that they would possibly even be denied valuable educational and professional opportunities as a result of their moral witness.
In short, my challenge to them is to show me where they have at significant risk to themselves and their futures stood up for a cause that is unpopular in elite sectors of our culture today.

There are those who may say, “well this is America” and “you cannot say the same for Europe or the rest of the anglophone world.” Oh yes you can. This myopia, this non-sense of history is endemic in much of our culture. All you have to do is look at the documentation of it by the British-based Spiked Online campaign for freedom of speech and related freedoms from ignorance.

Princeton – where some at least are opening minds against the odds.



Donald the victim?


The American – sorry, the United States – electoral system has never looked so chaotic as it does in this election. If it were not for its relatively wise and sophisticated constitutional arrangement for balancing power within the overall political system, it might make the rest of us in the world very nervous indeed.

It has, of course shown its capacity for chaos before. Remember those dimpled chads of the Bush-Gore battle? The New York Times newsletter’s “Back Story” today reminds us that Donald Trump’s allegations of “rigging” the Republican Convention is not a new charge.

At the Republican National Committee’s spring meeting, despite Mr. Trump’s advantage in delegates, his opponents are arguing that it is not too late to stop him. If they are able to do so it will be thanks to the complex system of rules for choosing convention representatives. Those rules are why Mr. Trump is calling it “a rigged” nominating process.

Party conventions have faced those accusations before, the Times tells us, with one of the most famous examples occurring in 1960.

Former President Harry Truman resigned as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, calling the event “a prearranged affair,” fixed to give the nomination to John F. Kennedy.

Although Mr. Kennedy arrived in Los Angeles as the front-runner, having won each of the seven primaries he entered, his selection was not a done deal.

He didn’t reach the necessary vote total for the nomination until Wyoming, the final state scheduled in the roll call, pushed him over the top.

The political jockeying continued to the very end, with the convention floor briefly taken over by nondelegates who had slipped into the hall to support Adlai Stevenson, the Democrats’ nominee in 1952 and 1956.

The top Democratic Party official said the protest was “the best answer to charges of rigging for Jack Kennedy.”

What the top Republican Party official will be saying after July 18–21, when the Convention concludes in Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, is anyone’s guess.

She was a superstar

Sister Clare Theresa Crockett, 33, the young Irish nun who died with five others in the Ecuador earthquake as she tried to lead them to safety throws a light on an Ireland which we do not see very often. Her death reveals a heroism, as her life itself did. She was the last to be dug out of the rubble after a stairwell collapsed in the school where she taught in Playa Prieta in the western province of Manabi.

“She was a superstar. Everybody loved her,” her cousin Emmet Doyle said to The Daily Mail.

She was with six Ecuadorian postulants, in the early stages of joining the order, when the disaster struck.
“She was trying to get them down the stairs and the staircase collapsed.
“She died as she lived, helping others.”

Sr Clare, from the Brandywell area of Derry city, was a nun with the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother and taught 400 children in the Colegio Sagrada Familia school, including how to play the guitar.

Her vocation, what she did and how she lived  are portrayed in this brief video.

The five dead postulants were named by the Order as Jazmina, Mayra, Maria Augusta, Valeria and Catalina .
Two others were pulled from the rubble after their voices were heard.

Sr Clare joined the Order aged 18 and worked in Spain, the US and other parts of the world before going to Ecuador.
“Her death has shocked and saddened the entire community in Derry and further afield.”

The parish of her family, Long Tower in her native Derry, opened a book of condolence in memory of Sister Clare Crockett, on Friday night.
Father Brendan Collins C.C., quoted in The Derry Journal, said that parishioners from the Long Tower where Sister Clare lived and grew up, wanted to show their support and sympathy to the family.

