Python’s Last Supper a Guide to British Society and Class

The Python’s “Why Michelangelo did not paint the last supper” is one their most brilliantly funny pieces.

An almost explosive Pope John Cleese is giving a hard time to Michelangelo for the way the last supper is to be depicted.  If you have not seen it, I will not spoil it for you, just watch it.

But Michelangelo is an aggrieved and truculent painter “it took me hours.”

Initially it is clear that this is about the resentment of the British  working class and the entitlement of the rulers.

However, as time goes on, with re-watching, you realize that Michelangelo is actually having the time of his life needling the pope, and deliberately failing to understand his objections (“Are the disciples too Jewish.  I made Judas the most Jewish”) and the Pope is also enjoying the verbal combat, even though he seems about to explode.  You know that Michelangelo got together with his mates at the Painters’ Arms pub that evening and regaled them with story.  The Pope may have let off steam to his mistress.

Finally, you realize that both of them actually know that both are enjoying themselves.  This says more about British class conflict than almost anything.  Try thinking about Brexit in terms of the pleasure of self-righteousness, and you can see why no one in the UK can accept the obvious.  They are having too much fun — or perhaps too locked in it see any other pattern of interaction.






‘Europeans Can’t Think of Building a Future Without the Americans’ — You Won’t Have To, But We Do All Have to Think Differently

Politico has a great article, with the self-explanatory title, itself a quote from the French Ambassador to the US – ‘Europeans Can’t Think of Building a Future Without the Americans’

Nor can I imagine a US without Europe deeply engaged with us.  (I am coming to be able to understand a Europe without the UK, or rather parts of it, but that is a much simpler matter, more related to Britain’s 150 year decline.)

What North Americans and Europeans have to do is understand that together we are one political  system, although not one nation.  Politics in one of these two mega nations (lumping Canada in with the US for now) are already deeply intertwined, and will get more so.  That is much more the case than any other large countries dyad.

As recent elections have shown, political events in one of the mega-nations trigger and influence those in the other — and not always in fully predictable ways.  Skilled demagogues, well actually all demagogues, will try to use events in one as a source of fear or reactionary possibility in the other, and building a positive “liberal system” vision will always require more nuance and time.

In short, in order to leverage each other, ideas have to flow between the two groupings as easily as capital already does.  We in the US have so much to learn about managing technology to limit the forces of inequality, and our friends in Europe have so much to ,learn about building greater flexibility into their economic system.

In the end, however, we have to learn to think about the impact on the European system of all that we do, and they have to do the same about us.  Think about how Trump’s failure to understand the nuances of this have enhanced European integration, and perhaps even saved Europe from disintegration.  The more Trump embraces Putin, the more the rest of Europe fears him, or rather both of them. I personally will not get tired of these kinds of winning.




The Politically Legitimate Path to Reverse Brexit

Many seem to feel that Brexit is somehow irreversible because “the people have spoken.”

While the UK, of course, has no written constitution, making this all much more complicated, there actually is a clear constitutional and legitimate path to reverse Brexit.

If a party were to campaign on a promise to hold a second referendum on Brexit, and that party were to win the next election, and conduct a referendum, then there would be no doubt about the legitimacy of the process and result.

I would even go further and say that were a party to campaign on a promise to only enter a coalition if its partners promised to conduct such a referendum, and that party’s votes were needed to form a coalition, then the result would be nearly as legitimate.

The problem is that neither of the remaining “national” parties is sufficiently united to run such a campaign.  The Liberal Democrats could, but they have such little credibility after the coalition debacle that their path would be uphill.  The Tories are here out of the question, which leaves Labor. Only two paths here, either the willingness to take the risk of losing a major slice of their supporters in return for the hope that they would pick up the liberals who defected to the conservatives last election, or Labor splits, and one wing links with the Liberals to form a clearly EU party.

I suspect that the last option is the most practical.

There is a point about timing.  Really that is in the control of the Government.  If whoever the new PM starts post-Art. 50 negotiations soon, then things might be well advanced by the time of the election, and a firm stance from the EU would raise to costs of secession for England and the UK.  If the election were to happen before the negotiations, a lot of uncertainty might be avoided.

In any event, time is needed for  the pro-Europe group to solidify for this campaign.

P.S.  One plank in the platform would be allowing folks like me who have been away from the UK for a long time to vote, because we might lose our right to live and work in the EU.  The failure to do so is one the factors tending to de-legitimate the prior result.



I Went to School with Twits Like Blair and Cameron

I went to an English so called “public school” in the 60’s.

