Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Building Somer

As regular readers will know, after being bullied in my job and then kicked out of it, so facing having my house repossessed and now battling with lying buyers, I have been under a lot of mental stress.  Each week I have to keep up a front so that I can apply for the required three jobs for week that the job centre asks for and then attend the interviews I am called to.  I have had 9 interviews in the last 8 weeks, but seem incapable of saying what they want me to say.  Of course, the approaches in each interview are different and there are a range of candidates, but clearly I am doing something wrong as these are all jobs I could walk into and start doing tomorrow.  I imagine there has been some shift in the fashion of what is required for interviews that I have not caught on to.  I have noticed that no-one wants PowerPoint presentations any more whereas just two years ago they were de rigeur for interviews.  I was rejected from a job in 2003 simply because I did not use PowerPoint and at one in 2010 I was not allowed to proceed to the interview as it was felt my 15-minute PowerPoint presentation was 'not blue sky enough', so I am glad that fashion has passed, finally.

In such circumstances, I now start the day with a panic attack.  Sometimes this is caused by having had a nightmare, something which is pretty common for me, sometimes with two nightmares in a single night.  The variety is diverse with me finding myself in the First World War, being chased by zombies or mutants or slowly torturing my brother over a fire in my grandparents' living room of the 1970s.  There is no point lying in bed once I have awoken as instead of these vividly realised fears I get nameless, shapeless ones.  Sometimes this is difficult as I need to sleep longer.  Tiredness simply feeds the concerns.  I volunteered to work on a sustainable farm for a week, but turning hay exposed me to Farmer's Lung and swept me with a range of mental symptoms which are apparently among what the illness, caused by spores in the hay can provoke.  My mind was literally numbed and I found myself staring into space with my mouth hanging open, then I was swept with complete paranoia which was topped off by me hallucinating that the trees around the field were unwinding like snakes and then walking towards me.  So much for 'trying to get away from it all'.

Trying to keep myself in bed a little longer led to Somer.  It is pronounced 'summer', rather than 'sommer'.  The name came from somewhere in my mind and it certainly would not be the one I would have used if I was writing a story.  I wondered if it simply derived from 'somewhere', something like Ecalpemos, i.e. 'Someplace' reversed, as used in 'A Fatal Inversion' by Barbara Vine [Ruth Rendell] (1987) or even Somerton which I have recently read is a place in Jamaica.  I had tried to meditate and to focus on a single point or a rosebud, the kinds of things they advise in meditation classes.  However, my mind likes greater complexity and once I slip off the single point it goes down the path of worry once more.  I used to envisage the wargames I was playing and plot what I would do next.  I think one difficulty is that with all the problems I have had with the Steam system, finding that old games cannot run on my new computer and not being able to afford subscription to 'World of Warcraft' any longer, it is very difficult to find something that I can lose myself in.  I tried 'Crusader Kings' but one decision can lead to your kingdom being obliterated without you being able to fight back in a way you could with something from the 'Total War' range.  I have written to Sega about the bug in 'Napoleon Total War' which means it crashes whenever an attack starts, but never received a response.

Back to Somer, and in my mind it is a place.  It is an imaginary town.  When I need to escape from stresses I go into it and think of a new building as if I was building something in 'Sim City' but seeing it from street level and for real.  At the moment, there do not seem to be any people in it when I envisage it, but simply working on the architecture does wonders for calming me down.  I had anticipated that it would be French in feel given all the days I have enjoyed on holidays in French towns, but for now it appears to be very English.  The first structure that appeared, and it is not always me deciding what comes next, it often simply appears from my mind like the name, was the lighthouse in the South centre of the town; I have a feeling that the sea is South of that.  This was clearly shaped by Southwold in Suffolk which I visited once for a wedding.  Then appeared a book shop to the South-West of the town, based it seems on the music shop that used to be in Holywell Street in Oxford, though I do not know it is still there.  Another refugee from Oxford appears to be a cinema, its setting is from Great Clarendon Street but the building itself seems to be more like the cinema, the Curzon Mayfair, compressed a bit.  There is a park in the North-East part of Somer, which is quite small and has a sandstone rock sprouting out of it with a spiral path up the side to a viewing platform, though I have never climbed it.  It reminds me of the outskirts of Freiburg-am-Breisgau and something I saw in the drama set in Edinburgh, 'Reichenbach Falls' (2007) in a park where a spring comes out.  To the East of this was another bookshop which appears to have come from Westbourne in Dorset.

I have tried to envisage some restaurants and so far have produced only one, on a curved street close to this bookshop, it is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's restaurant the Axminster Canteen in Axminster, West Dorset, but thrust into a street from Swanage in East Dorset.  South of this is a small square with a cafe to the East side and a memorial in the middle; it is cobbled but I cannot place it. I think it is from France, perhaps using elements of the square in St. Omer but being more cramped than that one is.  I guess Somer is developing from places I have been happy in or think I might be, as I have never visited Axminster and whilst I have been to Edinburgh, never went to the park shown.

Much of the town remains unfilled in and as yet has no residences that I might go to 'live' in.  I have insisted that my mind puts in specific buildings and locations, such as the square in Bath where they play petanque, but it seems I cannot force things into the structure, they do not remain there when I revisit Somer.  I guess I have to walk around and 'explore', though at present I simply tend to 'appear' outside one building; only able to face in one direction and see it becoming more detailed.  I have read at least one science fiction story in which men's minds slip into an imagined city.  I do wonder if this is doing me harm or exposing that I am suffering from some serious mental condition.  However, for the moment it seems to be working and at least allows me to lie in bed that little bit longer without feeling drowned by all the worries pressing on me.

P.P. 05/08/2012
After finding for some nights that I could not call up any images into my mind's eye and even when I tried to think of Somer there were large gates blocking my 'entrance' back into the town, I found that finally I could begin to 'construct' more of it.  My mind ran me through a host of new buildings and locations that it felt should be present.  To the West, beyond the bookshop, appeared a large chunk of University Parks from Oxford.  I imagine a lot of people quite like these.  They have an interesting mix of sports fields and pleasant walks going down to the small River Cherwell.  Interestingly, I did not envisage cricket being played here, there is another location for that right over on the East side, it is modelled on the ground at a small village near Thame in Oxfordshire.  There used to be a railway running passed the village and you enter it through the remains of the railway bridge; the top piece has been removed so it is like passing through a gateway.  The railway embankment cuts the village off from the busy road.  I remember cycling through there and seeing a cricket match taking place as if it had come from some 1930s novel.

