what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Grave thoughts


When, years ago, I visited the Sapanta cemetery in Maramures, I could appreciate only the aesthetics - the beautiful blue and red of the carved wooden carvings with their naif small paintings and (generally) humorous celebration of the lives (and sometime the deaths) of the villagers who lay below. Now, thanks to the bookfare and a Baie Mare publisher, I am able to study the artefacts at my leisure – eg the one with a painting of a guy at a still and the lines -
Here I am Husar Ion
Lying under this cold stone
In life all knew me handy
With my still and good plum brandy
Come on men and raise a cheer
Come and fill your flasks right here
Drink it now and be so merry
Girls have brandy from the cherry
I’ll not see you, share your mirth
From my bed deep in the earth
I was reminded of the medieval inscriptions I admired decades ago in the churchyards in North-East Scotland. I googled – and was delighted to come across various googlebooks – this one printed in 1704 whose opening inscription is -
remember man, as thou goes by
as thou art, so once was I
as I am now, so shalt thou be
remember man that thou must die
Also an 1806 Collection of Epitaphs and Monumental Inscriptions with a preface by Dr Johnson and a delightful „Advertisement” (as the introduction is called) with the careful grammatical construction they had in those days.
The editor has preferred the melange to that of a classification of subjects, and, if he shall thereby occasionally beguile the serious of a smile or the volatile of a few moments’serious reflection, who, otherwise, would have restricted their reading to the department most in unison with their sentiments, his object will be fully accomplished.
The guy anticipated the critique of the internet – all of 200 years ago! The entire book can actually be downloaded here.
While in maudlin mood, let me mention an idea I had as I was musing on Boffy’s latest blog. As might be guessed from his long posts, Boffy is retired. Like me, he presumably devotes a fair amount of his time to his reading and writing. Those of us who have successfully reached and passed the magic milestone; and have an over-developed sense of injustice might benefit from combining our time, energies and resources. Someone must surely already have tried to put this into practice? I remember drafting a note about this more than 10 years ago!

Finally some thoughts from John Lanchester in London Review of Books (who combined some time ago to give helpful explanation of the global meltdown) about the UK coalition government’s economic policy -
To the historian, especially of the 1931 crisis, the whole thing is sadly familiar. There is the same paralysis on the part of the Labour Party (which might now wonder whether a four-month leadership election was really a good thing) and everywhere the same ramped-up rhetoric: the country is on the edge, going bankrupt, capital will flee, and it is all Labour’s fault. And this time, as in 1931, there is much that is spurious. The country is not on the verge of bankruptcy. There is no evidence that the bond market was reacting against British debt, despite the best efforts of the Conservative Party to encourage it to do so. Our fiscal position was never like that of Greece, which had cooked the books and was struggling to cope with short-term government debt, though Osborne et al insisted it was. Why was it necessary to take such drastic action at all? Our debt ratio was much higher after the Second World War and neither Attlee nor Churchill felt any obligation to do what Cameron, Clegg and Osborne have done.

The importance of the cuts is not economic but political and ideological. First, they restore an apparently coherent, specifically Conservative and politically useful identity to the Conservative Party, distinguishing it from Labour. For the last 20 years or so the Tories have not had such an identity. They tried a traditional law-and-order Toryism for a few years, but the electorate found it unattractive. Then under Cameron they committed themselves to a form of New Labourism, a commitment that ended willy-nilly with the financial crisis. And, unlike Brown, who did eventually devise a fairly ordered response to that crisis, the Conservatives were all at sea. Neither Cameron nor Osborne came out of it with an enhanced reputation. But the ‘deficit’ gave them an opportunity; and the bigger the cuts the bigger the opportunity.
The cuts have to be big in order to confirm the Conservative explanation of what happened. That they saved the country from the brink, from disaster, from national bankruptcy – in other words from Labour’s incompetence and profligacy – is a line the Conservatives use well and often. And it is an explanation which historically the electorate has found acceptable. The notion that the state should conduct its own finances in the manner of a prudent household has always been thought plain common sense by many voters (though no one in the Treasury would agree), even if in the last 20 years the electorate has conducted its affairs anything but prudently. Thus from the point of view of a rather rudderless Tory Party the very hugeness of the cuts is an advantage: they magnify the crisis and Labour’s recklessness in causing it. Further, they restore a sense of authority to the Conservative Party and to its interpretation of British politics and society, something it has lacked for a long time. That the cuts are promoted by a coalition government including the soft-hearted Lib Dems is an added advantage. It shrouds the Thatcherism of the exercise in a cloak of fairness.
Second, the crisis allowed the Conservatives to transform a crisis of the banks into a crisis of the welfare state. This, they hope, will enable them to restructure government and ‘shrink’ the state and its welfare systems once and for all, something they have been trying to do for the last 30 years.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post! Thanks, Ronald. Sapanta is a cemetery in a million. I love it. This is such a great post :o)

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