Describing Sister Clare as an “inspirational young woman of the parish,” Father Brendan said the community would come together tonight at 7.30 p.m. for Mass, followed by the rosary.
“Sister Clare was well known locally and since her death people who knew her have been sharing memories and stories.
“Young people who hear of Sister Clare’s story, particularly in this modern world, can associate with her. She found real contentment in her life and she died as she lived, helping other people.”
The Derry priest encouraged as many people as possible to come to pray for Sister Clare, and her family and that her remains will be returned to her family as soon as possible.

Camille Paglia bursting the PC bubble – again

Camille Paglia has been talking sense for decades and she is still doing so – but it appears that no one has been listening. Here she talks about her desperation at the state of America’s youth culture – which will be tomorrow’s general culture.

At its root is an appalling ignorance about the world, Camille says:

“They have no sense of the great patterns of world history, the rise and fall of civilisations like Babylon and Rome that became very sexually tolerant, and then fell. If you’ve had no exposure to that, you can honestly believe that ‘There is progress all around us and we are moving to an ideal state of culture, where we all hold hands and everyone is accepted for what they are … and the environment will be pure…’ – a magical utopian view that we are marching to perfection. And the sign of this progress is toleration – of the educated class – for homosexuality, or for changing gender, or whatever.

“To me it’s a sign of the opposite, it’s symptomatic of a civilisation just before it falls: ‘we’ are very tolerant, not passionate, but there are bands of vandals and destroyers circling around the edge of our civilisation who will bring it down.”

And she thinks Hilary Clinton is “absolutely corrupt”.

See more, a great deal more, at Spiked.com or MercatorNet here.


Much ado about nothing?

Ireland – at least Ireland south of what used to be the border between ‘the North’ and the Republic – will have no say in ‘Brexit’ on June 23. The majority here would probably vote ‘remain’ if there was a choice. However, Christopher Booker’s colum in today’s Sunday Telegraph might give us a few reasons to think that the whole issue is all a bit anachronistic. The world has a habit of moving on and making us all look a bit foolish about the things we make a fuss over. This is what Booker had to say:

Scarcely a sentence in that creepy government leaflet telling us to vote to stay in the EU does not cry out for factual correction. But one is particularly disingenuous – concealing a colossal shift in how we are governed which is scarcely being noticed in this campaign. Among the ways it claims the EU is “improving our lives” is a reference to how, as from next year, “roaming charges will be abolished across the EU”. This will save users of mobile telephones “up to 38p a minute on calls”.
The EU was first asked to abolish roaming charges by a global body called the International Telephone Users Group (INTUG) way back in 1999. But it so dragged its feet that eventually INTUG approached another global body, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The OECD then involved a third global body, the International Telecommunications Union, which used the rules of a fourth, the World Trade Organisation, to ensure that by 2013 roaming charges were being abolished right across the world with the EU right at the back of the queue.

What everyone has been missing, although it should be highly relevant to this referendum, is the astonishing scale on which the making of our laws has been passed up to a global level, to scores of mysterious organisations which then hand down rulings to be implemented by lesser regional bodies, such as the EU.

One after another, groups campaigning to “Remain” have been claiming as benefits of our membership of the EU things which have, in fact, been handed down by this fast-emerging network of global governance. There has been much talk, for instance, of how the EU is playing a key part in ending wholesale tax avoidance by multi-national corporations. But one reason why they have been getting away with this for so long is that the EU had enshrined in its treaty that right to the “free movement of capital” originally laid down by the OECD.

Only when this became an embarrassing international scandal was it taken up by the G20, which is now acting with the UN Conference on Trade and Development to change the rules. Thus the steps being made to address the problem are due entirely to our new system of “global government”, in which the EU is only a subordinate player.

Stronger in Europe, the group leading the “Remain” campaign, claims that, if we were to leave the EU, disabled people would somehow lose their rights. But these are enshrined in the 2010 Equality Act putting into UK law the UN Convention on the Rights of the Disabled which, as the EU’s own website makes clear, must be implemented by all member states.