I have brought a chunk of the Cherwell into Somer, but North of the park it turns into the River Itchen which runs through Winchester in Hampshire and sitting on it, far closer than they do in real life are 'The Tun' and 'The Willow Tree' pubs; the former is now a Spanish restaurant but in Somer it retains the pub it was back in the mid-2000s.  The small square to the East of the town has acquired a favourite restaurant of mine,  'Oscar's' from Leamington Spa, a French restaurant which is the closest I have found any restaurant in Britain to be to numerous small town restaurants in France that I encountered while cycling.  If it still exists I recommend going there.

Just to the North-West of the square is the odd park which brought in elements of Freiburg-am-Breisgau and then suddenly acquired a tall, slender round tower, a bit like a Europeanised version of a minaret and I have no idea where that came from.  The square which has opened out to the East of this park, however is more familiar it has been lifted with the market place clock tower, the Beffroi from Amiens.  Between this and the park has appeared a place from a dream that I remember years after I had it.  It is a branch of Woolworths, the lamented store that used to be in every British high street.  This one has an added element, two cylindrical funicular railways, going up from the shop floor to the top of the park's rocky outcrop.  The branch of Woolworths seemed to be a mix of the one in Guildford, Surrey, and I think the one in Hayes in Middlesex, that I visited as a boy.

So Somer continues to grow and I wish I was an artist so that I could capture its wonderful eclectic growth.  It seems to be doing its job.  However, my mind got so busy with this latest round of construction that I found I could not get to sleep.  It now has two residents, though so far both of them were facets of me.  The first was me as the puppeteer from 'Masquerade' by Kit Williams (1979) which seemed rather appropriate, but then I stepped out of him to become more myself, dressed in my 18th century brocade suit over a loose white shirt and wearing my favourite ski-hook knee-high laced boots.  I suppose I have always had fun when dressed like that.  I do hope other people start appearing in the rather empty streets of Somer soon.

P.P. 07/10/2012
By chance I came across an article that mentioned the Japanese book about a man whose consciousness ultimately becomes drawn into a constructed city.  It is 'Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World' by Haruki Murakami (1985); the English translation came out in 1991.  I read it in hard back version that I bought from a remaindered bookshop so it must have been pretty new to the UK when I read it, though I was not aware of that because I picked up on the 1980s feel to the story.  The book has a whole Wikipedia webpage about it.  Whilst I would not recommend it as an enjoyable read, it is certainly a book which can trigger off some thoughts.  Perhaps my unease with it comes from it taking a Japanese rather than Western perspective so making it harder for me to engage with.  Maybe I read it when I was too young, though saying that I think I am a lot less experimental in what I read than I was at the time, twenty years ago.

The Book I Read In July

My reading recently has been pretty sporadic, usually done while awaiting to go into an interview.  In a week's time I will be on my tenth in seven weeks.  I managed to read one book this month.  Non-fiction books always take me longer than fiction ones, which helps explain it.

'Clem Attlee' by Francis Beckett
I am sure that I met Francis Beckett once, perhaps at a conference I attended in 1995 to mark fifty years since the end of the Second World War.  Anyway, he is a journalist as well as a historian.  This is a reasonably good book.  It challenges a great deal that has been written about Attlee particularly from Labourites and the left-wing.  Beckett counters the view that Attlee had no personality, showing that his reserved demeanour was very carefully cultivated.  He also shows how the man who did so much for poor people lived the life of the privileged but never let that get in the way of considering those less fortunate and ensuring he avoided doing this in a patronising way, hence National Insurance rather than charity.  Beckett highlights areas of Attlee's character often neglected, his love of the Italian Renaissance; the fact that he translated Italian texts and spoke the language fluently and his lifelong enjoyment of writing poetry.  Above all, Beckett reminds us how important Attlee was to Britian and that without the efforts that he led 1945-51, millions of people in Britain would have had tougher and less pleasant lives than was even the case in the post-war era.

The key flaw of Beckett's book and this may come from him being a journalist is that he cannot detach himself from his own time.  He keeps on drawing parallels and lessons from the Attlee era and then going off at length about what was wrong with British politics around the time this book was published in 1997.  Not only does this break up the points he is making about Attlee and his time, not only in chronology but particularly in tone, it now makes the book, 15 years on, itself seem very dated.  A good biography should take us into the time of the life of the person featured so that we can better understand the pressures and perceptions that influenced how they thought and behaved.  By linking it to any time period, that is broken.  Away from those sections the book is good and interesting, but an editor should have come through and cut out Beckett's attempts to link Attlee's time to his own; perhaps he should have had a separate essay at the end encompassing these elements if he felt they were so necessary.  Somewhere in storage I have 'Hugh Gaitskell' by Brian Brivati, produced by the same publishers at around the same time, I will have to see if I can dig it out for comparison.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Olympics Is Wrecking So Much Of UK Life

There was an article in 'The Guardian' on Saturday 21st July, by Caroline Davies entitled 'World awards UK gold medal in whingeing'.  It reported how foreign commentators have noted how irritated much of the British population appears to be at the Olympics.  I doubt that it is something unique to the UK.  I remember all the complaints around the financial mess which were the 1976 Montreal Olympics and the fact that facilities for the 2004 Athens Olympics were incomplete.  I certainly imagine Greece regrets the cost of hosting the Olympics now that it is so short of funds.

British complaints are not about the Olympics per se, but how they have been handled by the government.  You can certainly see enthusiasm for the games wherever the Olympic torch has been run around the UK.  People have been standing outside largely in pouring rain to watch a matter of seconds of a person running by with an Olympic torch, most of the time a person that they have no idea who they are.  Yet, they are still cheered on.  Tonbridge in Kent which was missed out by the incredibly winding route, had Dame Kelly Holmes a champion British athlete bring her torch (each of the 8000 runners gets to take their own torch home) to a specially organised event so that town did not feel left out.

Enthusiasm does not seem to be missing.  In the sport, I follow, cycling, the sense of anticipation following not only Bradley Wiggins winning 2 stages of the Tour de France and the race overall, but 3 stage wins by Mark Cavendish and one each by Chris Froome and David Millar in that race, given that these are 4 of the 5 men who will be on the Team GB road racing team, is at a very high level.  I am sure among fans of other sports featured, there is similar anticipation.  The problem for the average British person, whether a fan of any sports or not, is how badly this has been handled by the government.

The ticket process looked to be a shambles from the start and continues to be.  No-one seemed to know anyone who got a ticket.  The websites kept crashing at the time.  Yet, despite massive demand, it appears lots, literally hundreds of thousands of tickets have been left over unsold.  Thus, the view for fans is that they were somehow barred from getting tickets due to the process, with corporate buyers winning out over the average public and yet it has now resulted in loads of empty seats.  I do not know how it could have been handled any better, but there must be people who know.  Have the British not gone and talked to the Australians who ran the 2000 Sydney Olympics which are often rated as the most successful in recent years?  The way the tickets have been handled set the tone for what followed.

