fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
Nothing could be more stupid than the mass negative reaction from every Tory, Republican and Conservative I know to the rising anger about income inequality. Let me explain something to you brain-deads, in the unlikely event that any of you should be able and willing to listen: We have been through five years of HELL caused purely by the idiot greed and purblind optimism of both sides of the ruling classes, left and right. You are both guilty. The majority of the population, middle and working classes and the lumpenproletariat below, were all made to pay to restore some sort of order to the ships of states that the top one per cent had driven straight into the storm; and all this time, not one banker has gone to jail or ended up in the unemployment queues, not one broker had his ill-gotten gains confiscated, not one politician has been convicted or impeached. We all know that we are the victims of the crimes of others and that the criminals are all "too big to fail" or jail. And now, on top of it, we are told to rejoice and give thanks to our wise leaders because larger numbers of McJobs, paid a pittance and as secure as a fungus-eaten tree branch, are becoming available, and the scum on top call this a recovery. Now I know that the left are as guilty of this as the right, and Obama and Labour just as much to blame as Cameron and the Republicans. But if you Stupid Parties allow Obama the monopoly of hypocritical compassion and of tokenistic but visible efforts to raise the bottom wages, then you will be punished at the polls once again, and, you pathetic shower, you will have deserved it. What I think of a continued rule of that gaggle of sexual antinomians and elite ignorami that dares call itself the left, I had better not say. (And Italy just managed to find the worst leader for its own Democratic party it could possibly hope for - but that is another story again.) Roll on the dark ages, come the barbarians, I don't think there is any health left in this world.
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
I grew up a Milan FC fan, till Mr.Berlusconi started using the team for political reasons. Since then I have had no favourite team, except perhaps for Wimbledon AF. Now, however, I've made up my mind that any team that is hated by vicious Jew-bashers and neo-Nazis is good enough for me.
fpb: (Default)
Mr. Will Crooks, as I know him in his own house at Poplar and in that other House at Westminster, always seems to me to be something far greater than a Labour Member of Parliament. He stands out as the supreme type of the English working classes, who have chosen him as one of their representatives.

Representative government, a mystical institution, is said to have originated in some of the monastic orders. In any case, it is evident that the character of it is symbolic, and that it is subject to all the advantages and all the disadvantages of a symbol. Just exactly as a religious ritual may for a time represent a real emotion, and then for a time cease to represent anything, so representative government may for a time represent the people, and for a time cease to represent anything. But the peculiar difficulties attaching to the thing called representative government have not been fully appreciated. The great difficulty of representative governments is simply this: that the representative is supposed to discharge two quite definite and distinct functions. There is in his position the idea of being a picture or copy of the thing he represents. There is also the idea of being an instrument of the thing he represents, or a message from the thing he represents. The[Pg xiv] first is like the shadow a man throws on the wall; the second is like the stone that he throws over the wall. In the first sense, it is supposed that the representative is like the thing he represents. In the second case it is only supposed that the representative is useful to the thing he represents. In the first case, a parliamentary representative is used strictly as a parliamentary representative. In the second case a parliamentary representative is used as a weapon. He is used as a missile. He is used as something to be merely thrown against the enemy; and those who merely throw something against the enemy do not ask especially that the thing they throw shall be a particular copy of themselves. To send one's challenge is not to send one's photograph. When Ajax hurled a stone at his enemy, it was not a stone carved in the image of Ajax. When a modern general causes a cannon-ball to be fired, he is not understood to indicate that the contours of the cannon-ball represent in any exact way the curves of his own person. In short, we can in modern representative politics use a politician as a missile without using him, in the fullest sense of the word, as a symbol.

In this sense most of our representatives in modern representative government are merely used as missiles. Mr. Balfour is a missile. Mr. Balfour is hurled at the heads of his enemies like a boomerang or a javelin. He is flung by the great mass of mediocre Tory squires. He is flung, not because he is at all like them, for that he obviously is not. He is flung because he is a particularly bright and sharp missile; that is to say, because he is so very unlike the men who fling him. Here, then, is the primary paradox of representative [Pg xv]government. Men elect a representative half because he is like themselves and half because he is not like themselves. They elect a representative half because he represents them and half because he misrepresents them. They choose Mr. Balfour (let us say) half because he does what they would do and half because he does what they could never do at all.

We are told that the Labour movement will be an exception to all previous rules. The Labour movement has been no exception to this previous rule. The Labour Members, as a class, are not representatives, but missiles. Poor men elect them, not because they are like poor men, but because they are likely to damage rich men: an excellent reason. Labour Members are the exceptions among Labour men. As I have said, they are weapons, missiles, things thrown. Working-men are not at all like Mr. Keir Hardie. If it comes to likeness, working-men are rather more like the Duke of Devonshire. But they throw Mr. Keir Hardie at the Duke of Devonshire, knowing that he is so curiously shaped as to hurt anything at which he is thrown. Unless this is thoroughly understood, great injustice will necessarily be done to the Labour movement; for it is obvious on the face of it that Labour Members do not represent the average of labouring men. A man like Mr. J. R. Macdonald no more suggests a Battersea workman than he suggests a Bedouin or a Russian Grand Duke. These men are not the representatives of the democracy, but the weapons of the democracy. They are intended only to fulfil the second of those functions in the delegate which I have already defined. They are the instruments of the people. They are not the images of the[Pg xvi] people. They are fanatics for the things about which the people are good-humouredly convinced. They are philosophers about the things which are to the people an easy and commonplace religion. In a word, they are not representatives; they are not even ambassadors. They are declarations of war.

