What’s it all about, Alfie?

The question was as probing in 1966 when Burt Bacharach posed the question as it is now. The FT tells us today that after 30 years of globalization, that party has ended with the war in Ukraine.  While we are drilling dust on Mars, it has become increasingly apparent that the post-WWII complacency as it relates to life on earth is being disrupted by changes sourced to pandemics, geo-political conflict and climate. The guarantees against a third World War were expected to be resolved by the zero-sum game of mutual non-proliferation treaties and nuclear power balances. The Nuremburg trials, followed by trials at Special Courts in Sierra Leone and Arusha, were supposed to send the message to despots that their deeds would not go unpunished.  The human rights and development community honed its ability to mobilize quickly in the aftermath of atrocities, but through no fault of its own, less so on the preventative side of things.

For sure these last several weeks have shown us that there are lines to be drawn in the sand, but regrettably they are being drawn by those on the wrong side of righteousness.  The world community has been entirely too reactive and has not stood up with steely resolve to refuse to see another massacre of innocents. With myopic attention to righting past wrongs, it has failed to deploy its global machinery to prevent atrocities—it has relinquished its authority over the protection and preservation of human rights to those who would oppress, deprive and violate what the United Nations was supposed to have achieved in 1948. That instrument, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the mechanisms that enforce it, have been emasculated by the veto, where it should have been absolute in its enforcement and power to prevent its gross violations. When the UDHR says that it recognizes the “inherent dignity” and “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” those words are ciphers if nothing can be done to shield those it purports to protect.

The UN was created in October 1945 in the hopes of preventing another world war.  The Security Council has five permanent members, each of whom has the right of veto. In the recent vote designed to end the military offensive in Ukraine, only Russia, the subject of the vote, vetoed. It is a basic principle of good governance and rule of law, a key underpinning of the UN Charter, that the party about whom a vote is taken must, in recognition of a clear conflict, refrain from participating in the vote. Why then does the UN Security Council architecture permit itself to be paralyzed from action against a rogue member, defying every principle on which its very existence rests?

The UN writes on its website that its history is “still being written.”  If indeed, this is so, then write this: Change the rules. Stop permitting veto where the subject of the vote is the offending member state, and where the matter involves an extraordinary and universally acknowledged violation of human rights, of the foundational sort intended to be protected by the UN Charter itself and the UNDHR (not to mention a host of other instruments and conventions). If the United Nations is to be more than an impressive neutral urban campus where the world’s emissaries meet and talk, deploy the same unified global action that was expected to preserve peace in 1945, and halt this unfounded aggression. When the dust settles, the development community will engage with robust vigor to document the wrongs, seek their redress, offer humanitarian aid and start the rebuilding process. But, just because the global human rights community is efficient at providing humanitarian aid and rebuilding the aftermath of atrocities, does not mean forsaking the opportunity to prevent or stop the atrocity in progress.  In the words of the Bacharach song: “Are we meant to take more than we give?” –The world and Ukraine has taken enough. Time to change course. Human Rights need not always be viewed through the rear view mirror.  


Hurry Up Mr. Fellows…in case you haven’t heard there’s stuff going on at Downton Abbey!

Next Chapter:
The story opens in 1940.  WWII has officially begun.

Carson and his wife are visited at their home by former house-staff, Anna and Bates, who had left Downton Abby years before to live in America but have returned and decided to settle back in the village they once called home.  They ask after Lord and Lady Grantham. Carson is surprised that they are completely unaware of the untimely death of Lady Grantham who after receiving a phone call from USA telling of the brother’s passing made plans for a quick visit to America. As a result of her brother’s death, she became sole heir, to what remained of the family fortune, (Newport Mansion and all)  and needed to meet with American lawyers. Arrangements were put in place for her to travel to Germany and board the Hindenburg, the latest travel marvel that could have her to and back from America in a week, so she would not

miss the coronation of King George. Anna and Bates expressions are filled with dread. They didn’t need a reminder of the tragedy of the Hindenburg on the 6th of May, 1937.   Mrs. Hughes (now Mrs. Carson) wonders if perhaps the Downton legacy is an ill fated one, destined for tragedy—first the Titanic, then the car accident, fortunes lost in an ill-advised railroad investment and now the Hindenburg.