The behavior of first Blair and now Cameron comes as no surprise to me.  At the risk of seeming judgemental, I knew lots of these kids, and believe me, they all run to type.  (Not to say that all the kids at that school were like that, indeed no.)

These kids were (and remain) entitled, utterly self-confident, with a belief in their right and obligation to reshape the world.  This came from class, from socialization, and from arrogance.  (This is not the arrogance that defends against uncertainty which many of us might be accused of being guilty of, but rather the real, necessarily un-examined, thing.)

These kids really believed (and believe today) that their privileged education was some kind of earned reward.  To the extent that it might really be a reward to their ancestors, that was just as, perhaps even more, fine.

Moreover, that education prepared them to rule the world, again not so much as a matter of technique, but of utter self-confidence.

John LeCare, in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, perhaps got it best when he had Connie Sachs, the forced-out British intelligence research head (quote reconstructed from memory) say, with more sympathy than I can muster, even now:

“Poor dears, born to rule the waves, and now with a voice that hardly caries across the water.”

Its no surprise that being Bush’s poodle might have some appeal.  Nor that one might grossly misjudge ones ability to manage a referendum process.

A Chilling Coincidence

Today we have lunch with a man who was telling us his memories, from being ten years old, of Krystalllnacht.

This afternoon, I saw this photo and article in the Guardian, showing how the Brexit referendum has authorized not just racism, but violent racism.  Headline:

‘A frenzy of hatred’: how to understand Brexit racism

Please look at the photo.  Looks just like Krystallnacht.




Brexit Contrarian Thoughts #2: The Result is a Consequence of Massive Political Campign Malpractice on Both Sides

Usually, in the days after an election, the winner does all they can to maximize the claims of mandate.  Here, you see the opposite, with the Boris Johnsons of the world basically denying everything.  If I were a leave voter, I am no longer sure what I have voted for.  So good campaigning is about getting a result without promising things for which you will be held to account.

The sins on the Remain campaign side are much worse.  In a proper campaign, techniques of micro-targeting would have caused every interest group to know about the specific grants that would be lost, the road and infrastructure projects that would be abandoned, the jobs that would be at risk.  Yes, even British plumbers would know of the risk — and British homeowners (particularly those who enter into home improvement contracts) would know of the likely increase of plumbing costs.  (I know that UK election rules are different from the US, but right now, at least, its hard to argue that they are better!)

Moreover, the absence of vision in either campaign was astonishing.

So, this suggests that no-one is qualified to lead the battle to reverse the result.  But is also suggests that a properly run campaign has every chance of winning, provided a way can be found to make it seem legitimate.  The question is whether the Liberal Democrats can summon the energy to do it right. A least they have the legitimacy.

I would point out only this.  At the time of the earlier referendum, there was no provision in the treaty for secession.  So the will of the 1975 voter, for a final non-reversible judgement, is being thwarted by this vote.  Anyway, if politicians are allowed to change their minds, why not voters?





Contrarian Reponses to Brexit #1: Why Such a Big Deal?

There is such a massive world media response after the vote because the result was so inconsistent with Britain’s long-term image, and self-image, in the world.

As one brought up in a country that still believes that “[limted] executive power derives from some farcical [non-aquatic] ceremony,” I sometimes find it hard to remeber how distorted the UK image in the world is.

We (meaning all including the UK here) think of the UK as educated, intelligent, witty, tolerant, calm, principled, classy, well-governed, and above all as living in the world so well portrayed in what my family has long called “Master-Race Theater.”  At its core has been the idea of Britain “standing alone” against Nazism.  At some level, we all thought we could rely on the UK, if not to save the world again, at least to act as a real anchor against chaos.

But last week forced that image into conflict with the reality of a small, short-sighted, disunited, unpredictable and selfish island with a non-functioning political system.  In other words, it is not so different from the rest of the world.  It is a bit scary.

Now indeed the world wonders if “standing alone,” was less about principled “standing,” and more about being “alone.”  And, let me tell you, British exceptionalism may be more self-deprecatory (at least for some of the people, some of the time), but it is a far more subtle, pervasive, and deeply ingrained version than, for example, the American one.

US exceptionalism, in an idea-driven  pluralistic country, is more about the specialness of the country as a whole .  But British exceptionalism, in a country that all too often still thinks of itself as racially unique, is at least as much about the special character of all its citizens.  That is impossible to budge.  Changing it would require asking people not to think about the world differently, but rather to think about themselves differently.

So the rest of the world, disabused of its faith in the reliability of Britain, is not only disoriented, but a little frightened, as the whole world seems to change in its orbit.