Woke up?

In the years following the end of the Second World War, the United States controversially exported its pop culture around the world. The “American Dream” sold well. Perhaps it was just that — a dream, a fantasy, but it had its appeal and people wanted a taste of it. It was youthful, unorthodox and dynamic. People from Japan to Germany to Australia to Taiwan wanted to drink Coca Cola, they wanted to watch American films, to listen to American pop music, to watch American films. Although, myself, a defender of British (Commonwealth) and European traditions, I appreciate the appeal of the American.

The United States held a certain appeal. Americans never quite managed to develop culture to the same extent that others have. Sometimes, this is simply a result of the USA’s relative youth. Italy, Portugal, Germany… Countries with long, complex and rich histories and cultural legacies to which the USA simply cannot be compared. At the same time, the United States didn’t have their historical baggage, either. I would compare the USA and Russia — but that would be even more extreme. Russia has a cultural depth, a profundity which the USA doesn’t deserve to stand in the shadow of. At the same time, Russia has baggage that a worse enemy could scarcely be cursed to bear the half of.

The USA never had the same artistic heritage, so Americans bought up masterpieces from around the world and housed them in some of the world’s greatest, most innovative museums. The USA did not produce classical musicians of the same calibre as Germany, Russia or Italy — so it hired them. American artisans couldn’t compete with European artisans, so the Americans simply gave them visas and lucrative contracts. San Francisco, San Diego and Santa Barbara benefited tremendously from this. Some of the most iconic pieces of American numismatic history — the Barber coins, the Morgan dollar, Saint-Gaudens’s series of gold coins and the Peace dollar — were designed by Europeans. Barber, Morgan and Saint-Gaudens were from the United Kingdom. Anthony de Francisci was from Italy.

The United States didn’t have a classical tradition of its own, but it had a freshness that Europe did not. There has never been an American Bach, but Gershwin was absolutely brilliant. There has never been an American Shakespeare, but Tennessee Williams wrote absolutely brilliant plays. No American city could compete with the complexity of a Rome, the elegance of a Paris, the grandeur of a London or even the faded glory of a L├╝beck. Yet… The United States had the chaotic brilliance of New York City, the contrarian charm of San Francisco, the hellish dream-scape of Los Angeles, the languid splendour of New Orleans and Savannah… At one time, the United States offered that with the added benefit of superior infrastructure.

For its faults and shortcomings, the Americans had something to offer, something new. They could be difficult, overbearing — but they could offer opportunities and they could be excellent. After all, the United States could afford to take chances, the United States could afford to buy that which it lacked. The world’s great musicians and actors “wanted” to perform in New York City, in Chicago, in Boston… The worlds’s great film stars “wanted” to get roles in Hollywood. If you were a young German engineer, a young Italian artisan, a young French musician, a Shakespearean-trained English actor, you could do infinitely worse than in the United States.

That has all somewhat changed. The United States has become the centre of a toxic woke culture that is tearing apart the fabric of much of the world. There are countries like South Africa where the desperate need for cultural and social openness has been undermined by the USA’s exported woke culture. Countries like the United Kingdom, like Australia, like New Zealand, like Ireland, like Canada are suffering severe negative consequences. Much like South Africa, their unique sets of historical circumstances are ignored and an ideology based on a warped assessment of the USA’s set of historical circumstances is imposed. Whatever failures the Old Realms had, they did not have the USA’s history of slavery and segregation. South Africa has its share of historical horrors, but it is not the United States and it cannot be treated as such. Much like the United States has long struggled to advance and improve, South Africa needs to do so as well — but it has to find its own path, its own modes.

As I watch the US fall apart around me in my final months here, I hope that we can collectively snap out of it and move past it. If the USA is determined to implode, then it will implode but we don’t need to follow it down the drain.

Vive la France?

Today two important elections took place in Europe. One was the second round of France’s legislative election. The second was Andalusia’s regional election. The results of both were a rebuke of the ruling party. In France, where Macron was re-elected in an uncomfortably close election his coalition lost its majority. That was not a surprise. Macron won only because the name Le Pen is pure poison in France. To his credit, Macron recognised that and acknowledged as much. (An equivalent to a Marine Le Pen would be Oswald Mosley’s daughter seeking to become PM)

Macron’s coalition remains the largest in terms of MPs, but it cannot accomplish anything without the support of the opposition. Macron attempted to appeal to the centre-right coalition to support him, but they perhaps wisely rejected his overtures. They’re now the smallest formal group in the French Parliament and are desperately attempting to remain relevant. Tying themselves to a detested, outgoing and very lame-duck president isn’t their ticket to a bright political future. After all, Macron cannot stand again. A man with no political future — outside the EU, of course — with no majority? Meh. Interestingly enough, the far-left have become the official opposition. They are in no mood to compromised or cooperate with a man they see as representing everything they’re against. Le Pen’s coalition has gone up to 89 seats which is a historic record for it. France might have rejected Le Pen, but France has also rejected Macron.

