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2017-06-16 09:51 am

The Grenfell Tower tragedy

There is plenty of blame to go around. Nobody is innocent, although the guiltiest parties will no doubt turn out to be the local Tory administration who seem – to judge by the fact that the police say that they may never know how many people died – not to even have had an updated list of the residents. How could anyone not know who lived where? And the matter of the cladding – which now turns out to be illegal in America; always, after such disasters, it turns out that some other administration had banned the thing which caused the disaster; and the suggestion that it was only put in as cheap insulation to meet green targets.

Then there is the building itself. My American friends with the Ayn Rand addiction – direct or indirect – will of course be blaming the very idea that the public sector should see to the housing of the working classes, as if no private homes had ever gone on fire. I know the cant by heart.
. But the matter is by no means so simple. London, like most other European cities, is full of popular homes built over a century, mostly but not exclusively by local socialist administrations. In London you can clearly see that the vast housing estates built between the nineteen-tens and the nineteen-fifties, by architects driven mainly by a sense of need and purpose – build the best houses you can at the least price, but with dignity and duration – produced buildings that nobody complained about: modest but dignified blocks of flats surrounded by green areas. But around the sixties, the sense of purpose was lost and the architects decided that their own artistry was the most important thing. The result was oversized, immense buildings of bare concrete, surpassingly ugly and often monstrously tall, which everyone except the architects loathed. The materials used – bare concrete and metal – seemed custom made to last badly and become ugly in English weather, unlike the tile and brick facing of many older GLC and Peabody Trust estates, and mixed with desolating and constant precision with garbage and dirt. I lived in one of them for a few years, and I can tell you that whatever you did to dignify and clean your own living space in the flat, as soon as you stepped out the door and into one of the bare concrete outside walkways so beloved by seventies architects, the depression set in. Everything about them was wrong; and while nobody is thinking of knocking down any of the older popular housing, many of the concrete carbuncles (thanks, Prince Charles) of the sixties and seventies have been righteously knocked down and replaced with old-fashioned English houses. (Even though that is itself a backward development, since London is in fact building more and more blocks of flats, in an obvious reaction to the insane price of land. But the hateful and traumatic nature of the concrete-and-steel erections is obviously such that people prefered to go back to the past.)

Grenfell Tower was a survivor of the bare-concrete age, kept standing in order to house the least fortunate locals. One reason why Britain does not have the devastating homeless problem that blights the USA is that local administrations have a statutory duty to find housing for the homeless. This reduces the blight on the streets, but at the risk of turning certain areas into human dumping grounds – which it is quite clear that Grenfell Tower was. This has been exasperated by the criminal idiocy of successive British governments. Margaret Thatcher – or, as I prefer to call her, Meg Thug – forbade local councils from building any more housing. At once, the largest single source of building orders in Britain dried up; and, guess what, in a few years people were complaining about a housing shortage. They never stopped. This insane order, an absolute triumph of blind ideological prejudice over sense and experience, was aggravated by the otherwise unexceptionable law that enabled residents of council developments to purchase (or better, lease for several decades – the tricky English property status known as leasehold) their own homes, and, less admirably, to lease council housing for rent to third parties. This meant that, while pressures on public housing increased, the stock diminished. To increase it somehow, the local authorities were driven to make deals with private developers and dubious “housing associations”, in the name of the all-holy Private Sector, more expensively and less efficiently than they had been able to do in the past – but at least keeping the stock going somehow and finding places to send the homeless. When Tony Blair – or the Tory Blur, as I prefer to call him – came to power, he, in his eagerness to flatter Thugcherism and Thugcherites, would not even consider altering these senseless restrictions, and the housing crisis continued unabated. That is why Jeremy Corbyn blamed these Tory laws for the disaster, and he had a point. Incidentally, the reason for Corbyn's otherwise unaccountable popularity is his recovery of a simple and by no means extreme left-wing program full of the things that the Tory Blur had wiped from the slate, thus forcing the whole arc of British politics in a tight and Thugcherite stranglehold. Corbyn's own predilections for the likes of Hamas may be unlovely, but in general and especially domestic policy he has done nothing but recover the ordinary and not at all subversive policies of any left party before the Tory Blur blurred things.

One of the horrible things about tower blocks and skyscrapers in London – and while seventies tower blocks are thankfully going down, monstrous skyscrapers, much taller than the most pretentious of blocks, are going up all over the city in a phallic homage to the pretensions of international wealth – is that, whether or not it is at all possible for a fire department to fight a fire in one, it is not for the London fire brigade. Their equipment only reaches to the twentieth floor; a limit that doomed the miserable people, God rest their souls, seen calling for help, any help, from windows thirty and more floors above the ground. I know nothing about firefighting; I certainly do not know whether equipment that can deal with fires above twenty floors up even exists. But this I do know, because it has been clearly said as the horror was unfolding, that if such equipment exists, the London fire brigade don't have it. And this in a city whose politicians and developers seem hell-bent on turning its traditionally low-rise landscape into a forest of skyscrapers. Today it was the working-class and unemployed of Grenfell Tower who suffered; tomorrow it may be some absurd conglomeration of Russian and Arab expatriate millionaires, equally doomed to a horrible death in a heaven-reaching trap with no hope of escape. (Yes, I imagine their internal fire defences will be much better than those available to the poor Grenfell Tower victims. But I am talking of a worst-case scenario – sprinklers failing and such – and such scenarios have a nasty knack of materializing.)

Finally, and I am sad to have to say this, because it is about a body of men I admire and respect. But whoever wrote those instructions to the Grenfell Tower residents – in case of fire, stay put and wait for rescue – has blood on his hands. The point is clear: it is the usual dislike of specialists and bureaucrats for the messy, ignorant, loud public getting in their way. But in this case, the excuse for this idiotic order – that the fire service would take no more than an hour to reach the high floors – in a raging fire and among hundreds of terrified people to be evacuated somehow – is nothing more than a fantasy. A literally homicidal fantasy.

There is plenty of blame available for everyone, as you see. And I hope the promised public inquiry will deal it out in large doses.
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2017-06-02 03:11 pm
Entry tags:

The BBC's news broadcast of this morning

Today's BBC news broadcast left me with a despairing sense of the mentality and attitudes of pretty much everyone it touched. First, of course, there was the hysteria about climate change. Some of my friends will remember my view about this subject: that is that climate changes, because that's what it does, and mankind can no more affect it by reducing its energy consumption by a certain amount than it can stop a flood by waving a couple of bone sticks at it and chanting “hocus pocus”. There are still many excellent reasons to reduce pollution and waste, first of all the rescue of many environments (it breaks my heart every time I see my beautiful country scarred by worthless development and uncontrolled waste dumping), the environment and a reduction, hopefully an end, in the destruction of animal and plant species; but this idea of “the planet” as a whole, put into danger by vicious human activities and rescued by correct ritual performance, is nothing but a degraded religious idea. So did the Aztecs believe that the sun kept rising and falling because they sacrificed human beings to it.

In an age of fake religions, a true, if disastrous, religion, a philosophy of existence as I call it, has unconsciously emerged: a worship of “the planet” as a whole, as an entity worthy of sacrifice in itself. It's not exactly pantheism, for pantheism would involve the whole universe; it is a kind of cosmic nationalism that places all value and all moral demand within it. So, a hundred years ago, nationalists placed all kinds of value within the nation, and Italian Fascists used the word “Italian” to mean “morally good, excellent, and admirable”, an “Italian idea” being the same as a great and progressive idea. The Earth is now vested with this kind of idolatry; it is the new idol to whom those who deliberately deprived themselves of higher religions come and worshsip. Religion gets a very bad rap in our time, and to judge by the performance of these novel religionists, there is a reason. They have been deprived of any sense of religion as a life of the intellect by their educators' terror of “sectarianism” and “bias”, and they know noting about Plato, Thomas Aquinas, or Kierkegaard, or about the bond of religion and philosophy. (Horribly, polls tell us that the favourite philosophers of those English who know enough to tell the difference are Karl Marx and David Hume.) And having no notion that religion is something that stimulates thought and creates debate, they approach it as only the most benighted and bewildered fanatics ever approached their religion – as a mental fetish or idol, whose every word is command, never to be doubted, discussed, or confronted.

This attitude was evident in what was called the BBC's “report” on President Trump's decision to vacate the Paris Accords – a decision that was fully within his rights as the head of an independent state. It was no more reporting than a party manifesto is an objective account of the state of a country. It was a half-hysterical, half-triumphant, wholly uncritical list of all those heroes of earth-worship morality who had denounced Trump. Even the list of corporate charmers who had discovered their earth-worship morality in this time of drama was uncritically and triumphantly delivered, as though Disney, Facebook and Goldman Sachs were champions of the people and excellent teachers of morality. I am not saying that a large business may not be conducted with something like basic morality; but, apart from the record of the specific companies concerned, The fact that the whole class of international big business had set up this common howl shows that, at the very least, they feel themselves protected from whatever sacrifice may be asked of the common populace. Otherwise they would, at best, be silent, and at worst be howling against the accords. The eye of big business, from its Victorian rise to this day, has always been to the bottom line, and they have always been willing and ready to fight in every possible manner anything that would damage their dividends. What is more, it is likely from their behaviour that at least some of them think that earth-worship morality may further their interests. In other circumstances, such a coming together of huge and dangerous special interests would have drawn the unfavourable attention of journalists. Today they applaud it.

But even before I had stopped being overwhelmed – though hardly surprised – by the blatancy of the whole operation, I was struck as if with a wet, smelly fish in the face, by the absurdity and pettiness of Theresa May's government. May, mind you, is quite clearly an earth-worship religionist; and she has taken the personal step of phoning Trump to inform him of her “disappointment” - a strong step by any standard. And yet, even in this dramatic moment, she has not been willing to put her signature to a document signed by the governments of Germany, France and Italy, condemning Trump's decision and reasserting the Paris Accords. So much does it matter to her to establish her particularist, literally Little Englander credentials. At a moment when the European Union and China, rightly or wrongly, are about to issue a joint statement on the Paris Accord, to take the position that you support their position but will not collaborate with them is nothing short of pathetic.

And that had no sooner gone by, that the BBC had me yelling at the radio and arguing in favour of May. And again, it is on an issue on which I do not support her. She had said that she would be, and I quote, “working to achieve” the hoped-for reduction of the balance of immigration into Britain to the tens of thousands. The meaning of that must have been clear to every intelligent person who heard it; being that she would do whatever she could think of, she would “work” towards it, but would not promise – could not promise – she would achieve it. And yet the BBC claimed that one of her ministers had “contradicted” her when he said, exactly, that they could not make any promises on the matter. To such a pitch of idocy and blindness does the “gotcha” culture drive people. It is possible to understand how such things happen: the heated atmosphere of a press conference, the need to get a juicy soundbite, the approximate understanding that always occurs when people work with their voices and with their memories instead of starting from extensive records. What is tragic and ignoble is that such a gross failure of understanding should be preserved, surviving the editorial process, and be broadcast as “news” every hour on the hour. This is not only bad in itself: it is counter-educational, teaching people to miss obvious connections and to look for breaks even where they aren't there. It is literally contrary to what is supposed to be the BBC's primary educational mission. And it brings to a suitably crashing end these few minutes of folly, irrationality, and bad religion.
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2017-02-23 05:30 pm

AN APALLING SCANDAL

The appointment of Cressida Dick to lead London's Metropolitan Police - the body known across the world as Scotland Yard - is an apalling scandal. It is scandalous enough that the lady should still be working at the upper levels of a police force; to place her at the most senior post in all British policing is an outrage.

Cressida Dick is the woman responsible for the slaughter of Jean Charles de Menezes. In case you had forgotten, or never heard (though a couple of hundred million Brazilians certainly have, and I assume they will be making their views known), this young Brazilian electrician working in London was butchered by eleven police bullets while sitting in an underground train. His only fault was to have a rather dark complexion, like many Brazilians, and to live next to a terrorism suspect. Now no matter how blundering and wrong the actual policemen who shot de Menezes were, they were only the executors of a disastrously misconceived and misperformed plan. The commander was Cressida Dick; and the commander is responsible when something goes wrong.

But Commander Dick had long since been singled out for high promotion - probably since she enlisted, with an Oxford degree to smooth the way. I am an alumnus and I love Oxford, but there are two Oxfords. One is the great research university, respected across the world, with a couple of dozen Nobel prizewinners and umpteen top scholars; and the other is the pons asinorum intended to licence people for political careers, which produces most of England's ministers and Prime Ministers. If you are studying a science subject, or a humanities research subject, you are probably part of the former; if you are reading English, Theology, or, God help us, PPE - Philosophy Politics and Economics, the course for budding politicians - you belong to the latter. I suspect Commander Dick was. She was certainly slated for the top before she got de Menezes killed. And in any country but England it would be incredible that she could survive such a disaster; in England it's not even surprising - though it is deeply disgusting - that she did.

Above and beyond any design to promote a woman to the top spot, which was indubitably part of the issue, you have to remember that the English suffer to a quite extraordinary extent from the syndrome called doubling down. To become obstinate in the defence of something just because you suspect you might be wrong is a universal humain failing; but in England, it's a national bad habit. The English are ALWAYS at their most obstinate when they are in the wrong. And so it is not at all surprising that a woman who should have been drummed out of the force for homicidal incompetence is now being put at its head.
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2017-02-18 10:21 pm

An attempt at prophecy: where is Europe going?

It occurred to me that in several European countries, politics are going in a direction that leads to a scenario that is very similar to that of Italy from 1946 to 1994. During that period, a large Communist opposition and a much smaller Fascist one remained permanently in opposition, because by their nature they could not be allowed into government. This forced a number of widely different parties - the secular conservative Liberal party, the non-socialist, left-of-centre Republicans, the Social Democrats and Socialists - all representing long and individual traditions, to form majorities together with the confessional alliance Christian Democracy, which was more a grouping of parties than a party in itself and went from near-Fascist to Christian Socialist. The secular parties despised the confessional nature of the Christian Democrats, especially since Catholics had been effectively kept out of the government of Italy since independence, and their rise to dominance in the elections of 1945 and 1948 was something like a revolution. This was the reason for the famous frailty of Italian governments: the priorities, views and values of the majority parties were by no means always compatible, and sometimes one of them - most often the Liberals or the Socialists - went into opposition. That is why government crises and elections used to be frequent in Italy, even though majority and opposition never really changed.

Now what is happening in the Netherlands, in Sweden, and to some extent in France and Germany too, is that an opposition is forming that is really not fit to govern, but is strong enough that, in the long run,only a great coalition of the more respectable forces can keep them out of power. Certainly neither the Sweden Democrats, with their notorious Nazi origins, nor Geert Wilders' Freedom Party, who make Trump look steady and polite, nor Alternativ fuer Deutschland or the Front National are either ready or fit to govern; but they are increasingly becoming the real opposition in their own countries, crowding the more respectable and old-fashioned parties together, and forcing alliances that, though increasingly inevitable and necessary, will not be comfortable for anyone involved. The countries that laughed at Italy's revolving door cabinets are soon going to be experiencing them.
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2017-01-31 05:35 pm

A sad moment

One of the worst things about Trump is that he is bringing out the worst in his enemies. He is so ghastly that they feel entitled to vomit out the worst of their vanity, group hate, racism and narrow-mindedness, in the unacknowledged certainty that any stick is good enough to beat Trump and Trumpies with, that hate for Trump validates itself and is obviously right. People are saying things that would have been beyond the pale (or only said in the presence of ideological partners) two years ago.

I have had to defriend and block one of the great of comics art, Bill Sienkiewicz. The reason why is behind the LJ-cut, except for what are to me the key words, which are in plain view: Read more... )
It's scientifically proven ( I'm not going out to post links- they re everywhere for anyone who wants to stray from their comfort of the FOX/ breitbart bubble) --- that conservatives are genetically wired, and innately predisposed to being afraid-- fearful- of new experiences ,and also that a vast majority of people who voted for him are equally stunted and lacking ithe ability for scrutiny and follow factual evidence. I'm not saying they're all stupid, but evidence supports the case that many cannot process information, lack critical thinking, relying instead reactionary responses, emotions and solutions based on fear and anger.Read more... )

Bill Sienkiewicz made himself responsible, in a public post, for this kind of outburst. After that, breaking contact with him was the only way I could keep my self-respect.
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2017-01-27 06:36 pm

Faith and gullibility

It occurred to me that two enormous obstacles have been placed in the way of Christian belief. The first is the monstrous ignorance of history of most contemporaries, that makes it next to impossible to explain that the New Testament is a collection of contemporary, reliable historical documents; and second, the very concept of "belief system", which makes any religion so labelled into a mere matter of arranging "beliefs", as opposed to understanding facts. No wonder that crooks are everywhere busy inventing "religions" from wicca to scientology, with no basis in fact, and for the sole purpose of flattering their customers' minds and make money at their expense.

The two obstacles are related. If people are not allowed to understand that the narrative of John is as much a matter of experienced fact as that of Julius Caesar, and that both must be taken prima facie as eyewitness material, there is no matter of fact to be considered, only belief.

The point with Christian belief is rather different. It is that there are reliable, credible historical documents that make an incredible claim, namely that a man cured leprosy, insanity and blindness by command, raised the dead two or three times, calmed a sea storm, twice fed thousands from food barely sufficient for one person, and, having been very publicly and demonstrably killed, was soon after alive again. Obviously the point is whether you believe this account or not. That is why faith is accounted a virtue for Christians; NOT because you are supposed to believe IN DEFAULT of evidence or INDEPENDENTLY of any evidence.
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2017-01-21 08:29 am

(no subject)

To me, the repulsive clashes between "protesters," police and "deplorables" are an ugly sign of things to come. People on both sides have lost, or rather have never had, the ability to live with defeat. Trump is a detestable creature, but he is largely the creation of a political culture that no longer allows dissent or difference, because it is genuinely convinced that it contains all legitimate "diversity" - that diversity it always demands that we should celebrate - and that is therefore incapable of recognizing real diversity. Half the free world feels despised, limited and squashed by the pressure of this diversity without difference, and has for a long time now been trying to find a way to react. Trump has given them the perfect vehicle to do so.

There are ladies and gentlemen and people of sterling honesty in the diversity party, people like my friend Michael Rosenblum, who would go out in the rain to pay a penny debt, or Anna Maria Ballester Bohn, kindness incarnate with a funny face, or Carla Speed McNeil, artistic genius and good person, or half a dozen others, the kind of people who brighten the lives of their friends and leave a clean smell when they leave. I do not doubt their sincerity, but I doubt their knowledge of the world. Time and again they make remarks that just don't agree with my experience of the opponents. The effect of the views they follow is ultimately oppressive and aggressive. Firmly convinced that they are righting injustices and setting up new rights, they are in fact - not personally, never in a million years personally - trampling on established rights and working to silence and persecute truth. And there is a streak of persecution complex that is set to do a lot of damage. They are sincerely convinced that Trumpies are coming to brutalize and rape them. In this mood, even understanding the enemy is experienced as a kind of temptation: why should you try to understand a bunch of vicious, misogynistic racists?

I have never been of the enemy party either. My loathing of Ayn Randism and my contempt for gun "rights" make it impossible for many of them to even speak with me. The gun nuts especially reason with the logic of addicts. As with the rainbow party, understanding the enemy is not something to do but a temptation to be avoided, because anything that might undermine your precious hold on your piece of murdering iron would expose you naked and helpless to a terrible, homicidal universe. You cannot reason with a man who has willingly made himself an addict to his own fears. Like the rainbow nut's vision of the Trumpies, an undifferentiated mob existing in an ecstasy of rape and murder, the gun nut's world is one huge threat from which only his murder implements protect him.

I don't want to go further. I think you can imagine what I fear in a country where two opposing forces have many members in this state of mind.
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2017-01-20 01:15 am

The mills of God grind slowly - and now we are about to get the bran

Donald Trump is the end result of every subversive tendency in the Sexual Revolution. He is Justice Kennedy's "at the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life" incarnate and personified. That concept, of course, has nothing to with liberty: quite to the contrary, it is the installation of a tyrannical, uncontrolled ego at the centre of each human being's universe - the invention of a world of a million million tyrants. To "define one's own concept of meaning, of the universe" is to impose it on external reality. It is to say "that is what I want, that is what I order" to the world at large. Now the child of that thought walks into the White House.
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2017-01-18 08:09 pm

A sketch of ideas for sociology of knowledge

When the study of law as a school subject began in the twelfth century, it did not begin with the active common law that at the time dominated Europe, including Italy. It began with Roman law, with the Theodosian and Justinianic codes, preserved in libraries. That was simply what the scholars of the time regarded as true learning, worthy of study. It was from the schools that Roman law poured out across the landscape to dominate most of the European continent, except for England. And yet Roman law had considerable flaws as compared with common law.
This is parallel with the way that "comics" fandom has developed out of superhero fandom and is still largely dominated by it. IN the sixties and seventies, superheroes were irrelevant to most adults and in a definite commercial retreat. But the number of fans who became professionals not only in comics but across the media, in movies, in advertising, in television, in publishing, means that the genre became influential far beyond its apparent reach. Meanwhile, "Comics" fandom continued to be focused on superheroes and associated fields (science fiction, horror, fantasy), even though most comics across the world don't really pertain to them.

So the idea of what is important in the fields of knowledge depends mostly by the social processes within the area. Those fields that have an organizational advance on the rest - superhero fandom among comics, like twelfth-century Roman law experts in the field of law - tend to set the rules for the whole field.
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2017-01-06 01:59 pm

Trump sits and sniggers

And these people call the Trump electors stupid.

I can say very sincerely that I don't have much of an opinion of the brains, far-sightedness, or cunning, of the average modern politician. As far as I am concerned the breed of Bismarck and Disraeli, never mind Cavour and Lincoln, is extinct. But for sheer insanity of stupidity, for self-destructive inability to see the nose on your face, for doing the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way and for the wrong motives, absolutely nothing compares with the pursuit of Russian hacking of Democrat computers. The Democrats should forget about those damned e-mails. They should forget about Russian intrusion, Putin, Assange, the FSB, Russian hackers and everything else. They are doing, quite literally, every wrong thing they possibly could. And if they have any influence on the CIA and the FBI at all, they should tell these bodies to shut up about them, too.

Consider, first and foremost, what a disastrous scene is playing out right now. Leaders of America's “intelligence community”, as they call them these days, are going to the President-elect to, in effect, beg him to show some public support for their position. This places Trump in the position of the receiver of supplications, and the arch-spies in the position supplicants. Now, if they think that Trump will ever give in on the issue in any public way, they are so politically stupid that to remove them from their positions would be a relief: nobody who puts himself in such a humiliating and destructive should be in a position to advise the most powerful man in the world. What the Hell are they thinking? Even if Trump were a good man, he would not have the least incentive to give in to their demands. He has called their credibility into question; to go back on that would be a setback, and also an open sign of creeping compromise with the hated DC establishment he has been elected to trash. And what does he have to lose if he doesn't? Precisely nothing. The half of his supporters who admire him regard his behaviour as all-American, and the half who voted for him in horror at the idea of a third Democrat term had such a low idea of him anyway that nothing could lower it. His core supporters would probably not think of being shocked at nations interfering in each other's internal affairs; as far as they are concerned, that is what they do. And indeed there is something about this that the Democrats, in particular, ought not to be doing, since the idea of American politicians complaining about foreign countries interfering in their elections would make a lot of the traditional left in foreign countries gag. American interference in other countries' politics is part of the hereditary folklore of exactly those forces who ought to be the Democrats' natural allies on the international stage, and to have the CIA of all agencies be the bearer of protests on this subject would rouse the bitter laughter of hundreds of millions from Santiago to Berlin. There are instruments of power that the Democrats should not be seen to be using.

But if the tactics are demented, the strategy is suicidal. The Democrats should have killed talk about those damned hacked e-mails. They should have made sure that everyone forgot that they had ever been published. Because whether or not it was the Russians who hacked them, there is one thing that no Democrat has been able to say: that they are not true. And so long as they are, and so long as they are in public, they show that everything that Catholics and Christians believe about the Democrat leadership and their attitude to them is absolutely true. The ignorance, the brutality, the contempt, the assumption that Catholicism is a remnant to be swept into the trash-can of history, are all there in black and white. And that is exactly what the Democrats should try to make people forget.

Trump has not been elected by the hard-core of unfocussed anger he expresses. He has been elected because millions of Catholics and Evangelicals had become convinced that another term such as the last two would mean the beginning of persecution in earnest, a legal and extra-legal assault on the churches that would lead them to have to make the dreadful choice between apostasy and second-rate citizenship. The split in the Christian communities ran between those who, like me, Catherine Alexander, or Rachel Hamilton, thought that Trump was so bad that he would pollute every cause he touched, and those, like Tony Esolen or Jonathon van Maren, thought that the prospect of a Rodham Clinton presidency had to be avoided even at the price of touching the foul thing. The idea of a widespread Christian enthusiasm for the orange adulterer is grossly overstated. Many people, as Barbara Ehrenreich observed, voted in advance, as if to get the damned thing over with.

But if that is the case, and if the Christian vote made the difference, then, if the Democrats cannot wean themselves of their addiction to abortion and rainbow causes, they should at least do their best not to have it talked about. And that means silence, silence, silence. And if personal documents fall into enemy hands to show what your real attitude is, be superior, ignore them, treat them with contempt. The madder you get, the more you prove that it's all true, and that the enemy has shown you as you are.
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2017-01-05 10:12 pm

Charmers

Translators like me work mostly from internet contacts, which means we can have clients across the world. I have a link with an agency in the Palestinian Territory, no less, with whom I haven't done a lot of work - and the story that happened today will tell you why.

Morning, I get an urgent request for revision for a death certificate. The job is easy, and the certificate tells a heartbreaking story - a girl of twelve, dead in a foreign country, probably in a holiday, from what sounds like an undiagnosed brain aneurism. The fee offered is tiny but adequate, if hardly generous. It's easy work, and I do the best I can - because I always do, and because in this case I am moved.

A few hours later I get another e-mail from the same source. Another bit of the job needs doing fast, the consul is waiting, the body needs to be released. I open the attachment - and immediately fire off a response.

"Are you having me on? This is not a bit of additional revision, this is the translation of a whole, sizeable, official letter. This is a full new job and I will charge for it separately and at my minimum rate."

Immediate answer. Sorry and all, it was a mistake, it IS a separate job - offered at a fee two-thirds of what I'd required.

Me: sorry, but that was my absolute minimum, and I've already done you a favour by reckoning it in dollars instead of British pounds.

I did not hear from them again.
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2015-07-12 03:19 pm
Entry tags:

"Love and marriage"

This essay is going to start on a very different subject from where it is going to end.

The highest level of artistic achievement always has a powerful ethical content, quite simply because artists of the level of Homer, Dante, Beethoven, have a broad enough insight to take in all significant parts of human experience, and morality is a major part of it. However, morality as such is not necessarily connected with artistic merit, except in the sense that artistic merit always has to do with truth to experience. Take, for instance, a song such as Tata Young's Sexy, Naughty, Bitchy. There can be no doubt that nobody would want to encourage the kind of attitude it describes, not only the tarty-ness, but the vanity and egotism that underlie it, and the parasitical overtones of such a verse as “I like all my men, I like them tall with MO-NEY!!”. But because it is the work of a young woman who has been, one way or another, in the position of feeling, experiencing, imaginatively understanding – if not necessarily acting out – the attitudes it describes, it is an almost complete success, vigorous, driving, melodious and vital. She knows that generation and those people, if she knows anything at all. And even where the lyrics cross the border from childishly arrogant to merely stupid, repeating without insight the follies of the worst pseudo-feminism (“people are intimidated when a girl is cool with her sexuality” - sorry, dear, we aren't really intimidated by any such thing, only embarrassed and rather sad), it may be said at least that this is a true-to-life part of the experience described. Teen-agers will indeed repeat that kind of rubbish. Shakespeare this is not, but it has in common with Shakespeare and all successful art that it is a true image of a true experience.

It follows, naturally, that artistic failure always tends, for whatever reason, to falsify experience; whether it distorts it by conventional and superficial notions, or by ideological blinkers, or by mere stupidity and ignorance. The worst song Frank Sinatra ever sang, Love and Marriage, belongs in this category. This car crash of a song, whose hideous jingle-like opening sticks in the mind like the worst kind of advertising music, is so steeped in sentimental falsehood that it is almost aware of it; almost. For if it really understood that “the idea that love and marriage must go together is sentimental, false and dangerous”, we would have a very different kind of song – something like, for instance, Bruce Springsteen's The River. But Love and Marriage is trying to say the exact opposite, but without any real belief, without any of the belief born from experience. It tries to be both witty and earnest, and fails at both. The material is as arbitrary (“ask the local gentry – and they will say it's ellyment'ry!”) as that of my previous instance was relevant and inevitable (“My mouth never takes a holiday, I always shock with the things I say/ I was always the kid at school who'd turn up to each class about an hour late!”). Notice, too, the modest but effective invention of that half-line, “my mouth never takes a holiday”, as compared with the utter deadness of something like “Ask the local gentry”. Why “the local gentry”? Why not the alien gentry, the overseas gentry, or just the gentry, period? Why, because about a century before the song was written, the expression “the local gentry” meant something. It was pulled from the list of old, half-remembered word groupings, purely to fill its space in a verse. From beginning to end, there is not one passage that has that sense of inevitability that is the mark of a well conceived poem or lyric. The very opening leaves the impression that the singer is repeating the words to himself in the hope that some significant rhyme will occur to him.

The reason why this song does not dare quite take itself seriously, and never seems to find the right turn of phrase, is that it is trying to assert as undeniable fact something that was, and had been for at least half a century, under concentrated cultural fire, namely, the institution of marriage. “Love and marriage, love and marriage, it's an institute you can't disparage...” - can't what? (And notice the infelicity of replacing “institute” for “institution” to make it fit the verse.) It belongs to a luckily rather small group of songs that seemed to want to use popular music to preach, any old how, attitudes that the authors regarded as desirable – although they seemed never to understand what could possibly make them desirable. Another such terrible Sinatra item was Swinging on a star, apparently aimed at schoolchildren, and promising them that if they were good hard-working schoolchildren rather than “mules” or “pigs” or “fishes”, they would grow up able to perform miracles and travel to the stars at will. Well, of course we want children to work hard and study; but to promise them that if only they work hard they can all be Thomas A. Edison or John Wayne or John D. Rockefeller is bunk so pure, so repulsive, so fraudulent, that one wonders how anyone could be so stupid as to want to propagate it to children. Luckily, the song is so bad that one doubts any child ever took it seriously, but if any one ever did, they were setting themselves up for nearly inevitable disappointment and resentment.

One great work of art that originated in the same period showed what the right message had to be, and what it should be. As Bill Mauldin, a great cartoonist, said of his colleague Charles M.Schulz, “He is a preacher. All great cartoonists are jackleg preachers... there is a high moral tone there.” What did he mean? Not, certainly, what many people imagine that the work of art “with a message” should be, that is, that the person with the right ideas and attitudes should be the winner in the end. Absolutely the contrary: what we get from Peanuts is that you can be a “loser”, a modest person with no accomplishment or glitter, a kind of punching bag for destiny, and still be better than a winner. The winner, in the world of Peanuts , is fairly clearly Lucy Van Pelt – a bully and a fool; and I don't think there is a single reader of Peanuts in three quarters of a century who has not left the strip with a strong feeling that it would be infinitely better to be a Charlie Brown than to be a Lucy. That is the moral message children and adults need to hear, reconciling us to the battle of life with its inevitable defeats, showing by example rather than by precept the hollowness and unimportance of “winning”; a message of the most desperate importance in a country where children are daily subjected to liminal and subliminal messages preaching the exact opposite - “winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.”

Swinging on a Star came out at a time when American public opinion was seriously worried about the state of the country's youth, about gangs and a growing looseness in behaviour and fashion. It clearly was intended to preach the virtues of schoolwork and learning, and by extension of hard work and discipline in general, but its scheme of thought shows that the author did not have the least idea why the life of work and study should be preferred to the life of a mule, a pig, or a fish . In fact, it shows the exact opposite: by emphasizing vast ambition and overwhelming success, swinging on a star, carrying moonbeams round in a jar, it effectively depreciates the life of hard work, moderate achievement, and “being happy at home”, that is the best most of us can realistically hope for. (Indeed, from another point of view, it is the best that anyone can hope for. The triumphant billionaire or movie star cannot really be more happy than an ordinary grandfather playing with his grandchildren in a house he has bought and paid for from his own work as a welder or as a clerk. The satisfaction of work well done, of a thriving family, of the esteem of friends and colleagues, is the same for both.) A decade later, Bob Dylan skewered all such fantasies in a few pointed and meaningful lines: Advertising signs they con/ You into thinking you're the one/ That can do what's never been done/ That can win what's never been won/ Meanwhile life outside goes on/ All around you! Indeed Swinging on a Star and Love and marriage are clearly in the style of advertising jingles. Somebody set out to advertise marriage and hard work, with the advertiser's mentality, and had been as successful as one could expect.

Swinging on a Star is not as spectacularly, unredeemably, wholly worthless as Love and Marriage. If its values and rewards are unreal and misleading, at least it is very clear about what it opposes, and when it describes the attitudes it condemns it does with understanding, sting, and even wit. A mule is an animal with long, funny ears./ He kicks up at anything he hears. / His back is brawny and his brain is weak./ He's just plain stupid with a stubborn streak./ And, by the way, if you hate to go to school/ You may grow up to be a mule. ... A pig is an animal with dirt on his face/ His shoes are a terrible disgrace./ He's got no manners when he eats his food./ He's fat and lazy and extremely rude!/ But if you don't care a feather or a fig/ You may grow up to be a pig.....A fish won't do anything but swim in a brook/ He can't write his name or read a book./ To fool all the people is his only thought,/ And though he's slippery, he still gets caught./ But then if that sort of life is what you wish,/ You may grow up to be a fish. There is no such relief of wit or realism or even real anger anywhere in Love and Marriage.

By comparison, then, we have to conclude that Love and Marriage really has no truth to offer, not even a negative kind of truth. It does not, like Sexy, Naugthy, Bitchy, depict vivacity and insight an objectively bad but real attitude; it does not, like Swinging on a Star, have a clear idea of at least the negative part of its message – much less of the positive on). Love and Marriage has no artistic value at all, no truth to experience. And the common advertiser's attitude of the two songs suggests that their flaws must be similar, rooted in the same way of thinking and doing things. And as Love and marriage is all bad, unrelieved by any quality patches, it is also likely to reflect only the bad parts of Swinging on a Star – to offer as the obvious result of hard work something – great and extraordinary success – that is by its nature open only to the lucky.

And indeed it is so. There is a relationship between love and marriage, but it is not what the song tries to suggest. Let us ask ourselves: what kind of feeling do sane people – I mean those who don't write editorials about “heteronormativity” and “matrimania” and other such ugly neologisms – have, when they hear someone like Jack Kirby say that his proudest achievement was, “I married the woman I love, and I loved her all my life”? If love and marriage went together like a horse and carriage, we should find that fairly obvious. But we don't. We react to it as to something great, noble and touching, something we admire and wish we could emulate even though we suspect we never could. Livelong married love is something like a sporting record or a great work of art: something rare and beautiful, but that makes us all feel a little better about mankind and so, in a sense, about ourselves. I may never manage to cover a hundred metres in a hundred minutes, but I can watch, enjoy and admire the sight of Usain Bolt streaking down the straight and making it look easy. I may be a disaster with the other sex, but I can still look on a life like Kirby's or many others, and feel warmer because married love really is possible.

Married love is the achievement; marriage is the activity. And that being the case, you can see exactly what is the problem with Love and Marriage and the whole set of notions it embodies so disastrously: it offers as the ordinary condition what is in fact the hard-won and somewhat lucky achievement. It offers the equivalent of a Wimbledon singles title to every entry-level tennis player. Which, of course, is exactly what Swinging on a Star does with respect to work and good behaviour in general, and work and good behaviour at school in particular.

But, you will say, people marry for love. Well, some do. Many people marry for companionship; it is that, much more than the unlikely hope that you might meet a complete stranger and just fall head over heels in love for life, that keeps marriage bureaux, websites and ad columns in business. Some marry because there is a child on the way. And even in Europe, let alone in other parts of the world, there are still a few people whose first reason to marry is that an heir is expected from them, beginning with the surviving royal families. And I would have to see the evidence that these marriages are in any way less well founded and durable than those based on romantic love. (Because, of course, what I mean by love in this context, unless I say otherwise, is exclusively romantic or erotic love, the thing that makes you feel that the whole meaning of life is wrapped up into another person, normally of the opposite sex.)

No, love and marriage do not go together like a horse and carriage. Like the attempt to justify hard work as the road to overwhelming success – rather than a necessity which, if properly carried out, might help you to a modestly comfortable later life and perhaps a nest egg for your heirs – to make love the cause and heart and constant fellow-traveller of marriage is wrong in itself and a fertile breeder of disillusionment, anger and unhappiness. One can see it in the lives of the very people who have, for more than a century, done the most to spread this false equivalence. Rich men and entertainment figures who divorce four or five times really do believe that marriage is all about love – so they break up and start again every time they think they are in love. And if anyone thinks that is an enviable situation, I heartily disagree. A single divorce (setting aside the issue whether divorce is even admissible, and treating the modern world as it is) is the most miserable thing in the world; imagine five! And let's not hear any nonsense about amicable divorce. If you can bear to separate yourself from the place you lived for years, from the objects and sights that framed your daily life, from a person with whom you once shared everything – and let's not even speak about custody – then you were never married, you were a gigolo or a prostitute now about to get a final pay-off and leave the place of employment. And in fact such things rarely happen. People, including myself, make bitter jokes about divorce lawyers, but in fact most of divorce lawyers – yes, and judges too – will tell you that most of their time is spent trying to get reason through to two people maddened by loss, anger, disappointment and jealousy. Or to put it another way: let us go from one of Old Blue Eyes' worst songs to one of the best. One for my baby (and one more for the road). As fraudulent as Love and Marriage is, so One for my baby is true to life (including the life of the much-married crooner himself) and speaks from experience. The lament for the impermanence of love, the pain in admitting that it was just “a brief episode”, the where-did-we-go-wrong, are typical of love as it often appears if you are not Jack and Rosalind Kirby, and therefore an artistic triumph. Play the two songs one after the other, and you will need no more arguments to understand how crassly wrong is the very notion that love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.

What, then, is marriage about? Well, of course I could start with the Christian doctrine, which I set out in a recent essay. But that would not convince anyone who is not Christian already. More importantly, it is my view that the tenets of morality, contrary to what many Christians preach, are evident by themselves and would equally be true if no God existed. God is as it were their third dimension; they are rooted in Him and sanctified by Him because so is mankind itself. But I do not need to start from God – though I will certainly end with Him – to argue that murder or abortion are wrong, and that taking care of the old and the sick is right. At any rate, there is no originality in Christ's moral teaching; rather it amounts to “Do what you have always known you must do, only more so” (or, as an Italian patriot used to say, “When you cannot tell the path of duty, choose the hardest”). In the case of marriage, this means that marriage is for life: Jesus compared the statement of principle in Genesis, declaring the nature of mankind in mythical language, where a man and a woman are said to become one flesh, and contrasts it with the merely human and historically originated law that allows divorce “because of the hardness of your hearts”. Jesus himself said that He had not come to alter the law, but to fulfill it; and St.Paul taught that even pagans deprived of the Divine revelation are capable of being “law” to their own selves, perceiving and following the dictates of an exacting moral law. Morality is universal. Even the recognition that every man is a sinner, while it might have surprised the proud Greek philosophers, would come as nothing new to Hindus and Buddhists, each of whom knew of the burden of past karma.

And that being the case, what we have to do is see what marriage is in the daily lives of the ordinary world. First of all, then, marriage brings two families or groups of families permanently together. That is a frequent historical reason for marriage – alliances, peace-making, joining properties and inheritances. That, in a true marriage, never changes; and it is signalized by the typical marriage feast, to which every connection of the couple, however remote, has to be invited. That is because even the most distant members of a family group will know that from now on they have another connection, another link in blood and law. And that link is real and effective. How often does anyone in need of help, advice, introductions, expertise, stop to say - “Hey, isn't your cousin a conveyancing expert? Isn't your uncle's wife a friend of so-and-so? Doesn't your nephew speak fluent Swedish?” Help from in-laws is as expected as mutual concern in the lives of each other's families. This connection reminds us immediately of the words of Genesis – they shall be one flesh. The unity established between two families depend son the fact that each of the partners now has both family identities. In what sense this is more than merely symbolic or fictive is a question that can be argued, but only a fool would argue that it differs only in degree, rather than in kind, from cohabitation.

And this leads us to another central issue: children. I don't want to have to argue that children do better with a firmly married father and mother, any more than I want to have to argue that water is wet. I ask that we take this as axiomatic, as read. That is not to say that this optimal situation is always possible; even without divorce, family break-ups, family violence , or just tragedies – the early death of one or both parents – mean that a large number of people will either live without this benefit, or live in a situation where the benefit of living parents is perverted into an enduring torture. But to make these instances of misfortune or evil behaviour into a reason to attack the institution of marriage is like using the fact that some cops will always be thugs and some cops will always be on the take to call for the abolition of the concept (and the fact) of police. Marriage brings together two people, with the support of many others, for the most demanding and intensive of all jobs – one that takes a minimum of eighteen to twenty years to be considered complete, and that, especially in early years, will take every second of the day and much of the night of a strong young adult. Anyone who has had to take care of a small child, however well behaved, for one hour, ought to understand how wise nature was to ordain that a part of the process of human reproduction should involve two strong adult individuals, supported by many others, dedicating much or most of their lives to rearing their child or children. In child rearing, there is no alternative to a family structure. Institutions and orphanages are proverbial by-words for neglect and abuse, not because they necessarily employ bad people, but because it is totally impossible that a paid person with a schedule could pay a child the attention that a mother or a father are ready to pay every moment of the day. And even in this day where the disastrous worship of love has made marriage as vulnerable as an eggshell or a scrap of paper, nonetheless statistics tell us that married couples break down much more rarely than cohabiting ones,and last much longer. The ceremony of marriage really does make a difference in this central issue of child-rearing – the survival of the couple of biological parents.

Finally, let us talk of the most neglected and even occasionally abused aspect of marriage: companionship. I have already mentioned the constant and – from the romantic point of view – inexplicable flourishing of marriage bureaux, wedding contact ads, and websites; which is only explained by the fact that many people simply want to come home and find a member of the opposite sex there. Sex, as such, may or may not take place; the important thing is not to be alone in the evening and not wake up alone in the morning. I have actually seen this used as an argument for “gay marriage”: because people marry when they are aged or infertile, therefore marriage is not about fertility, and therefore “gay marriage” is perfectly all right. Now, the second “therefore” makes no sense at all: just because some instances of actual marriage are infertile, it does not mean that you should invent a kind of marriage that is bound to be infertile, and, more to the point, not involve the two sexes. Because that is the important fact about these things is that they are always about bringing together a man and a woman. Today, of course, they have little spaces for gay couples, but they are certainly in the nature of a gesture to prevailing winds. A marriage bureau that concentrated on “gay marriages” would have a very high likelihood of going bust in a few months, but bringing together lonely men and lonely women is one of the enduring and enduringly profitable businesses of the world. And that is because the two sexes really are complementary in a way that no two members of one sex can be. We have seen that the union and collaboration of a man and a woman over a matter of decades – that is, at the very least, much of their adult lives – is a biological necessity for the rearing of human children. But the complementarity built into the two sexes by this biological need is a natural part of them and can't be talked or wished away. Men will tell you that women always talk about men; but then, how often do men talk about women? Not rarely, I can tell you. No matter what the propaganda, what the pressure of politics and of politically influenced media, the presumptions, the sexes remain a wonder and a mystery to each other.

And across this wonder and this mystery, a union takes place that is more than mere friendship, more than mere feeling, more even than love. A man and a woman form a grouping that is wholly sui generis, that is not to be explained in any terms but its own. It is not friendship, even the deepest and closest and most wonderful friendship; although, if the spouses are good and decent people, it will develop among other things into an enduring friendship where the one understands the other instinctively, appreciates their views, and supports their actions. It is not love, although love is one of its highest and most admired achievements; but two people may be validly married, and even get along quite nicely thank you, without every having had a tremendous attraction to each other. It is not even only fertility, because father and mother may well, it is hoped, look to the children, but they also look to each other. It is marriage; period, end of story. And it is between a man and a woman.
fpb: (Default)
2015-01-18 12:28 pm

importing war

For decades now we have been importing war. The massive immigration of Muslims into western countries – began with the aftermath of the Algerian war in France and with the opening of West Germany to hundreds of thousands of Turkish gastarbeiter, “guest-workers” whose grandchildren are there still – has inevitably brought to the West the native pathologies of Muslim societies, that is, the tendency to assert themselves by violence and the disregard of any law that is not Sharia – or rather, their interpretation of Sharia.

It does not matter, from that point of view, whether or not the majority of Muslims is peaceful or respects the law. No doubt they do. But the same may be said of their correligionaries in their countries of origin, and yet all those countries suffer from the same pathologies, unless they are repressed by force. I can personally testify what a pleasure it is to work with one particular Egyptian client – pleasant and warm in manner, accurate in all they do, paying on the dot, and as upright as a flagpole. Yet we have seen that Egypt as a country has only two choices – military oppression, or religious savagery; and that the people themselves have eventually preferred oppression to letting their own large religious minority loose on the country.

I do not have to show why or how that is; it is sufficient to remark that it is so – and it is certainly so. Muslim countries are affected by civil violence on a scale unknown to pretty much any other civilization, and are correspondingly backward in all that we regard as advanced civilization – from health care to industrial prosperity; since all those things depend on a stable and decently non-violent state of society.

We have pretty much ignored the rising local symptoms of this pathology in our own countries, because, in effect, what can a few lunatics with knives do to a society whose defence is in RPGs, armoured vests, machine guns, rocketry, aircraft and aircraft carriers? Muslim violence, even where it prevailed, has always been treated as a public order problem. But now we no longer have that luxury. Terrorists no longer come with home-made explosives and handguns bought on the local black market. Because of the existence of vast war zones where armies meet with armies, each armed with modern weapons and increasingly learning military tactics, Mumbai first, and Paris now, have met with terrorists who moved and fought like trained commandos.

Some people like to say that this is the West's own fault; but that is nonsense. I was totally against the idiotic support for the so-called Arab Spring, that put Egypt, the largest Arab country, into deadly danger, and turned Libya and Syria into militarized wildernesses; and I have the blog posts to prove it. I said four or more years ago that the so-called Arab Spring in Syria was nothing but a Sunni insurrection – whatever few deluded secularists and democrats may have tried to join or direct it – and I gave my reasons to think so; and facts proved me right. But the fact is that long before the folly of Cameron, Obama and Hollande, before even Bush II's misconceived invasion of Iraq, events in the Muslim world were moving in that direction. The first state in the Muslim world to collapse into a welter of warlords and religious militias was Somalia, and that was long before Bush II came to power. Then there was the matter of Chechenia, and while the Russians may be blamed for that, Chechenia's hopeless jihad against the Bear was entirely the result of internal pressures. Certainly the Russians cannot be said to have encouraged the rebel factions against themselves, as the West insanely did in Syria and in Libya.

In effect, the Muslim world has been drifting towards civil war for at least a quarter of a century. Libya, Syria, Iraq, are latecomers to the party; and the forces that tore them apart had been sharpening their claws in Somalia and in Nigeria, in the Caucasus, in Afghanistan, in Bosnia, and – so far as anyone is allowed to know – even in Chinese Turkestan, in spite of the immense military and police apparatus that faced them there. Veterans of each jihad move to each new battlefield; we hear of Chechens, Uighurs, Iraqis, Libyans. In effect, a manifold insurrection has been brewing in all sorts of places, few of which we even got to hear from – who apart from me has ever paid any attention to the jihad in the Central African Republic?

And as we had little or no real part in the genesis of this war, so we have no real choice in whether to fight it. Nobody is going to like it. The Anglo-American expeditions to Iraq and to Afghanistan nearly tore apart both countries and the whole western alliance from the inside: the idea of having to face jihad now as it dominates the Fertile Crescent and Libya, let alone everywhere else in Asia and Africa, is so unimaginable that few people or nobody even dare speak of it. And yet the so-called Islamic State is an immediate and deadly threat, it not to our territorial integrity, then at least to our internal peace. The underground railway of volunteers, fed by the treacherous Turkish government of Recip Erdogan, is by now bringing not dozens but hundreds of Muslim volunteers from all European countries to the front line, where they are trained not even, as iin the Afghan and Pakistani terrorist camps of the recent past, in explosives handling and suicide bombing, but in modern warfare. When they come back, which they regularly do, they have become not just a public order threat, but a military one. We have no choice. The war has come to us at last, decades after we began to import it, and we will be made to fight it whether we want to or not.

And let us not delude ourselves that the mere repression of the Islamic State – which would be well into the power of European countries even without American support, if only they wanted to – will be enough. This war moves like a mole to any of a dozen possible frontlines, and once the European extremists have learned how to reach them, they will reach them. Sooner or later, our troops will be back in Afghanistan – possibly in the company of Chinese divisions – as well as in Nigeria, in Central Africa, in Somalia. This is the logic of events.
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
2014-10-14 06:24 am

DC comics, self-hatred, and the drive to death

I have a suspicion that when a business becomes invincible, when its market position makes it so unchallenged that its leaders are more in the position of hereditary barons than of anyone who has to work to live - even at a very high level - sooner or later a sort of greed for destruction sets in, and they start making decisions that can only be interpreted as weariness of life - as suicide - at least as corporate leaders. So Ford make the Edsel, and Pan Am make a half-dozen decisions that cancel it from the face of the Earth, and Microsoft make Vista.
I think this incredible free comics day from DC belongs to the same area of unconscious greed for self-destruction. I will certainly not take a single one of their 52 free comics; at zero dollars each, they cost at least $520,000.00 more than I think they are worth. In other words, you would have to pay me at least $10,000 to read a single one of the 52. In the words of someone who has gone through the degrading experience, "the whole [story] is a bloodbath in which all the DC heroes are hacked apart and assimilated by some Borg-like Big Bad who's taken over the world. Bruce Wayne, mortally wounded after having his arm graphically chopped off, sends his protege back in time to fix it." And the poor sod in question never even demanded his £10,000 per free comic in advance. What, seriously, does this express, except a weariness and hatred and desire to violate the characters to whom these corporate stooges own their position and their wages? Is this not an infantile fantasy of revenge against things you can no longer bear to see daily? Does it not feel as though DiDio and his helotry feel the very fantasy entity that makes DC as a suffocating, hateful construct that they, consciously or unconsciously, would like to destroy and pervert? How else can it be explained?
But if that is what is actually going on,then their plight is even more miserable than it sounds. They cannot even destroy their company, even with business decisions compared with which the Edsel was a model of fresh, economical, functional, quality engineering. They certainly seem to intend to salt the fields: "Free Comic Book Day" is supposed to attract new readers - and those new readers are treated to a story that Freddy Kruger would think over the top (Wonder Woman's head on a spike...). There goes the reputation of superheroes, to a generation that at any rate looks at games, TV shows and anime first (compare the number of Buffy or Sailor Moon fanfics on the net with the number of Superman or Avengers ones). The supremacy of comics in the lives of kids, that scared Dr.Wertham so much seventy years ago, is now not even a memory; and from now on thousands more kids will regard superhero comics as boring, depressing, and basically worthless. As the Destroyer said to Hela in Simonson's Thor: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
But DC is not its own master and cannot die until TimeWarner says so. And TimeWarner may be a big, stupid corporation, prone to similar errors, but it is still too big to even notice a loss in a corner of its empire that it uses mainly as an R&D department and source of useful franchises. So DiDio and his minions will continue to make a living from concepts and characters they secretly loathe, and Warner will continue to make bad Superman movies and wonder why the character needs to be rebooted every five years.
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
2014-10-03 08:27 am

People who lie on their deathbeds

For me, personally, the final evidence of the guilt of British criminal Hanratty, of anarchist Nicola Sacco. and of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg - however different the circumstances - have been a personal shock. They are the undeniable proof that people can lie even in the face of death and eternity, that claims of innocence from the scaffold are no more reliable than from any other point. The case of Sacco's fellow-accused Bartolomeo Vanzetti seems even darker: he was probably himself innocent, but he knew that Sacco was guilty as Hell, and he deliberately died with a lie on his lips, for the sake of his imagined revolution. (And to add a further taste of futility to his false sacrifice, the historical fact is that the only party who benefited from his and Sacco's executions were the Communists, who had organized all the protests against their executions, and who were sworn enemies of Vanzetti's Anarchists and would have murdered him a good deal more nastily if he had ever fallen into their hands.) But perhaps the most significant of these is the lie of Hanratty, because that had nothing of the ideological justifications of Vanzetti and the Rosenbergs. Hanratty was not fighting for any "cause", however bad: he was a rapist and murderer with no ulterior motives. And he declared his innocence right to the point of death with a passionate intensity that deceived generations of activists including myself.
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
2014-09-12 10:31 am

Being a translator can be less than fun

This is the second time in a few days that I have been assigned a text I find REVOLTING - and by revolting I mean fraudulent, mendacious, propagandistic. In fact it's much worse than the last. And I can't really turn it down. How do the other guys deal with this kind of problem?
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
2014-08-12 04:30 pm

Starvationists

From now I shall use a new word. The kind of people who argue against a minimum wage are neither conservative (how DARE they?) nor libertarian. They are starvationists. Remember the word: STARVATIONISTS.
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
2014-08-06 12:43 am
Entry tags:

A fic: As the general saw it

PLEASE NOTE: THIS FIC IS AN OUTGROWTH OF DIANE CASTLE'S ENORMOUS AND SUPERB FIC "THE SECRET RETURN OF ALEX MACK." http://www.tthfanfic.org/Story-28614-181/DianeCastle+The+Secret+Return+of+Alex+Mack.htm IF YOU FIND THE TIME TO READ THAT FIRST, YOU WILL UNDERSTAND THIS BETTER, AND YOU WILL DISCOVER A WHOLE NEW ENJOYABLE SUPERHERO WORLD.

AS THE GENERAL SAW IT


“All right, Jase, I'll talk to her. Count on me.”

General Jason Robert Baylor put down the phone and breathed a huge inward sigh of relief. If his wife said she would deal with Major Kuhlmann's problem, she would. She would make sure that the Major did not resign her commission, support her in her depression, and, if there was a way to reconcile her with her boyfriend, Bobbi would find it.

Mrs.Baylor's strength of will was legend. Jokes about it had followed Baylor all the way through his career; to his subordinates, she had always been “the Captain's Captain”, “The Colonel's Colonel”, “The General's General”. Some people meant it in amusement, others in disparagement; but he did not mind. In fact, he was rather proud of her. In what was by now a long and eventful career, he had learned that one of the safest ways to judge a person's character is to look at their friends, and especially at their partner. He remembered a certain media-star four-star general, against whose impressive front he had warned friends and contacts in vain. The man had punctually come a cropper, at the worst possible time, and the damage had gone up all the way to the Oval Office. Of course, after the disaster, everyone had wanted to know how he'd been so correct. The answer? He was impressed neither with his colleague's doormat wife, nor with his indecently exhibited trophy girlfriend.

Even though... the very facts, now. The issue that held his mind right this minute – the thing he was talking about – Major Kuhlmann and her emotional life. She was the evidence that no rule was always universally true. There was always some human rough edge that cut through it.

If he had not been able to assess Marjorie Kuhlmann right from West Point, as a soldier, before he ever knew anything about her agonizingly hidden personal life, he would have made a great mistake. As a cadet, as a second lieutenant, as lieutenant and captain, she had been simply outstanding. Officers, in his view, needed to have at least one of three gifts: the gift to inspire people, the gift to design tactics and strategies for the battlefield, and the gift to organize – especially in the ever-neglected, unglamorous, but inevitably war-winning field of logistics. It was rare for an officer to have even one of these to an outstanding degree. The most legendary commanders had rarely had all three; Washington and Eisenhower, for instance, had in his view been deficient in number two, strategic brilliance. Patton had been chewed out in public by Marshall for taking insufficient care of his logistics. And history was littered with the names of generals who had been clever enough in strategy and competent enough in organization, but who treated their own men little better than the enemy, and won battles – if they did – in their despite.

The thing with Major Kuhlmann is that she was able, and perhaps more than able, in all three areas. His attention had first been drawn to her during a cadet exercise in West Point, when the team she led had performed visibly better than anyone had a right to expect, given their personal and group records. It had become clear that it was she – this dumpy, heavy-set woman with the thick waistline and the graceless face features – who was making all the difference. She had enormous potential as a field commander. And she had never disappointed him. She knew by instinct, without being told, that soldiers perform twice as well when they know what they are supposed to do and achieve, and she put a stake on it. When she explained a plan – in short, simple sentences, in plain English – her men walked away with their eyes shining, clear in their minds as to what they had to, and certain that they could succeed. And her plans were as good as her orders: frequently unconventional and sometimes touched with flashes of brilliance, but always – if you looked – focused with laser-like intensity on the goal to be achieved, to the exclusion of any other consideration. If you looked, any bit of what could be called quirky and bizarre decisions were motivated simply by having taken in details that others might not consider, and found ways around obstacles that others might not see. And although her plans often demanded a lot of her men, they also kept supplies and logistics very clear in mind – though, again, not necessarily in conventional ways. She had not been above instructing her troops to loot a food deposit in the neighbourhood when communications with base were difficult, or to seize gas from a local gas station. The goal, always the goal, nothing but the goal.

And taking her troops home after.

That was the woman, and that was why he'd taken her under his wing. But if he had met her in a private capacity, he knew he would have been left with a very different impression. A series of hopeless stories with very unimpressive men, mostly of the kind who is just not bold enough to be an abuser, but selfish enough to hurt, always taking, never giving; relationships that never lasted – and maybe it was better that they didn't – but that often ended in ways that were not only painful but harmful. It took him years to see the pattern. One selfish and emotionally abusive man might have been a coincidence (especially since that particular specimen was misleadingly handsome and might be taken for a surface-induced mistake); but – once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action. Especially since he slowly became aware that the pattern had been repeating itself ever since her teens.

It was her looks. It had to be. Her looks, and perhaps some kind of mistreatment or emotional abuse (those words again!) in her vulnerable youth. General Baylor had never had that problem; without being a Paul Newman, he knew he had always looked sufficiently well set and impressive, especially in uniform. And Bobbi's determined pursuit of him, beginning in high school, had certainly had its flattering side. But he knew good men who had their confidence sapped by a rat-like mix of long nose and weak chin, or by heavy and coarse features, or even by a bad set of teeth and a balding pate. And for women, he thought, for women it must be a thousand times worse. Looks, and elegance, were central to the way a woman saw herself – that was his view. He had been struck by the time it took even his Bobbi to prepare every morning, and by the immense technical complexity of the subject. He had heard women discussing it for hours. And if a woman was born with a figure that most dresses could not make up for, with heavy features and dull brown hair, and withal not even tall or imposing, but slightly smaller than the average, that could do a lot of damage. Especially if someone had not given her enough help as a child. Baylor noticed that Marjorie Kuhlmann rarely spoke of her parents and hardly ever visited them. The only time he had met them, they had both proved violently political and instinctively averse to the military; and he wondered whether Marjorie's choice of career did not have a touch of rebelliousness about it.

The only good thing about the Lord Giles affair, he thought bitterly, is that it had put an end to the umpteenth bad relationship. “Peter”, as was to be expected, had thought only of his own offended feelings (if sexual propriety mattered so much to him, why had he been having sex with Marjorie for months without the least suggestion of a ring or of any permanence?), had said just enough to make Marjorie feel even lower, and had walked out of her life with a self-righteous air. General Baylor's wife still intended to try and reconcile them, but he sometimes wondered whether he and Bobbi could do something to lead the Major to less painful paths.

But Lord Giles -! While the thought of Major Kuhlmann only made the general feel rather sad, the thought of the aristocratic English black-ops specialist made him angry enough to spit. “L” represented everything about the modern military that Baylor despised, indeed that he could not bring himself to consider military at all: black ops contaminated with domestic politics, alphabet soups of semi-secret or wholly secret agencies whose activities never seemed to be safe enough to discuss and which were treated as autonomous fiefdoms by ambitious young majors and colonels with uniforms too perfectly pressed and ribbons that they did not want to account for. General Baylor was neither naïve nor innocent, and he knew plenty about black ops and espionage; but there were things he would not touch. He liked to say that he served only one acronym, the U, Ess, A. One thing he had never itched for was secret power; and secret power was what these people were about.

He had always managed to avoid having any contact, let alone any debt of gratitude, with the British double-oh operation. He knew that the double-oh division was supposed to be a part of the Royal Navy's special forces, but he also knew that it was virtually beyond the control of anyone but the Prime Minister and the Queen, and perhaps not even of them. For as long as he had known about M's merry men, he had regarded them as nothing better than an assassination bureau, and as a rogue operation that had just about been lucky and judicious enough not to get themselves shut down. They should have been discontinued as soon as WWII came to an end; instead of which, they had been sent to man the outer battlements of the Cold War, and had pretty much become a law unto themselves. They decided on their own what was a menace to the security of England; they were judge, jury and executioner – emphasis on executioner; and they had managed to convince three generations of British politicians of their patriotism and indispensability. If a double-oh agent had decided that the Prince of Wales was a menace to the kingdom, the inevitable assassination would have been accepted and covered up.

Bad though it was that Major Kuhlmann should have been so ill-used, it was an aggravating circumstance that it had been done by such a man, for the purposes of such an agency. Terawatt was only guessing when she informed “L” that he, General Baylor, would make his displeasure known in D.C.; but it was a damn good guess. He was going to raise Hell. And besides, watching L being publicly and humiliatingly rebuked by the one person he could not cross had done wonders for Baylor's mood.

Looking back, he was not proud of the way he had treated Terawatt at that hearing some months back. He had excuses, if not justifications; not only did he know very little about her and about the SRI until then – and that little was not calculated to appeal to him – but he had just had a series of exceptionally unpleasant run-ins with a few other alphabet-soup agencies that had left him disposed to think ill of any such group. And he knew equally little about Colonel Jack O'Neill, its leader; their professional paths had never really crossed – airmen with Special Operation duties don't often work together with career infantry generals; but what little he knew was not calculated to appeal to him, either. Sure, the man was excellent at his job, but Baylor had him pegged as a swashbuckler, a condottiere, a mercenary who fights because he is good at it, not because of any loyalty or principle. Such men are useful, sometimes indispensable; he knew that; but he did not think that they would feel very different about their work if it was a terrorist group that paid them. Or, at least, he doubted whether they saw the difference between terrorists and themselves.

Baylor prized all the formal aspects of the military – the uniforms, the badges, the traditions. They were there to remind everyone that they were not about brute force nor about self-serving, that they were in the service of a number of things including the public, the constitution and the laws – pompous abstractions, he knew, to all too many of his colleagues, but the only distinction, in his mind, between his army and any street gang. The reports of O'Neill's cavalier and insolent attitude had struck him very badly. Being told he had a glamorous red-haired girlfriend half his age had not helped. Certainly the man was good at what he did; and as super-power incidents grew more frequent and deadly, Baylor understood that they needed someone good to deal with this area of operations. But the evident need for the man, his operation, and his super-powered friend did not make Baylor any happier. In fact, it made him feel as though the whole country were suspiciously near being over a barrel.

There had been an accident not long before, whose consequences had shaken him. Visiting a base that was not really part of his command, he had come across an instructor talking to a bunch of recruits. He had been horrified to hear that the man basically informed his young listeners that law and right ceased to have any importance once you crossed the gates of the military. Baylor had practically barged in and challenged the instructor, quoting extensively from laws and regulations to impress on the recruits that the military are under the law and that illegal orders must not be obeyed, whoever issues them. He had written his own graduation thesis on this area, and had the quotations at his fingertips. He had, he felt, done himself some justice. And yet that intervention had got him into hot water, since the instructor was apparently a favourite of some Pentagon big gun, who felt he had said nothing wrong. That was the closest he ever came to being court-martialled.

The fuss had died down, and a person from the Joint Chiefs' office had let him know in private that they felt it would be ridiculous to prosecute him – in a military court of law – for upholding the concept of military submission to the law. But that had not satisfied Baylor altogether; it did not say anything about the justice of his case, only that they thought they did not stand a chance in court. So he had been left with a very grim view of at least some part of the military; and he had come to the interview with Terawatt with a serious prejudice against her and the groups she seemed to be close to.

By the time the interview was over, Baylor was beginning to feel bad about his role. His instincts told him that the young lady's indignation was the indignation of insulted innocence, not that of injured guilt. And she quickly followed it up with one of the most impressive press conferences he had seen in his life – dignified, intelligent, patriotic, clearly principled, giving nothing away that had to be kept secret, but interesting in whatever she said, and courteous and responsive even to insulting or stupid questions. She would have been interesting whether or not she had any powers. In fact, some of her thoughts needed to be kept in mind, including the one about an international jail for superpowered villains. He went away feeling fairly certain that he had misjudged her, and even wondering whether O'Neill was better than he thought, having gained the loyalty of such a fine person.

His prejudice against O'Neill suffered a further shock when he found out – from the newspapers! - that his “glamorous red-haired girlfriend half his age” was a self-made software millionairess with a stellar reputation across Silicon Valley and all the IT world. Not a trophy girlfriend, then, but a very impressive equal. His own IT assistant went into fanboy ecstasies when her name was mentioned.

So Baylor was pleased to receive his invitation to the Terawatt-Europe conference, supposedly from Terawatt herself, and resolved to take the offered opportunity to mend fences. And to find out more about O'Neill – who now, as a new-made general, was a member of the club on a wholly different level from a mere colonel.

But even if he had been on the defensive, and if his prejudices had not been repeatedly challenged, the conference would have changed his mind about O'Neill and everything he stood for. Baylor always said that the way to know a man is to know his friends and his partners; and one person in particular convinced him that he had been flatly all-out wrong about O'Neill. For if O'Neill had been the swashbuckler, rootless type he had cast him as, he would never have had Annie Farrell for an adjutant. That kind would always have spectacular females around them. They would not want bimbos; they would make sure that their spectacular secretaries and assistants, whether blonde or raven-haired, were capable and did their work, because – if they were any good – they always despised incompetence and confusion; but they would never even consider someone with Annie Farrell's looks, or lack thereof. And Farrell with her pasty skin and pudgy body, was right there by O'Neill's side, and he clearly appreciated her.

Indeed, there was something there more important even than the easy disregard for the unfair hierarchy of looks. Farrell was a kind you very rarely found among the military, a woman of complete self-confidence but without a shred of aggression, cool and occasionally amused under the shower of O'Neill's chaff. She managed effortlessly the incredibly difficult middle road between submission to rank and instinctive self-assertion, treating O'Neill's rank with the respect it was owed but never giving the impression of crawling. Farrell had taken only half a dozen sentences to impress the Heck out of Baylor; and O'Neill's personality, so easy to misunderstand and misrepresent, had suddenly appeared in its proper light next to her. Baylor no longer suspected him of treating military conventions and traditions with contempt; rather, he was a man who used wit both as a weapon and as a means to lighten what would otherwise risk being a close and stifling atmosphere. An impressive pair altogether. And when he found that Farrell had befriended Kuhlmann and treated her kindly in her trouble, he was totally delighted. A friend like that was exactly what Kuhlmann needed, to draw her out of herself and give her the confidence she should always have had.

General Baylor, like most of us, tended to be clearer about others than he was about himself. His view of people was in general penetrating and fair; but he had a curious self-image of himself as a hard, cynical, unsentimental military machine. But when he was out of hearing – for they knew it would mortify him – his people called him, with affection, “Daddy Baylor”.

END OF THE STORY.
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
2014-07-24 08:49 pm

Dr. Strangelove: it wasn't just satire

This is without a doubt the most horrifying piece of news yet to come out of the Western side of the Cold War.
http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/11/nearly-two-decades-nuclear-launch-code-minuteman-silos-united-states-00000000/
it seems that the American military had effectively worked to remove the supposed control over nuclear weapon from the President, and effectively allow any four officers who wished to to launch a missile. The considerations behind this piece of total insanity were purely military: suppose the C-in-C were disabled or otherwise unable to react, there could be no effective response to any kind of Soviet aggression. Well, DUH!! If the President had been taken out of the equation, then the war leadership would be probably gone, and all that would be left would be stupid, uncoordinated slaughter. Besides, the point with atomic weapon was not to use them, but to avoid using them, and above all to prevent the other side using them. Say what you will about mutual assured destruction, but it kept two power groups that hated each other's guts from replying the horrible, destructive folly of the two world wars.

But never mind the "Dr.Strangelove" option with four junior officers just deciding to go off and fire a Minuteman rocket on their own. Do you have the least idea what would have happened if this piece of idiocy by US armed forces had ever got out? NATO would have been finished, that's what. Are any of you old enough to remember the huge pacifist demonstrations of 1980-1982? I was there, and I can tell you what they were about. They were not Communist-led or pro-Russian; almost everyone who took part despised Soviet Russia as a backward, vicious tyranny. They were about the feeling that the USA were playing dice with the lives and future of Europeans. If WWIII ever came, it would have been fought in Europe. Every one of us was aware of that; many had been through military service - most European armies at the time were still conscript - and we were all aware that we were constantly staring down a lot of Russian barrels. We hated the idea that the American forces could essentially use our countries as a nuclear chessboard. That being the case, I can tell you with absolute certainty that if the European public had known that the armed aliens in their midst could launch nuclear strikes virtually at will, and that they had deliberately cut out both the US civilian leadership AND the European governments, there would have been a political earthquake. No country from Norway to Turkey and from West Germany to Portugal would have allowed a single American soldier to remain on its territory. It would have been the end of the alliance. And for that alone one has to say that the generals who had this bright idea were stupid beyond criminality.

Yet more evidence that "war is too important a matter to leave to generals" (Georges Clemenceau said that, and he knew a thing or two about it). It is an ugly thought that, today, an army that was capable of such folly remains the most respected - or at least least despised - institution in America. A few generations of corrupt and incompetent politicians have salted the fields of democratic institutions, making half the population hate one half of government and the other half the other. Let us just hope that we don't pay for this collective loss of faith.