Paul Ryan Keeps It All in the Family – The New Yorker

I came across a lovely piece about the relationship between the leaders of the GOP and – at the time – candidate Trump.

It begins with this report of a conversation amongst some old New York mobsters:

In the late nineties, federal agents insinuated an informer into the ranks of the DeCavalcante crime family, of New Jersey, and the resulting wiretaps and transcriptions revealed a dying language of secrecy, petty schemes, and blood oaths gone wrong. Sad old veterans of the Punic Wars of Essex County talked about selling old comic books and Viagra to make money, and yet they knew they were losing touch with the new world.

“They make money with the computer,” a gangster named Joseph (Tin Ear) Sclafani said incredulously about the young. To which another associate replied, “These [expletive] kids—twenty-five, twenty-six years old—will teach you things you could not ever believe.”

 “You know, I’m computer-phobia,” a DeCavalcante soldier named Lenny replies.

“That’s the whole thing,” another says. “In this [expletive] life that we live, every day if you ain’t like a chameleon, if you can’t change, you’re finished.”

I thought of this exquisite sampling of the DeCavalcante tapesafter reading the riveting serio-comic report in the Washington Post by Adam Entous describing a meeting in June, 2016, on Capitol Hill, at which Republican Party leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, gathered to talk business. Let’s not be unfair, much less libelous. It’s not that the members of Congress present were involved in crimes or illegal activity of any kind; no, it’s that they seem so craven, cynical, and, ultimately small-time. They have sunk so low that they are willing to get behind a candidate for whom they clearly have no regard. Because, well, that’s “this [expletive] life that we live.”

The two reported dialogues are well worth comparing.

Source: Paul Ryan Keeps It All in the Family – The New Yorker

Paul Ryan Keeps It All in the Family – The New Yorker

Election Windows

We were talking about the election we are facing here in the UK and shaking our heads at the lack of credible contenders for Prime Minister.

May is hopeless, Corbyn principled but hopeless. The rest so far off having a chance of election that they hardly register. But Tim Farron….really?

Then C had a brilliant notion. If you look at football there’s a similar situation – a dearth of talent at every level. Football’s solution is the same as every other business and industry in Britain – it buys in foreign talent.

Why apply the principle to politics as well? Instead of choosing from a ruck of losers why not go for foreign talent. Buy the best!not appoint MPs and our Prime Minister on the same basis?

The Queen I guess would have to stand in for the FA in this situation and instead of an election campaign we’d have a ‘window’ like the Transfer Window and then it would be a race to get the best.

But who of the premier league leaders would you choose.

I fancy Duterte. Now there’s a man who’d give those Europeans a fight…

Election Windows

I am a person…The story of Gertrude Bell

If you think of those early years of Arab nationalism and middle-east peace settlements, you might think of Sykes/Piquot, possibly of Lawrence and his disillusion when wartime promises to Arab leaders were disavowed after the war.

Before tonight though, I wouldn’t have thought of Gertrude Bell.

I knew she was around the Middle East at the time, but in my mind I had her down as one of that tribe of English gentlewomen, dressed improbably in full Edwardian splendour, who spent their lives in foreign parts, writing the occasional travel book.

Yet Bell was a much more significant figure than that. She was a true adventurer, exploring parts of the Arab world where almost no European had been before. She became expert in language, customs and tribal relations before the first world war and was then able to offer insights and strategic advice to soldiers and statesmen both while the fighting was going on and through the post war settlements.

She was Al-Khatun – the woman who advises the ruler. She was pretty much the architect of the new country of Iraq, fighting for the right of Arabs to govern the new state.

Her story is told vividly in a recent documentary C and I watched last night, called Letters From Baghdad. Based on letters and reports, some of them secret, it revealed a clever, warm and passionate woman who was able to face down so much official (and male) resistance to the very idea of a woman playing any sort of role in politics. The mix of modern and archive footage managed to give a real immediacy to the story. Here’s the trailer:

 

 

 

The credits are fascinating too – the film has clearly been funded and made on a very different model to most. Lists of supporters – almost all of them women – scroll past and, if you go to the film’s website, you can see that it is the first fruit of a project to make different a sort of film. Worth exploring in its own right. 

The website is here.

I am a person…The story of Gertrude Bell

Wealth mountains and what they are worth

There was a headline in the Guardian last week that read:

Old People due to pass on property ‘wealth mountain’ worth 400bn

When you read the article you realise at once that it could – more accurately but less sensationally – have read:

‘Old people hope to leave their homes to their children or grandchildren.’

