Monday, October 27, 2014

What Makes Them Tick: Inside The Mind Of The Abbott Government

By Lissa Johnson

The following is a Leftist article that I am putting up here only because I have critiqued it

If the Abbott Government was an individual, he would be a psychopath. And you wonder why they're frightened of science! Clinicial psychologist Dr Lissa Johnson explains.

Decades of research in political psychology has opened a window onto the psychological heart of politics. The Abbott Government embodies the conservative psyche in pasquinade form.

With a prime minister who threatens to shirt-front the Russian president, a finance minister who calls the opposition leader a girlie-man and a government advisor for whom “Abos”, “darkies” “muzzies”, “chinky-poos” and “whores” rolls comfortably off the tongue, it is little wonder people are asking what goes on in the minds of our politicians.

For different reasons, academic psychologists have been asking the same question for some time.

They say that it takes 20 years for knowledge in academic psychology to make its way into the public domain. If that is the case, the political psychology literature is just coming of age.

Thanks to an invigoration in 2003 of research that had been gathering steam in the 1990s and before, we now know with considerable clarity what separates the left psychologically from the right. And the picture is revealing.

Political vaudeville aside, the Abbott Government offers a vivid case study in conservative psychology that breathes life into the very definition of conservatism.

In the political psychology literature conservatism is defined in two parts, resting on the pillars of equality and change: accepting versus rejecting inequality and advocating versus resisting social change.

By this definition, the conservative position on any issue involves promotion of inequality and resistance to change. Where conservative change is sought it is typically in the direction of inequality, winding back historical egalitarian change.

As a case study, the Abbott Government illustrates not only these two principles, but also their psychological building blocks, identified in a vast number of studies from institutions around the world. These studies, emanating from the likes of Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, NYU, UCLA and countless other universities, have been replicated time and again by different researchers using different measures (self-report, implicit tests, peer-ratings, behavioural indices) and different methods (correlational, experimental and longitudinal). In short, a reliable body of research.

One consistent finding in this literature is that conservatism involves a cognitive tendency known as the need for cognitive closure. This entails an impetus to arrive at fixed and firm answers to complex questions, motivated by the drive to resolve uncertainty and ambiguity. It manifests in seizing and freezing on opinions and ideas, or swiftly and resolutely reaching final conclusions on complicated topics, which then remain closed to further review.

Our government’s policy on climate change, for instance, comes to mind. As does its haste to pass legislation without debate.

The conservative need for cognitive closure is broadly rooted in a personality style that psychologists call “closed-minded” or often simply “closed”. It involves low levels the personality trait Openness to Experience, which is widely accepted as one of the five core dimensions of personality.

People low on Openness prefer certainty, order, structure, the familiar, predictability, simplicity, and sticking with the tried and true. They dislike change, complexity, uncertainty, ambiguity, novelty and flexibility. They are less intellectually curious than their more open counterparts, disinclined to examine their own ideas and views, and as a result are often suspicious of science and the arts. They also tend to dislike new experiences, frequently including but not limited to foreign people, culture and food.

Our government’s distaste for science ministers and asylum seekers, then, makes sense.

Another ubiquitous finding is that conservatism is inversely related to the pursuit of social and economic equality. Conservatism correlates strongly with a preference for fixed social hierarchies entailing inequality between social groups, along with punitive attitudes towards marginalised and/or non-conforming members of society, who are seen as destabilising elements that threaten social cohesion.

This anti-egalitarian psychological characteristic, with over 50 years of research behind it, is known as Right Wing Authoritarianism. It is predicted by low levels of Openness, with the associated need for a predictable, orderly and controlled social world.

Right Wing Authoritarianism has a younger cousin, with 20 years of research behind it, known as Social Dominance Orientation. A darker pathway to ideological views, Social Dominance Orientation is more a ruthless and competitive form of anti-egalitarianism. It not only correlates with conservatism but also with the ‘dark triad’ of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy.

In newer research, conservatism has also been found to correlate inversely with compassion, humility, dispositional fairness, altruism and empathy.

So robust are the psychological findings that John Jost of NYU and his colleagues propose that political orientation “may be structured according to a left-right dimension for primarily psychological (rather than logical or philosophical) reasons… linked to variability in the needs to reduce uncertainty and threat”.

Of course not all people who vote for conservative political parties embody all, or even necessarily some, of the psychological correlates. What the research indicates is that the more conservative a person is, on average, the more strongly they are likely to display these characteristics. Fortunately none of us, as individuals, is entirely average.

In fact, some studies have found that the more politically active a person is the stronger the psychological underpinning of their ideology is likely to be. Thus we could expect our leaders’ political views to be more, rather than less, psychologically driven than our own.

And more hell bent on inequality and opposing change.

In a world of increasing egalitarianism the conservative position can make for a hard sell. Politicians with an agenda as conservative as the Abbott Government’s can’t to go to the polls wearing their manifesto on their sleeves. “We promise to preserve and intensify privilege, entrench disadvantage and wind back egalitarian change, putting a halt to its further spread.”

As a result, in order to gain power conservative political parties are compelled to sugar-coat their agenda to be palatable in a putatively egalitarian world. A conservative stock-in-trade to this end is what political scientists call ‘legitmising myths’, or ideologies that justify discrimination against disadvantaged groups.

Legitimising myths typically appeal to fear, which increases political conservatism; scarcity, which increases competition between social groups; and stereotypes, which smooth the way for discrimination against less privileged members of a society. For instance, “Burqa-wearing women are potential terrorists who threaten our safety and our way of life” is a myth that appeals to all three.

While the Abbott Government relied more heavily on lies than myth-making on its way to the election, since gaining office Abbott and his ministers have had a crack at a few legitimising myths of their own.

They have been successful with some, for example ‘The carbon tax will cripple the economy (fear and scarcity)’. They have limped along lamely with a few, such as the ‘Budget emergency’ (fear and scarcity again) and ‘Age of entitlement’ (stereotype).

Other efforts at legitimising mythology have received hostile reception, for instance ‘The unemployed just need to try harder’ (stereotype), and ‘Poor people don’t have cars’ (stereotype again). Some are just plain silly, such as ‘Coal is good for humanity’ (tempting to type ‘insanity’ here).

On Aboriginal people, the Government has opted for the most effective and time-honoured myth of all, ‘They don’t exist – at least not really.’ Silence and collective blindness have worked for governments until now. This kind of psychological apartheid (literally “apart-hood”), keeping races psychologically apart, is a stealthy variety of stereotype that serves to obscure the very existence and legitimacy of an entire race.

A prime example is the call for a more westernised version of history in the national curriculum, one that emphasises Judeo-Christian heritage and scales back focus on Aboriginal history. It not only seeks to reverse historical egalitarian change, but also serves to push Aboriginal Australians even further out of our collective awareness and understanding.

The Government’s most recent legitimising rhetoric, ‘The war on terror at home’, is probably the most potent and promising of all. In numerous studies, invoking fear and even simply thinking about death increases self-reported conservatism and endorsement of conservative policies, candidates, and values.

For instance, in time series analyses George W Bush’s approval ratings and policy support soared after every upgrading of the national terrorist alert. Similarly, priming threat by asking people to rate statements such as “I worry that terrorists might strike any time anywhere” raises levels of both closed-mindedness and conservatism.

So strong is the fear connection that a brain structure integral to fear - the amygdala - is larger, on average, in conservatives relative to their ‘small l’ liberal counterparts.

Jost explains it thus: “Stability and hierarchy appear to provide reassurance and structure inherently, whereas social change and equality imply greater chaos and unpredictability…. People may be psychologically unwilling or unable to embrace the unpredictability associated with social change and increased equality when they are feeling threatened or experiencing aversive levels of uncertainty”

Exploiting ISIS for all it’s worth, then, is Tony Abbott’s best hope. The “death cult” refrain no doubt helps. Although Australians are at greater risk of death from falling off a ladder or out of bed, a cult is far more scary. And better on which to build stereotypes.

Given that stereotypes and prejudice feed and thrive on fear and justify inequality, it is perhaps not surprising that prejudice has been found to correlate with conservatism in a number of studies. Conservatism is most often associated with racism, particularly of the “modern” kind, which holds that underprivileged racial groups are responsible for their own disadvantage, but also prejudice in general, including prejudice against sexual minorities, women, and other disadvantaged or marginalised groups.

The attitudes of Professor Barry Spurr – the Sydney University academic and contributor to the review of the National School Curriculum who was suspended after a series of racist, misogynistic emails - may be more prototypical than we would like to think.

Jim Sidanius of UCLA and colleagues say, “Political conservatism and racism should be strongly correlated, because both ideologies are motivated by a common desire to assert the superiority of the in-group over relevant out-groups, and they justify such group superiority in terms that appear both morally and intellectually justifiable.” Or at least they try.

With prejudice, in pursuit of inequality we have seen the Abbott Government target “entitled” pensioners, welfare recipients, young people, single parents, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, the chronically ill and the disabled for a good kicking down the economic hierarchy. We have seen treatment of “illegal” asylum seekers sink to new lows, efforts to keep those with modest bank balances out of tertiary education, and to make healthcare inaccessible to low income groups.

These latter measures are important if inequality is to be a stable feature of a society, as they lock disadvantage in place.

Winding back egalitarian change has also proceeded apace. There has been the repeal of the carbon tax, axing of numerous climate change research and advisory bodies (ensuring inequality between current and future generations), abolishing a dedicated Disability Discrimination Commissioner, seeking, albeit unsuccessfully, to water down racial discrimination legislation, seeking to scale back focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and Asia in the national curriculum, disbanding the Immigration Health Advisory Group, and proposing regressive changes to migration law described by legal experts as cruel and inhumane and designed to subvert international law.