Such being the problem, we must reconcile ourselves to finding many of the Labour Members men of a definite and even pedantic class; men whose austere and lucid tone, whose elaborate economic explanations smack of something very different from the actual streets of London. This economic knowledge may be very necessary. It may remind us of our duties; but it does not remind us of the Walworth Road. It may enable a man to speak for the proletarians, but it does not enable a man to speak with them.

Now, if a man has a good rough-and-ready knowledge of the mechanics of Battersea and the labourers of Poplar; if the same man has a good rough-and-ready knowledge of the men in the House of Commons (a vastly inferior company); he will come out of both those experiences with one quite square and solid conviction, a conviction the grounds of which, though they may be difficult to define verbally, are as unshakable as the ground. He will come out with the conviction that there is really only one modern Labour Member who represents, who symbolises, or who even remotely suggests the real labouring men of London; and that is Mr. Will Crooks.

Mr. Crooks alone fulfils both the functions of the representative. He is a representative who, like Mr. Keir Hardie and the others, fights, cleaves[Pg xvii] a way, does something that only a man of talent could do, expresses the inexpressible, sacrifices himself. But also, unlike Mr. Keir Hardie, and the rest, he is a representative who represents. He is a picture as well as a projectile; he is the stone carved in the image of Ajax. He is really like the people for whom he stands. A man can realise this fact, merely as a fact, without implying any disrespect, for instance, to the Scotch ideality of Mr. Keir Hardie, or the Scotch strenuousness of Mr. John Burns. They are expressive of the English democracy, but not typical of it. The first characteristic of Mr. Crooks, which must strike anyone who has ever had to do with him, even for ten minutes, is this immense fact of the absolute and isolated genuineness of his connection with the working classes. To all the other Labour leaders we listen with respect on Labour matters, because they have been elected by labourers. To him alone we should listen if he had never been elected at all. Of him alone it can be said that if we did not accept him as a representative, we should still accept him as a type. I need not dwell, and indeed I feel no desire to dwell, on those qualities in Mr. Crooks which express just now the popular qualities of the populace. I feel more interest in the unpopular qualities of the populace.

The greatness of Mr. Crooks lies not in the fact that he expresses the claims of the populace, which twenty dons at Oxford would be ready to express; it is that he expresses the populace: its strong tragedy and its strong farce. He is not a demagogue. He is not even a democrat. He is a demos; he is the real King. And his chief characteristic, as I have suggested, is that he represents especially those popular good qualities[Pg xviii] which are unpopular in modern discussion. Will Crooks is to the ordinary London omnibus conductor or cabman exactly what Robert Burns was to the ordinary puritanical but passionate peasant of the Scotch Lowlands. He is the journeyman of genius. All that is good in them is better in him; but it is the same thing. Walt Whitman has perfectly expressed this attitude of the average towards the fine type. "They see themselves in him. They hardly know themselves, they are so grown."

In numberless points Mr. Crooks thus completes and glorifies the common character of the poor man. Take, for instance, the deep matter of humour: humour in which the English poor are certainly pre-eminent among all classes of the nation and all nations of the world. By all politicians, including Labour politicians, humour is only introduced exceptionally and elaborately; by all politicians the comic anecdote is led up to with dextrous prefaces and deep intonations, as if it were something altogether unique and separate. All politicians take their own humour very seriously. Mr. Crooks recalls the real life of the streets in nothing so much as in the fact that humour is a constant condition. He and the poor exist in a normal atmosphere of amiable irony. If anything, they have to make an effort to become verbally serious: something of the same kind of earnest that it costs an ordinary member of Parliament to become witty. Anyone who has heard Mr. Crooks talk knows that his permanent mood is humorous. He is never without a story, but his face and his mind are humorous before he has even thought of the story. He lives, so to speak, in a state of expectant reminiscence. The man who[Pg xix] said that "brevity was the soul of wit" told a lie; nobody minds how long wit goes on so long as it is wit. Mr. Crooks belongs to that strong old school of English humour in which Dickens was supreme; that school which some moderns have called dull because it could go on for a long time being interesting.

I have merely taken this case of popular humour as one out of a hundred. A similar case of Mr. Crooks's popular sympathy might be found in his pathos, which is equally uncompromising and direct. Even his political faults, if they are faults, against which so much criticism has for a time been raised, have still this pervading quality, that they are essentially the popular faults. This instinct for a prompt and practical and hand-to-mouth benevolence, this instinct for giving a very good time to those who have had a very bad time, this is the very soul of that immense and astonishing altruism at which all social reformers have stood thunderstruck: the kindness of the poor to the poor. This attitude may or may not be the great vice of the governors; there is no doubt that it is the great virtue of the people. The charity of poor men to poor men has always been spontaneous, irregular, individual, liable therefore in its nature to some faults of confusion or of favouritism.

