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The Road to Little Dribbling

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in BritainThe Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Road to Little Dribbling
Created Friday 22 July 2016

Bill Bryson

Curmudgeonly, grumpy, at times crude, but a brilliant observer of Britain in decline, Bryson has written a book that is difficult to put down. It is part biography and part a book about detailed observances of Britain and its culture as only an outsider, come insider can do. He includes regular comparisons to places he visited 20 or more years ago, and reflects on a bygone Britain when the less threatening genteel asylum inmates were able to go out in the afternoon and walk around the local shops, where they were known and understood. As with so much in Britain now, we have succumbed to mind stultifying drugs of the real and imaginary kind, that have killed that sort of individuality and eccentricity.

For an example of his great writing style, regarding newspaer reporting:

“ ‘The rule is that bulls can be placed in fields with public rights of way as long as they are kept with beef cows and not dairy cows.’ I was of course bewildered by this. ‘Why one and not the other?’ I asked. ‘No idea. But the real danger,’ he went on, is cows. Cows kill a lot more people than bulls.’ Whatever is the next level beyond pained incredulity is the level I reached now. .. ‘Cows attack a lot.’ Walkers in Britain, it seems, are killed by cows all the time. Four people were fatally trampled in one eight-week period in 2009 alone. One of these was a veterinarian out walking her dogs on the Pennine Way in Yorkshire. More recently, a retired university lecturer named Mike Porter was trampled to death by an angry herd – yes angry – in a field near the Kennet and Avon Canal in Wiltshire. . ‘It looked like they wanted to kill him,’ one eyewitness breathlessly told the Daily Telegraph. It was the fourth serious attack on walkers in five years just by this one herd. .. it occurred to me that the issue here is not how often bad things happen, but how often they are reported, which is quite a different matter, of course. In America, a cow trampling would never make the national news.. There could be a national epidemic of cow tramplings and no one would know it because the news wouldn’t travel far enough for trends to become apparent. But in Britain if a single cow tramples a walker anywhere in the country, it will almost certainly make headlines. The story of the veterinarian killed in Yorkshire was reported in all the national newspapers except the Daily Star, and I am guessing that that was only because the people at the Star couldn’t spell veterinarian.”

This is one of my two favourite books on contemporary England, the other being, Tim Moore’s “You are awful, but I like you”. However, no one can beat Bryson’s fun writing style. There’s something here for everyone, whether it is a trip to the point, at 70.3 miles, that is the furthest, “and least salty”, that you can get from the coast. As he says, it is marked by a roll of discarded carpet, tossed into the hedge. That’s today’s England for you. .. or whether it is a visit to a beautiful English village and meadow that will be destroyed if Heathrow gets its third runway, .. or to an unstately, stately home that is locked into a time capsule of decay, as it was left 50 years previously.
Even his description of a somewhat chaotic trip to Cape Wrath will have you chuckling as he highlights our eccentricities in even such a remote place.
The book is worth buying for any individual chapter alone, such as that which includes his ten most pleasing things that occur to him about Britain. (OK there are twelve). I can understand Boxing Day but am still pondering the inclusion of the 20p piece.

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Sir Arthur Salter – The United States of Europe 1933

The United States of Europe and Other PapersThe United States of Europe and Other Papers by Arthur Salter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great book that contains many of the documents that were used to design the European Union (EU). Written in 1933, it reflects the thinking of the time and the rational behind the EU that we have today, designed for a world that no longer exists. It is important to understand this post World War thinking to understand why the EU was designed in the way that it was. The great irony is that the EU was designed by a British Civil Servant, Sir Arthur Salter, working in the League of Nations, although his role is very rarely ever mentioned. He worked closely with one of the founding fathers, Jean Monnet, about whom much more is written.

The concern was that economic factors were behind most wars so if a way could be found to reduce tariffs and increase trade, then the likelihood of war could be reduced. As Sir Arthur wrote, about “All the trade barriers which the Conference sought to remove are of course buttressed by some private interest which has developed businesses under its protection.” The economic giant was the USA, where there were no tariff barriers between states and thus, in this huge market, businesses boomed. So Salter envisioned a United States of Europe where there would be “complete free trade within Europe. … But can it be seriously believed that this is a conception that has any practical chance of realization as an economic policy only, and in the absence of very great political change? Zollvereins (1) have been often preached, not infrequently attempted, but never, I think, realised, except under the conditions of an overwhelming political motive and an extremely close political association between the countries concerned. … the receipts from Customs are so central and substantial a part of their [The European States] revenues, that a common political authority, deciding for all Europe what tariffs should be imposed and how they should be distributed, would be for every country almost as important as, or even more important than, the national governments, and would in effect reduce the latter to the status of municipal authorities. In other words, the United States of Europe must be a political reality or it cannot be an economic one.”