Not to forget the rushed changes to national security legislation, under fire from legal experts for encroaching on fundamental human rights and damaging the democratic cornerstone of press freedom.

Increasing a Government’s powers to jail journalists and removing journalists’ rights to defences such as public interest is one way to keep a society in its place. As is giving ASIO the power to "add, copy, delete or alter" information on computer devices. But there are others.

For instance, the Government’s introduction of social media guidelines prohibiting public servants from criticising the government. Or the gag clauses on community organisations such as Legal Aid Centres, also to prevent them from criticising the Government.

And what of mission creep in the war on criticism?

If the Government fails to expand and protect its borders around secrecy, then whistleblowers and ‘citizen/academic/activist journalists’ might continue speaking out.

The two ideals most dear to our Government’s extremist ideological heart could be exposed for what they are: change-aversion and inequality.

Our leaders’ policies might be outed as fanatical versions of these ideals, worthy of a terror alert all their own.  That would never do.

<a href="">SOURCE</a>

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Parsis Watch Numbers Decline

Because many want fewer children or have left India, some fear the descendants of Persians who fled Iran will not survive.

 At 24, Darayus Tirandaz knows what he wants: a Parsi wife, several children and an orthodox life within contemporary society.

"I want to get married before I'm 28," said Tirandaz, a troubleshooter for Dell Computer. "I see so many beautiful Parsi girls, many intelligent girls, so why would I want to marry outside the community?"

But as the global village opens new windows, younger Parsis leave India and marry outside their faith, and those who remain want fewer children.

Today, there are 76,000 Parsis in Bombay and 6,000 scattered elsewhere in India. They are one of hundreds of ethnic groups in India, constituting the world's largest group of Zoroastrians, followers of the Bronze Age Iranian prophet Zarathushtra.

The Zoroastrians of India are descendants of several hundred Persians who fled Arab persecution more than 1,000 years ago. They sailed toward the warmer climes of India and landed on the western shores. The Hindu maharajah -- keen on trade with the Persian Empire -- welcomed them and gave them land.

The Parsis eventually made their way south to Bombay, where they built the city's first hospital, ports and universities. From several hundred Persians, the Parsis grew in numbers to nearly 115,000 by the 1940s.

Today, there are an estimated 130,000 practicing Zoroastrians, mostly in Iran, the United States and Britain.

Population experts estimate that if Bombay Parsis don't have more children, only 23,000 will remain by 2021. The number of Zoroastrians worldwide could dwindle to 69,000 in two decades.

"The community in a sense may be doomed," said Jehangir Patel, editor of Parsiana magazine. "It is a serious problem that you can no longer ignore."

The Parsis of India have reared some of the best and brightest, such as Rohinton Mistry, the Bombay-born novelist short-listed for the Booker Prize for "Family Matters," a sad, sweet look at a Parsi family.

Atty. Gen. Soli Sorabjee, India's senior constitutional scholar, is a Parsi, as was the late Freddy Mercury, lead singer for the British rock band Queen. Zubin Mehta, Israel Philharmonic music director, is the son of the late Mehli Mehta, a Parsi and Bombay Symphony founder.

"In numbers, Parsis are beneath contempt, but in contribution beyond compare," said India's Hindu father of independence, Mohandas K. Gandhi.

Many mistake Mahatma -- "great soul" -- as the patriarch of India's great political dynasty. In fact, the daughter of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, married a Parsi, Feroze Gandhi. Indira became prime minister, as did their son, Rajiv.

The young Parsis of Bombay today are well educated; about 80% are college graduates. Young women are headstrong, marry later, and are pragmatic about family planning and home economics.

Dilshad Unwalla, a 16-year-old in bellbottom jeans and platform shoes, wants to marry a Parsi and make family her career. She wants two children.

"No more than that, as poverty is a big problem here in India," said Dilshad, ash on her forehead from her neighborhood fire temple, where Parsis pray before perpetual consecrated fires that Zarathushtra called the sacred source of life, warmth and light for followers.

"Everyone wants to fill their pockets and bank account and not think about others," she said. "I'll do my part by only having two kids."

Forty-year-old Freddy Tirandaz, Darayus' brother, shrugs off marriage, to his parents' chagrin.

"I'm indifferent to the whole proposal," said Freddy Tirandaz, who dabbles in stocks and helps with his father's import-export business. Still, he joins in the sports teams of Parsi singles who compete with each other's neighborhoods, or colonies, to mingle with potential spouses.

Both brothers are passionate about their faith and feel fortunate to have been born into it by their father, the only way to become a Zoroastrian.

"It's not like I'm preaching my religion, but I want people to know it's so beautiful and simple: Have fun in life and stay away from evil," Darayus said.

The Parsis, who don't smoke but gladly drink, follow a sacred triad: good thoughts, good words and good deeds. Making money is good, as long as charity follows. Parsis are legendary for their humor and loyalty to the Hindus who gave them refuge so many centuries ago.

"The survival of the community as a unique religious and ethnic group in [this] century will depend entirely on how much we adhere to these fundamental customs, traditions and precepts," said Norshir Dadrawala, a Parsi who heads up the Center for Advancement of Philanthropy.

Although the Hindus of India -- the world's second most populated country -- are encouraged to have only two children, the influential Parsi Panchayat, which regulates the internal affairs of the community, encourages Parsis to have three or four.

The council -- wealthy through centuries of donations and shrewd real estate deals -- offers to pay expenses for those additional children until they're 18. It also subsidizes housing for thousands of Parsis in an effort to keep them in Bombay.

Rustom Tirandaz, father of Freddy and Darayus and a member of the Parsi council, believes that Parsis must continue to unite and are successful because of good DNA. He scoffs at the medical theory that inbreeding weakens the genes and that his brethren are dying off.

"If we're supposed to be imbeciles and senile, then how come we keep producing intellectual giants?" he said. "Over the centuries, our DNA has been carried down and this superior DNA has been crystallized. If you take 100 people, you can always pick out the Parsi. He's got that peculiar nose; he's got that look of kindness in his eyes. That's due to centuries of inbreeding."

Tirandaz and other orthodox Parsis concede economics have forced some of their best minds to leave the community for the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia. "But they do leave behind very strong heartstrings," he said.

Khojeste P. Mistree, an Oxford scholar of Zoroastrian studies, said he and his wife, Firoza Punthakey Mistree, pray that their children's heartstrings will cling to Bombay. He and his wife live in a luxury apartment complex reserved for Parsis. Their daughter is studying at Georgia Tech, and their son is preparing to study abroad next year.

The parents believe that, although their children will mostly mingle with non-Zoroastrians, they will not stray.

"We as a community cannot afford that luxury. If in 100 years there is no Parsi ethnicity, then how does one sustain the religion?" he said. "From the point of view of self-preservation, it's what we have to do."

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Revealed: how King George V demanded Britain enter the First World War

It is a letter that throws fresh light on one of the darkest periods in Britain’s history.

A note which has remained in private hands for a century details a previously undocumented meeting between George V and his Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, on the eve of the First World War.

The King, mindful of his position as a constitutional monarch, made no public declarations about the situation in Europe in the lead-up to the conflict.

But in the newly-disclosed meeting, the King informed Sir Edward it was "absolutely essential" Britain go to war in order to prevent Germany from achieving “complete domination of this country”.

When Sir Edward said the Cabinet had yet to find a justifiable reason to enter the conflict, the King replied: “You have got to find a reason, Grey.”

Historians have no record of the meeting which took place at Buckingham Palace on August 2 1914, two days before Britain went to war.

It was revealed in a letter written by Sir Cecil Graves, Sir Edward’s nephew, who met with the King a month after his uncle’s death in 1933.

George V had summoned Sir Cecil – a future director-general of the BBC - to the Palace, where he offered his condolences before recalling the events of 1914.

The King “told me of the interview he had with Uncle Edward two days before the outbreak of war. It lasted for one and a half hours,” Sir Cecil wrote.  “He told me that Uncle Edward had said that he could not possibly see what justifiable reason we could find for going to war.

“HM said in reply, ‘You have got to find a reason, Grey.’”

The King told Grey "that, if we didn’t go to war, Germany would mop up France and having dealt with the European situation would proceed to obtain complete domination of this country.

“For that reason," Sir Cecil wrote, "he felt that it was absolutely essential that whatever happened we had got to find a reason for entering the War at once…

“The next day he had a private letter from PoincarĂ© [the French President] urging our participation in the War, and almost at the same time a telegram arrived from King Albert [of Belgium] about the violation of Belgium.

“He sent this straight across to Uncle Edward with a note to the effect that here was the reason and there was no need for him to try and think of anything.”

The envelope that Adrian Graves discovered among his grandfather's records

On August 3, shortly after receiving the King’s note, Sir Edward gave a speech to Parliament in which he said “it is clear that the peace of Europe cannot be preserved”.

He returned to his room in the Foreign Office and made the now famous remark as he watched the lamps being lit outside: “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

The following day, when the chimes of Big Ben rang out at 11pm, Britain was at war.

The letter was unearthed by Sir Edward’s great-great-nephew and grandson of Sir Cecil, Adrian Graves.

Mr Graves inherited Sir Cecil’s papers, which he kept in their original Asprey case alongside his fishing tackle, but had never studied them.

“My grandfather was involved in the First World War – he was one of the first to be captured, at the Battle of Mons, and later awarded the Military Cross. The case contained some of his records and papers relating to the war and his captivity.

“I decided to look through them as the centenary of August 4 was coming up, and I came across an envelope. Written on the front were the words, ‘Interview with King’. I had never known it was there,” Mr Graves said.

