Random Notes From Across The Pond

It is Easter. I am minded to let people know that I am still around.


Well our now not beloved Labour Government in the UK has introduced its latest budget and, like all its predecessors, taken the cheap shot of raising revenue by increased taxation of motor vehicles, cigarettes and beer. No wonder we are becoming a less sociable nation.

Whatever happened to progressive taxation and why do people accept flat taxation on purchases that ignore income levels and the ability to afford basic necessities on which this is charged?

I am a fan of taxation, properly constructed. I have just paid the government something like $250,000 dollars inheritance tax. I don’t mind. I sadly shake my head when I hear my American friends abhor it. I know the health and social services it provides and the better society that it brings.

There is just one thing that irks me. I get a lot of correspondence from the Inland Revenue Services. It would be nice if just one of those letters said something like “Oh, by the way, we all here in the Cardiff office along with the Government just wanted to thank you for your last payment. You know we appreciated it”.

On Blogging

According to emails that I receive, the perception is that the present malaise on our progressive blogs is a function of the primary wars. I am not sure that it is; I began to be switched off contributing on them long before the voting cycle began. The intolerance of ideas outside the tight boundaries of "conventional progressive thought" has become more and more marked.

For many, it is the nature of the attacks on Hilary Clinton that concern them, even when they share many of the same criticisms. Yet, who can ignore the much earlier vicious treatment of Nancy Pelosi, the enormously disrespectful response to Barak Obama when he last posted on DKos before the campaign began, and the intolerance of any broad views on economic matters? These are all indications that if you want discussion that goes outside simple polemic then you have to find it elsewhere.

There are only so many times before one can no longer go the well to draw affirmation for one's beliefs and after which what one reads becomes predictable, dogmatic and, frankly, boring. It is not the blogs’ fault that I am no longer a regular reader of their outpourings. I am simply not in their readership niche, nor am I intended to be. Fox News would take the same relaxed view about me not being one their viewers.

I guess we each have to find our own solutions. Me? I have taken up Correspondence Chess.


Although I am more sceptical than most, I truly want the judgement being exercised by many to be right that the “hope” speeches of Barak Obama are more than just brilliant campaign rhetoric and evidence of first class marketing and promotional packaging.

I honestly do want this because I am reminded of the writing of a wise Irishman whose newspaper columns appeared many years ago under the simple initials “AE”. He wrote:

The power of imagination in national life might be the subject of a great book. It is the despised faculty among the vast mass of people, who do not realise how much their whole life is ordered by imagination, a spell cast on them by some enchanter who raised up in their hearts the image of a nation, a civilization or social order”

I do want to believe that Obama will indeed be the enchanter who makes the imagined real.

That cynicism of mine? I suppose it displays itself when I read the speeches and find in them so many references drawn from elsewhere. Yet so many great leaders have done this in addressing their people, without harm and creating much good for them. I think it was Winston Churchill who said something along the lines that originality in a speech only really came from choosing those great statements of others that are least remembered. I guess I don’t care where the source of humane and caring inspiration comes from as long as the speaker has first taken it into his heart.

The Ultra Progressive Left

O.K. So the description “Ultra Progressive” is my own invention. It is handy, because we can all claim not to be part of such an extreme.

I use it because these seem to be the type frequenting our blogs more and more and dictating the type of discussion on them.

I am tempted at times to the viewpoint of that very English Englishman, J B Priestly, expressed some fifty years ago:

Few people are so terrible as frustrated idealists, who begin to despise or hate ordinary human nature because it insists upon behaving like ordinary human nature. I dislike large-scale capitalism because it turns itself into a huge swindle. But even so, I would rather be at the mercy of cynical fellows, busy feathering their own nests, than find myself the victim of frustrated and finally merciless idealists”

The War in Afghanistan

This tends to get mentioned far more these days in official shenanigans because its motives are believed to be perceived by the British public as somehow “cleaner” than those in play in Iraq.