In the weeks running up to the Olympics, it has been as if there is an impending disaster is about to hit the UK.  I am sure that if it was known that a meteorite was heading towards Earth or very vigorous solar flares were anticipated, the information would be commuicated in exactly the same way as the approach of the Olympics has been.  Months ago there were warning notices at service stations and across London, about how companies needed to change their delivery times as they would not be able to get supplies into London.  Now ordinary drivers are being told to stay clear of large parts of southern England.  In a country where the train service is now often beyond the income of ordinary people to use, this simply adds to the sense that this is an event for the elites not the average UK citizen.  This is accentuated by the special lanes which have been carved out of London's roads.  Increasingly as a traveller in the UK you get the feeling that you are in a replica of medieval Japan where the ordinary people were expected to vacate the road and bow down in obeyance if a samurai wanted to ride by.

In Swindon in Wiltshire there are warnings about traffic disruption if you are going even in the direction of Weymouth in Dorset where the Olympic sailing events are being held, let alone trying to visit that town.  Swindon lies 142 Km (89 miles) from Weymouth, which suggests the vast area over which Olympic disruption is impinging on the ordinary public. South West Trains which runs the trains that go to Weymouth  have said that they cannot cope with the extra 80,000 passengers per day expected to use their services.  Contrary to the official advice not to attempt to drive to Weymouth and to use public transport, the train company incredibly is advising people not to attempt to use its service and to go by car instead! They have had years of time to prepare and yet they have failed.

The failure of the companies which make millions in profit but provide a declining service makes up a great deal of the problem and a focus of complaints.  South West Trains are not alone.  The G4S scandal has already attracted parliamentary attention and I imagine they are not going to be the last company to be called to account.  However, the problem has its roots further back.  During the Thatcher era 1979-91 and under her successors Major and Blair, there was a faith that private provision would always be better than anything the state could provide.  There was a lazy assumption that companies are interested in quality of service as well as profit.  Yet, year after year and now decade after decade, in those semi-monopolies, we find that in fact prices rise and service deteriorates.  I quite expect to hear that the companies supplying water and electricity to the Olympic site will soon be saying that water and electricity supplies in the surrounding area will have to be cut in order to supply the games.  It is no surprise that G4S could not supply enough security staff despite 100,000 applicants and unemployment at the highest level for years.  Their services are appalling all of the time anyway, especially handling prisoners.  Giving them an expensive monopoly for the Olympics was not going to change how they approach business.  Too many ministers feel inhibited from challenging companies employed by the government, despite paying them so much to be inefficient.  New Labour would not do it, nor will the coalition.  They are all brain-washed by the Thatcherite view that 'private, for-profit is best' so mentally cannot handle the fact when yet again this actually turns out not to be the case.  The current government loves to monitor and direct all aspects of life apart from companies making vast profits.  You only have to look at the lack of ability to curtail the immoral behaviour of the Murdoch press to not be surprised that it keeps happening.

The security situation is a key one for the UK because we are such a paranoid, militarised state.  It has been noted by 'The Guardian' how much the military has come into the foreground of British society, see: http://rooksmoor.blogspot.co.uk/2008/06/where-did-uk-veterans-day-suddenly-come.html  In many ways it has always been there, but the British of the past have overlooked this because of our feeling that to be a militarised state is to resemble the Prussians.  The UK is constantly involved in wars, in a way that our neighbours in Europe generally are not.  To support such activity we have given the military a raised status.  The implication is that unless you blindly support whatever military action the government (or the US government) has decided on, then you are betraying the service people injured or killed in these conflicts.  Ironically, many of the people Help For Heroes and Military Wives support would not need such help if the government did not keep shoving them into wars that had no chance of any British victory particularly with decreasing numbers of soldiers available and chronically under-equipped for over a decade now.

Paranoia is patriotic in Britain something we learnt from the Americans especially during the Bush era.  If you do not rush around screaming about the potential, often simply imagined threats to your country, then you are not patriotic:  http://rooksmoor.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/be-patriotic-be-paranoid.html  This is a bitter development in the UK if you remember back to how much better we handled actual, regular terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s and is very ironic now that the 'Keep Calm and Carry On' slogan prepared for use in the Second World War has become such a fashion accessory.  That would probably be a better attitude for handling the Olympics that the various flavours of paranoia reaching from panic about traffic jams to the myths around people being excluded to attending events if wearing branded items not provided by the Olympics' sponsors.  The militarisation and the paranoia has nicely bisected with the fact that troops are now being used to fill the gaps left by G4S's inability to employ enough staff.  I do not know if anyone can tell me if there will be more troops in uniform at the London Olympics than there were at the 1936 Berlin Olympics or the 2008 Beijing Olympics; maybe we will only get the Bronze in that competition.  Do not even get me started on the missiles stationed on rooftops across East London.  Anything being shot down at that stage damage the area anyway.  I guess it is more about pushing the incoming missile towards areas of East London like Hackney or Bow or Stepney(of course not to The City or Docklands where too many elite people will be) or Barking or Dagenham, rather than Stratford, so as to cut down on the policing costs next time riots come to London.

So, what have the Olympics done for us?  Well, I have not even touched on the laughing stock that featuring the moronic buffoon that is our Mayor of London, Boris Johnson makes of absolutely everyting he is involved with.  I think we should have simply had him appointed Chief Jester by the Queen in addition to his duties and then have one of his sinister and less comic deputies appear as Acting Mayor of London.  At least then there would be a gramme of gravitas.  Even George Bush Jr. could pull off looking suitably serious at serious events even if he would fluff his lines; Johnson cannot even manage that.  The other thing that is worth criticising is the impact on the internet.

The impact on the internet and the consequences for British business were highlighted a couple of weeks back by the BBC.  It has not been discussed much partly because the coalition, as noted above, tries to pretend it is a government which actually helps business, and not simply those companies that contain its friends or give generous donations to the Conservative Party.  Yet, having been in areas where the Olympic torch has been passing, I know that even that impacts on the internet connection.  At first I thought it was an attempt to compel us to abandon our computers and get out to watch the parade.  I did that for the sake of the 10-year old who lives in our house and saw tens of metres of procession which simply summed up many of the problems I have commented on.  There were tens of police either in standard uniform on motorbikes or in the natty grey running kit; there were numerous corporate sponsor vehicles and then lost amongst all this was an individual carrying the torch.  It perfectly summed up paranoia and corporate greed all in one.  I did wonder about the runners.  They receive high level protection, with four police staff runing with them, but what happens once they have handed over the torch?  Suddenly they transmogrify back into ordinary people.  If they are such a target while running with the torch, why not some minutes later?  Again, to me this seemed to sum up how narrow the perspective has been of the organisers at every single level.