Among the heirlooms passed down to Mr Graves is Sir Edward’s gold pocket watch. It has no glass cover because the Foreign Secretary had failing eyesight and could tell the time only by touching the face.

Mr Graves said: “I hold it and think: was my great-great-uncle feeling the hands as they approached 11pm and realising that war was almost upon us?”

The pocket watch belonging to Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary during the First World War

At the time of the meeting with George V, Britain’s Cabinet remained divided over whether Britain should go to war.

Prof Hew Strachan, military historian and author of the recent The First World War: A New History, said: “It is clear that the King took a more active role in thinking about the country’s foreign policy than most conventional accounts allow for.

“If Grey said these things, it was in order to make clear to the King that the Government was not yet in a position to support France. Belgium provided everybody with the way in.

“The letter stresses the thrust of Grey’s policy: the need to be firm with Germany while not encouraging the French and Russians to rush into war. Grey wants a diplomatic deal.”

Prof David Reynolds of Cambridge University, author of The Long Shadow: The Great War and the 20th Century, said: “What we are hearing here, if this is a true rendition of events nearly 20 years before, is a weary Grey airing his worries in private on August 2.

“The document also reminds us that George V, although always conscious of his place as a constitutional monarch, was a king who privately offered strong views to his ministers and that those views were taken seriously.

“From this document, we do learn something about Grey but we learn rather more about George V.”

Sir Edward’s remark about the lamps going out is the inspiration for the Lights Out project, which is urging every household in Britain to turn out the lights at 11pm on August 4.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Last Aboriginal police tracker to retire as 200-year-old tradition ends

Australia's last remaining Aboriginal police tracker, 71-year-old Barry Port, is retiring from the force, bringing an end to two centuries of a practice in which investigations and manhunts relied on hired bushmen who "can read the ground like a storybook".

Mr Port has been an officer in far north Queensland for 33 years, where the local force says he is the reason for its motto "you can run, but you can't hide".

During his decades of service, Mr Port, who was born under a tree by the banks of the local river, has used his skills to track escaped prisoners, stolen cars and missing teenagers. He learnt to track from his father, a stockman who taught him how to find stray cattle and horses.

Known as a shy, modest and much-liked figure in his home town of Coen, he once described his method as "just look for footprints and follow".

"When they go through scrubby places, we look for broken branches," he told a Queensland newspaper three years ago.

"You try and get out in front of them. Track in a big circle. Try and see where they are going. You've got to keep your eyes out."

In a famous track of Mr Port's in 2011 which has become something of a town legend, he followed a man who had been convicted for a petty crime and run away from the courthouse. The pursuit lasted two-and-a-half hours before Mr Port walked over to a clump of trees and pointed to the man's hiding spot; the man, it turned out, happened to be a distant relative.

Sergeant Matt Moloney, the officer in charge of the Coen police station, said he once watched as Mr Port arrived at the scene of a car accident and was able to assess immediately the cause of the crash, including the speed of the vehicle and the precise spot where the driver "twitched the steering wheel".

"I am standing at this pile of dust and thinking: 'How did he come to this conclusion?' Everything he said was right," Sergeant Moloney told The Telegraph.

"He is a legend. We all look at things but very few of us observe things; he observes things."

Sergeant Moloney said non-Aborigines tend to view tracking as magic but it is a highly developed skill that has to be learnt.

"As white people, because we don't have it, we have this mysticism – we think it's magic," he said. "It is true that he has these incredible powers of observation. It is something you have to be trained in. You have to be relatively experienced in the area to know things are out of place. You are not necessarily following tracks but signs that things are not where they should be or things are out of place."

The early British settlers were stunned by the abilities of the Aboriginal trackers and soon began deploying them to hunt lost children and bushrangers. A group of trackers helped to find Ned Kelly, probably the most notorious of Australia's bushrangers, and the practice has been depicted in films such as Nicholas Roeg's Walkabout and Phillip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Pat Lowe, a British writer, said in a book about the trackers that they had excellent memory skills and often relied on tracking to find food and water.

"An experienced tracker can read the ground like a storybook," she wrote.

"He will usually be able to tell you the species of a lizard and not only which way a snake is travelling, and its size, but how fast it is moving and whether it is harmless or venomous."

The first "native police" were employed in the 1830s but the practice has been phased out since the 1980s, with most forces now employing them only if needed for specific tasks.

Sergeant Moloney said Mr Port was believed to be the last tracker employed by an Australian police force.

"It is heartbreaking to see him retire – not just the loss of skills and not just that we're losing a man of great character – but he's my mate," he said. "I'm sorry I won't see him at work every day."

But Mr Port has promised he will be available if needed.

"Well I told them I won't be too far away," he told ABC News.

"If they need any help I'll be back here to help them out."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Happy 50th Boris! From gaffes to girls and grasping ambition, here are 50 of your most outrageous (and hilarious) moments...

Boris Johnson turned 50 yesterday. Here are 50 things about BoJo - some of which even the London mayor with a rhinoceros-hide might find embarrassing...

Boris is a grand-master at turning a humiliating confession into a joke. Famously, he said: ‘I think I was given cocaine once but I sneezed so it didn't go up my nose. In fact, it may have been icing sugar.'

His ability to wriggle out of trouble has led colleagues to nickname him ‘the greased albino piglet'. But he is always making grovelling apologies.

For example, he said of the Tory Party that it had ‘become used to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing'.

An apology was swiftly due. ‘I mean no insult to the people of Papua New Guinea who I'm sure lead lives of blameless bourgeois domesticity in common with the rest of us. Add Papua New Guinea to my global itinerary of apologies.'

Centre of attention: Mayor of London Boris Johnson meets the Cheeky Girls

When studying at Oxford, he was accused of copying a Greek translation from a textbook. He admitted to his tutor: ‘I'm terribly, terribly sorry. I've been so busy I didn't have time to put in the mistakes.'

Boris was once asked by his Oxford contemporary, convicted fraudster Darius Guppy, for the contact details of a reporter he wanted beaten up. Boris asked: ‘How badly are you going to hurt this guy? . . . OK, I've said I'll do it, I'll do it.'

He was fired from The Times newspaper's graduate training scheme for making up a quotation.

In 2004, the then Tory leader Michael Howard ordered Boris (Tory MP for Henley) to make a penitential visit to Liverpool after an editorial was published in the Spectator (which he edited) that insulted Liverpudlians several times over. Boris called the trip ‘Operation Scouse Grovel'.

He once described a St Patrick's Day gala dinner as ‘Lefty cr*p'.

Portsmouth, he said, is ‘one of the most depressed towns in southern England, a place that is arguably too full of drugs, obesity, under-achievement and Labour MPs.'

High flyer: Mayor of London Boris Johnson on a zip wire at Victoria Park, east London

When Labour's Alan Johnson stood down as Shadow Chancellor in 2011, Boris said he was upset — ‘not just because he is a nice guy but also for the satisfaction I used to get when I saw a headline saying “Johnson in new gaffe” and realised it wasn't me.'

He has a well-earned reputation for unreliability. His Editor at the Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore, said Boris was like actor David Niven's description of Errol Flynn. ‘You knew where you were with Errol Flynn. He always let you down.'

Boris tried to pay his biographer, Andrew Gimson, not to write his biography when he realised salacious details of his private life would be included.

He has been married twice. His first wife, Allegra Mostyn-Owen, is the goddaughter of Harold Acton, the aesthete who inspired the camp character Anthony Blanche in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.

Boris was accused of having an affair with journalist Petronella Wyatt

In 1997, he said of the EU: ‘Look, I'm rather pro-European, actually. I certainly want a European community where one can go off and scoff croissants, drink delicious coffee, learn foreign languages and generally make love to foreign women.'

When the Olympic torch arrived at the Tower of London in 2012, he said, ‘As Henry VIII discovered, with at least two of his wives, this is the perfect place to bring an old flame.'

Boris was taught to disco-dance by blonde TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson, whom he described as: ‘A bit like a nymph descending from Parnassus or Olympus.'

Boris loathes Nick Clegg, who, he says, is in government simply ‘to fulfil a very important ceremonial function as David Cameron's kind of lapdog-cum-prophylactic protection device'. In other words, a condom.

Boris is two years older than David Cameron. At Eton, he was Captain of the School and elected to the elite group Pop. Cameron, achieved neither distinction, which gives Boris a sense of continuing superiority.

Boris and Jeremy Paxman are great friends. Yet he once attacked Paxo on TV for his ‘elephantine' salary, taunting: ‘Why don't you get yourself a proper job instead of just sitting around telling politicians what to do?' Paxo riposted: ‘The usual convention, Boris, is that I ask the questions.'

Boris is a fan of the claret-swilling late Labour grandee and lothario, Roy Jenkins. ‘It's amazing,' Boris has said. ‘He just wants everything — the fame, the power, the girls, the good life.' Characteristics that Boris clearly envied.

Boris has a fine bass voice, and is particularly keen on singing Ole Man River. But he failed Grade 1 piano.

As a teenager, he was a big fan of the Rolling Stone Keith Richards. He says: ‘It was Keith I aimed to emulate at the age of 16 when I bought a pair of tight purple cords and tried with fat and fumbling fingers to plink out Satisfaction on a borrowed guitar; and my abysmal failure to become a rock star only deepened my hero worship.'

He can also paint well — a talent inherited from his mother, the artist Charlotte Wahl, whose canvasses sell for thousands.

His favourite film is the Ben Stiller movie Dodgeball, about a group of underdogs who enter a dodgeball tournament where the cash prize could save their local gym from closing. He also identifies with the cartoon character the Incredible Hulk — ‘The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets.'