It is the misfortune of Mr. Crooks that alone among modern philanthropists and social reformers he has really been the typical poor man giving to poor men. This quality which has been seen and condemned in him is simply the quality which is the common and working morality of the London streets. You may like it; you may dislike it. But if you dislike it you are simply disliking the[Pg xx] English people. You have seen English people perhaps for a moment in omnibuses, in streets on Saturday nights, in third-class carriages, or even in Bank Holiday waggonettes. You have not yet seen the English people in politics. It has not yet entered politics. Liberals do not represent it; Tories do not represent it; Labour Members, on the whole, represent it rather less than Tories or Liberals. When it enters politics it will bring with it a trail of all the things that politicians detest; prejudices (as against hospitals), superstitions (as about funerals), a thirst for respectability passing that of the middle classes, a faith in the family which will knock to pieces half the Socialism of Europe. If ever that people enters politics it will sweep away most of our revolutionists as mere pedants. It will be able to point only to one figure, powerful, pathetic, humorous, and very humble, who bore in any way upon his face the sign and star of its authority.
fpb: (Default)
There is an alternative to the hopeless policy of cuts-cuts-cuts with no light at the end of the tunnel, and I suspect that the evident anger of the voters in Greece, France, Italy and Britain (the coalition did what at last Thursday's election?) will begin to prod it over the horizon of things that politicians don't want to see. It is called bankruptcy, and it is what businesses and people naturally do when they cannot pay their debts. We need to go into bankruptcy, and in a few years the USA will be there as well. This will have one silver lining: those banks that survive the earthquake (and I am at the point where I would not mind if most bankers died of cancer) will never lend to sovereign authorities, leaving the states to use only taxation to pay for expenditure. It would be an unprecedented experiment in cutting our clothes according to our cloth, and I can't think it would be bad.
fpb: (Default)
To know your enemy is not as easy as people think. To try to understand how he thinks you need to get rid of your prejudices. What got Obama in trouble with the Catholic Church is that he and his people really do believe the propaganda lie that 96% of Catholic women use contraception, and above all the propaganda implication that therefore Catholic beliefs should not be taken seriously. In the same way, the Bourbon troops at Calatafimi had been told that they would meet a gang of ragged brigands. When they met Garibaldi's men, they were astonished to find a uniformed and well-trained army that met them bayonet in hand instead of running for the hills. In the end, it is your own propaganda that kills you. And my conservative friends need to understand that as well as anyone else. Time and time again I have seen townhall.com and American Thinker articles about why liberals think as they do, that bear not the slightest resemblance to what actual liberals actually think. And then you are surprised when they win elections.
fpb: (Default)
Well, England has pulled the rope once too often and it broke. A few days ago I called the English hatred of Europe a mental illness; now we see it in full swing. The sulphurous pleasure that seems to dominate even GUARDIAN Comment-Is-Free columns seems to me wholly impossible to understand. These people imagine that a country of sixty million people can "renegotiate", to its own advantage its membership of a club of 28 countries and 400,000,000 people. One does not have to have a deep knowledge of the fact to call this an insane, out-of-touch-with-reality, diseased ideation.

Even worse, the final blow of the English knife could not have come at a worse time. Every European leader will feel that Cameron tried to blackmail them as they were struggling for the life of the European project. No wonder nobody wanted to speak with him this morning. Nigel Farage drew attention to President Sarkozy's fury, but I would be more worried about what must be an equally intense rage from Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel. It's not just that she is, by everyone's acknowledgement, the most powerful person in Europe (give or take her fellow-countryman in the Vatican); it is that, as Silvio Berlusconi found out, fat, easily-mocked little Angela, with her frumpy one-size-too-small pants suits (and by the height of misfortune Hilary Clinton around to show how they should be worn) and her inability to speak any language but her own, is someone who makes you pay. Sarkozy may be here today and gone tomorrow, blown about by his mercurial energy, but Angela Merkel can and will remember. If she could end the apparently bomb-proof career of Europe's biggest scoundrel, she can certainly make any British politician regret the day they were born.

What do these people expect? The first demand to renegotiate British membership will be met by a series of actively damaging regulations that will cut European capital off from the City. Do they seriously think otherwise? You cannot negotiate to your advantage unless you are holding a really big stick, and England has none. English business, English exports, the English public and private accounts, none of them are anything worth writing home about. The only thing that stands out is the City, and exclusion from Europe will certainly damage that. Even granting that it can keep the confidence of the Russian, Arab and other third world billionaires who still flock to London with their more or less lawfully acquired wealth, to be left to trust on that sort of people would make the City an even dodgier-looking place than it is today. They speak of Switzerland; but Switzerland, apart from the ancient treaties that guarantee her neutrality, never left the impression of despising Europe and everything in it, and never used a moment of crisis to stab the Union in the back.

England's relationship with Europe is pathological
fpb: (Default)
I never heard anything stupider than the notion, seriously entertained by the European leadership, that they could appeal to the G20 non-European powers for help. Don't the idiots realize that there is such a thing as imperial overhang? That there are people in Beijing, Brazilia or Djakarta who would just hug themselves with delight at the thought of Europe ruined and begging? Don't they realize that, thanks to villains like Edward Said, even those who are too young to remember (and indeed, those who can remember the days of the empires feel less bad about them than those who don't) have been taught at school to resent the very notion of European power? Europe must recover by its own unaided efforts; end of story.
fpb: (Default)
For at least thirty years, most Western countries - Italy least of all, because capitals shortage has long been a national problem - have effectively been transferring the power to decide and direct public policy to what are commonly called "the markets". These "markets" have grown enormously in capitalization and in autonomy. Even the authorities that controlled them - the Stock Exchanges of New York, London, Frankfurt, etc - have been largely privatized and frequently been objects of mutual takeover efforts. Whether or not these were successful, they were the public evidence that the public power - the state - did not wish to have any role of control or even of supervision over these boiling, rabid oceans of ill-controlled money.