Anyway, we have been warned by BBC News Breakfast programme to expect a similar fall off in internet service during the Olympics.  It will be interesting if some econometrics specialist can subsequently tell us how much damage that will do to the British economy.  Every bank holiday we are told how many billions of pounds are lost because people have one day extra off.  I would guess, on the same scale that more will be lost through damage to the internet connections over two weeks than is gained through money brought into the UK.  There clearly is already a loss given that troops who already had a job are being used for security rather than 3000 unemployed people getting a job however temporarily.  Increasingly, it is apparent, that the disruption to the UK which is of a scale far greater even than the recent flooding, is going to damage it at a time when its economy and society are already at a low ebb.  Britain is not going to come out of the Olympics unscathed.  The legacy is pretty illusory.  Yes, some people might take up some sports they might not have done before, but you could have pumped the money spent on the Olympics into local authorities into reducing the charges at leisure centres to achieve that, without all the traffic disruption, missile sites and paranoia.

The best way for the UK to have handled the Olympics is to have held our hands up and said, 'no, we are incapable of doing this without disrupting the UK economy and having to try to terrify much of the population; we have no companies that can deliver what they are promising' and then in the spirit of international friendship offered to help Dublin or Paris or Brussels actually host the games with British troops (out of uniform given sensitivities) along with Boris Johnson, packed off to the new host city to run it all.  Then Britain could get on without the disaster warnings, the militarisation and the paranoia and without the damage to the UK economy which is going to follow in the wake of this fiasco.

P.P. 31/07/2012
Since posting this I have been reminded by people about how poor the logo for the 2012 Olympics was, almost entirely illegible and also that the 'mascots' were so alien as to frighten children, a major failure when you are trying to peddle millions of soft toys.  These things do not damage the every day life of most people, though may have had an impact on some retailers grasping for any sales in this recession.  The error over the North and South Korea flags was typical of Britain.  David Cameron must be the only world leader who has been compelled to apologise to North Korea.  Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for the US Presidency made an utter fool of himself, though apparently he has no foreign policy advisor.  Saying that even Michelle Obama made fauxs pas when she and her husband visited, but that was simply about the snobbery of the Queen, rather than what Romney has done, offend one of his country's prime allies and the only one which has stood by it when the last Republican President, George Bush Jr. decided to go to war.   You do wonder if there is anyone left in the USA who is white and works in business and has any brains.  Perhaps they have all emigrated; clearly they are not going into politics any more.  If Bush and Romney are the best the Republicans can produce you wonder what the men they beat are like.  The UK has been a close ally of the USA for over sixty years so to be able to offend it takes some really misguided talent.  The concern is, when he travels to countries who are more sensitive to such things and whose displeasure can have an impact on the USA, that he may actually provoke violent attacks, maybe even a war.  This may is a danger to world peace.

P.P. 03/08/2012
One thing that I was only alerted to recently was the impact that the Olympics have had on postal services in and out of London.  One form of special delivery has been suspended for the duration of the games and letters posted first class in London will now take a day longer than usual to arrive.  Despite this, the post office guarantees to make available stamps featuring gold-medal winning British competitors a day after they have won their medal and to paint postboxes close to where the competitor lives.  I do wonder about their sense of priority.

P.P. 05/08/2012
The detrimental impact on the economy of the Olympics, especially in London continues.  Shopping centres across the capital are deserted.  This is not really suprising as if you drive towards London, even 25 Km (15 miles) out you see flashed up on the motorway 'Avoid Central London until 15th August' as if there is some immense natural disaster occurring across the city.  These signs were up even before the games began.  It is in fact a great time to visit Central London, as many of the attractions are deserted.  'The Guardian' reported yesterday that you could get on the London Eye after only 10 minutes of waiting rather than the 1 hour of queuing which is usually the case and museums and other attractions are empty.  The British are excellent at panicking as was seen earlier this year when even talks about a potential oil tanker drivers' strike drove people to rush to fill up with petrol, often at risk to their health.  The strike never occurred.  With the Olympics, the organisers' assumption has been that London would be in chaos and the warnings that have been hammered into us for months now, have made many people simply assume London is a no-go area.  It has impacted across the locations.  I have noted above that there was an assumption that Weymouth would be a no-go area, so people are simply avoiding that town and the surrounding countryside too.  Apparently as a result, attractions in Weymouth are closing down due to insufficient people turning up.  By making it appear that the infrastructure of the UK was going to collapse under the weight of the Olympics, the government has insured that it will not simply by scaring hundreds of thousands of people away, at a time when the tourist industry actually needed a boost.  It is sickening to see how many empty seats there are at so many Olympic events, because corporate guests cannot be bothered to turn up.  They should simply go into the streets of Stratford and hand out tickets to people.  The people of East London have to put up with enough on a daily basis anyway, they deserve something free.  Even if they sell the tickets on, it will stimulate the grey economy of the region which is actually a key factor there.  The UK could probably not have run the Olympics any more ineffectually than it has.  However, it has shown that fear is a key drive in British civil society, constantly fanned by the government for its own purposes.  Consequently in this situation we are reaping what has long been sown.

Monday, 23 July 2012

The 'British' Tour De France

Each year I present my views on the Tour De France, though this year in the English language commentary has grown at an exponential level.  This is because all the ambitions for British cycling in the race were realised and more.  It was clear back in 2008 when the British cyclists won 12 gold medals that the sport had come of age in the UK.  This unfortunately owes a lot to the Sky Procycling Team.  The reason why I say 'unfortunately' is because Sky is a Murdoch-owned company and James Murdoch, deeply involved with all the immoral activity of phone hacking had connections to this element of the empire.  That is the one sour aspect of the achievement.  I am just glad that I have not encountered any of the Murdochs or their criminally-intended cronies commenting on UK cycling.  With that nasty piece of business out of the way, I can turn to the British glory.

Wiggins is very self-effacing which is a nice contrast to last year's winner Australian Cadel Evans.  As regular readers will know, I have always disliked Evans quite purely for how he behaves in public and his comments.  He comes over as a very small-minded, incredibly bitter man and that takes the shine off even when he has achieved great things.  He can be a winner, but not one you feel comfortable in looking up to.  Other significant winners of the race have other attitudes that are better than this, but made them difficult to love.  Lance Armstrong is a decent man and a gracious winner.  However, he was always put on the defensive and still is and that has almost compelled him to go down the path to Evans-like harshness.  He is an incredible athlete and on the road has shown gentlemanly/sportsmanly approaches, yet the constant speculations and challenges have nibbled away at that too much.  I would love to see an interview in which he could talk about the cycling rather than being cross-examined.  My view is that any man who has faced infertility let alone death in the face and survived is going to be an incredible man; an appreciation which is only heightened in me as I fail to face up to physical and mental health issues myself.  Combining such strength with a clear athlete was always going to produce someone outstanding, there is no need for any other explanation.