Unlike David Cameron, he is cheerfully open about his membership of the Bullingdon Club, the Oxford University toffs' drinking club. When he meets old members, he proudly cries: ‘Buller, Buller, Buller!'

Reminiscing about the Bullingdon, he says: ‘This is a truly shameful vignette of almost superhuman undergraduate arrogance, toffishness and twittishness. But at the time you felt it was wonderful to be going round swanking it up. Or was it? Actually I remember the dinners being incredibly drunken.'

He plays tennis regularly. ‘I love it with a passion,' he says. He challenged Boris Becker to a game but the former Wimbledon champ never replied. ‘I bet I could make him run around,' boasted Bo-Jo. On a trade visit to India, local schoolchildren thought he was Boris Becker.

A keen table-tennis player, too — he calls it ‘whiff-whaff' after what he says is its original Victorian name — he has challenged Pippa Middleton to a match, also to no avail.

His other sport is cycling but his trusty bike (which he called ‘Old Bikey') was written off after he rode into a pothole and crashed earlier this year. Telling of his grief, Boris said: ‘Think of Alexander [The Great] grieving for his favourite mount Bucephalus, or Wellington mourning the death of the great Copenhagen.'

As a child, his ambition was to be ‘world king', though he later refined it to ‘becoming a billionaire proprietor of a multiple retail empire and the Jimmy Goldsmith of my generation. Something went wrong'.

He lost his first bid to become President of the Oxford Union, the university debating society. He won the second time. Boris got a 2.1 at Oxford. David Cameron unforgivably bettered him with a First.

Boris is a descendant of George II — making him a cousin of the PM, who's a descendant of William IV.

He and his family live in Islington, North London, in a £3.3 million  house (which he bought in 2005 for £1.9 million) across the road from disgraced actor Angus Deayton.

Boris burst into tears on the streets of Brussels in 1990 (where he was working) when he heard Margaret Thatcher had been kicked out of 10 Downing Street.

Boris admits his ambition can be ‘overwhelming'. In 2004, he said of combining his roles as MP for Henley and Editor of the Spectator: ‘The horses are starting to get further and further apart, and the straddling operation is becoming increasingly stressful on the crotch region.' He added: ‘All politicians, in the end, are like crazed wasps in a jam jar, each individually convinced that they are going to make it.'

He failed to win the Parliamentary seat for Clywd South in 1997. As he put it: ‘I fought Clwyd South — and Clwyd South fought back.'

He once urged men to vote Conservative, saying: ‘Your car will go faster, your girlfriend will have a bigger bra size.'

After the fall of Baghdad, where he was working as a journalist, he pocketed  the cigar case belonging to Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's right-hand man. Five years later, Scotland Yard asked Boris to hand it over under the Iraq (UN Sanctions) Order.

Despite the bumbling and lazy image, he can put in the effort — particularly when money is an incentive. On Wednesday evenings in the early-2000s, he'd write an editorial for the Spectator, attend Prime Minister's Questions, compile a car column for GQ magazine and deliver his Daily Telegraph column for which he'd earn £250,000 a year — a sum Boris has said is ‘chickenfeed', a comment that upset millions of people struggling to make ends meet.

He has consistently denied that he wants to be Prime Minister. ‘How could anyone elect a prat who gets stuck in a zipwire?' he said, referring to his accident during the 2012 London Olympics.

Finally, he's rated his chances of becoming PM as ‘slightly better than those of being decapitated by a frisbee, blinded by a champagne cork, locked in a disused fridge or reincarnated as an olive'.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The pioneering surgeon who healed men scarred by war, a new monument created in his honour – and the remarkable twist of fate that links them

Like many small girls, Adonia Montfort Bebb, nĂ©e McIndoe, idolised her father. But unlike most, she found that time did not dull the lustre of that image. On the contrary. When, as a young woman in the Fifties, she surveyed his achievements, she turned to him and said: “You’re going to be immortal.”

Alas, it was not to be. Sir Archibald McIndoe, a pioneering plastic surgeon who treated desperately disfigured servicemen during the Second World War, died on April 11 1960, aged just 59. On June 9 this year, however, his achievements will be set forever in stone and bronze, when a monument to him is unveiled by the Princess Royal in East Grinstead, home to the hospital where he worked. And by an extraordinary twist of fate, the story behind the statue is every bit as remarkable as the courage and commitment he and his patients displayed 70 years ago.

Most of those patients were airmen, caught in the inferno of a crashed bomber, or trapped in the cockpits of their Spitfires and Hurricanes as bullet-riddled fuel tanks erupted in flames around them. Such were McIndoe’s efforts on their behalf that his premature death was, even 15 years after the war ended, still the stuff of front pages. As the Evening News recounted in the headline of its tribute, “He Gave New Faces To Battle of Britain Fliers”.

But he did more than that. According to Jack Perry, one of McIndoe’s last surviving patients, who suffered 80 per cent burns in 1944 when his Halifax bomber caught fire just after take off, McIndoe gave those for whom he cared a new sense of purpose in life, a new reason to live.

“I owe him 100 per cent,” said Mr Perry. “He was just an absolutely wonderful man. He put you at your ease immediately. He said: 'You’re going to be OK. We’re going to fix you up.’”

In the end McIndoe and his team in West Sussex “fixed up” 649 servicemen – men who underwent such innovative treatment that they rakishly dubbed themselves The Guinea Pig Club.

Their disfigurement meant the possibility of being shunned by sweethearts and friends, their lives blighted. So McIndoe not only treated them, he also stood up for them. “He had enormous battles with the authorities,” says Montfort Bebb, now 86. “He said, 'You treat my boys properly.’ He even had a keg of beer for them in the ward. He had to give them the odd dressing-down, they were young men – they did misbehave – but they loved him.”

Such devotion suggests that few men more richly deserve being immortalised in bronze than Sir Archibald McIndoe. But by the time, two years ago, that Jacquie Pinney, chief executive of the medical research charity Blond McIndoe, began a campaign to erect a statue to McIndoe, his name and reputation had faded from the public eye.

The charity was founded in 1961 by the industrialist Neville Blond, who lived near East Grinstead and saw McIndoe’s work there first-hand. He admired how McIndoe had taken existing, primitive, plastic-surgery techniques and pioneered new methods that transformed not only the lives of his patients, but also the whole field of reconstructive surgery.

But despite McIndoe’s achievements, there were no statues or monuments to his honour, even in his native New Zealand. “There was nothing,” says Pinney. “I felt it was long overdue.”

Hence when she called Martin Jennings, the acclaimed sculptor of the much-loved John Betjeman statue in St Pancras station, she was worried that he would not know who McIndoe was: “I assumed he would think, 'Who are these weird people calling from East Grinstead?’”

When she got through to him, he went quiet on the line, apparently confirming her worst fears. She need not have worried. “It was amazing,” says Jennings now. “She imagined that I would never have heard of McIndoe. But in fact I knew all about him.”

Over the course of the ensuing conversation, Martin Jennings related how his father, Michael, had been a tank commander in the war. On the afternoon of October 17 1944, with the Allies bearing down on the Maas canal, he was leading a troop of four tanks from the 15/19 King’s Royal Hussars on a push through heavily fortified German positions east of Eindhoven, in the Netherlands.

Suddenly his Cromwell tank was hit by a shell. The driver was wounded but, determined to press on, an undaunted Jennings switched to another tank and continued the advance. He was less lucky second time round. The shell that hit his commandeered tank killed its driver. As the armoured vehicle erupted into flames, Jennings himself was badly burned. He had little time to reflect on his condition.

“In his diary he recorded that the Germans were 'coming on a bit’,” says his son. “I think that’s a euphemism for large numbers of them trying to kill him.”

Under heavy machine-gun fire, he made it back to his own lines. From there he was evacuated to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, where his head and his hands were entirely bound in bandages. He was 23.

His sisters visited and fed him grapes through a mouth‑hole in the wrappings. But he also received another visitor – Archie McIndoe, who was on one of his regular tours of the country to see if there were patients that he might be able to help.

Michael Jennings was unusual for a Guinea Pig, in that he was not an airman. None the less, he was transferred to East Grinstead and, over the course of the next two years, underwent a host of skin grafts and reconstructive procedures at the hands of McIndoe and his fellow surgeon, Percy Jayes.

At the outset, Michael Jennings’s morale could hardly have been lower. His sisters found him staring into a mirror, repeating: “I’m burned to a crisp. I’m burned to a crisp.”

But, as his son notes, “McIndoe had this remarkable capacity to transfer his confidence to his patients.”

Jack Perry can remember that golden touch: “He sat on my bed and kindly spoke to me. He said: 'I see you play a lot of sport. Well, you’re going to play again. Maybe not as well, but you certainly will play.’”

That ability to lift spirits was an essential part of the McIndoe therapy. “His patients, like my father, were such young men,” says Martin Jennings. “They were hoping to get married, have children and a normal life. Suddenly they were plunged into the prospect of a life of passivity and victimhood. But McIndoe was so upbeat. His ethos was that these terrible injuries did not mean that their lives were over.”

Michael Jennings was one of those who, with McIndoe’s help, refused to accept that his life was over. In 1952, he got married, and he and his wife had 11 children.

Today, Martin Jennings describes his family connection and the call from Jacquie Pinney as “an astonishing coincidence”. She had found in the sculptor a man who had long nursed the idea of creating a monument to the man who had cared for his father and overseen “significant improvement to the lower half of his face – to his nose, mouth, lips”.

Indeed it is a hardly a stretch to suggest that without McIndoe, Michael Jennings might never have married, and his sculptor son might never have been born.