In Andalusia, the increasingly nationalistic opposition — the Popular Party — won an outright majority in a region that has traditionally been the heartland of the PSOE — the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party. The parties of the left and the centre have either declined or completely been eliminated from the regional parliament. The only party to improve other than the PP were Vox which is a stridently nationalist party, the first to be in the Spanish parliament since the 1975 restoration of democracy in that country.

In both cases, the parties that improved were parties that, while not in favour of French or Spanish withdrawal from the EU, are keen on taking a page from Hungary and Poland. They might be EU members, but they’re not going to play ball and they’ll ignore everything that doesn’t suit them. Rather than becoming the de facto leader of Europe, Macron will just be a long-term placeholder. His grand ambition to replace Merkel (herself no utterly discredited) seems to have been dashed. He will not have a functional government and France will remain as ungovernable as ever. What hope has he to carry serious weight? What happens when Spain starts to actually assert itself again?

Perspectives (Each Way)

The Australian election was not kind to the Coalition. After nearly a decade in power any government would have struggled to win. Morrison, albeit an improvement over Turnbull, has not been much of a leader. There has been a lot of drift, there have been many half-decisions made that haven’t exactly endeared the Coalition to working class suburban and provincial voters. The Coalition survived the last election in no small part thanks to Queensland mining seats swinging heavily in their favour. Now, they’ve lost 22 seat on a swing of -6pc.

Labour, the winning party, managed to win eight seats giving them a narrow majority at Canberra. Yet… Labour also did worse in 2022 than they did in 2019, facing a swing of -.9%. Their negative swing was simply not as significant as the Coalition’s. The biggest winners were the “teal independents”, largely concentrated in the suburbs who gained six seats. The Greens won seats in inner Melbourne and inner Brisbane. Mark McGowan’s strength in Western Australia helped Labour secure a number of marginal seats in greater Perth.

These results are reminiscent of the 2019 Canadian federal election. The Canadian Tories won more votes than the Canadian Liberals. The Liberals were able to hold onto power only because their share of the vote in the Greater Toronto Area held up and they were able to hold onto that vote-rich area even if they were swept out of entire provinces. Of course, Albanese won an outright majority — something that Trudeau the Lesser did not. What does, however, seem likely is that Labour will make the most of their hand. They do not have a true mandate for change. Their share of the vote declined. A collapse in confidence in the Coalition was the reason for their majority. Yet… Albo understands power more than the hapless No Mates ScoMo ever could.

Perspective

Much has been said this week about the British local elections, the Stormont election in Ulster, etc. The usual culprits have, as always, missed the point. After 12 years leading government, the Tories have taken a hit. London was a nightmare, but that was to be expected. London has been trending heavily in Labour’s direction for some time. The West Country broke heavily for the Liberal Democrats. In other regions, the Tories gained seats. Minor parties also had a good night, especially in the Midlands and North. Boris has managed to make a dog’s breakfast of his tenure, but Starmer hasn’t convinced all that many that he’d be the better PM.

Ulster is trickier. Stormont does not have a first-past-the-post system. Nor does any party “rule” the province. Rather, there is an obligatory power-sharing system. Unionists did lose ground, but Nationalists lost even more ground. The neutral Alliance Party did best.

All things must change . . .

I have never been a Monarchist at heart, but for many years I’ve been of the opinion that Elizabeth II has performed admirably in her duties with only the occasional minor slip – such as (initially) refusing to lower the flags to half-mast when Diana died. I have agreed with the many people, here in Straya and the UK, who suggest that the system needs to be changed, but not until she has completed her innings.

She has been firm in her intention to continue her reign until she can no longer discharge her responsibilities to the standard she would like.

