Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bush goes around, not Comes Around

The happy headline says "Bush aide says warming man-made."

Is Bush coming around?
No, he has been around all along.
This headline is a work of art. The press keeps reporting that Bush is changing, coming around at last, but it is wishful thinking born of abject error. Strange brew that.

Bush aide Marburger is head of the science and technology policy shop (OSTP). The US has a fistful of billion dollar S&T programs on CO2 reduction, so he is justifying them. (That is his job.) Bush has announced one such boondoggle almost very year. Hydrogen, FutureGen, most recently replacing 20% of the gasoline with mush. Bush even set a 5 year US CO2 intensity reduction goal in 2001, which he then met.

So it could not be clearer that the Bush admin believes in human induced global warming, and always has. (More's the fool's pity, but we digress.) Why then this latest in an endless, breathless series of newsies chanting "he is changing, he is changing"?

Because the great Green press insists on equating believing in global warming with invoking cap & trade rationing, so systematically misses the point. Thus too do the people. Fine by us, for as Machiavelli says, in war and politics the greatest advantage is to be underestimated by your opponent.

Nothing is changing and with luck Bush is going to ram a technology based, aspirational intensity goal down the UN's throat. Bush and China that is. China has also adopted an aspirational intensity goal.

He will do it precisely because he believes in "man-made warming," and has since the beginning. Won't everyone be surprised.

The Washington Pest

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Brief Lives Briefly Viewed

by John McCaughey

W.F. Deedes cheats a little with the title of this book*. First, "Brief Lives" was employed hundreds of years ago as a book title by the 17th Century scribbler John Evelyn and has been used often since then by other writers of books. Deedes ought to have scratched his head to find a more original title. In truth, they are not "Lives" at all in any real biographical sense but merely brief anecdotal sketches, mostly of contemporaries.

For all that, it is an interesting book. Bill Deedes, who died at 94 not long ago, had plenty of material. A politician, former cabinet minister, Editor of the national conservative newspaper The Daily Telegraph (known fondly as The Torygraph), he became a columnist in later life. His long career in London afforded him the opportunity to meet most of the history-making characters of the epoch. Unusually, for a politician and a newspaperman, he was much loved by his readers. His fame was greatly increased by a series of "Dear Bill" letters in the satirical magazine Private Eye. These were (ostensibly) letters from Dennis Thatcher (the then Prime Minister's husband) to his golfing friend Bill: two curmudgeonly old conservatives complaining about the vicissitudes of modern Britain. Deedes took the gentle mockery that the columns engendered with great good humor.

Nowadays, we are mostly cynical about and disenchanted with politicians. Deedes was more forgiving. "Whether they got it right or wrong," he says, "they serve as guideposts. That is what makes them worth writing about." And write about them he does, neither in a party hack nor a sarcastic style. He is especially good on the politics in England in the run-up to World War II. He understood politics, noting here: "That is a hard thing about politics: events may call upon a man to do something wholly contrary to his political creed. If he does so, his party will accuse him of betrayal; if he does not, then he will be seen as a man who put party before country."

Deedes is no flashy stylist but he writes with simplicity and lucidity --- perhaps a better thing. But he appreciates color. He tells an amusing yarn about Churchill who, refusing to take early retirement, "dons what looked like a cross between a bowler and a topper, mounted a horse and was declared to have joined a foxhunt."

Deedes‚ subjects (about 18 in all) are all over the shop: important (if now forgotten) politicians like Stanley Balwin or Anthony Eden, entertainers like Noel Coward (whose advice on getting the best seat on a railway train is alone worth the price of admission), mountaineers like Edmund Hilary (first man to climb Mount Everest) and more unlikely characters like Imelda Marcos (she of the shoes) and Princess Diana (with whom he shared a campaign against landmines), fellow journalists like Malcolm Muggeridge and even Mary Whitehouse, the oddball campaigner against what she perceived as pornography on BBC television. Some of these sketches may be of interest only to historians but it is good to have them in print, written by someone who was on the scene and knew the players personally.

In brief, Deedes‚ short book is in its way a serious work of British social, literary and political history. The tone is (very occasionally) a trifle self-congratulatory and one does yearn at times for a little sarcasm or satire. But that was never Deedes‚ way. He was gentle and kind. And he was an old man when he wrote the book so that he can easily be forgiven for not being Jonathan Swift.

*Brief Lives by W.F. Deedes. Pan Books (UK)


Monday, September 3, 2007


by John McCaughey

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord (1754-1838) was one of the most brilliant diplomatists --- indeed, statesmen --- of his era. A famed wit, a ruthless opportunist, aristocratic but a revolutionary, a liberal, a free-trader, pro-American, he was even a renegade bishop (Holy Orders were seen in those days --- perhaps still are --- as a path to material advancement). He helped make (and then break) Napoleon and then assisted in the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in France. At the Congress of Vienna, which reshaped Europe after Napoleon, he played a weak French hand with consummate skill. He died reconciled to the Roman Catholic Church at the last minute --- to the fury of his critics. In this admirable new biography* Robin Harris has more than done justice to the complicated politics and psychology of one who, whatsoever his faults, was a great man.

