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Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing.
Edmund Burke

As the Celtic Tiger recedes into history, leaving behind the materialistic dregs which are at all times the only things neo-Liberalism ever delivers, one man stands like a Colossus above the wreckage of post-boom and now completely busted Ireland, and his name is Ross O'Carroll Kelly. Where others, like his appalling, fluffy bunny wife, construct trickle-down theories of social cohesion designed ultimately for no other purpose than to convince themselves that they are actually “good people”, but which – curiously – never involve any real sacrifice on their part, Ross is having none of this hypocritical old claptrap. He's a greedy, lascivious, unprincipled, underhanded little rat and the only man in the whole show with the integrity to admit it to himself. These are the voyages of the star who is The Rossmeister General, his continuing mission to sate his apatites, to lay more women, to boldly screw what no man has screwed before.

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No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy
Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

Carrier warfare is a little like a gunfight: the guy who clears the holster fastest walks away. That’s why the US got creamed at Pearl Harbor, and why the Japanese got hammered at Midway. The side that has its planes in the air first wins, and it really is that simple. Carrier warfare is not a sophisticated science, and the battle is won or lost without either flagship ever seeing the other. These are the lessons which come across most strikingly from Ian Toll’s excellent history of the Pacific conflict in the crucial seven months between December 1941 and June 1942, but the book is much more than amateur strategy for the armchair admiral.

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Midnight in Peking - by Paul French

Nature is relentless and unchangeable, and it is indifferent as to whether its hidden reasons and actions are understandable to man or not

On the morning of January 8th 1937, an old man named Chang Pao-chen was taking his songbird for a walk (apparently, a Chinese custom) along the Tarter Wall of Peking, the ancient Chinese capital which we today, with scrupulous correctness, know as Beijing. On reaching the Fox Tower, a watch tower built as part of the wall, he came across two rickshaw pullers pointing excitedly at the rubbish-strewn base of the tower, where a horribly mutilated body lay. In Peking in 1937, with the Nationalists and Communists at daggers drawn and the Japanese at the gates, life was cheap, but this body was different; this was a laowai, a European woman, and when Chang reported her to the authorities, the circus swung into action, for this was no ordinary laowai; her name was Pamela Werner, and she was the daughter of the former British Consul in Peking.

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Bitter Water - by Gordon Ferris

There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.

Gordon Ferris’s last outing with his post-WWII Glasgow journalist protagonist, Douglas Brodie, went viral over at Kindle, and for good reason. An interesting character in an interesting place, tackling interesting ideas, Ferris proved he was more than just a by-the-numbers hack cranking out the tartan noir formula. He showed himself a writer capable of smoothly examining themes a literary author would struggle with, and carrying his readers along with him without a hint of “worthiness”. He tries the same tack with this new outing for Brodie, but while the talent still shows through, I didn’t find it as fulfilling as the previous effort.

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A house divided against itself cannot stand
Abraham Lincoln

In a somewhat crappy 1957 movie called Band of Angels, Yvonne De Carlo played a southern belle, heiress to a plantation in Old Dixie, who discovers when her father dies that: a) the estate is bankrupt, b) it and all the property attached - slaves included - is to be sold off to pay the creditors, and c) the mother she never met was actually her late father’s slave mistress (somebody probably should have given her the heads-up on that one), which means that she herself is a slave, which means down the river she goes with the rest of the goods and chattels. Based on a Robert Penn Warren potboiler, this kind of salacious, sub-soft porn was about as far as mainstream Hollywood ever went in the service of its kinkier patrons, but since Yvonne had the good fortune to be bought by Clark Gable, you just knew it would all come right in the end. In reality, however, when things like that happened (and actually, yes, they did happen), not everyone was as lucky as Yvonne De Carlo.

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The Sense of an Ending - by Julian Barnes

Every man’s memory is his private literature
Aldous Huxley

The recent fraying of the United Kingdom under nationalist pressure from Scotland has had the effect of creating a renaissance within Scottish culture. In music, literature and the arts, things Scottish have been coming very much into vogue in British public life, but it's often forgotten that there is also a positive benefit in this for England as well. Until recently, writers like Melvyn Bragg, while reasonably successful, have been held somewhat at arms length by the commentariat of such organs as the BBC and the other London-based cultural outlets, mainly due to their “middle-class, middle-aged, straight white guy” mentalities. Middle-class, middle-aged, straight white guys can’t write about the black experience, the youth experience, the gay, Asian or female experience, so consequently, they don’t count.

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I thought everyone must know that a short jacket is always worn with a silk hat
King Edward VII

There’s a philosophy within Gaelic football which says, “look after the points and the goals will look after themselves”. It’s an old-fashioned kind of a view which encourages one to attend to the small things and by so doing, guaranteeing the success of the large. Fundamentally, it’s about standards, and you don’t see a lot of it about these days.

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The Great Heresies - by Hilaire Belloc

Religion requires certainty
James Lovelock

Not for the first time, Lovelock was wrong, although if he’d read Belloc, it’d be an easy mistake to make. Best remembered today (and quite rightly so) as the poet laureate of light verse, he was also one half of “The Chesterbelloc”, that formidable tag-team of Catholic apologists, through which he, together with his close ally GK Chesterton, struck terror into the hearts of atheists everywhere. As is often the case in these matters, the respective styles of the two were strikingly different, yet in some strange, symbiotic way, complementary. Chesterton, the more avuncular of the two, would seek to persuade the sceptic with his wonderfully unique logic, as imaginative as it was original; and if that didn’t succeed, Belloc would duff them up.

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Test of Wills - by Charles Todd

I like men who have a future and women who have a past
Oscar Wilde

Unfortunately, I don’t think Ian Rutledge, protagonist of Charles Todd’s detective series, has a particularly bright future with me. This is not to say that the book is badly written or in any way illiterate, but it just didn’t engage me enough to make me want to pull it up on my smart phone app at every opportunity, which is always a bad sign with a detective story. After I’d finished, I was kind of glad it had been so cheap on Kindle, which is an even worse one.

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Goodbye, Good Men - by Michael Rose

If you build it, they will come
Field of Dreams

In 1938, James Cagney made a movie called Angels with Dirty Faces. This was a real old-fashioned two-fisted gangster epic, full of big hats and ‘let ‘em have it’ dialogue. Cagney’s co-star was Pat O’Brien, ‘Hollywood’s Irishman in residence’, playing Father Jerry Connolly, Cagney’s boyhood friend, now parish priest of their old neighbourhood. Connolly is engaged with Cagney’s character, Rocky Sullivan, in a struggle for the souls of the Dead End Kids. For our purposes, one scene in particular illustrates the point of Michael Rose’s book: Father Jerry follows the Kids into a bar and fails to get them to leave. When a barfly accosts him, asking ‘what’s the matter, can’t you get them go to heaven with you?’, Connolly decks the wino with a single punch and walks out.

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December 2012