Sorry Ma’am, but that point was reached a year ago when dear old Phil the Greek handed in his dinner pail. Without his behind-the-scenes support and with increasing frailty (age comes to us all), Liz has slipped further and further away from the front line. She has not dealt effectively with Harry and the Monarchy has suffered as a result. She has not given Charles a regency and retired to enjoy her remaining years with her horses; she has not dealt effectively with Andrew and refuses to withdraw his title – thus alienating a large proportion of her subjects, people without whose support there is no Monarchy.

Retire, hand on the Crown and then take it easy – now! Otherwise the whole shebang will drift into irrelevance. Charles and Camilla may not be up to the job, but they’ll try and perhaps William and Kate will help.

The country will still respect you if you give up gracefully, but if you don’t you’ll be voting for a Republic of some form or another. It won’t be any better, but its arrival will be inexorable. Please call it a day.

Islands

I flew back to Hawai’i after many years. The Hawai’ian Airlines flight left Sacramento at the same time as it did then. The aeroplane, an Airbus A330, was the same model as I flew back then. After a multi-billion dollar renovation, Honolulu Daniel K Inouye International Airport looks much the same as it did then. The experience of seeing the Hawai’ian Islands below felt much the same as it did back then. After thousands of miles of empty ocean, the high, mountainous islands provide a striking contrast, a contrast like the waters that surround them: deep blue turning into aquamarine, aquamarine turning into a green-tinged steel. Distant Diamond Head is as iconic as it was back then. Honolulu has grown since then, there are more skyscrapers, a few more hotels, but…

I didn’t linger in Honolulu. I had no desire to. It’s actually an interesting city. It can be rough in places. Like so many other things over past few years, places that were frayed around the edges have become truly dodgy. Honolulu’s Chinatown is fascinating, but for all its historical interest and distinctive architecture it’s… Well, it has a long history of looking the other way, of turning a blind eye. In its beginnings, it was a home of sorts for down-and-out Chinese men. Over the generations, many have made it home, learning to look away and ignore the inconvenient. This has given many desperate people comfort and security, but it’s also turned into a fulcrum for many social problems. No… Honolulu, with all its brilliant museums, historic sites and cultural depth is too busy for this ageing piece of human driftwood. The gathering place it might be, but I’d rather have my quiet.

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Differences

In the last month millions of Ukrainians have fled, seeking refuge where they can. As of the 22nd of March, Krakow is housing 100,000 and Warsaw is housing 300,000. Other cities in Poland are housing over a million more between them. Denmark has agreed to take 10,ooo and many others have gone to Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Czechia and Germany. This has been a historic feat for Europe.

Some less charitable sorts have noted that countries that are usually less-than-welcoming to those seeking asylum have opened their arms to Ukrainians. Naturally, race and “Islamophobia” are listed as the reasons by the likes of the Guardian and others. The same culprits have also noted that European countries are waving Ukrainians through but refusing admission to visa holders from third countries.

In such situations it’s best to ignore the regular culprits and analyse the situation dispassionately. When looking at Ukrainian refugees, the first thing to note is that they’re actually Ukrainian. They identify themselves using either their Ukrainian passports or their Ukrainian national ID cards. Both are valid for travel in Europe. Ukrainians do not need a visa to travel in the Schengen zone. Already, we can see a major difference. Beyond that, the demographics of those Ukrainians are very different to past waves. Ukrainians entering European countries seeking refuge are women, children and the elderly. None are young, fighting-age adult men.

As you can see, there are profound differences in the nature and character of this wave of humanity as compared to previous ones. Perhaps yet another variable should be pointed out. Due to the speed with which Ukrainian refugees have had to flee, finding housing has been an issue. They have been housed in defunct schools, hotels and resorts. Sometimes they have been housed in cities, sometimes in the countryside. Many have been housed be friends and relatives living elsewhere in Europe. My Russian teacher is currently living with an old friend in Germany. She might stay with another friend who owns a small flat in Sweden if this drags on too long. My therapist who lives in Lombardy told me that many Ukrainians who have been living in northern Italy have welcomed Ukrainian refugees into their homes. Something you don’t hear from them is complaints. There is none of the “What? What do you mean I have to live in a cabin in Norrland? I want to live in Stockholm and I want to know when my new Volvo will arrive”. There is none of the “Hey, this old school in Saxony is drafty and isolated. I want to live in Berlin and why do I have to take the bus? Why can’t I have a Mercedes”? that many in previous waves thought was their due.

