Saturday, 1 March 2008

It is NOT the thought that counts

I was delighted when the Independent gave away booklets explaining in simple language the theories of the world’s philosophers. The only philosopher I had met was Bertrand Russell and he was barking mad. Now I can confirm what I have long suspected; philosophers talk rubbish. Plato and Locke have both suggested forms of government they believed would increase human happiness. Both have been tried in the last century with disastrous results.

Plato’s Republic was made manifest in Fascism with a seasoning of Nietzsche; its iron discipline was realised in Hitler and Pol Pot. The quest for racial purity inspired the Holocaust. Locke believed we should elect a monarch and hand to him absolute power. That gave us Stalin and Attila the Hun.

The only philosophy which has been used universally is Muddle. My chum Bengy Carey Evans is Lloyd George’s grandson. As a boy he met all the leading statesmen of Europe. He told me they were pretty second rate: surprisingly ordinary men and not all that bright. Any reading of our history over the past century confirms that.

Most of our troubles stem from the mess we made when the Ottoman Empire fell and Britain and France sought to grab Arabia. “Statesmen” led us into the totally unnecessary World War One which began the destruction of Western civilisation and into its continuation in Spain, Ethiopia and World War 2. That Second World War was made inevitable by the reparations demanded in Versailles at what has been called “The Peace that Passeth All Understanding”. When, incidentally, America stepped shyly onto the world stage with its “14 points”.

But that is all Olde Worlde. In the Brave New World of the 21st century America has taken the helm more confidently. Americans see themselves as new Romans and have copied their political structures and architecture from that greedy Empire, of which Dr Johnson said, “When they were poor they robbed each other and when rich looted the world.”

America has failed as a World Leader. She makes costly and embarrassing mistakes and, heavily in debt to her enemies, she is pursued by a new band of Apocalyptic Horsemen: Brazil, Russia., India and China.

They have resisted the temptation to patch up their economies by introducing credit cards - those poisonous blooms only flower in the profligate West. Worse than that, they are supplying the goods we are buying with our cards. Between them, those four countries hold 3.6 trillion dollars of foreign currency reserves, two thirds of the global total, and they account for half of the world’s GDP.
It is some years since Gore Vidal warned that America was in hock to China. The Chinese government bought huge quantities of dollar assets - about $200 billion worth in 2004, and possibly as much as $300 billion worth this year. This is economically perverse. China, a poor country where capital is still scarce by Western standards, is lending vast sums at low interest rates to the United States.
These dollar purchases by China and other foreign governments have temporarily insulated the U.S. economy from the effects of huge budget deficits. Money flowing in from abroad has kept U.S. interest rates low despite the enormous government borrowing required to cover the budget deficit.
And how is America spending its borrowed money?
According to the Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglist, the Iraq War has cost America three trillion dollars, which is 200 times more than Bush said it would cost. One sixth of that figure would fund social security in the U.S. for 75 years.
America is spending 12 million dollars a month on the war. It gives Africa 5 billion dollars a year in aid, which is the cost of 8 days’ fighting in Iraq. China is pouring resources into that dark continent.
For me, the worst statistic to surface from this economic cesspool is that for the cost of two weeks’ fighting in Iraq we could banish illiteracy from the planet.
Talking of expense, I have been upset by the news that G.P.s were paid over a hundred thousand pounds salary per year. Then my practice nurse explained that out of that they have to pay the cost of the surgery and its contents, the running costs of the practice, the wages of the staff and all other expenses. They are also subject to constant re-examination of their work.
A recent peer, the lowest kind apart from life renters,, recently criticised nurses. My nurse tells me that one of the practice district nurses recently burst into tears in the staff room because she could not keep up with her appointments. That day she had 42.

A reader doubts that I could have been asked to leave the Black Watch (RHR) twice. Indeed I was - and the second time I was a civilian.

Ancient readers will remember that in the early fifties National Service soldiers were required to return to their regiments for further training.
Unwisely the Black Watch (RHR) called me to the colours at Fochabers, in Morayshire, a tented camp for a territorial battalion.

Unfortunately I was not able to make it on the day they suggested and, when I did go, I thought I might as well break my journey in Edinburgh to see my Uncle Jimmy, who was my family favourite by a mile.

When I finally reached Fochabers, I was somewhat shocked to discover they had started training without me. An act of ill manners the C.O. compounded by putting me on a charge, which was a sad way to mark the return of a prodigal son.

Alas, that meant I missed the C.O.’s Parade with which he started the proceedings. On reflection, that might have been why he was so upset.
Actually he should have been grateful because he did not exactly cover himself with glory.

Officers in Highland regiments can easily make themselves look ridiculous but this one had a special talent. He carried a cromach (a shepherd’s crook) which senior officers often affected. This was puzzling because it is unlikely there would be unruly sheep on a battlefield.

To make matters worse, the cromach was the burlier of the two and the C.O. looked rather like a standard lamp, the shade of which had slipped to the middle. His kilt lacked only a fringe.

His choice of image was not of the happiest.

“Chaps,” he began, and 1400 hundred Glasgow keelies looked at him in disbelief. “Chaps” were what cowboys wore and they wondered if they were improperly dressed.

“Some of you,” he went on, “will resent being torn from civilian life. But do not feel that way. Look on this as a return to your Club.”

Again the keelies knew only of one kind of club. That was used for defensive purposes in the Gorbals and had been left at home in the belief the army supplied weapons. Was this omission a chargeable offence, wondered the more nervous?

But the C.O. went on. “Perhaps you will meet old friends. Soldiers you have not seen since St Valery.”

St Valery was a battle in World War Two but, to the eighteen-year-olds assembled, the name had a Papist whiff and Protestants in the ranks were deeply offended. It was Hearts ‘v’ Hibs, Celtic ‘v’ Rangers all over again, and blood wobbled dangerously on the edge of spilling.

Then the C.O.made his Grand Gesture, clearly the result of long rehearsal.

He stepped forward until he was level with the front rank. Peering down from his immense height, he smiled at the nearest squaddie, a small and excessively dirty soldier who had only been in the battalion for a day but had already cut his tam–o-shanter down so that it looked like a sailor’s hat and stuck in it an Indian Red Hackle of enormous size, also against dress regulations. His trousers were folded over his gaiters, weighed down with the heavy metal chains which could readily be turned into weapons. His fists were turned up at the wrists. All the marks of a hard man and the wrong man for the C.O. to greet with, “For instance, I seem to recognise your face.”

The little man looked up from his 5ft 3 ins, the maximum allowed for living in Glasgow. “Ah’ve nivir seen ye in ma bliddy life, Jock,” he said.

The week went from bad to worse and I fear I behaved as badly as anyone. Foolishly the C.O. sentenced all who misbehaved to extra days in the camp after the battalion had gone home.

We heard the pipe band playing the “Black Bear” and getting fainter and fainter. “Right wee men,” one of our number said, “that’s us for the toon.”

I thought the officer who had been left in charge was going to cry. So we crept away and left him to his misery.

A few days after I returned home I got a letter from the C.O. suggesting that I might be happier in another regiment. I wrote back saying I had decided against joining any regiment and that was the last I heard. So in the next war they are on their own.

My Dangerous Cuttings Book

First hand experience of the trials and tribulations experienced by a pea when it is frozen will soon be on offer to visitors in the Science Museum it was announced yesterday.
The chance to pass through a pea freezer, modified for use on humans, will be available in a new permanent gallery due to open at the museum this autumn.
“We are going to let visitors feel what it is like inside a blast freezer and imagine what it is like to be a pea,” Miss Jane Bywaters, project manager, said.