The reason Greek philosophers, and their successors until the Enlightenment and beyond, treated democracy with nervousness if not with contempt is that they dreaded mob rule. Ancient democracy, such as prevailed in Athens, was based on the assembly of free citizens, and was constantly in danger - unless managed by a strong and respected politician such as Pericles - of reverting to mob rule. And in mob rule, the philosophers dreaded not so much the element we think of most easily - the unleashed violence of the mob, street murders in revolutionary Paris or lynchings in the old South - but its fecklessness, its inability to settle on any goal and achieve it, its being, politically speaking, quicksand. Mob rule means the lack of any sense of public direction, of any boldness or moral authority, and of any ability to say yes or no.

Well, the unrestricted power of the markets is mob rule, and mob rule with a terrible refinement - it is ultimately not human. A mob made of human beings is at least susceptible to human influences; classical accounts are full of crazed mobs brought to their senses by some respected individual, an Aristides or a Memenius. And that is not only a matter of ancient legends: we have seen, in our lifetimes, an instance of the most terrible of all mobs - an armed mob of soldiers - stopped in their track by the moral authority of three people. But the current "markets" are a cyber-mob, trained to mindlessly follow the buy or sell orders automatically issued by their number-crunching machines - like the damned sheeple in Dante, who, having never shown any personality of their own at all, were condemned to pursue for all eternity a meaningless rotting rag instead of a flag.

Now we have come to the last pinch of the vise. Having devoured all sense of public authority, having insulated themselves against any kind of control, having, indeed, grown by means that no legitimate authority would tolerate - one estimate claimed that as much as 20% of the capital swilling around the world's market was of illegal origin; as good a reason as any to legalize the drugs trade - the markets now discovered that without the voice of authority, the titles and deeds and capitals they trade are worth nothing. And so they yelp for the very authorities whose authority they have devoured to save them from the logic of their machines, hammering their own stocks with mechanical persistence; at the same time as they reject each successive attempt by the public authorities to impose some control as inadequate and not credible.

Ultimately, this is connected in various ways with the disastrous series of decisions that have entrenched debt at the centre of modern economies and privatized everything that was not nailed down and plenty of things that were. To tease out the various ways in which these things are interdependent would take more time than I have right now, but I may return to the subject.
fpb: (Default)
"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public" - Henry Louis Mencken.

"You can fool some of the people all of the time; you can fool all of the people some of the time; but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time" - Abraham Lincoln.

"People who have once bought into a lie will do anything rather than admit they have been fooled. The strongest defenders of fraudsters and liars are their dupes; and the result is that often, in order to get rid of an unjust or stupid law, one has to wait for a whole generation of dupes to die out" - myself.
fpb: (Default)
Sixty-nine weeks ago, so LJ informs me, I posted a disgusted note titled "Is there a politician in the house?", commenting on the folly and incompetence of Gordon Brown as a politician, and wondering how someone who had spent his whole life in politics could be so lamentably incapable of the slightest properly political act and thought - of any act and thought intended to achieve an end, rather than posture for the newspapers (who hated him anyway). However, the last few months have shown nearly every political leader in the West, and nearly every media person, in such a lamentable light as to make me wonder whether I had not been, in fact, unfair to Mr.Brown. As we seem to have raised a generation of journalists who don't know what news reporting is, so we have raised a generation of politicians whose expensive degrees from top universities never once awakened them to the fact that politics is about achieving ends.

Mental flabbiness from journalists and politicians is not exactly news, but this year has been astounding - and, mind you, in matters that come close to our most essential interests. The untroubled, universal assumption that the riots of Tunisia and Cairo were, in spite of wholly different political and cultural conditions, the dawn of a continent-wide democratic revolution similar to the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989-1991, was so imbecilic as to suggest that there would be no need to deprive media or political classes of any freedom, since they were incapable of thinking for themselves in the first place. A culture of universal mutual interviewing led people to repeat each other's talking points to the extent that it would take advanced research to find where each cliche had first been uttered. And then there was the frightful ignorance that assumed that "popular movements" and street revolts, indeed street politics, were anything new to the Arab world in general and to Egypt in particular, rather than a regularity of Arab and Muslim history; that had never heard of the frightful manners - to avoid description - of Cairene males, let alone other Egyptians, towards women; that did not realize that Egypt did not end at the Cairo city limits; that had never even began to appreciate the Muslim Brotherhood, even if it had ever heard of it; and that did not seem to know the significance - that any Muslim or resident could have explained - of the fact that each bout of revolt followed with metronomic regularity the morning Friday prayers in the mosques. Until the appalling gang rape of Lara Logan - and even that does not seem to have wholly awakened her colleagues - every Western journalist was wholly taken by the puppet show, and did not even think of lifting the green baize backloth a little to try and see what was going on behind.