They are not asking for handouts and they’re not shopping for countries that give them better benefits. To this point, many have gone to work and have made themselves useful. Those staying near farms often help on the farm to keep their hands and minds occupied. In Denmark, many are signing up to work in care homes to fill critical shortages — especially in the provinces. Although some, especially in Poland which has absorbed two million on its have noted that it has been a challenge. Many have health problems — physical and mental stemming from the conflict. What they’re not complaining about is the people themselves. Well, very few at any rate and Poles are adept at the art of having a moan.

As for those citizens of third countries being turned away at the borders… That tensions were brewing and that a conflict was potentially imminent has been known for some time. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs, the United States Department of State and the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have all warned their citizens in Ukraine to prepare to evacuate if not to evacuate. It is, ultimately, the responsibility of their own countries to ensure their safe evacuation. Ukrainians are in their own country and they are fleeing because they have little choice. Third country citizens are in Ukraine on their own volition and they have another country to return to. As I explained to my landlady (a good-natured, cheerful and warm-hearted American woman — they do exist), if the United States fell into civil war, she could seek refuge in Canada but I’d have no choice but to head to Europe as I hold a BRD-issued passport and I am ultimately their responsibility.

What a Web We Weave

I did not imagine that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would unfold the way it has. In fact, I was not sure that there would be a full-scale invasion of Ukraine at all. Russia has a recent track-record of invasions. In 2007, it invaded Georgia but largely limited its military ambitions to Abkhazia and South Ossetia — regions that had long been de facto autonomous from the rest of Georgia. When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, it largely limited its ambitions to Crimea. Unofficially, it has been an active participant in Luhansk and Donetsk. An invasion of sorts had long been expected. NATO and Ukraine had tacitly accepted it as unwanted, but seemingly inevitable. China had signed off on it with a few provisos. One was that Russia would wait until after the Beijing Scamlympics. The second was that Russia would act with restraint and limit its ambitions as it had in the past.

The extent of Russia’s invasion took everyone by surprise. It has also put China in an awkward position. China had intended to use this as a test case. If a surgical Russian occupation of two de facto independent Ukrainian oblasts went off smoothly and international responses were tepid, China would ramp up pressure on Taiwan with an all-out invasion on the cards. A test-invasion of Kinmen would be a near-certainty. Kinmen is a region comprising a few small islands administered by Taiwan in Xiamen Harbour, about six miles from the Fujian coast — or 116 miles from the Taiwanese coast. By breaking with its precedents, Russia confirmed another: the decadent, degenerate and divided West is still capable of uniting and causing serious damage. The United States might no longer be the undisputed global leader it was in 1992, the United States might have a president whose reign of error puts him into the same disastrous category as Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, but the United States is still able to cobble together a coherent and cohesive coalition. In this way, Putin and Xi underestimated the West in the same way that Hitler and Mussolini underestimated the West, in the same way that Kaiser Wilhelm II underestimated the United Kingdom and France.

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No Ordinary Games

The 2022 Beijing Olympics will start shortly. It’s a world removed from the glitz, glamour and forced cheer of the 2008 Summer Games. Back in 2008, the Summer Games were Chinese debut in the same way that the 1964 Tokyo Games were Japan’s or the 1988 Seoul Games were South Korea’s. Of course, China in 2008 was not Japan in 1964 nor was it South Korea in 1988.

By 1964 Japan (with American oversight) had developed into something resembling a liberal democracy. In 1988, South Korea had made significant progress towards becoming a prosperous, liberal democracy. The Seoul Games put South Korea under the global magnifying glass and the country’s authoritarian leaders were not in any position to alienate and antagonise anyone. Beijing 2008 was China showing that it was a major global power. Heads of state from most major and many minor countries came to celebrate together. On the ground, it was not the most pleasant of games. Athletes and observers noted that for all its technical brilliance, the 2008 Beijing Games were tightly scripted and Chinese authorities ensured that nothing potentially embarrassing happened. Sydney 2000 was good-natured, cheeky and filled with lots of banter and larrikinism. The 2012 London games were brilliantly quirky, fun and cheerful. The 2008 games were overwhelming and full of subtle creepiness.

Of course, life went on. London was London, Sochi was, well… Russian?, Rio was… Brazilian? Pyeongchang was a success — South Korea had come a long way from 1988 and there was much hope. North Korea and South Korea met, North Korean and South Korean athletes played joint matches. The Japanese male figure skaters shut the insufferable American talking heads up and won gold and silver.

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