Archive for June, 2008

Faith And Begorrah: Don’t Let Us Down, Paddy!

I am, if you hadn’t noticed, a Dutchman. One’s nationality (one of the least avoidable accidents of birth, certainly one that no amount of embryo screening can protect you from) seems, for many people, to be a source of immense satisfaction and pride. I have never seen it that way. Having been born in Amsterdam in October 1940 does not make me co-responsible for the masterworks of Rembrandt, the invention of the microscope or Holland’s great 3-0 win over Italy at Euro 2008. I am an ordinary man of no particular achievement and the fact that I’m a member of the same people that produced the inventor of the CD, the first westerner to beat the Japanese at judo and the idiot who developed the Senseo coffee pad machine is pure accident. I accept neither praise nor blame.

But I’m not only Dutch, I’m also a European. I never realized I was; in my youth Europe was a large territory, divided up into many individual states that resembled each other in absolutely nothing. The Dutch were good at keeping the water out, the Germans drank beer and ate sausages, the Italians picked pockets, the French were good at sex and force-feeding geese, the Scandies rolled about naked in the snow and so the list of nationality-based prejudices went on. The great joy was that, from Holland, you only had to travel a little way in any direction to cross a border and find yourself in a completely different culture, with different money, a different language, different cuisine, different everything. Europe, blissfully, was a patchwork quilt made out of many old skirts, or (as the much-missed Anna Russell might have suggested) a skirt made out of many old patchwork quilts.

Those halcyon days of ‘vive la difference’, of innocent but deeply felt xenophobia are now behind us. Ever since France and Germany decided that they didn’t trust themselves never to wage war on their neighbours -and each other- again, this continent has been steered towards ever deeper union. Economic union was the goal in the beginning and I admit there was something to be said for that. As Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber pointed out as early as 1967, the Americans were getting far too big for their boots. Burgeoning US economic power, he warned, was goin to swamp us all, unless we joined forces and stood up to them at our supermarket checkouts. As a result European economic union was conceived, and not a moment too soon. Since the words ‘economic union’ suggested a future of flourishing trade and neat profit, even the terminally standoffish British decided to join, followed by a raft of much poorer (but not exactly stupid) countries around the Mediterranean.

Now, with economic union ticking over nicely, the unelected dinosaurs in Brussels have decided that the next step must be political union. Not only that, but this ever closer union must expand, expand, expand. Already the notion that such totally different countries as Denmark and Romania could successfully become regions within one superstate is ludicrous. What if nations like Azerbaijian and Kazakhstan start knocking on the door? So an all-powerful central authority, unelected and largely faceless, is to hold the thing together. To make this possible, the European Constitution was drafted, taking far-reaching powers from the national parliaments of Europe. Not surprisingly, it was rejected, first by the French, then by the Dutch. Several other countries, like Germany, weren’t allowed a referendum, although the public mood there was also strongly against. The Dutch and French No vote effectively scuppered the Constitution…but no fear: it is back under the name Lisbon Treaty. Sounds less threatening, doesn’t it? Forget it, it’s the same document, with a few meaningless alterations.

Today it’s up to the Irish, as the last and only country to get this chance, to throw this abomination where it belongs: in the bin. So this is my heartfelt plea: come on you Great Gaels of Ireland, whose wars were always merry and whose songs were always sad, save us from Lisbon! You’re Europe’s only hope. Mess it up now and whatever future we might have had as a prosperous, happy and free band of friendly nations will gurgle down the plughole. Vote NO and I promise you, tonight I’ll get wrecked on Guinness and Tullamore Dew. And when tomorrow comes, I bet you I won’t even have a hangover.


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Obama, Don’t Do Anything Stupid!

I certainly don’t wish the lady any harm, but it’s now time for Hillary Clinton to bow out gracefully and pursue some other goal in life. She’s a pretty impressive woman and, with the exception of ruling the roost at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, there seems little she couldn’t achieve, either in politics or business. The desperate tenacity with which she has been hanging on in a campaign that had already seemed lost for some time evokes images of Rasputin who survived several attempts on his life. Poison didn’t do it, shooting didn’t do it, even a whack with an axe on the back of his head didn’t do it. Still he kept breathing and pretending that all was well, until they pushed his head into the Neva River; which turned out one assault too far for the durable Siberian. Today, for the Neva read: the Montana primary.

The importance of Obama’s nomination is difficult to overstate. Of course, if he doesn’t beat John McCain in November, much of the significance of this achievement will inevitably be lost and America (and with it the world) will carry on much as before. That there are still millions of American voters who find that an enticing prospect is both mystifying and deeply worrying. But look: millions of Americans now have no difficulty accepting the notion of a president of mixed race. And, to be fair, Hillary has demonstrated that the country is equally ready to welcome a woman to the Oval Office. That she is not that woman (at least not yet) is largely due to the tone of her campaign and the unstinting support of her husband. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when the Clintons sit at their kitchen table tonight to review the state of affairs. “Thanks Bill”. I can almost hear the bitterness in her voice.

And that is precisely why the one mistake Barack Obama must not make is pick Hillary as his running mate. Yes, on paper this may seem an unusually powerful ticket, it might bring the party together (or not), it might give the Democrats a bigger chance to win in November than Obama would have with another vice-presidential hopeful. Still, it must not happen. I’ve been trying to imagine how, if I were Obama,  I would feel going to bed in the White House knowing that, a few miles to the northwest at Number One Observatory Circle, the most ruthlessly ambitious couple in American politics were kicking the furniture out of sheer frustration. Toss and turn all night I would, as hideous dreams would torment me.  Newsreel footage of Dallas’ Grassy Knoll and JFK’s limousine going round in my head would make me break into a cold sweat. The angry faces of the Clintons would appear to me, making hissing noises before morphing into the even angrier faces of the Macbeths. Did I say the Macbeths? No, it’s Friedrich and Ortrud from Wagner’s Lohengrin!! Help! Is that a horse’s head under the duvet?

I am, of course, not for a moment suggesting that the Clintons would ever have violence and murder on their minds. Nevertheless, putting a defeated rival in a position a mere heartbeat away from your own job -the top job- may give rise to all sorts of dark thoughts and secret wishes. No bullets would fly and no knives would go snickersnack, but as we all know: there are all sorts of ways in politics to reach your objective. Better not put temptation in people’s way.  Obama, watch your back!


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