Wiggins's hero, Miguel Indurain had a lot less difficulty in being a sustained winner than Armstrong.  However, the price was that he comes over as a machine.  He seems to have softened since retiring.  Yet, you cannot really cheer on a man without emotion,  Victories are great because you see the challenges, not because they are foregone conclusions.  This was why watching Armstrong was always better than watching Indurain.  In turn, though Wiggins had a comparatively 'easy' tour, anyone, no matter what their nationality, knew they were watching a human and that allows us much more affinity with him.  It is the same reason why I enjoy seeing Thomas Voeckler win.  He took two stages and won King of the Mountains in a tour which with a few minor changes could have been the first 'French' Tour de France for ages; five stages were won by Frenchmen.  The pleasure and pain is apparent in Voeckler especially in one of the slowest sprints to the line I have ever seen in a race and Phil Liggett commented much the same and he has seen hundreds more than me.  To spectate a sport, you want to feel that there is an element of the winner that speaks to you, that they are a person like you, even if immensely stronger and more skilful.  Sport is about celebrating being human and if the participants appear less than human, then we are cut off from something.  Maybe this is simply a British attitude, but I feel it has a wider application.

Wiggins's career has been very strong and the slips off this have been very much about his self-effacing attitude.  In comments during the race, it seemed that he found it difficult to accept that what he was witnessing was actually happening.  His grin when he came over the line in third place on Stage 17 with Alejandro Valverde winning just seconds ahead showed, as he commented later, that he had been hit by the sense of living the dream.  That again made him see very human.  In many ways we see the connection back to the boy who dreamt of winning the Tour De France and of course for so much of the audience we have nothing but such dreams.  Thus, so explicitly connecting into that aspect brings Wiggins again closer to his fans and general cycle racing fans.  It distinguishes him from the rather too cool or too bitter professionals like Evans and Indurain.

The other aspect which added to Wiggins's victory is his gentlemanly behaviour.  Slowing to wait for Cadel Evans and others on Stage 14 might not have been a hard decision, but it is certainly one that I know many wearing yellow, probably, I feel, even Evans himself, would not have taken.  Wiggins was in no danger of losing, and yet many sportspeople would have hammered home their lead by continuing despite the sabotage of tacks on the road which affected 30 riders.  Interestingly, without them, the situation could easily have been reversed as Wiggins had clear difficulties with his bike which he threw into the ditch in the end and got a replacement.  One thinks back to the different behaviour of Alberto Contador when Andy Schleck's chain came off during the 2010 tour.  The other aspect of Wiggins' behaviour which has attracted attention, even on the Wikipedia entry for this tour, is Wiggins as lead-out man in yellow.  This in some ways shows that he was stronger than some of the commentators viewed him when he needed Chris Froome's help on the mountains, but also shows that contrary to the line given by the team controllers, he knows that he is a team player and he can help out Edvald Boasson Hagen and Mark Cavendish, spectacularly on the Champs Elysee.  Chris Froome is very strong and I imagine a future British winner of the tour.  We may be in the British decade for the race.  I am glad he got a stage, I think he could have had one more.  As we saw with Evans and Tejay van Garderen and have seen on many teams in the past, a group of nine men, even with a leader, is liable to see others coming to the fore and the balance between them and the designated leader is often hard to call.  Froome will have other chances and as with Mark Cavendish who similarly had to play second fiddle to Wiggins at times, they have a better leader in Wiggins in terms of remembering and helping them, than would be the case if they were in this role on other teams, BMC being one example.

The British connection to the 2012 tour would be secured by Wiggins's victory alone.  However, it was given depth by the fact of how far British riders outstripped other nationalities this year.  Mark Cavendish with 3 stage wins, his lowest number since entering the tour, showed real maturity in the support role he was often called on to play.  However, as the 600m sprint showed on the Champs Elysee, he remains supreme in sprints.  I was glad that David Millar won a stage too, a decade on from his last in the tour.  He has always been an ambivalent character for me and never really turned out to be the British hero that I hope at the start of last decade.  He showed in this year's race really clear thinking and had a deserved win.  His manner has softened a little.  Whilst I would have preferred if he had gone nowhere near drugs and am a little unsettled at times at how righteous he can be, he is certainly worthy of support.  I see him being a very good manager of a team in the future with a calculating mind which I believe will win stages for whoever employs his talents.  Chris Froome certainly deserved the stage he won.  It was one of the most exciting of the race.  He could have won more and he will win more, but again it added to that 'depth' of the British experience this year and was the least consolation he could have received for all his hard work.  Froome and Wiggins going head to head on rival teams would create astounding cycle racing and that in itself, shows that British cycling has 'arrived' after long last.

In a tour which had had less British acclaim, there would still be a lot of interest.  I have commented in the past on the number of accidents and how randomly they have plucked riders from the race.  However, the very narrow roads and other factors took even more this year than in the past.  I think a minimum width of road should be set for the race.  I think bringing down a ride should be an offence that leads to immediate arrest.  Similarly harming them with things like flares should lead to much harsher action than it appears to do at the moment.

More positively I would highlight the astounding achievement of Peter Sagan winning three stages in his first Tour De France.  His strength on the road to win the green jersey with more points than has been the case apparently since the 1980s is in itself very worthy of note, especially given his young age.  I look forward to writing about his activities in the tour well into the next decade.  I will have to check, but this may have been the tour with the fewest number of stage winners as another rider with three wins and close on others is AndrĂ© Greipel.  To me he seems to be what I might term a 'tough' sprinter like Thor Hushovd, i.e. able to get to those finishes that come after stages which are not all flat and then put on a sprinter's speed.

Overall, though I would have liked a far lower casualty figure, the 2012 Tour De France is clearly one of note, both because of the immense British impact on it, but also because of the breadth of riders attracting attention and promising us some astounding races in the years to come.  In many ways I feel it has opened a new chapter in this sport and this particular race.

Monday, 16 July 2012

What If Sultan Mehmed II Had Not Died in 1481 and the Ottomans Had Conquered Italy?

My views on this topic can be found in my e-book ‘On Other Fields: Alternate Outcomes of the Middle Ages’ by Alexander Rooksmoor.  It is available for purchase on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/On-Other-Fields-Alternate-ebook/dp/B008LMT9WO/ref=sr_1_8?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342436531&sr=1-8


UK readers might prefer to access it through: http://www.amazon.co.uk/On-Other-Fields-Alternate-ebook/dp/B008LMT9WO/ref=sr_1_9?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342436579&sr=1-9

What If the Byzantine Empire Had Persisted?