It has taken two years since that 2012 phone call for the project to come to fruition. On one research trip to East Grinstead, Jennings asked for records from the war. There he turned up a file featuring a familiar face. For 10 years after he was burned, Michael Jennings refused to be photographed. But there, in the hospital files, were images from that lost decade that McIndoe had taken to plan and perform his operations.

“That was very moving,” says Jennings. “I was looking at pictures of my father, and he was the same age in the pictures as my own sons were in real life. I found myself feeling a sense of paternal protectiveness to my own father. That was very much McIndoe’s spirit. He was a father to these men. This is a story of fathers and sons.”

With that same protective spirit, McIndoe would send the men under his care into East Grinstead, to stroll the town, drink in the pubs, attend parties – just like other young men. And the people of East Grinstead, to their immense credit, learned to welcome these disfigured men in uniform. Now it is known as “the town that did not stare”.

Jennings’s McIndoe memorial is, as a result, an arrangement of two slightly larger than life-size figures. Seated is a airman, his burned hands clawed together, his scarred face turned to one side. Standing behind him, resting a reassuring hand on each shoulder, is the figure of McIndoe.

They are framed by a stone bench. “When the local people sit on that long curved seat, they complete the monument,” says Jennings. “This is a tribute to Archie McIndoe and the Guinea Pigs, but it is also a tribute to the people of East Grinstead.”

Michael Jennings, like many of the Guinea Pigs, went on to outlive by far the man who had so helped him. He died in 2002, aged 82, after a long post-war career as a teacher. He too, will live on in the memorial. Although the figure of the airman is not based on any one man, Martin Jennings modelled the burned hands on those of his father.

The result, says Montfort Bebb, would have enormously pleased her own father, Archie McIndoe. Not that he subscribed to theories of “greatness”.

“He said that greatness is just hard work – attention to detail and a lot of hard work. He probably worked himself to death. But he never mentioned his own health. He was just devoted to medicine and patching up those poor boys.”

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A delightful story about the famous Prof. Knuth

Knuth may well be the smartest man in the world

I took the multi quarter sequence from Professor Donald Knuth in the 1970s. It was a mind blowing experience.

I still see him at Zott's every now and then on a warm day. He remains as friendly, funny, gracious and, dare I say goofy looking (tall and Scandinavian), as ever.

Taking the class was surreal. Many of us were undergrads who were struggling to keep up. This class was hard. Some in the class were PhD Students. A really diverse mix. Knuth was awesome. He would give us undergrads something to chew on. Then he would say he was going off on a deep tangent for the PhDs in the audience and for the rest of us not to worry. Rather than scary, we all found that inspiring.

Some funny stories (forgive me if the details are hazy - it was almost 40 years ago):

Occasionally Knuth would bring in a PhD thesis from another university. He would tell us there was a math error in it. Extra credit if you could find the error. We left those for the PhDs in our cohort.

If you know Knuth's books, then you know that he's got some really hard problems at the end of the sections. It was not unusual for him to turn to the undergrads and say, "If you find this area interesting and you'd like to solve this problem, come see me - there might be a PhD thesis in there somewhere." His door was always open. I don't think he was kidding about the thesis thing.

One of my proudest memories of Stanford University was when I won one of Knuth's weekly contests. Often the homework/contest was a program to be written in MIX.

One week the assigment was to read in an input deck that described a Crossword Puzzle and then to print out the puzzle. The challenge was to do it in the fewest instructions possible. I stayed up all night working on it.

I vividly remember that day. He would announce the winners at the end of class.

"This week was rather unusual", he started out. "Third place goes to John Smith whose program was fifty instructions. Second place goes to Jane Doe with forty five." John and Jane were PhD candidates - the winners invariably were.

I was excited! I knew mine was shorter than that. Had an undergrad finally 'scored one for the team'?

Knuth continued. "I am reluctant to award first place." He looked up and smiled. He sighed. "The winning program was half the length of the nearest runner up."

So what's the problem?

"When I first ran the program it seemed to be stuck in an infinite loop. The mainframe aborted the job after the default 1 second of CPU time. So I ran it again but gave it 3 seconds. It failed to complete. I looked at the code. I couldn't make heads or tails of it. But this student has always turned in his work on time. So I took a chance on him and set the CPU time to 30 seconds."

Oh God! I'd run it with a small input deck because CPU time was ridiculously expensive and we all had miniscule budgets to use. Had that test deck failed to unearth an infinite loop bug?

No. Wait. Knuth had said first place. What's up?

He sighed again. "It took over 20 seconds of CPU time, Mr. Lanza, more than $100 worth. Please don't do that again. But it did work and it was the shortest program so Mr. Lanza wins this week. But never again, ok?"

I was mortified. It was as if he was telling me I had cheated. Everyone certainly was looking at me that way. I slumped deep into my seat.

We met up after class. I was terrified. Hell, petrified. Here was one of the smartest men in the world and a guy I really looked up to.

But Knuth's a nice guy. He laughed. "You took this assignment a little too literally. That program should've executed in linear time. Yours was exponential. Did you know that?"

"To be honest, Professor, you said the fewest instructions. I didn't stop to think about run time."

"Fair enough I suppose. But never again, ok? I couldn't make heads or tails out of your code. How did your algorithm work?"

"Well, Professor, I took McCarthy's Lisp class last quarter. To be honest, I had a heck of a time with recursion. At about 2am, though, it struck me to treat this crossword problem like a homework assignment I'd had from McCarthy. It just starts by the first square of the crossword puzzle asking its neighbor squares if they know what to do. Then each neighbor square does the same thing recursively. Eventually the boundary squares figure out that they're on the edge and they report that back."

His eyes opened wide. He laughed and laughed. "But that meant you had to read in the entire deck that described the crossword puzzle for each and every one of those recursions looking for the boundary conditions. No wonder it took so long."

"Well, Professor, it seemed to me that the best way to get to the fewest instructions was just to have all of the boxes in the crossword puzzle talk to each other and let them sort it out. That's what the Lisp problem we had to solve was all about."

He looked at me in a fatherly way. "I'll mention this to John [McCarthy] the next time I see him. I'm sure he'll get a laugh. By the way, what grade did you get in his Lisp class?"

"A C-. I never did get recursion."

Knuth smiled at me and said, "Oh, I wouldn't say that." He walked away chuckling to himself.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How long did the Roman empire survive? 2700 years?

During the First Balkan War in 1912 the Greek navy captured the island of Lemnos from the Ottoman Empire and promptly sent soldiers to every village and stationed them in the public squares. Children from all over the island ran to see what these so called Greeks looked like.

"What are you looking at?" one of soldiers asked. "At you Greeks" one of the children replied. "Are you not Greek yourselves?" said the soldier. "No, we are Romans" replied the child.

The above story was told by Peter Charanis, a well known historian, himself born in Lemnos in 1908. At that time, more than half of all Greeks still identified themselves as Romans and lived outside the official Hellenic Republic, in the Aegean, Thrace, but mostly in Asia Minor.

In the following decade, as the Hellenic Republic expanded and encompassed those areas as well (and eventually lost them in 1923), every child was taught to think of itself as Greek, not Roman. Thus ended the world's most ancient national identity, over 2700 years old since the founding of Rome.

However, if the original author is inquiring as to why there is a Chinese nation-state in existence today but no Roman nation-state, then the answer interestingly enough may be found in medieval and modern Greek history.

The gradual collapse of the western half of the Roman Empire forced the remaining East to redefine itself by a predominantly Greek population. Indeed, Roman citizens in the Middle Ages would commonly refer to themselves as Greeks as well as Romans and call their land Greece and Rome (Romania) alike.

This relatively homogeneous state with a sense of common identity among the people, stood in stark contrast to the earlier massive multi-ethnic Empire.

This is the defining characteristic of nationalism, which was growing all over Europe during the middle ages and eventually culminated with the French Revolution in 1789 and the world's first nation-state, France. In Greece proper and Asia Minor however, the totalitarian rule of the Ottoman conquerors hindered Roman nationalism from maturing and prevented it materializing in a Roman nation-state.

When the Ottoman Empire began dissolving in the early 19th century, the Roman people came together and finally did form their nation-state, which they named Greece instead Romania which was the de facto name the people used.

This break in tradition is attributed to the Renaissance on the one hand, which gave birth to admiration of the Classic era, and the increased reliance on the Great Powers for help on the other, who frankly found the prospect of aiding the descendants of Pericles and Leonidas far more appealing than helping the descendants of Basil and Constantine.

More importantly, by identifying themselves as Greeks, they renounced their claims to all and any Roman lands and titles their forefathers held, which put the great monarchs of Europe a little bit more at ease and inclined to help.

Still, once the political integrity of this newborn state was no longer at stake, the Greeks began a series of all out wars against the Ottomans anyway, in an attempt to reclaim all remaining Greek speaking territories in Asia Minor. Had they been successful, the final form of modern Greece would look suprisingly similar to the medieval Roman Empire on a map (The above is a real map published by the Hellenic Republic in 1920).

Friday, April 18, 2014

‘She’s a happy little thing. She never complains about not being able to walk.'

There was a hush of anticipation as the crowd turned to see the girl in the flowing white dress. As she entered the church with an infectious grin, onlookers gasped and wiped tears from their eyes.

It wasn’t the bride they were so happy to see, but four-year-old Bella: the little bridesmaid they never thought they’d see walk down the aisle.

Bella Luckett has cerebral palsy and cannot stand unaided, let alone walk. But she was able to glide down the aisle with her head held high — all thanks to a groundbreaking new harness which attached her to her father, Gary, allowing Bella to take her first steps alongside her dad.