You could have added as a strapline ‘If care costs don’t mean everything is spent before they die’.

It’s horrible the way that the language of economics and accountancy sets the agenda for us now.

Horrible too the way that headlines like this seem designed (even in otherwise thoughtful newspapers) to emphasise the division between old and young as the new ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.

All that will happen is that both groups are made more miserable about themselves and more distrustful of each other.

What these pieces never do is ask why the difference is there. If, as a nation, we are  so much wealthier that we were 50 years ago, why most people are poorer? Why bull markets and successful companies mean unaffordable pensions? Why decent wages are hard to come by? Why public services are so diminished?

Far easier – as always – to set people against each other and let them squabble over crumbs, while the real wealth remains unremarked and untouched.

 

Wealth mountains and what they are worth

On being laconic

The Spartans of course were masters of the laconic – the area they lived in gave us the word. Wikipedia quotes this example of antique pithiness:

Philip II of Macedon, after invading southern Greece and receiving the submission of other key city-states, sent a message to Sparta:

You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.[3]

The Spartan ephors replied with a single word: ‘If’

Philip didn’t proceed with the invasion.

Haikus are laconic. This one – posted in the Quartz Daily briefing today – describing Trump’s tax plans appealed to me strongly:

Something
For everyone. And a lot
For the very rich.

I thought it could just as easily form the strapline for the Tory party manifesto here in the UK.

On being laconic

This Is a Prayer to Baba Yaga. This Is a Prayer for Resistance

A friend posted a link to this on Facebook – I thought the poem was much too good to lose amongst FBs wretched algorithms.

Baba Yaga, the crone, a figure beyond the expectations and demands of society, reminds us of the freedom we have, and the power if we choose to exercise it.

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Baba Yaga


This is a prayer for Baba Yaga.  This is a prayer for Resistance.

This is a prayer for the magic of chicken feet, the heat of old hates, the way old bones hurt.  This is a prayer for Resistance.

This is a prayer for hat knitters, sign-carriers, Congress-callers.  Old women make up the Resistance.

This is a prayer for casserole-bakers, newsletter-writers, nuisances.  Old women make up the Resistance.

This is a prayer for phone-bankers, neighborhood-canvassers, early-voters.  Old women make up the Resistance.

When the Moon is full, I call to Her.

I bring coals for Her oven.  I bring flour, to cover Her tracks.  I bring paprika salve for Her old, sore joints.

I bring a list of complicit women.  I bring a doll poked with pins and bound with vines.  I bring a bottle of ancient anger.

“Come, Baba Yaga,” I say. “Come find me alone in the woods.”

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This Is a Prayer to Baba Yaga. This Is a Prayer for Resistance

Lemon yellow

I’ve been decorating. Really.

Our little toilet downstairs toilet is now a fabulous lemon yellow. The photograph doesn’t do it justice – hence the colour – much closer to the way the wall really look now.


While grouting and grovelling I had the chance to distract the fidgety parts of my brain with some podcasts.

Reliable old Radio 4 of course but I also came across an absorbing series called Talking Politics.

It’s a discussion and an exploration. David Runciman, Professor of Politics at Cambridge, chairs (loosely) whatever is going on that week. There’s often an expert or an enthusiastic amateur to give a focus and a few colleagues from Cambridge to chip in. Professor Helen Thompson is especially good value for her insights and shrewd questions.

Every episode I’ve listened to has left me feeling intrigued, informed and better able to ask my own questions. There are a few I’ve listened to more than once – to make sure I hadn’t missed anything in the discussion.

It’s wide-ranging too. They’ve talked about Germany, India and Italy, about Power in the Digital Age (the most recent podcast – a doozy – full of thinking about the world of data and automation that is overtaking us), Security as well as the obvious topics of Brexit, trump and the Labour Party.

I was particularly engaged by the episode with the American economist, Dani Rodrick. This is how it is billed:

“Who are the real winners and losers from the integration of the global economy? What chance has Trump got of making good on his economic promises? How much are economists to blame for the mess we’re in? Dani talks with David, Helen Thompson and Finbarr Livesey about the dangers of circling the wagons and the tough choices we all have to face.”

It was an absorbing conversation, chiefly because it introduced me to Rodrik’s ‘Trilemma’

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Where he argues that:

“we cannot simultaneously pursue democracy, national determination, and economic globalization. If we want to push globalization further, we have to give up the nation-state or democratic politics. If we want to maintain and deepen democracy, we have to choose between the nation-state and international economic integration.”

Fascinating. In the context of populist movements in general and Brexit and America in particular, enlightening.

Lemon yellow