My views on this topic can be found in my e-book ‘On Other Fields: Alternate Outcomes of the Middle Ages’ by Alexander Rooksmoor.  It is available for purchase on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/On-Other-Fields-Alternate-ebook/dp/B008LMT9WO/ref=sr_1_8?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342436531&sr=1-8
 
UK readers might prefer to access it through: http://www.amazon.co.uk/On-Other-Fields-Alternate-ebook/dp/B008LMT9WO/ref=sr_1_9?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342436579&sr=1-9

What If the English Won the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453)?

My views on this topic can be found in my e-book ‘On Other Fields: Alternate Outcomes of the Middle Ages’ by Alexander Rooksmoor.  It is available for purchase on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/On-Other-Fields-Alternate-ebook/dp/B008LMT9WO/ref=sr_1_8?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342436531&sr=1-8

UK readers might prefer to access it through: http://www.amazon.co.uk/On-Other-Fields-Alternate-ebook/dp/B008LMT9WO/ref=sr_1_9?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342436579&sr=1-9

What If, in the 13th century, the Chinese Had Discovered Central and South America?

My views on this topic can be found in my e-book ‘On Other Fields: Alternate Outcomes of the Middle Ages’ by Alexander Rooksmoor.  It is available for purchase on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/On-Other-Fields-Alternate-ebook/dp/B008LMT9WO/ref=sr_1_8?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342436531&sr=1-8


UK readers might prefer to access it through: http://www.amazon.co.uk/On-Other-Fields-Alternate-ebook/dp/B008LMT9WO/ref=sr_1_9?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342436579&sr=1-9

What If Prince Louis Had Become King of England in 1217?

My views on this topic can be found in my e-book ‘On Other Fields: Alternate Outcomes of the Middle Ages’ by Alexander Rooksmoor.  It is available for purchase on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/On-Other-Fields-Alternate-ebook/dp/B008LMT9WO/ref=sr_1_8?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342436531&sr=1-8

UK readers might prefer to access it through: http://www.amazon.co.uk/On-Other-Fields-Alternate-ebook/dp/B008LMT9WO/ref=sr_1_9?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342436579&sr=1-9

What If the First Crusade Had Failed to Capture Jerusalem?

My views on this topic can be found in my e-book ‘On Other Fields: Alternate Outcomes of the Middle Ages’ by Alexander Rooksmoor.  It is available for purchase on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/On-Other-Fields-Alternate-ebook/dp/B008LMT9WO/ref=sr_1_8?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342436531&sr=1-8

UK readers might prefer to access it through: http://www.amazon.co.uk/On-Other-Fields-Alternate-ebook/dp/B008LMT9WO/ref=sr_1_9?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342436579&sr=1-9

What If Burgundy Had Persisted?

My views on this topic can be found in my e-book ‘On Other Fields: Alternate Outcomes of the Middle Ages’ by Alexander Rooksmoor.  It is available for purchase on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/On-Other-Fields-Alternate-ebook/dp/B008LMT9WO/ref=sr_1_8?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342436531&sr=1-8

UK readers might prefer to access it through: http://www.amazon.co.uk/On-Other-Fields-Alternate-ebook/dp/B008LMT9WO/ref=sr_1_9?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342436579&sr=1-9

What If Alfred the Great Had Been Defeated?

My views on this topic can be found in my e-book ‘On Other Fields: Alternate Outcomes of the Middle Ages’ by Alexander Rooksmoor.  It is available for purchase on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/On-Other-Fields-Alternate-ebook/dp/B008LMT9WO/ref=sr_1_8?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342436531&sr=1-8

UK readers might prefer to access it through: http://www.amazon.co.uk/On-Other-Fields-Alternate-ebook/dp/B008LMT9WO/ref=sr_1_9?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342436579&sr=1-9

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

'Auctioning' Our House

With the fact that my benefits have been suspended due to action from my last employer and despite six interviews, I am finding it even harder to carry out the precise interview rituals that each company wants, we are well advanced on the path to having our house respossessed by the building society.  I must say that their attitude has improved from this situation twelve months ago.  Last year the society refused to even discuss the potential of me defaulting on my mortgage payments until I had less money than was needed to pay for a single month.  This year I have been able to discuss with their 'triage' team three months ahead of that date.  Of course, one option is to sell the house, but with the appalling weather and the stagnant housing market this has proven to be futile.  Last week with time really running out we decided to change tactics.  The woman who lives in my house and who shares the mortgage, signed up with a so-called 'express' estate agency which works in a very different way and one that seems to have gone in our favour, though not without some hiccoughs.

The company puts the house on the market well below the going rate for the district/street in which it is located.  It only publicises online and reuses images that you have provided to other estate agents.  Interestingly many letting agents and landlords/ladies apparently now has software which alerts them if a house comes on the market in a particular area or at a specific price.  The company will not take buyers who are in a 'chain', i.e. have to sell property to buy this one or have not already arranged to have funds available before putting in an offer.  Last year when we tried to sell the house, over a twelve month period we had three 'firm' offers but in each case the people could not either raise the money or wanted us to building on their behalf before they would complete the purchase so ultimately it was unsold after a year.

Anyway, this method seemed to work.  In reverse of what usually happens, the owners show people around the house but saying nothing about money, this is handled purely by a negotiator over the telephone.  Now, we had found many estate agents particularly useless at selling houses; they simply stood in the corner of the room waiting for questions.  They had no idea of the background of the viewers, for example, if they were buying to let, buying for themselves or others, had concerns such as local schools or health centres, etc.  So we felt we were much better positioned to do this aspect.  An extra advantage was that all of the viewings were scheduled for the same day, which meant we did not have to keep tidying and cleaning the house so it was in an immaculate state just for one viewer and then again for another a few days later and again a few days after that; it gets exhausting especially with a 10-year old boy living in the house.

An additional benefit is that the viewers can see who they are competing against.  Having all the viewings on the same day and then getting interested ones to telephone in an offer, makes it effectively an auction but one overseen by the company.  As they get 1.9% of the sale price they are keen to drive up the price by going back and forth between 'bidders'.  Anyway, we had 18 viewings with a total of 32 people plus a number of children.  At one stage there were four sets of viewers in the living room, so the competition was clearly visible.  The viewers were a mixture including a letting agent, representatives of landlords from this area and farther afield, people buying for relatives, couples wanting to rent the property out, young families and one retired couple.  To some degree this reflects the sort of people who want a suburban, 3-bedroomed semi-detached house.

The striking thing was how few people understood how the process worked.  Some thought me and the woman in the house were actually the estate agents, despite our casual clothes and were puzzled by the presence of the 10-year old boy once he returned from school.  One set of viewers thought we had driven down from Manchester where the company is based and were surprised about how much we knew about the local area.  Many expected us to be standing outside the house in the rain so did not even bother to knock or ring to come in.  Many did not understand the effective auction process despite details on the company's website.