The moment was particularly precious for Gary, 29, who admits to battling with his emotions: ‘I didn’t want to cry in front of the photographers,’ he laughs. ‘But I’m away a lot with work and her mum’s her full-time carer, really, so it was great for me to share this special moment with Bella.’

As for her mum, Natalie, also 29, there was no such restraint. She says she ‘burst into tears’ at the sight of her daughter standing upright for the first time.

‘I was so nervous,’ says Natalie. ‘Before I saw Bella, I noticed my mum in floods of tears: she was further back and could see her before I did.

‘Bella was giggling and smiling as if to say: “Everyone’s looking at me!” I couldn’t help myself; I burst into tears. Gary didn’t cry but he looked very emotional.’

Bella was so distracted by the novelty of walking she forgot to scatter the tulip petals she was carrying.

‘She reached the altar and shouted: “I’ve still got my flowers!”’ says Natalie.

The congregation’s tears turned to laughter as she quickly threw them up into the air all at once.

Gary’s sister Louise asked Bella to be a bridesmaid when she announced her engagement two years ago. At that point they had no idea whether she’d be able to walk, or would have to be carried down the aisle.

It wasn’t looking good, with Bella still unable to stand or even sit up properly in the lead-up to the wedding. Then her parents came across the Upsee, a revolutionary device that helps disabled children become mobile.

News of the incredible garment had been spreading on social networking sites. Such was the demand when online sales began on April 7 that the company’s website crashed.

Designed by the mother of a disabled child, the £269 Upsee resembles a waistcoat with lots of straps.

The simple-looking garment has three parts: an adjustable waistband with back support worn by the adult; a child’s vest, the bottom of which surrounds their pelvis, with padded straps which loop round the top of the child’s legs — these two are connected by four straps which clip together at the child’s shoulder and lower back on both sides.

The third component is the ‘double sandal’, in which the adult’s shoe is joined to that of the child. These enable the adult to lift the child’s foot with each step.

It takes practice to get the hang of it: some children may only be able to stand for short amounts of time at first.

‘The first time I tried it on with Bella, she loved it,’ says Natalie. ‘She asked: “Can we walk down the stairs, Mummy?” Of course that was far too dangerous, but it showed how keen she was to get moving.’

Bella was 18 months old when she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, an umbrella term for loss or impairment of motor function caused by brain damage before, during or immediately after birth.

‘We’d been on edge throughout the pregnancy because I’d had three miscarriages,’ says Natalie, who also has a nine-year-old son, Ollie. ‘Bella was born three weeks early, weighing 5lb 3oz. She didn’t breathe for the first two minutes, then the doctor tickled her feet and she started crying.’

There was no cause for concern at this point. They were kept in hospital for 48 hours before returning to their home in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, where Bella seemed to flourish.’

The first clue that something might be amiss was that ‘she didn’t hold herself right’. Natalie explains: ‘She was always crying and I noticed that when other people held her, she looked uncomfortable.’

Bella didn’t start rolling over at four months as babies are meant to do, but doctors put it down to children developing at different rates.

At a ten-month check-up, the doctor looked at Bella’s legs and referred her to a paediatrician. That’s when Natalie took to Google and recognised the similarity between Bella’s symptoms and cerebral palsy.

‘I was very upset,’ says Natalie, ‘because I just knew that’s what was wrong with Bella. I showed my mum and she agreed.

‘Everyone else, including Gary, kept saying she was fine. But I was like: “No! She’s not.”’

Bella was 18 months old and unable to sit properly on the ground, let alone stand or walk, when the results of an MRI proved Natalie was right.

‘I think the specialist knew that I knew,’ says Natalie, ‘because she just said really quickly: “She has cerebral palsy”. I burst into tears, thinking where would this leave her.’

Bella was diagnosed with a type of cerebral palsy called spastic diplegia.

‘Put simply, the part of her brain that sends messages to her muscles doesn’t work, so the muscles in her legs don’t know how to do their job,’ says Natalie.

‘Her arms are slightly affected, too: she can’t do up buttons or zips on  her own.

‘The doctors were honest straight away. They couldn’t say whether she would ever walk or not. With physio she might manage to do it of her own accord. If not, she might be a candidate for an operation on her spine when she’s seven or eight.

‘I am terrified of the thought of putting her through major surgery. The doctor advised us to leave it later to give her a chance to walk naturally.’

Met with such an uncertain future, Natalie says she and Gary, an oil rig engineer whose work often takes him away from home for weeks at a time, ‘both had a cry’.

Bella started regular physio and  had to use a standing frame for an hour a day.

‘For the first three-and-a-half years I was obsessed with whether Bella would walk,’ says Natalie. ‘I kept thinking about how she would cope in a mainstream school.’

When asked whether she gets depressed sometimes, Natalie’s warm smile instantly crumples.

‘I’m sorry,’ she says, wiping away tears. ‘Yes, most days . . . Sometimes you even get frustrated with your child for not trying hard enough. Then you feel angry with yourself because of course it’s not their fault.’

At that, Bella comes crawling over, clutching a toy. Her big brown eyes peer quizzically through her glasses.

‘It’s not exactly that you blame yourself,’ says Natalie. ‘You just want to help so much but there’s nothing really you can do.

‘Gary’s away a lot so it gets very, very lonely. I have some wonderful friends but there are others who seemed to fall off the face of the earth when she was diagnosed.

‘Everywhere we turned there were reminders of Bella’s disability. She can’t play at the soft play centre with the other children. She can kneel but she can’t sit on things properly: when we go to friends’ houses for lunch there isn’t a special chair for her.

‘Bouncy castle parties or discos are of course out. It even takes for ever to get to the park although it’s down  the road: we have to help her down the slide and I can’t manage that on my own.’

And what about Bella herself?

‘She’s a happy little thing,’ says her mum. ‘She wants to do everything but she never complains about not being able to walk like other children.

‘You’ll just see her stop and look at them running around. She’ll go quiet and you know what she’s thinking.

‘There was a point about a year ago when she became scared of babies starting to walk: her nephews, for example. She wouldn’t go near them. I think she couldn’t get her head round it.’

At two, Bella was given a walking frame, which she can only use for five minutes at a time because her legs get tired. She has a special buggy for longer journeys and in future will be given a wheelchair.

Bella has also been treated twice with Botox injections in her legs. In tiny doses it relaxes the muscles in some people with cerebral palsy by blocking nerve impulses. This allows better control of movement and reduces the risk of muscle and tendon shortening. The effects tend to last from four to six months.

‘She had it for the first time about a year ago,’ says Natalie. ‘I was with my mum and we were supporting her on her feet. Then suddenly she took a step forward: we were amazed.

‘It was wonderful but with cerebral palsy you know that you might take one step forward but there’ll be however many steps back.’

When she had further injections of Botox this January, the effect wasn’t so dramatic. By this point the couple were beginning to lose hope their daughter would walk down the aisle for her aunt’s wedding last week.

At the end of March, they read about the Upsee on Facebook.

‘The idea must have come  from children dancing on adults’ toes,’ adds Gary. ‘Natalie told me about it and I rang the company immediately.

‘It wasn’t yet on sale but after I explained we wanted one to help our daughter be a bridesmaid, they promised to send a demo version in white to match her dress.’

Natalie adds: ‘We were cutting it a bit fine, timing-wise, so I didn’t dare think it would ever happen.’

But sure enough, three days before the big day, the Upsee arrived.  Bella’s physiotherapist had confirmed it would be safe for her to wear as a one-off: at her next appointment she will see whether they can use it more regularly.

Meanwhile, Bella’s big day took place last Saturday at St Nicholas Church in Wilden, Bedfordshire.

‘We all went over to Gary’s mum’s, where Bella loved having her hair done,’ says Natalie. ‘The Upsee vest was strapped on underneath the white dress. There were holes in the shoulders of the dress for the straps to thread through. At the venue, we attached her to Gary’s hip belt.’

Then they were ready to walk down the aisle ahead of the bride. ‘Everyone had heard about Bella,’ says Natalie. ‘They knew it was a big moment. I could hear Gary’s granny behind me saying: “Oh, isn’t she wonderful!”’

So what did Ollie make of his sister’s grand entrance? He says he was ‘very happy’ and that she looked ‘pretty and cute’. In fact, there was barely a dry eye in the house.

As for Bella, she was very pleased with herself, comparing herself to Cinderella in her floor-length gown.

Afterwards there was a reception, where Bella remained in her waistcoat until pudding. The star of the show, she was then carried on to the dance floor by her many fans.

And how does she sum up the day? ‘It was perfect.’

Kneeling in a ring of teddies poised for a tea party, Bella seems surprisingly content with her lot.

Recalling her daughter’s grand entrance at the wedding, Natalie concludes: ‘It’s bittersweet because she still can’t walk by herself, of course. But Bella’s old enough to remember it — so regardless of what happens in the future, she’ll always have that wonderful memory.

So what CLASS are YOU? An all-too perceptive new book has the answer... and it hinges on your favourite marmalade and what you buy at M&S


What is Englishness? That is the question that social anthropologist Kate Fox set out to answer in her book Watching The English, which became an international bestseller. Now, ten years on, she has dug even deeper into our national foibles and eccentricities to update her study. The result is gloriously entertaining — and painfully accurate!


Most of the English would rather pretend that class ­differences don’t exist, or are no longer important, or at least that we personally have no class-related prejudices. ­Remember John Prescott’s assertion, before the 1997 election, that: ‘we are all middle class now’? He could not have been more wrong. Class still pervades all aspects of English life and culture, it’s just that we are painfully loath to admit it.

So how do you pinpoint someone’s class in 21st century ­England? Certainly, foreigners are often bewildered. ­Occupation is no longer a guide to where you stand in the pecking order: these days, we judge social class in much more subtle and complex ways.