The BBC was recently having fun with a lamentably inadequate history of all those long-controversial EU regulations laying down the required marketing standards for fruit and veg, such as cabbages, cucumbers and bananas. The point it wanted to make was that Brussels had finally recognised these rules as being “a little bit daft”, and so very sensibly repealed them. 

But what the BBC failed to tell us was that the reason they were all scrapped was that they have now been replaced by new standards handed down from another global body: the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) based not in Brussels but in Geneva.

In many ways UNECE plays a greater part in making our laws than Brussels, over everything from marketing standards to vehicle design. 

One reason why the EU is able to boast that it has been cutting back on its tens of thousands of directives and regulations is simply that it has been replacing them with new rules handed down from higher bodies such as UNECE, the International Standards Organisation, the International Maritime Organisation and scores of others, many also based in Geneva.

Two years ago, in the week David Cameron gave his Bloomberg speech announcing the referendum, I wrote about this under the heading “Forget Brussels: now we are ruled by the giants of Geneva”. But so parochial are the mantras being repeated ad nauseam by both sides of the campaign, that neither has noticed this revolution in the way the world is governed. The implications are immense. It is time we woke up to the fact that, in very significant respects, the EU has become an irrelevance.

Something special, something personal


A very special reunion is going to take place in Rockbrook Park School on Saturday-week, 30 April. This year the school celebrates the 40th anniversary of its foundation. A very happy birthday, Rockbrook.

I will be there for the occasion. In 1994 I ended my 16-year association with Rockbrook. They were great and happy years. I look forward very much to the prospect of renewing contact with as many as possible of the former students and their parents whose lives intersected with mine over for a handful of those 16 happy years. They were certainly happy for me and hopefully fruitful for them – and as happy as schooldays can be for schoolboys.

Over the past few years, courtesy of social media, contact with many of those who rubbed shoulders with me from ’78 to ’94 has been touching and at times lively. Although social media can often be anything but social and might be better described as anti-social, this has never been my experience in these exchanges.

LBR (Life Before Rockbrook) for me, as some of you may know or remember, was centred in a late-lamented newspaper office on the banks of the Liffey at Burgh Quay in Dublin, the editorial offices of The Irish Press group. They were also great years and leaving Burgh Quay to take up work in a school was not without regrets. Moving from being poacher – the group’s education correspondent – to being gamekeeper was how the late Christina Murphy described it in her Irish Times article on the school. Leaving Rockbrook after 16 years was no easier.

But I’m a restless soul and an addiction to the clattering keyboard brought me back to where I started in a certain sense. Now the old media is dying – or dead, as in the case of The Irish Press. But the new media of the internet age, badly paid as it is, is perfectly adequate to feed my addiction. Over 500 posts – or fixes – to Garvan Hill and MercatorNet are evidence enough of that, not to mention Position Papers and other outlets for my hallucinations.

One of the consolations of the new media is its semi-permanence – at least until some cyber-war shatters the edifice to smithereens. In the old days there was something dispiriting about walking home in the early hours of Sunday morning, having put the final edition of The Sunday Press to bed, and finding yourself picking up the early edition from the pavement. There, trampled underfoot, was your by-line on the piece you had spent the earlier part of the week sweating over to enlighten or entertain your fellow countrymen. Rockbrook boys never treated you with ingratitude like that, I like to think.

Occasionally the old life of those years on that hill overlooking Dublin and my present life intersect again, most recently just a few weeks ago. Online I made some reference to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and by coincidence a former student of Rockbrook contacted me to say he had just attended a live performance of the same. He spoke of the feelings of gratitude it stirred in him – which I took, I hope not too self-indulgently, to refer to my faltering efforts inculcate some love for great music in young hearts when we were together as teacher and pupil on that hill in South Dublin.

Enough meandering! To those who read this who are Rockbrookinans, I’m looking forward in hope to seeing you on the evening of 30 April.