Much of the rest of the book is taken up by the actions required by the Central Authority of The League, the Kellogg Pact and attitude of the USA, to prevent war and the example of the short lived Greek invasion of Bulgaria in 1925 and the intervention of the League makes interesting reading. Sir Arthur went down to the Greek frontier a year later and “On arriving there I rather surprised the Bulgarian officers who accompanied me by saying that I proposed to walk over and invite the officers in command of the adjacent Greek frontier station to join us in our picnic lunch.” That’s the way to sort out wars!

If you don’t read this book I don’t think you can fully understand the EU of today, why it is an answer to a world that no longer exists, nor why it has a Commission, a Parliament, a Council of Ministers and a Court of Justice, as modeled on the League of Nations.

Sir Arthur was the real architect of the EU, but you will never see a plaque dedicated to his name.

(1) The word Zollverein stems from the German customs union of 1833 organised by the Zollverein Treaties.

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A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great BetrayalA Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Superb. But this is far more than just a book about Kim Philby and friends. Ben Macintyre has also written a no holds barred history of those who thought of themselves as the natural ruling class, through the 1920s to 60s, their total moral corruption, their weirdness and finally their own descent into self destruction. For anyone wanting to look back on this period, or for, say, an American who wants to learn more about this most embarrassing period of our history, this is an excellent primer. I just hope our present day leaders are better, but I know that is a forlorn hope. They are just less colourful.
The cultural and professional conflicts between MI5 and MI6 and the long term damage that Philby did to the CIA are interesting studies in themselves, which Macintyre documents so well.
If you just enjoy ripping spy novels, this would fit the bill, wonderfully, but because of Macintyre’s, research, attention to detail, fact and his discussion of some alternative versions of the ‘truth’, plus his skilful writing style, this book shows how real life can be so much more interesting than fiction and almost unbelievable.
Very highly recommended, on many levels.

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The God of the Mundane – Matt Redmond

The God Of The MundaneThe God Of The Mundane by Matthew B. Redmond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In probably one of the best books that I have read, Matt Redmond, addresses an issue that is almost entirely overlooked by Pastors and writers alike. He asks “Is there a God of the mundane?” His goal was to “comfort Christians where they were – to help people believe the mundane stuff matters and that goal he achieves superbly.
He writes for the “stay-at-home mom. She does the same chores every day. She fixes meals not always appreciated ………” He also writes for “A man, stuck. Stuck in a job that feels small – a job making him feel small. He is not embarrassed of his job so much as just miserable. … Actually, if we want to be specific about it, he is a banker.” and there is the strength of the book as it would appear that during the writing of the book something happened and Matt Redmond found himself in the very job he dreaded. But it is clear that God had a use not only for his gifts in the bank but also to bring an extra level of realism to this book.
As his whole life has been churched he has heard thousands of sermons but never one on living quietly which is strange as Paul urges his hearers to “aspire to live quietly” (1Thes 4:11), to do their work quietly, (2Thes 3:12) and even urges Timothy to tell his people to do the same.
A classic demonstration of this book is acted out by George Bailey (google him or ask any American). So if you are not a latter day Gladys Aylward or Billy Graham then like the rest of us “Be Nobody Special” and maybe this book is for you. “This little book is not a call to do nothing. It is a call to be faithful right where you are, regardless of how mundane that place is.”