Alas, it doesn’t do much good. The majority of British people have little time for it. Indeed, much of their attitude is one of disinterest in what the military is getting up to “over there”. It has become so bad that a special PR unit had to be set up to try and gain recognition for the fighting soldiers. I am afraid that Brits display little of the reverential gratitude that is expected in the States for those serving their country. “Thank you for your service” is seen as a comment of no greater importance heard from American politicians than the equally urbane but ritualistic “Have a nice day”.

In its few months of existence, the military PR unit had its worse moment when it tried to arrange for a parade of returning vets during half-time at a soccer cup final. It got something of what we Brits call disparagingly “a rhubarb” from many, who demanded to know why they were being compelled to watch this when attending a totally non-related event.

The triumph, of course, was Prince Harry and his short secondment from his favourite night clubs to serve over there. It was a triumph because it was highly regarded by the public. I don’t think anyone really thought it was anything but a PR exercise, but we all thought it was a good one and we all like to believe a well-told fairy story.

More sombrely, On Film Four, UK TV, last night I saw the Russian film "Company 9". It was a docudrama based on a true incident surrounding a group of young Russian recruits being prepared for and then sent to Afghanistan - and, finally, their withdrawal from that country.

There is much to be learnt from the film that we see identically reflected in our own tragedy of these times. The same issues, the same ambiguities, the same patriotism, the same heroic commitment to an uncertain cause, the same tragic consequences in fatality, maiming and subsequent mental disorder.

We have learnt nothing from the Russian experience of fighting in that country. It was eerie to see the same Baghram air base, that we use, having been previously used to disembark the youthful Russian soldiers, to hear the same instructions being given about respecting the nature of that country, the same forewarnings about the nature of Islamic jihad. More devastating still, was to see the same consequences.

I have no answer. Is the American way of dealing with these things better? Is it better to see the service of these young people as being special, different, undertaken for uniquely American values and for a uniquely precious nation? It is a respect shown to them for which I have a higher regard than the lack of recognition that we give our own over here. Yet maybe the Brits are making a statement about the nature of all conflicts on behalf of the patriotic ideals that we flaunt under the flags of our countries.

I ask only that we should show our love for all soldiers of all nations that we send so easily to war.

Correspondence Chess

And so back to Chessworld.com. I have not played chess since I was fourteen. I am having to learn openings, tactics and strategy as I go along. I am thrashing a young fella from the University of Oregon and slightly peeved he won’t resign. Alas, I am in difficulties with a more highly ranked player from Wisconsin.

I am thoroughly enjoying the chess by email over the Internet. “Five days for one move” is the sort of pace of life that I have long sought to achieve. It takes me back to the days of that great player and writer about chess, Lord Dunsany. One of the books in which he wrote of his experiences is called “While the Sirens Slept” What a title for a book about chess! I liked his description of his single match against the great Capablanca in a smoke filled gentlemen’s club in London in the 1920’s. . He gained a draw by his committing a blunder so awful that even Capablanca witnessing it never properly regained his composure in the match. I shall try it against Wisconsin in five days time.

Lord Dunsany also wrote a fine poem about chess:

One art they say is of no use;
The mellow evenings spent at chess
The thrill, the triumph, and the truce
To every care, are valueless.

And yet, if all hopes were set
On harming man played chess instead,
We should have cities standing yet
Which now are dust upon the dead

I hope that you are all having a peaceful and enjoyable Easter.

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It's great to see your post! I was afraid you'd given up on all of us -- so glad to see you.

"boring" is a good way to describe the constant, unrelenting shrill of the, what did you call it? -- the uber left?

I for one miss your thoughtful, cogent, and dare I say, logical ramblings.

Please keep us informed of how your chess games go.

side of the pond. Good to hear from you again and hope you are having an enjoyable Easter too.

I never picked up chess but used to play a mean game of backgammon. Do they play any it by mail?

I am in agreement with you on the blogs. I have reduced the number of sites I follow and find I don't miss them much at all.