…and now

Complicated bedfellows – myth and reality

Irish President visiting Windsor Castle – it took 100 years (approx.)

There’s no better way, Rowan Light writes of W. B. Yeats’ famous poem, Easter 1916, to understand the history and people of Ireland, or rather of many “ Irelands”.
The poem tells us of Ireland’s 1916 revolt which led to the sundering of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland:

All changed, changed utterly  

A Terrible beauty is born.

The “ terrible beauty” of 1916 is its raw imaginative power, Light writes in a very perceptive and balanced essay on the subject of that revolt and the current commemoration of it in Ireland, just posted on MercatorNet.com. He describes it as “a tabula rasa which provides for the myriad interpretations as presented during the centenary.

This myriad incorporates: “the duality of republicanism and constitutional nationalism; the rebels of Easter 1916 and the soldiers of the Somme; victims of British colonialism and willing partners in the building of empire; the traditions of the north and south; and so forth. The Easter Rising was as much a conflict between these many Irelands – a foreshadowing of the civil war – than it was a rejection of British rule.”
He finds it very appropriate “that the centenary commemorations were inaugurated by a rendition of Danny Boy, symbolising both reconciliation – a song written by an Englishman beloved by nationalists and unionists, Catholics and Protestants alike – and the shattering of modern life; the haunting lyrics of tragedy and doomed love – ‘tis you must go and I must bide – speaking eloquently of a fragmented people, long riven by violence, diaspora, and history itself.”
He might also have noted some irony in the fact that the music which accompanies this lyric is an old traditional Irish melody – known to the Gaelic Irish as the Derry Air, but to the Unionist Irish as the Londonderry Air. The Londonderry/Derry divide is still a potent symbol of the 17th century colonisation of Northern Ireland, from which Ireland’s still-lingering discontents derive their origin.
This fragmentation, he writes perceptively, “is also symbolic of Ireland today: politically and morally fragmented. The country’s main political parties originate from the two sides of the civil war, and remain too bitter to negotiate a stable government in the national interest. Taoiseach Kenny, the leader of Fine Gael, a party of conservative, Mass-going Catholics, pursues an agenda of gay marriage and abortion liberalisation (One parliamentarian admitted that the rebel leaders “ would have probably been perplexed” by the marriage referendum). Notions of republican sovereignty strain under the increasingly tenuous economic and political union of Europe.”
Finally he asks:
“What then is the significance of the Easter Rising? Clearly, it’s complicated. The centenary tells us a lot about the crisis of modern life as much as the uncertain foundations of Irish nationhood. When people are less and less able to agree on common values, they look for salvation in founding fathers and their Proclamations, Declarations and Constitutions. Modern commemoration is an attempt to claim that space, created by the state but given its imaginative power by the people, for a new conversation, a retrieval, of what it means to be human; to be connected to community and the world around us. If the centenary of 1916 has taught us anything, it is this: what that world will be is up for debate.”
Recalling T. S. Elliot’s The Waste Land we might apply these lines from
The Fire Sermon:

Hardly aware of her departed lover;

Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:

‘Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.’

As Light says, evaluating the significance of Ireland’s revolt “is compicated”. For some there was so much ambivalence in this celebration of its centenary that it leaves them uneasy – wanting to commemorate something that had elements of the heroic but also something in which there was a serious moral ambiguity; something that for the majority represented their national myth but for a minority was a symbol of a threatened oppression. Hopefully we can now get back to real life again and recognise that, whether you liked it or did not like it, it happened and cannot be changed. The truth is that Ireland’s fortunes are still intricately tied to the future and the fortunes of the United Kingdom and the new threat to her well-being and prosperity – and the unity of the Island of Ireland – again hinges on what the British are going to decide on 23 June.
Read Light’s full analysis here.
Rowan Light is a post-graduate student in history at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand.

– See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/what-does-the-terrible-beauty-mean/17905#sthash.9trrDTOZ.dpuf