Of course the public followed suit. If no journalist reported that several dozen Christians were being murdered, and two ancient churches razed and then claimed as mosques, outside Cairo, why should the public not be taken in by the mummery of Cairene Christian demonstrators guarding Muslims at prayer, as the Cairene Muslims did for them in their turn? Why should the public doubt? And so lies by omission are foisted on the public, and the public rejoices at what should trouble them deeply. For this we send people to journalism school? Abolish every degree in journalism, forbid people to study anything except the subjects they intend to report about, and we might have an improvement, though God knows the human material is unpromising enough to begin with. Mencken, thou shouldst be living at this hour. But a journalist who is an ex-policeman, or who has walked the beat with them all his life; who is a permanent long-term resident of a foreign city; who really is a fan of a particular sport; has at least a chance of having a reasonable understanding of what he is reporting about. I am lucky enough to know one such, a woman who reports from Paris because she has been born in the city and knows it and its scandal from the cradle. Inevitably, one line of her articles is worth twenty pages of the usual kind of France-bashing or France-mocking nonsense poured out from the European desks of the BBC and most newspapers. (No such person seems to have been found in Italy, which is why what little reporting is done from my country is even worse and more uncomprehending than the average.) A journalist, on the other hand, sent to cover the city streets, or farming stories, or a foreign country, or even sports, with a degree in journalism as his or her main qualification, is nothing more than a certified ignoramus with a training in glibness; and we have seen the result.

Idiotic though the journalists may have been, the politicians were worse. With one and a half exceptions, they proved as incapable to discern events as to set a course five minutes ahead of events - proved, in other words, incapable of the very things they are paid, and paid generously, to do. As soon as the elderly and tired tyrant of Tunisia decided that he did not want to make the effort of crushing the revoultionary movement by main force, everyone was jumping up and down, complimenting the whole Arab nation (though Tunisia is both small and untypical); when the equally elderly and possibly equally tired pharaoh of Egypt also opted for the quiet life, everyone lined up to congratulate the Egyptian nation on its novel love of liberty. (We should remember that when Nasser's whole policy, not to mention his military credentials, were shattered and discredited by the Six-Day War, Nasser was honourable and honest enough to try to resign - only to be balked by a sudden mass movement of the whole Egyptian nation, that took to the streets to beg him to go on being their Pharaoh. As I said, street movements and revolts are hardly new in Egypt.) A chorus of prophets was heard, prophesying the morning of democracy in the Arab world; and never mind that the Army was still in charge in Egypt, with the Muslim Brotherhood as its main rival and prospective "loyal" opposition.

Suddenly, however, just as the news about Lara Logan's terrible rape were slowly filtering past the self-built wall of her own colleagues' silence, it happened that one Arab monarch (never mind whether crowned or not) refused to follow the script. Muammar el Gheddafi, lord of Libya since his early twenties, arrogant, crafty, bloodthirsty, and not yet as tired as the two men in their eighties who had left Tunisia and Egypt, made it clear that anyone who wanted his crown would have to rip it from his cold dead hands. Not that there weren't volunteers; the disaffected province of Cyrenaica, home of the king whom Gheddafi had overthrown, had soon driven every one of his supporters out - or watched them turn into opposition leaders overnight. But while Western leaders, with Sarkozy and Cameron in the vocal van, set off in a perfect morning chorus of hooray for Libyan liberty, masses of armed rebels - barely orderly enough to qualify as an armed force - were facing the reaction of loyal and/or mercenary army units. And guess what? The professionals were winning, as they always tend to do. By the time France intervened, they were in the suburbs of the rebel capital Bengasi.

So why did France intervene? There has been much talk about Mediterranean ambitions, about Franco-Arabic politics, about oil; but following President Sarkozy's words and deeds, and indeed those of his fellow-blusterer David Cameron, one cannot shake off the feeling that the political leaders of France and Britain just did not want to look foolish in public. As Gheddafi recovered, their rhetoric of congratulation and encouragement was growing more and more separate from the facts on the ground; until the only hope the rebels had to fulfil the role that Sarko and Call-me-Dave had imagined for them was massive intervention from a real armed force.

I am no pacifist. But nobody sshould take their people into the horror and ruin of war unless there was no other choice and unless a clear goal was set. Certainly "I don't want to look stupid by accepting I made a wrong forecast on Libya" does not count. And yet the fallacious sense of an irresistible momentum, spread ignorant and irresponsible media, was so dominant that nobody noticed that war was being started merely to fit the agony of reality to the fallacious pattern of the leaders' speeches. The thing is, most people and all journalists had been swept up in that unreal bombast. If Call-me-Dave was speaking as though the Libyans were free already, so did the newspaper and the bloke down at the pub - at least temporarily. People barely noticed that the line between congratulating the Libyans on their insurrection and intervening in Libya was being crossed, and there they were.

Only two political leaders seem to have realized that they were being dragged into danger by the unchallenged force of windy words. I once told [livejournal.com profile] inverarity that I did not dread what President Obama knew about Islam, but what he didn't know. Although culturally marginal, his experience of Islam has always been that of rich and civilized elites. Nothing I know of him suggests that he has ever seen grassroots Islam in its poorer and more populous settings, or experienced the preaching of an ignorant, resentful cleric with more ambition than mind. However, he does at least seem to have absorbed the Islamic upper classes' instinctive distaste for street manifestations and revolts, a distaste based on centuries of bad experiences. So when the cry went up across the West for ARab liberty and power in the streets, Obama's voice was notably late and tinny. And when the Anglo-French, for the first time since the Suez crisis, started pushing for intervention autonomously from the US, he gave the bare minimum of help and made it clear that he wanted them to take the leadership. Maybe he couldn't keep the USA out of the Libyan mess, but at least he reduced involvement as much as he could.

Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel once again proved the best European leader and the only man of the lot. Unpoetic and uninspiring though she is, she has proved, when necessary, ready and willing to risk her authority and throw every card on the table; in particular, when she risked her authority and her majority on her decision to rescue Greece against the desire of considerable amounts of Germans. I remember her facing down an unwilling Bundestag and getting her way, and she was right. Now she refused to let Germany be dragged into a mess that shows every sign of degenerating and ending up with allied troops in Libya, where nobody, including them, wants them to go.
fpb: (Default)
...I can't help it. I have to put this on record somewhere.