It is incredible how many people in the UK misuse the phrase 'Dutch auction'.  Having had a tour around Dutch flower auctions I know how this works.  In these auctions, the price starts high and then falls in increments until someone puts in a bid.  This means that for any sale there is only a single bid which speeds up the sales.  Now, if this had been a Dutch auction as one man had somehow come to believe it was, it would not have started at £170,000  (214,000; US$263,500) in a street where no other property has sold below £200,000.  No wonder this man was disappointed as the price went up from there rather than down.  How he had got that idea from the company's website I have no idea. 

Similarly the view that only 'sealed bids' were permitted was something else that viewers had dreamt up.  A sealed bid is usually only for when people are tendering to complete a project and in the past literally involved people putting their highest bid on a piece of paper and sealing it in an envelope and handing it in.  The seller or the one offering the work, opens all the envelopes and goes with the highest.  Again this would be a foolish way to sell a house as everyone knows you get the best price from competition between different bidders even with traditional estate agent methods.  It would be pointless to have a single day's viewing then expect sealed bids, but again, from somewhere, perhaps pure arrogance or experience in other contexts but certainly not from the website, people believed the sealed bid method would be used.

Others missed out on the fact that it was an auction and would only stay open for 24 hours.  When they said they would get back to us next week, I had to tell them forcefully that there was no point as the house would be sold by then.  We had already had two 'book offers' on or just above the reserve price so even if none of the 18 sets of viewers had been interested we could have gone back to them.  Perhaps the company needs to be even more explicit about how it runs these sales, but people also need to wake up and understand what they are getting themselves into.  It was almost like turning up at a car auction and expecting to be able to negotiate a deal as you would at a dealership.  For us, it worked out fine.  By 11.00 the next morning when the bidding closed, we had an offer of £195,000 (245,700; US$302,250), so much better than what we had had by the traditional methods.  Of course, it is far less than the £217,000 we were offered but never received last year let alone the £240,000 (302,400; US$372,000) we paid for it in 2005, but the property market and our own circumstances are far worse then then.  It is better to get anything rather than have the building society take the house from you.  The one drawback from this method is that you get no deposit so we have had to go and borrow more money so that we can each put down a deposit on a flat to rent.  Anyway, my brief and tortuous period as a property owner now finally closes and so means I cannot take out one of these new government loans to pay for my care when I am elderly and I continue my rapid fall out of the middle classes.

P.P. 13/09/2012
The process proved to be even more messy and unpleasant than I might have feared.  It turned out that the highest bidder had actually lied to the estate agents and was actually in a chain so when it came to progress the sale she was not in a position to do so.  We ended up with the third highest bidder, the second having gone on to spend their money elsewhere in the time we were being mucked around by the first bidder.  This third bidder was offering £182,000 compared to the £195,000 of the first bidder.  However, we had no choice but to accept.  Of course within three days of the exchange of contracts he insisted on reducing his offer.  He had seen that a derelict house in the same road had sold for £170,000, though neglecting to point out that three months later, when it was refurbished it sold for £247,000.  He was clearly upset that he had not seen the house at a cheaper price and decided to take it out on us.  Despite the fact that he had already arranged a loan for £182,000 and the documentation was with our solicitors he withdrew this.  The estate agent probably conscious that their commission was dropping like a stone, managed after 3 hours of negotiation to keep him at £172,000, losing us a further £10,000 and meaning we are now worse off than when we were offered £170,000 by a developer without the estate agent fees.  These men are going to turn £70,000 profit in less than 3 months as the house does not need to be refurbished, but as I have noted before: http://rooksmoor.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/property-in-uk-11-squeezing-out-little.html they feel insulted if they have not been able to squeeze out extra money at the last moment.  The auction process looked like it could deliver for us, but in the UK with those with wealth able to dictate in every transaction, taking such a personal attitude to everything and being determined not only to get the best deal, but as much more as they can squeeze, it is no better ultimately than a normal sale. 

I am just denigrated so much by people I am trying to business with as stupid and naive that I have come out of this feeling utterly dirty.  In Britain if you are an ordinary person, you are no longer permitted simply to buy and sell anything, whether a gift on eBay or a house without you being told that you must show such gratitude for being ripped off and accept that any buyer will come back to take more from you before the sale is done.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Roosevelt and Contesting the Plutocrats

This one is going to start by sounding rather obscure but in fact goes to the way in which we properly respond to the financiers who have plunged us into the economic chaos that we are now facing simply for their own greed. Last week I was reading an article by Jonathan Raban in 'The Guardian' (24th January edition) analysing the inaugural speech by Barack Obama and comparing it with such speeches in the past. As he showed the US Presidential inaugural speeches have rather become fossilised in form and actually despite being so restrained, Obama and his primary speechwriter Jon Favreau used the speech to attack the regime of George W. Bush and try to outline a more accepting liberal USA for the future. This element of Raban's article was interesting and I have no complaint about it. Where I had more issue was with his comments on the first inaugural speech of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.

Roosevelt was elected president four times, dying in 1945 shortly into his fourth term; these days US presidents are only permitted to serve two four-year terms, unless they come to office through the removal of the sitting president; Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson became president in 1963, was elected in his own right in 1964 and could have been re-elected in 1968 if he had chosen. The importance of Roosevelt's 1933 speech is that the world was in a similar position to today. The Wall Street Crash of October 1929 had helped precipitate the widespread economic collapse (though it had begun as early as 1927) especially in 1931 (when the Austrian Creditanstalt Bank collapsed and the British Labour Government also collapsed after only 2 years in office) and by 1933 was leading to the highest levels of unemployment that the world had seen. US unemployment reached 13 million people, 24.9% of the workforce in 1933; in Germany, 1933 being the year the Nazis came to power it was over 6 million unemployed, 34% of the workforce.

Thus, Roosevelt came to power as a liberal president following the conservative Herbert Hoover, at a time when the economic crisis was well underway. Thus, 1933 was not directly equivalent to 2009; we are probably in something more like 1930 now. However, both Roosevelt and Obama had to make a clear lead in terms of what they were going to do to tackle the economic problems. Obama had a lot less room for manoeuvre in what he could include in his speech though was challenging a wider range of issues that Roosevelt (for example, recent US foreign and human rights policy, as well as the economic crisis). Raban is right that Roosevelt's speech was more ground-breaking and memorable, but interestingly he also feels that it was anti-Semitic. I think Raban's analysis is lazy (something which seems rather too prevalent in 'The Guardian' newspaper recently, note my critique of John Cartwright's piece on the 20th July plot last month) and to some degree by labelling Roosevelt as having anti-Semitic tendencies (even if these inadvertent) in his speech, he undermines what attacks we might make on the plutocrats of today using Roosevelt's language.