It was well over a year since England entered WWII. The children are all young adults, several of whom are eligible for military service. That includes Master George.  He is an officer and becomes close mates with fellow senior officer, Frederick, who is a bit older, but the two develop a close bond.  They have in common that they both lost their fathers at a young age—Freddie’s father in the war (WWI) and George’s father in an auto accident on the day he was born.  George is more than a little surprised to learn that Freddie attended all the best schools, as he had prefaced the conversation with the fact that his mother was a widowed housemaid. He explained to George, that thanks to the generosity of a Lord of a grand house where his mother once worked, (intimating a potential romance between the Lord of the manor and his mother) the gentleman had arranged to finance his education and even went so far as to facilitate his admission into the best schools.   His mother never told him the benefactor’s name, but he is committed that he will one day find out and thank the gentleman.  

The two officers are on the train heading home for leave. Freddie needs to connect at Bampton for  yet another train —when they learn that there is a problem on the track, and the connecting train has been cancelled. Freddie says he’ll simply need to spend the night in Bampton and head out in the morning.  George insists on taking Freddie home with him to Downton, where he can spend the night, explaining that in the morning they’ll have a driver take him back to the station and he can then resume his journey home. He explains that he can ring up his mother and let her know of the delay, sure that she will be happy he will be comfortably welcomed at Downton.

Mary and her new husband, Henry Talbot, now have two daughters.  We meet them at 13 and 10 years old, already displaying an intense rivalry that takes the rivalry which was the hallmark of Mary and Edith’s relationship to a new level. Predictably one is quite pretty and social and the other, attractive enough but on the quiet side. Cousin Marigold often finds herself mediating between them—but her affection for her two siblings is not reciprocated by the youngsters. Marigold is very much like her Aunt Sybil in demeanor and not well adapted to the cattiness of her young nieces.

Meanwhile Tom Branson, the chauffeur who married Sybil has, not unexpectedly developed a relationship with Lucy Smith, daughter of Maud, Lady Bagshaw. They have since married. They are talking of a visit to Downton, for a family reunion of sorts—to cheer up Lord Grantham. Sybbie begs to join them on the visit to Downton. She longs to visit “Donk” and is sure she can make him smile. When they are met at the station by the chauffeur, and it is clear that there is some kind of connection between Sybbie and the driver. Her father, Tom, immediately recognizes the early flirtatious behaviours that characterized his own romance with her mother, Sybil. He later pulls Lord Grantham aside, seeking his advice and counsel about “the problem.”  The irony is inescapable and makes for a charming and warm scene between the two.

Meanwhile, Bertie and Edith Pelham, the Marquess and Marchioness of Hexham have a growing family of their own and have managed to avoid gossip over Marigold’s parentage. Edith has sold the magazine left to her by Marigold’s father, and made a tidy fortune for herself, improving her own marital financial underpinnings. But, as with ever, Edith’s newfound optimism surrounding her own fairy-tale ending is disrupted when a lawyer enters the scene, purportedly representing Mrs. Gregson, wife, now no longer in an insane asylum, of Edith’s former lover, Michael Gregson. She threatens to expose the child’s parentage and humiliate the Marquess and Marchioness, if she doesn’t get the fair share of her husband’s estate.  Her lawyer is none other than the grandson of Lord Merton—whose own son was despicable and bore intense dislike for the entire Grantham clan, from his rejection by Sybil as a young man, to his father’s liaison with Lady Crawley (now Lady Merton). That resentment has been planted in his son, who displays the same despicable behavior of his father. Lady Merton feels some somewhat to blame for Edith’s woes for he has fastened upon the Granthams’ weakest link to vent his animus. Lord Merton is frail, but not afraid, and conjures up something to shut-down his son’s animus for once and for all.

And so you see, with or without Mr. Fellowes, there’s stuff going on at Downton Abbey!