And the truth is that all English people, whether they admit it or not, are fitted with a sort of social Global Positioning Satellite computer that tells them a person’s position on the class map as soon as he begins to speak.

There are two main factors involved in calculating the class to which you, and others, belong: the words you use and, of course, how you say them.


Nancy Mitford coined the phrase ‘U and Non-U’ — referring to upper-class and non-upper-class words. And although some of her class-indicator words are now outdated, the principle remains.

But she didn’t go far enough. While some words may simply separate the upper class from the rest, others more specifically separate the ­working class from the lower-­middle, or the middle-middle from the upper-middle.

There are, however, seven words that the English uppers and upper-middles regard as infallible ­indicators. Utter any one of these seven deadly sins, and their on-board class-radar devices will start bleeping and flashing and you will be demoted to middle class, at best, and probably lower.

1. Pardon:  Here’s a good class-test: when talking to an English person, deliberately say something too ­quietly for them to hear you ­properly. A lower-middle or middle-middle person will say, ‘Pardon?’

An upper-middle will say ‘Sorry?’ (or perhaps ‘Sorry — what?’ or ‘What — sorry?’). But an upper-class and a working-class person will both say, ‘What?’ (The working-class person may drop the t — ‘Wha’?’ — but this will be the only difference.)

2. Toilet: Another word that makes the higher classes flinch — or exchange knowing looks if it’s uttered by a would-be social-climber. The term used by upper-middles and uppers is ‘loo’ or ‘lavatory’ ­(pronounced ‘lavuhtry’, with the accent on the first syllable).

‘Bog’ is occasionally acceptable, but only if said in an obviously ironic-jocular manner. The working classes all say ‘toilet’, as do most lower-middles and middle-middles.

Lower and middle-middles with pretensions or aspirations, however, may opt for suburban-genteel euphemisms such as ‘Gents’, ‘Ladies’, ‘bathroom’, ‘powder room’, ‘facilities’ and ‘convenience’, or jokey euphemisms such as ‘latrines’, ‘heads’ and ‘privy.’

3. Serviette: It’s been suggested that ‘serviette’ was taken up by squeamish lower-middles who found ‘napkin’ a bit too close to ‘nappy’, and wanted something that sounded a bit more refined. Whatever its origins, ‘serviette’ is now regarded as irredeemably lower class. Upper-middle and upper-class mothers get very upset when their children learn to say ‘serviette’ from well-meaning lower-class ­nannies, and have to be pain­stakingly retrained to say ‘napkin’.

4. Dinner/tea: Nothing wrong with this word: it’s only a working-class hallmark if you use it to refer to the midday meal, which should be called ‘lunch’. Calling your evening meal ‘tea’ is also a working-class indicator: the higher echelons call this meal dinner or supper. But the uppers and upper-middles use the term supper much more than the middles and lower-middles, rarely describing an evening meal as ­dinner unless it’s a particularly ­formal occasion — and never, ever using the term dinner party.

For the higher classes, tea is taken at around four o’clock, and consists of tea and cakes or scones (which they pronounce with a short o), and perhaps little sandwiches. The lower classes call this afternoon tea.

All of which can pose a few ­problems for foreign visitors: if you’re invited to dinner, should you turn up at midday or in the evening? Does ‘come for tea’ mean four o’clock or seven o’clock? To be safe, you have to ask what time you’re expected. The answer will help you to place your hosts on the social scale.

5. Settee: Or you could ask your hosts what they call their furniture. If an upholstered seat for two or more people is called a settee or a couch, they’re no higher than ­middle-middle. If it’s a sofa, they’re upper-middle or above.

6. Lounge: And what do they call the room in which the settee/sofa is to be found? Settees are found in lounges or living rooms; sofas in ­sitting rooms or drawing rooms.

Drawing room (from withdrawing room) used to be the only correct term, but many upper-middles and uppers feel it’s a slightly pretentious name for, say, a small room in an ordinary terrace  house — so sitting room has become acceptable.

You may occasionally hear an upper-middle-class person say ­living room, although this is frowned upon. Only middle-middles and below say lounge.

7. Upper and middle classes insist the sweet course at the end of a meal is called dessert

Asking ‘Does anyone want a sweet?’ at the end of a meal will get you immediately classified as ­middle-middle or below. ‘Afters’ will certainly also activate the class-radar and get you demoted.
‘Dessert’ isn’t quite as clear as it once was. Some American-influenced young upper-middles are starting to say ‘dessert’, and this is therefore the least offensive of the three — and the least reliable as a class indicator.


 Here’s a hugely revealing quote from a mother whose daughter was in the same house as Kate Middleton at ­Marlborough, a very grand private boarding school:

‘There was always something slightly galling about having your ­children at school with the Middletons. Every ­pristine item of clothing would have a beautifully sewn-in name tape, for instance.

‘It was unthinkable that they’d end up resorting to marker pens on labels like the rest of us. There were huge picnics at sports day, the smartest tennis ­racquets, that kind of thing. It made the rest of us all feel rather hopeless.’

Now, to those who understand ­English class-indicators, this mother’s apparently humble statement — self-denigrating and full of admiration for the Middleton family’s perfections — is not only an indirect boast, but also a subtle snobby put-down. So let’s unpick the coded insults . . .

First, caring about every item of clothing being ‘pristine’, with perfectly sewn-in name tapes, is a middle-­middle or even lower-middle indicator.

Even the word ‘pristine’ is a sneer: only the suburban bourgeoisie regard it as a term of approbation, and fuss about having everything ‘pristine’ or ‘spotless’.

Upper class and secure-upper-­middle mothers (‘the rest of us’, as this mother is careful to remind us twice) would be carelessly indifferent about such trivia and perfectly happy to send their ­children back to Marlborough with crumpled clothes and their initials roughly scrawled in marker pen on their clothing labels. To say that the Middleton family would find this ‘unthinkable’ puts them firmly in their petit-­bourgeois place.

Second, this mother’s professed feeling of inferiority over the Middletons’ lavish picnics at school sports days, their expensive brand-new tennis racquets and ‘that kind of thing’, is yet another veiled insult.

Such ostentatious displays of wealth are clear nouveau-riche indicators.

So, far from making this mother and ‘the rest of us all’ feel ‘rather hopeless’ by comparison, the Middletons’ immaculate clothes, dainty name tapes, fancy picnics and high-priced sports equipment would actually have made them all feel smugly superior.

In effect, what this mother is really saying is that among the truly upper/upper-middle Marlborough parents, the Middletons were not regarded as ‘PLU’ ­(People Like Us) but as jumped-up nouveau social-climbers.

But this is England, so she says it in code: an exquisite example of English irony, in which every line is a snobbish put-down, ­cleverly disguised as a self-­deprecating compliment.


Posh: If you want to ‘talk posh’, you’ll have to stop using the term. The correct upper-class word is ‘smart’. In upper-middle and upper-class circles, ‘posh’ can only be used ironically, in a jokey tone, to show that you know it’s a low-class word.

Mum and Dad: Lower class young people call their parents Mum and Dad; smart children say Mummy and Daddy.

These aren’t infallible indicators, but grown-ups who still say Mummy and Daddy are almost certainly upper-middle or above. Prince Charles provided an example of this at the age of 64, by addressing the Queen as Mummy in his speech at her Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Perfume: Mums wear perfume; Mummies call it scent.

Party time: Lower-class people go to a ‘do’; middle-middles might call it a function; smart people just call it a party.

Refreshments: These are served only at middle-class ­functions; the higher echelons’ ­parties just have food and drink.

Portions: Lower-middle and middle-middles eat their food in portions; upper-middles and above have helpings.

Patio: Unsmart people’s homes have patios; smart people’s houses have terraces.


If you need to make a quick assessment of an Englishwoman’s social class, don’t ask about her family background, income, occupation or the value of her house (all of which would, in any case, be rude). Ask her what she does and doesn’t buy at Marks & Spencer.

The upper-middle classes buy food in the food halls, and will also happily buy M&S underwear and perhaps the occasional plain, basic item, such as a T-shirt.

They’d never buy a party dress from the store, and are squeamish about wearing M&S shoes,however comfortable or well-made they may be. And they’ll buy M&S towels and bed-linen, but not M&S sofas, ­curtains or cushions.

The middle-middles also buy M&S food, but get their cornflakes and loo paper at Sainsbury’s or Tesco. Most will buy a much wider range of clothes from M&S than the upper-middles, including some with prints and patterns.

Educated, upwardly mobile ­middle-middles, however, have now joined the upper-middles in rejecting M&S’s patterned clothing — and reserve particular scorn for the heavily embellished Per Una range.

They are, however, generally happy to buy M&S sofas, cushions and curtains.

Lower-middles buy M&S food, but usually only as a special treat. The clothes, on the other hand, are ­generally regarded as ‘good value’ by the thrifty, respectable, genteel sort of lower-middles: ‘Not cheap, mind you, but good quality.’

Some lower-middles feel the same about the cushions and duvets and towels, while others regard them as ‘very nice, but a bit too pricey’.


Here’s an even easier test. Watch what someone puts on their breakfast toast. Dark, thick-cut Oxford or Dundee marmalade is favoured by the higher echelons, while the lower ranks generally prefer the lighter-coloured, thin-cut brands such as Golden Shred.

The unwritten class rules about jam are much the same: the darker the colour and the bigger the lumps of fruit, the more socially ­elevated the jam. Some class-anxious middles and upper-middles secretly prefer the paler, smoother marmalades and jams, but feel obliged to buy the socially superior chunky ones.

Only the lower classes — older-generation lower-middles in particular — try to sound posh by calling jam ‘preserves’.


Still struggling? Try ­talking cars.

The English like to believe, and will often doggedly insist, that social-status considerations play no part in their choice of ­vehicle. But the truth is that car choice in England is mostly about class.

If you don’t mind causing offence, try saying: ‘I’d guess you probably drive a Ford Mondeo?’ to older members of the middle-middle or upper-middle classes and watch them recoil.

‘Mondeo Man’ was for many years the generic euphemism for a lower-middle-class, ­suburban-salesman type, so class-anxious middles and upper-middles will be highly miffed at being demoted to this social category.

The Mondeo-test can be a pretty good indicator of class-anxiety: the more huffy ­English people are about the suggestion that they drive one, the more insecure they are about their own position in the social hierarchy.

This isn’t a question of price. Cars driven by upper-middles are often considerably cheaper than the Mondeo, and the almost equally ridiculed Vauxhalls. 

Those who regard themselves as being a class or two above Mondeo Man may well drive a small, cheap, second-hand Peugeot, Renault, VW or Fiat hatchback — but they’ll still feel smugly ­superior as Mondeo Man glides past in his bigger, faster, more ­comfortable car.

Upper-middles who pass the Mondeo Test — those who are merely mildly amused by your ­suggestion that they drive a Mondeo — may have class anxieties about the Mercedes.

Try saying to a middle-middle or upper middle: ‘Let me guess . . . I’d say you probably drive a big Mercedes.’

If your subject looks hurt or annoyed or responds with a bit of barbed humour about ‘flashy rich trash’, you’ve hit the ­insecurity ­button. He’s clearly made it into the upper-middle ­intelligentsia,  professional or ‘country’ set, and is anxious to ­distinguish himself from the despised middle-middle ­business class (or the nouveaux riches).

You may well find that his father (or even grandfather) was a petit-bourgeois middle-class businessman who sent his children to smart private schools, where they learnt to look down on petit-bourgeois middle-class businessmen.

Of course, most English people will tell you there’s no longer any Jane-Austenish stigma attached to being ‘in trade’. They’re mistaken.

Interestingly, the upper-middle chattering classes are the snootiest of all: most regard the Mercedes-driving classes with at least some degree of disfavour.

Again, the price of the car is not the issue, nor is the driver’s income. The class issue is all about the means by which one acquires one’s wealth — and how one chooses to display it.

A Mercedes-despising barrister or publisher, for instance, may well drive a top-of-the-range Audi, which costs about the same as a big Mercedes, but is regarded as more elegantly understated. (The Royal Family mostly drive Audis.)

Jaguars have also suffered a bit from a vulgar ‘trade’ connection, being associated with wealthy used-car dealers, slum-landlords, bookmakers and shady underworld characters. But Jaguars have also been the official cars of prime ministers and cabinet ministers, which — to some — lends them an air of respectability. Others, however, feel that this only confirms their ­inherent sleaziness.

What about SUVs? The upper classes and many upper-middles look down on them, particularly the ostentatious ones, which they regard as the height of vulgarity. 

For the snooty higher classes, driving a Mercedes SUV would put you even lower down the social scale than a Mercedes saloon car — you’d be seen as a ‘chav with money’ rather than a rich bourgeois businessman.


Finally, an even more reliable class indicator is the type and breed of your pet. People in the upper
echelons prefer Labradors, golden retrievers, King Charles spaniels and springer spaniels, though they’re highly unlikely to admit that their choice of pet is in any way class-related. Instead, they’ll insist that they like Labradors (or whatever) because of the breed’s kind temperament.

The lower classes, meanwhile, are more likely to have Alsatians, poodles, Afghans, chihuahuas, bull terriers and, of course, Rottweilers.

Cats are less popular than dogs with the upper class, although those who live in grand country houses find them useful for keeping mice and rats at bay. The lower social ranks, by contrast, may keep mice as pets — as well as guinea pigs, hamsters and goldfish.

Some middle-middles, and lower-middles with aspirations, take great pride in keeping expensive exotic fish such as Koi carp in their garden pond. The upper-middles and upper classes think this is ‘naff’.

Horses are widely regarded as ‘posh’, and social-climbers often take up riding or buy ponies for their children in order to ingratiate themselves with the ‘horsey’ set. But unless they also manage to perfect the appropriate accent, arcane vocabulary, mannerisms and dress, they don’t fool the genuinely ‘posh’ horse-owners.

What you do with your pet can also be a class indicator. Generally, only the middle-middles and below go in for dog shows, cat shows and obedience tests. The upper classes regard showing dogs and cats as rather vulgar, but showing horses and ponies is fine. (No, there’s no logic to any of this.)

Middle-middles and below are more likely to dress up their dogs and cats in coloured collars and bows. Upper-middle and upper-class dogs usually just wear plain brown leather collars.

The middle-middle classes and lower-middles are also more zealous than those at the top and bottom of the scale when it comes to cleaning up after dogs. They’re also more embarrassed when their dogs sniff people’s crotches or try to have sex with their legs.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Italian forces in WW2 were not soft and Mussolini wasn't a clown, revisionist historian claims

He was the butt of British jokes and even his German allies portrayed Mussolini as a clown.

But now a British historian claims the Italian fascist leader was actually a mentor to Adolf Hitler - and says claims that his troops were cowards are a myth.

Dr Christian Goeschel of Manchester University, says that the real Il Duce was a guiding light behind the rise of Hitler - who idealised his Italian counterpart and did not see him as a political stooge.

In his new book called 'Mussolini and Hitler - a Fatal Friendship,' Dr Goeshel will attempt to set the record straight. The book is due to be published by Yale University Press in 2016.

Most films and books portray Mussolini as a fool. However, Dr Goeshel says Mussolini was not the bumbling clown that history has portrayed him as in popular culture.

Dr Goeschel, an established authority on Hitler and Nazism, was concerned that little new research had been published on Mussolini since the early 1960s.

Even on TV, anyone associated with Mussolini has been depicted as slightly foolish.

However, when Dr Goeschel started his research in 2010 a different picture of both Mussolini and the Italian war effort emerged.

He travelled up to four times a year to Italy's Central State Archives in Rome to view the official records not normally seen by the public.

While the public have access few bother to make the journey to the outskirts of Rome to view the material.

Mussolini had an incredibly tight control over the Italian press and there was little press freedom and many comic strips even praised him for his achievements.

It meant that there was hardly any satire allowed under Fascism.

Fascists were notoriously weary of modernity and comic strips - which didn't fit well with Italian culture at the time.

In fact, comic strips were regarded as Anglo Saxon democracies.

Even harmless American hero Mickey Mouse was banned  - although it is said that the mouse was a favourite of Mussolini's children who enjoyed watching it

During the second world war, foreign comics were completely banned and Italian authors were not allowed to use speech balloons.

However many foreign comics in the UK and US depicted Mussolini as a clown.

He found written correspondence between Hitler and his role model Mussolini showing the boot was very much on the other foot in the early years of their relationship.

Very early on, Hitler had requested a signed photograph from Mussolini. But Hitler was then an unknown figure and the Italian dictator did not bother to reply.

The Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 was directly inspired by Mussolini's power grab the previous year. But Hitler messed his own attempt up.

It was not until 1931, two years before Hitler completed his rise to power, that Mussolini deigned to send the future Fuhrer a picture.

He signed it with his name and date - June 1931 - but there was no personal message.

Great friendship: In 1931, Mussolini sent the Fuhrer a picture of himself which he signed and dated

Nevertheless, Hitler responded with a fawning letter expressing his gratitude to 'his Excellency Mussolini' for the photo, adding: 'It is a great honour.'

Dr Goeschel said: 'It is only a small detail but I think it is highly significant. 'A correspondence then began between them - which had devastating consequences for Europe.'

Dr Goeschel,35, says the Italian Fascists were a senior partner to Hitler until the mid-1930s, and helped the Nazis rise to power with helpful advice, such as gaining the support of the Middle Classes.

Mussolini only came under Hitler's spell in the later 1930s - when everything started to go wrong for the Italian leader.

Dr Goeschel added: 'We and indeed many Italians tend to play down the role and importance of Mussolini and Fascist Italy, often seeing it as more benign than Hitler and the Nazis.

'The romantic view of Italy has completely overshadowed 21 years of dictatorship. Right from the beginning, they used political violence against opponents.

'Mussolini also breached the Geneva Convention by using mustard gas in Abyssinia and there were war crimes in Libya and Croatia.

'The Italian fascists killed few people than the Nazis did. But that does not mean it was a more benign regime.'

He added: 'Now the time has come to look at this material with a fresh eye and look at it more systemically. My aim is not to be moral judge but tell the true story.

'We need to probe more deeply into this because it is a very powerful myth. Italy has managed to wash its hands of what happened.

'After the war, there was concerted Italian effort to disassociate themselves from the Nazis.

'But the way we deal with our past has implications for modern politics: the Fascist salute can still be given in Italian football games with impunity; fans can throw bananas onto the pitch.

'Some contemporary Italian political parties have a lineage which can be traced directly to the Fascists.'

Jokes about Italy's lack of military prowess and faint-heated approach to combat also did not stand up to scrutiny when he examined records of campaigns such as North Africa, Greece, the Balkans and Russia.

He said: 'It was a very famous assertion that the Germans had to bail out the Italians out.

'But this notion is a post war myth - perpetuated by German war veterans who regarded the Italians as lazy and cowardly.

'The records show the Italians fought courageously and brutally - but were let down by bad leadership.

'Italians also fought on the Eastern front - and testimony by Russian POWs said they were just as brutal as the Germans.'