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The Rule of Nobody – Philip K. Howard

The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken GovernmentThe Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government by Philip K. Howard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Philip Howard sets out to show how “freedom diminishes as government loudly grinds towards paralysis” and that as “daunting as the prospect maybe, we must rebuild modern government.” To prove his point, his book is full of supporting tales of a government that is in paralysis and the book is richly littered with excellent quotations.
That is the good.
The poor is that the book needs a good editor as it is overly long for the points made and is, at times repetitive. Also, Howard seems to be a supporter of big powerful central government, as a way to overcome paralysis, plus states’ rights hardly get a mention. As an outsider, it has always struck me that one of the strengths of the US culture, is that states have a large degree of independence which acts as an automatic balancing of power when one state goes to extremes of debt or anything else. People will vote with their feet and relocate.
I find myself disagreeing with some of his solutions as they will give the US government even more power at the centre and will give the President too much power, power that seems to be being abused already (2015), without granting more. That is the path to dictatorship.
In his appendix, Howard lists a “Bill of Responsibilities” in the nature of 5 proposed amendments to the Constitution. They make interesting reading, and could improve government, but I feel certain that his:
1. Amendment XXIX “… the President may: reorganize executive agencies and departments; veto line items in proposed budgets; refuse to spend budgeted funds for any program in order to avoid waste or inefficiency ….”
2. Amendment XXX “The President shall have authority over personnel decisions in the executive branch, including authority to terminate public employees, within budgetary guidelines and neutral hiring protocols established by Congress.”
At the minimum, his amendment ideas should start a healthy discussion.
Howard’s comparison of the US government with Jonathan Swift’s “Lagado” is both funny and sadly accurate. As he writes: “Modern American government is also organized to put theory above reality. Public choices, we believe, should be made pursuant to clear rules, set in advance, whatever the consequences. The consequences, as in Lagado, are wholly predictable: Nothing much works. Government staggers towards insolvency because no one is able to adjust unaffordable programs. An official lacks the authority to pull a tree out of a “class C-1” creek.”
A curate’s egg of a book. The good is very good, and the bad, worrying.

Philip Howard is the Chairman of Common Good. For further details of his reform agenda, go to.

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The Mark by Geoff Newman

The MarkThe Mark by Geoff Newman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A tightly written thriller that, once again, takes our hero, Jack Mawgan, though several countries and many threats on his life, as he is swept along by events, beyond his control as part of a wide ranging plot of corruption in the highest places.
It is clear that Geoff Newman has considerable expertise in the management of the UK police helicopter and air ambulance field fleets and uses that with his dislike of a developing UK kleptocracy to write a complex yet thoroughly engrossing and wide ranging plot. The Mark is difficult to put down as you are always left wanting to know what is going to happen next in events that take the reader into some complex and diverse scenarios. You will enjoy this, the last in the Jack Mawgan trilogy.

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Deliver us from Evil

Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and LiberalismDeliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism by Sean Hannity
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A shrill attack on Democrats, prior to the 2004 election, Hannity’s book could have been titled “Deliver us from Evil Democrats”. His aim, in writing the book was to write, in some detail, why Americans shouldn’t choose any of the potential democrat candidates as President of the USA, but the sub aim was to remind us of the real existence of evil; an evil with which negotiation is impossible. As he states:

“I believe it is our responsibility to recognize and confront evil in the world – and because I’m convinced that if we fail in that mission it will lead us to disaster.”

“Still, we cannot prevail tomorrow without courageous leadership today. Our leaders will choose how we meet the challenges of the future – with strength and conviction, or with cowardice and accommodation. We, in turn, will choose those leaders. In doing so, we must remember, we are choosing our future.”

Once you have got over its deliberate aim, looking back from 2015, this proves to be a useful history book as it is full of quotations and context. The chapter on the Clintons alone makes this a valuable book, as so little has changed in their methods in their approaches to both the 2016 election and to continuing scandal revelations. Hannity at his prophetic best, about a future Hillary Clinton presidency:

“Whenever that should occur, it seems likely that the Clintons will play a significant role, and have considerable influence over, Democratic policy – including their attitude toward national security – for years to come. All of which should be a matter of grave concern for Americans who understand the importance of vigilance in the face of evil.”

Don’t miss some great quotes from Solzhenitsyn, a reminder of the numbers involved in the genocide in the USSR, China, N. Korea, Cambodia and others; and sadly, the quotes that show the flip flopping politics of a number of individuals.

The chapter on possible democrat candidates is mainly of historic interest only as most, but not all, have since disappeared from the political scene.

A final word from Hannity:

“It’s not just that liberals fail to see history in the making; they also ignore the lessons of history – even those that should be fresh in our minds. Why? Because their approach toward world events is based on ideology, not on logic – on politics, stalling, and hairsplitting, not on moral judgment.”

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