Like I imagine any kind of writer, I am always delighted to find myself quoted and (possibly) discussed. And it just happened in one of the most prestigious conservative blogs in existence. However, my pleasure turned to ashes in my mouth when, one entry before mine, I read the following egregious piece of nonsense:
After all, a sincere belief in universal human rights and equality before the law make it impossible to exclude from a society the kind of immigrants who are incompatible with a strong national identity
If that is the best that the intellectual leaders of conservatism can do, no blankitty-blank wonder the left despised them intellectually. Can you say non sequitur? It does not follow; indeed, it is wholly paralogical. Let me explain. Point one: you cannot have any kind of rights, universal or not, except within a system of law. Point two, independent of the first: no system of law or legal philosophy has ever asserted the right to go and settle where one pleases independently of local authority, local residents and local conditions as a universal human right. To the contrary, "and henceforth let no man enter it without their leave", the words by which a great king of literature grants a community sovereignty over their lands, is the very definition of sovereignty. A community, a nation, a state, a king, a tyrant, any one of them, good or bad, is sovereign, capable of creating and enforcing law, if he or they can decide who enters their land and who does not. You cannot have law without sovereignty, and you cannot have rights without law. The notion that a belief in universal human rights disables the rule of law is mere insanity, deriving from false premises, deriving in turn from a desire to demonize rather than to understand one's opponents. ("They want to abolish borders and let everyone in.") Which incidentally also results, ultimately, in rejection of the basis on which the USA in particular have been built, that is, the Declaration of Indepencence. Because if "a sincere belief in universal human rights" is contrary to the rule of law, then those who were sincere enough to risk an armed revolt in support of the statement that it is self-evident that men are endowed with certain and inalienable rights were wrong, and you should apologize to King George's shade and crawl back into the British Empire with your tails between your legs.
fpb: (Default)
One thing ought to be clear, even though reporting from this most long-running and savage of all wars has been shamefully scarce and ignorant: the North would never even have considered allowing the country peace, let alone an independence referendum, unless they had first experienced total, catastrophic and irreversible defeat on the field. I say this because anything else is simply unthinkable. A desperate guerrilla army with no support from any foreign power and with no weapons except what it could take from its oppressors must, beyond any reasonable doubt, have defeated and demoralized a modern army with tanks, aircraft, flanking Jamjaweed slavers and every device of terror available to a government that could sell oil to pay for them.

The South Sudanese have nothing to help them build their state, except courage. But at a time when freedom seems to going back everywhere from Russia to South Africa, they have the opportunity to crown their epic struggle for freedom, one of the most awe-inspiring ever seen on the face of the Earth, by establishing a free commonwealth under the rule of laws rather than men. The precedent of Eritrea is not encouraging, but it does not have to bind a different society. May God help and be with them.
fpb: (Default)
Harold Lewis is Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Here is his letter of resignation to Curtis G. Callan Jr, Princeton University, President of the American Physical Society.

Read more... )

More folly

Sep. 5th, 2010 07:13 am
fpb: (Default)
Once upon a time, when I was a lad and dinosaurs walked the earth, the countries of continental Europe used to have enormous stores of grain and other foodstuffs. Having seen starvation from very close up during and after World War Two, their leaders had decided n the early fifties that, whatever happened, they were no longer going to depend on food supplies that could be cut by war or catastrophe and whose violent variations in price were a threat to their citizens. A massive system of state subsidy for agriculture, state purchase of excess produce, and state storage, was put in place, and for decades food prices were controlled both on the production and on the distribution side.

Then a more enlightened political generation arose, to whom all this was corruption and waste. Grain mountains and wine lakes became terms of outrage, and we were all taught by a well-managed press to consider them corrupt impositions upon the consumer. All political sides in Europe became equally committed to the elimination of this expensive landscape of food hanging around doing nobody any good. And lo and behold, they were gone. It is not clear that this did much to correct the indubitable corruption of the European institution, but what the heck - it's always a first step, right?

After all, nothing much could go wrong. We will never have again another economic crisis, let alone one of the proportions of the Great Depression that starved democracy nearly out of existence so many decades ago. And you can't imagine that the two most populous countries in the world, China and India, should experience such an improbably swift economic growth as to remove hundreds of millions of people from near-starvation to near-prosperity, and multiply their demand on world food markets. And it was obvious that no natural catastrophe, even in combination with human malfeasance and unexpected weather, could possibly so batter the two immense breadbaskets, Russia and the Ukraine, as to force their governments to forbid export of grain just in order to keep their people fed. And it would be indeed absurd to propose that at the same time vast rural areas in Pakistan, inner China, and north India, should be threatened by floods to the point of being turned from massive food producers to dependents on the world's charity. The floods, after all, should be of unprecedented magnitude to cause such havoc. And even if any of that happened, it would surely be unimaginable that a faddish Brazilian government should reduce the supply of grain in order to convert some food production to make ethanol; nor, that, in the end, on top of all these combined disasters, a pitiful little squeak for help should be heard from the poorest country on Earth, Niger, where the produce of the last crop was not enough to feed the people till the next harvest. Only a fool would think such things possible at one and the same time - right?