Talleyrand, as depicted by Harris, had many virtues. Even his rivals admitted his self-possession and "extraordinary intelligence": cynical, his bon mots (although Talleyrand preferred to call these his mots juste) were polished and delivered in circumstances which assured their widest circulation (one of them, his famous disparagement of the Bourbons: "They forget nothing and learn nothing" has lived on); his conduct of affairs in his spell as Foreign Minister of France showed unmatched flair and finesse (as even Napoleon admitted); and he was extremely productive while affecting an air of nonchalance which his enemies often foolishly mistook for indolence.

A superb politician, he understood expediency and possessed (what few politicians do) the gifts of foresight, consistency, remorselessness and the character to follow the best course once he had worked this out. He had unmatched manipulative skills and political and social antennae. Sophisticated, he could appear open while giving nothing away. Said Chateaubriand: "You wonder if this man has not received an authority from nature to refashion or to obliterate the truth."

Always a wide-ranging reformer, he rewrote the French weights and measures system, then developed the modern, secular, centralized French education system. At the Foreign Ministry, he knew how to get the best out of his staff. More than that indeed. When one staffer brought back a monkey from Africa, the animal was set to work sealing letters at which the creature proved to be adept.

Politically, Talleyrand was what would nowadays be called a libertrarian: "What individual demands of every citizen," he said, "will be respected or re-established by the [revolutionary] Estates General. Beyond the law, all are free." It didn't quite work out that way, of course, but there is no doubting Talleyrand's sincerity.

Indeed he was really only a qualified supporter of Revolution, although he artfully concealed this fact. Inside, he was far too aristocratic to wish for a leveling of the social hierarchy.

At heart he was a royalist, but he managed easily to collaborate with Napoleon --to Talleyrand's and Napoleon's advantage and, it must be said, to the advantage of France. But it was a rocky, love-hate, conditional relationship that ultimately ended in bitterness. Talleyrand especially objected to Napoleon's bellicosity in foreign policy.

Nor did Talleyrand stick to his day job. On the side, he was an expert businessman. He speculated on property in the (as then, undeveloped) Champs Elysees and even explored buying land in Maine and upstate New York and he bought 100,000 acres of land in Pennsylvania which he resold in France, pocketing a 100 percent profit.

A gastronome, Talleyrand had a complicated system for drinking cognac, decided views on coffee (it had to be four-fifths mocha and one fifth Martinique) and he enjoyed peppered dishes which he fancied accelerated his slow metabolism and pulse rate.

For all his genius, Talleyrand had, unfortunately, great defects. He was a fearful snob, constantly high-hatting Napoleon, whom he regarded as a Corsican bourgeois upstart. He was a habitual liar (sometimes astonishingly so) -- never letting sentiment dominate calculation in determining his course of action. He was painstakingly vindictive both to persons and to governments which attempted to thwart him. He had huge reserves of ruthlessness and never hesitated to use them. He was madly ambitious, self-regarding and self-promoting. He made many mistakes, especially in military policy. He was shamelessly venal in soliciting bribes to a degree that would nowadays have instantly landed him before a grand jury. He was conspicuously promiscuous in an age when promiscuity was the norm.

Biographers are said usually to admire their subjects. In this book, Harris can't seem to quite make up his mind and takes refuge in rather too complicated (and sometimes boring) explications of 19th Century European politics and minor wars. "At the end," he writes, "I am left with the strong impression of a man quite unlike any other then or since His personality is as multi-layered as one of his chef Careme's millefeuille pastries." Perhaps the best Talleyrand quote, which applied as much to his statecraft as to his personal life, was: "I have never hurried, but I am always on time."

A supporter of the French reputation for logic and diplomacy (as opposed to the more robust English view of the French as a nation of intoxicated loonies stomping grapes in barrels), Talleyrand carefully rewrote just before his death his statement of reconciliation with Mother Church. Diplomatist to the very end, it was far from the statement that the Jesuits would have liked. When Talleyrand met his Maker at the Pearly Gates, it can only have been an interview fraught with difficulties for both men. Unfortunately, this biography omits a text of that interview.

On his birthday on 2 February 1837, Talleyrand wrote wearily: "That makes eighty three years that have passed! I do not know if I am satisfied when I recall the course of so many years. How much useless agitation! How many fruitless endeavours! Irritating complications, exaggerated emotions, worn-out strengths! Gifts wasted, ill-will inspired, equilibrium lost, illusions destroyed, tastes exhausted! And with what result? That of moral and physical fatigue, a complete despondency about the future and a profound disgust for the past. There are a mass of people who have the gift, or the deficiency, never to be self-aware. I have, in all to great a degree, the contrary misfortune; it increases along with the seriousness that the years bring with them."

On our deathbed, we should all write as well as Talleyrand.

*Talleyrand: Betrayer and Saviour of France. By Robin Harris. John Murray (UK) 2007.