The element of the 1933 speech which attracts Raban's criticism is the following passage. I quote more of it than Raban did/was able to:

"... Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.
True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit. ..."

Now Raban feels that reference to moneychangers in the temple, taking from the incident in the Bible (Gospel of St. Matthew 21:12; Gospel of St. Mark 11:15) in which Jesus goes into the 'Temple of God' and threw out 'all that bought and sold in the temple', particularly the moneychangers and those selling doves/pigeons. The assumption of course is that the traders in the temple were Jews but neither writer suggests that this is the case. It is quite possible that a mix of people were trading in the temple, ironically in a way medieval churches in the western world were often used centuries later. Added to this, of course, at the time Jesus was breaking up this trade he was not a Christian, but a Jew. No-one was a Christian as we would define it, while Jesus was alive because what we define as Christianity was only established as a result of Jesus's death.

The central element of Christianity is Jesus's death and resurrection, so without that having happened, you could not have Christians. Thus, Jesus's actions were not someone of a different faith acting against Jews, they were the actions of a Jew acting against other people, some or many of whom were also Jews. You have to also contextualise this action in terms of 'Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s' (words from Gospel of St. Mark) which is not long after the temple incident being covered in Gospel of St. Matthew 22:21; St. Mark 12:13-17 and St. Luke 20-26. Though there is clearly discussion about what Jesus is advocating, it does seem to suggest that the holy and the profane renderings should be kept in different contexts. Jesus has not objection to their being money changers, he just does not want them (or dove/pigeon sellers) in a place which is supposed to be about the spiritual not the mundane. Like Jesus, Roosevelt argues he is seeking to 'restore the temple to its ancient truths', how can this be anti-Semitic, as it is advocating the status quo ante rather than destruction of that setting.

Raban also feels that the reference to the Book of Proverbs in Roosevelt's statement '[t]hey have no vision' (in the Hebrew text it is 29:18) is an additional element of anti-Semitism. I accept that the Book of Proverbs unlike many elements of the Old Testament does not have a perspective on things which is Jewish-centred unlike many of the other books, but the acceptance of it in the Old Testament does not suggest that there is Jewish hostility to this book nor that it is anti-Semitic in nature; it is simply that it draws on a wider range of perspectives and traditions from the Middle East of the era and as scholars note demonstrates the interaction between the Jews and other peoples notably the Greeks and the inter-change of ideas rather than any attempt to suppress them. The Book of Proverbs is not out of step with other late and Wisdom books of the Old Testament.

Thus, I find it difficult to accept Raban's assertion that Roosevelt's speech was even nodding towards anti-Semitism, because the source material was not anti-Semitic. I know presidents are sometimes misguided by their speechwriters, but even Raban has to admit, that Roosevelt's speechwriter was Raymond Moley not a noted anti-Semite and the closest Raban can find is Father Coughlin, a supporter of Roosevelt in 1932 who soon stopped supporting him when the New Deal was introduced. There is no evidence that Coughlin had any input into any of Roosevelt's speeches. Raban seems surprised that Roosevelt was seemingly spouting anti-Semitic statements and says that '[i]t's a puzzle' especially given the fact that he had Jewish friends and appointed Jews to his Cabinet and the Surpreme Court, noting names such as Felix Frankfurter, Henry Morgenthau, Abe Fortas and Louis Brandels. 

The only other explanation he can find for Roosevelt's seeming abberation in this speech is that 'genteel antisemitism was so routine that it passed unnoticed'. This could only be stated by someone with no idea of the world of 1933. Roosevelt was a far from stupid, short-sighted or naive man, he was clearly aware of the global tensions. The Nazis attitudes to anti-Semitism were well known; refugees from anti-Semitism in Germany as from Russia thirty years earlier, were already coming to the USA. In a speech as important as his first inaugural, Roosevelt did nothing without great care. Speeches in the 1930s when rallies and oration were still a core part of the political process were more examined than even today in our sound bite world. Raban confuses himself by seeing anti-Semitism in Biblical texts when it is not there. He undermines his own argument so much that it seems pointless even making it. Both he and his editor needed to think through what was being suggested before sending it to print. Such feeble analysis wastes time in what was otherwise a useful article.

Roosevelt and Moley were clever in using these references and this is an important element to note. Roosevelt used the rhetoric that would be familiar to millions of Americans. Importantly he charged the bankers not with incompetence but with immorality and that is a vital aspect that we must revive now. Roosevelt is right that the bankers had 'no vision' because they looked no wider than their personal bank balances and consequently 'the people perish'. The importance of this for what Roosevelt set out to do in the next few years was that he was arguing that these steps were not necessary simply from an economic or political ground but from a moral ground. In this way he is trying to be as bipartisan as possible as whilst Republicans might baulk at what they saw as Socialist or proto-Keynesian economics, it was harder to turn their backs on something which was a moral campaign in the interests of those who were not the 'self-seekers' but cared for 'civilization'. Roosevelt notes even among the capitalists it is the 'unscrupulous' and those with 'stubbornness' and 'incompetence' who he is taking to task, rather than seeking to overthrow capitalism as a whole. Raban has conjured up a fantasy of Roosevelt spouting 'a lightly coded message about a conspiracy of Jewish bankers' when it is nothing of the kind. It is an attack on all 'unscrupulous' bankers whichever faith they followed.

I acknowledge that some of those seeking the end or modification of capitalism in the late 19th century and early 20th century could fall into the danger of anti-Semitism, the so-called 'Socialism of Fools'. However, partly this was because genuine right-wing anti-Semites, who generally supported the reign of the rich, used 'plutocrat' as short-hand for Jew. However, the term is far broader than that and in fact in any country of the western world, the percentage of plutocrats who were also Jewish was always a small minority; Christian plutocrats always heavily out-numbered them. Thus, when we attack plutocrats today, no-one should accuse us of being anti-Islamic because the largest shareholder of Woolworths in the UK was Iranian or anti-Hindu because the owners of Corus and Jaguar Cars are Indian. 

Plutocrats come in all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and religions. They are wrong and as in 1929 they, financiers rather than manufacturers in particular, have plunged the world into economic chaos because they worship no god except greed. Roosevelt was right to draw attention to the fact that when greed is unfettered and crushes so many ordinary people for the sake of piling wealth on wealth for a limited number of already wealthy people, then it is evil. It needs to be challenged in the way Jesus challenged it and to have a better society we need in Jesus's view spiritual values; in Roosevelt's view 'social values more noble than mere monetary profit'. More of us need to come forward and say the world has suffered because immoral greed was not checked. This is not anti-Jewish/Christian/Hindu/Islamic it is anti-evil.