Now the organ of the world's elites, the UN, is holding talks on how to meet the multiple food crisis that has gripped the whole planet, probably in the expectation that hot air may replace the long-term food stocks that no longer are there. And we have yet another demonstration of how far-sighted and well-thought-out the fad of Thatcherism was, and how brilliantly it worked to preserve precious and irreplaceable assets.
fpb: (Default)
If the Glenn Beck rally has been the success it is claimed, that is the worst news, for the American right, for America, and for the world, that anyone could conceive. Beck is a creature of Rupert Murdoch, and anyone who looks at Murdoch knows that he is corruption incarnate and personified. A thrice-married libertine who managed somehow to worm his way into a Papal knighthood while his newspapers persecuted the Church, a tax fraud who manages to pay less than one per cent of his British income in tax thanks to a monumental structure of tax-haven corporations, an enemy of competition and free trade whose purpose in every industry he enters is monopoly, a brute who sells his newspapers on nothing but sex and thuggery, this man was born to poison everything he touched.

To deal with him is to be compromised. Ask Brent Bozell III (who however has been growing depressingly silent on the monster of late) which of the four TV networks is most outrageously committed to obscenity, moral looseness in every area, exaggerated violence and showy, narcissistic sex; and then ask all the conservative pundits and personalities, beginning with Sarah Palin herself, how they can keep a straight face preaching the benefits of Judeo-Christian culture and family values knowing that an hour or two later the same network would be broadcasting "Family guy" or some obscene "reality" show. Debbie Schlussel may be a self-righteous harpy notable mostly for her failures, but in opposing him, everyone who works for him, and everything he stands for, she is doing righteous work; and someone has to.

When Dr.Martin Luther King called together the famous rally which Beck imitated, he had spent more than a decade building up the civil rights movement and his own position in it; he had risked his life (which he was one day soon to lose) in its service, and had acquired such stature that almost every notable black personality in America, beginning with Louis Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson, was willing and glad to stand by his side. Who is Glenn Beck? What has he done to give him the moral authority to imitate Dr.King, to call out a political movement in the nation's capital, to claim to speak in the name of God and the constitution? Nothing. He is there because he has been promoted by Murdoch's bloodsucking, liberticidal organization; and the hand that moves him is the hand of the international crook from down under. This is the take-over of the conservative movement by the media colossus that pays no taxes, that teaches (and pratices) sexual looseness and mental brutality, that has nothing but a negative, acidic, destructive impact on society. God help us.
fpb: (Default)
One of the habits of mind induced by a Marxist education is to consider the economic and political battlefield as a zero-sum game. This lasts even after any belief in socialism has died out, and results in the frequently observed phenomenon that ex-Marxists and ex-Communists make the most brutal, rapacious and conscienceless capitalists. It is, in particular, incredibly easy to spot in the destructive and profoundly stupid behaviour of the People's Republic of China.

This government, knowing perfectly well that international Islamism is at least as much its enemy as the West's, nonetheless looks with unconcealed sympathy and support to the Iranian government's pursuit of the atom bomb, and looks for advantage and alliances in the Islamist fever-swamp that is the government of Sudan. As far as they are concerned, anything that diminishes their imagined enemies in the West, however dangerous and destructive, must necessarily be to their advantage. That the West and China might both lose out if the maniacs of Tehran build an atom bomb does not begin to cross their minds. That there might be mutual advantage in fostering order in the region would never seem to them anything but a piece of pied-piper propaganda intended to get them to perform to their enemies' tune.

Some apologists for Beijing say that Chinese foreign policy is driven by the need to secure sources of raw materials; but this is nothing but a different manifestation of the same pathology. The fact is that raw materials are available to anyone who can afford to pay the going rate. Japan and Italy, two countries who have to import every major industrial raw material from iron to oil, have rarely had any problem. It is only in the mythology of ignorant (by choice) hard left groups, that the Americans have invaded Iraq "to steal its oil": that oil was available to them freely without the expense of a war, as is any mineral from bauxite to zircon. Only China does not think in terms of competing for resources on a free market; it wants to "secure sources of raw materials" - language that should concern any mining country from Congo to Australia.

The one reason that makes this kind of talk a bit less irrational is itself a product of the same post-Marxist zero-sum-game attitudes. China is effectively at a disadvantage on the market for raw materials; not because it does not have army bases in Iraq, but because its currency is notoriously undervalued. And it is undervalued for a purpose: to maximize the Chinese competitive advantage in industrial exports. The same juggling with exchange rates that allows Chinese manufacturares to destroy whole areas of competing Western enterprise, also makes it more expensive for them to buy the raw materials they need. But since the zero-sum-game mentality inevitably leads to paranoia, the Chinese don't think of the remedy - allowing the renminbi to reach its natural market value. As they are always looking out for enemy conspiracies to do them down, they would interpret such a suggestion as an attempt to rig the market in favour of their enemies.

The aggressive Chinese export drive, backed by a massive industrial espionage apparatus, has been unsettling Western economies for decades. The West long ago made a strategic decision to do nothing about it: the prospect of inserting the huge and dangerous empire of Mao Zedong into the world of civilized exchange and industrial progress seemed worth the pain of accepting aggressive competition and dubious pricing. However, when purely internal Western follies brought about a severe resettlement of American finance, the Bush II and Obama administrations did not try too hard to rescue the dollar. They, too, had discovered the game of overcharging for imports and undercharging for exports, and badly needed to find ways to raise employment.

This left the Euro alone on the top of a mountain. The result is the sluggish economy that conservative Americans make so much of. No matter how efficient and high-quality may be the Eurozone's productive sector, it is difficult to compete with rivals of whom the largest deliberately allow their currencies to float at well below ours. And that is, in my view, the reason for the otherwise disconcerting lack of eagerness about rescuing Greece. Greece has certainly been placed in the national equivalent of administration, and will have to go through the most painful process of internal change in generations. But the truth is that the current slide of the Euro is getting the real big boys of the Eurozone - Germany, France, the Netherlands, Italy - out of a situation for which they had absolutely no enthusiasm. The truth is that nobody wanted the Euro to be the world's new reserve currency, and certainly not at this price. The result, however, is that, with the dollar, the euro and the renminbi racing each other to the bottom, the world no longer has a real reserve currency.

What we need is a new Bretton Woods. The trouble is that it took a world war and fifty million dead to get the survivors to agree to the first Bretton Woods, and I doubt that anything today could make the same impression.
fpb: (Default)
One thing that democratic countries need is an independent and possibly unelected - and if not, elected for life - body of accountants charged with scrutinizing the budget, insuring that existing statutory liabilities are covered, and rejecting improperly costed expenditure proposals. No law should be passed which is either not provided for from existing funds or else takes away from funds set aside for other purposes. Some European countries, including Italy, have a Court of Accounts - a tribunal-like body that assesses state accounts - but its powers are limited, and it has frequently proved incapable of stopping disastrous drives in public spending.
fpb: (Default)
The absurdity of the political and media reactions to the Fort Hood murders is palpable. (And, to his credit, President Obama made a clear and deliberate move away from it in his speech, attacking by implication the religious motivations of the murderer and denying his notion of God and of eternal justice.) So: set yourself that absurdity not as a given, but as a problem - and you will see that certain conclusions inevitably arise.

Problem: are the people who deny the obvious (the religious reasons for the murders, and the cool and evidently pre-planned way in which they were carried out) stupid, ignorant or blind? Answer: none of the above, so far as anyone can tell. They are professionally successful and prominent persons in positions (military command, journalistic profession, political leadership) in which access to information is a given. Stupidity beyond the norm is imaginable in one such person; not in a whole mass. Likewise blindness. Ignorance is not even in the picture.

Problem: you therefore have a number of public persons, persons prominent in the public eye, who deliberately talk nonsense, and do so in a chorus. What is more, they do so in order to be heard, in places and times where the general public must hear them. Why do they do that? Because they expect to be believed? Answer: unless they are indeed all stupid, they do not expect to be believed. And indeed, most of them put their denials not in the form of denials, but of questions - things to be considered before anyone comes to a "hasty" conclusion. And yet they go before the general public with this kind of, well, stuff.

Problem: if they do not expect to be believed, why do they express themselves thus, why do they seek prominence and publicity for their statements, and why do they do it in a chorus? Answer: they are obviously, as a group, trying to achieve a certain result. They are applying pressure, as a group, to a group - namely, to the public. It is obvious that they are using their positions of prominence and visibility to achieve a certain result with the public.

Problem: what are they trying to achieve? Answer: all too obvious. They really and truly are afraid that the general public will go out and start beating up innocent Muslims, or indeed anyone who looks like a Muslim. And let us notice one remarkable fact: this is a fear that, to them, trumps even the need to acknowledge obvious truth in a disastrous crime. They would rather look like a gaggle of babbling dolts than fail to do what they can to stop the lynch mob populating the streets. And remember, we have already concluded that most if not all of them are perfectly aware that they are talking nonsense. They know that they are looking like a gaggle of babbling dolts.

Problem: is the issue really so serious? Answer: in real life, not in a million years. The belief in equality, the revulsion against group prejudice and intolerance, the contempt for group violence, are as widespread among the common public as they are among the societal leadership. There are fringe and underclass groups who are in fact capable of such behaviour, but they are both small and despised. Some violence there can indeed be - I have seen the results of a queer-bashing attack on friends of mine - but it is not the work of the mainstream of society. The groups that carry it out are despised, isolated, often criminal, and at any rate hardly likely to pay attention to the pronouncements of journalists, politicians and generals. Resisting the temptation to group violence in our time and world is hardly necessary, and in so far as it is necessary at all, such public self-abasements are wholly irrelevant to it.

Problem: if making complete fools of themselves in public is neither going to achieve their goal to prevent public violence, nor do anything to reinforce their standing, why do these privileged persons do it? Ahh, now we have come to the centre of the riddle. They do so because they believe they have to; and they believe they have to because they really believe that the mass of citizens under their feet is violent, uncivilized, ever in danger of bursting into group violence. They regard the average American (or European) citizen as both morally and intellectually their inferior; a kind of ill-trained beast, ever in danger of reverting to violence and ever looking for "others" to hate.

Problem: why do they indulge such an unrealistic view of the average American or European citizen? Answer: if they did not, where would be the difference between them and the ordinary citizen? And if there is no difference, what would justify their vast wages, their houses and servants, their position of influence, power and pampering? An aristocracy must justify their position by being ready to defend the society it dominates. And to take a common position mutually reinforces their positions.

I have long been complaining about the rise of the new aristocracy. Here is another good reason to dislike it.

Profile

fpb: (Default)
fpb

June 2017

S M T W T F S
    1 23
45678910
1112131415 1617
18192021222324
252627282930 

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jul. 22nd, 2017 12:42 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios