Saturday, December 31, 2005

Anyone for Dinner for One?

What do Germans do on New Year's Eve. They watch Dinner for One. Never heard of it? It was written by British author Lauri Wylie in the 1920s, seen in Blackpool in 1962 by German entertainer Peter Frankenfeld who invited actors Freddie Frinton and May Warden to perform the sketch on his live TV show Guten Abend, Peter Frankenfeld. The version now seen was a 1963 live performance in Hamburg's Theater am Besenbinderhof. Since 1972, it has been shown on German TV every New Year's Eve. It also has regular outings in Switzerland, Austria, South Africa, Australia, and Latvia. There is a Latin version and many parodies. It has never been shown in the UK or the US.
It's very predictable stuff, and thus highlights yet another Mystery of Them - how come they like it so much, and we don't?

Jude Stewart explains all here, where there are also links to the complete skit (just under 11 minutes long) and the script.

We're doomed again. Well, maybe not.

It's like childbirth. Who, having gone through it, would do it again? Yet, one or two years later, it's all a scream and a pant once more.
So with gloom and doom. It is forever with us, but we constantly forget the last bout, and then in we go again. Or is it just that Buffy is always hard at work?
A nice reminder from David Shariatmadari on the openDemocracy site.

Put out the light

Evidently, police in Manchester have advised people against putting Hanukkah candles in their windows because of the risk of attack. They did not say who the attack might come from.

All great artists know

All great artists know that part of their task is to light up the distance between two human beings.
Maps for Lost Lovers, Nadeem Aslam

Friday, December 30, 2005


Nebuchadnezzar II, the greatest of Babylonian kings, builder of the Median Wall, sacker of Jerusalem, who created the Hanging Gardens of Babylon as solace for his homesick wife, whose name appears on the bricks of 95% of all the ruins of Babylon, who lived and ruled over 2,500 years ago - Nebuchadnezzar was a lover and collector of antiquities.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Italian Post Office resolves the pensions conundrum

The Italian Post Office is about to issue 2 stamps with a guarantee of rarity. There will only be a certain number produced and any not distributed by the end of next year will be destroyed. Should you rush to buy them? Well, you can, but it won't do you much good. You can't have them. Not unless you're 18.
It'll work like this. Anyone who turns 18 in 2006 will have 3 months after their birthday to apply for a postcard with one of these stamps attached. Only one. If you're a boy, you get a blue one. If you're a girl, a pink. Given the low birthrate in Italy, and the certainty that a large number of people will either be too late or not bother to apply, and given that the remainder of the batch will be destroyed at the end of the year, the number out there will be very small. Instant rarity. Instant value. Who needs a pension?
The stamps will also be available for normal postage, but those will be 'pre-postmarked'. There's an article (in Italian) here.

Continuing on and on

It is an infallible sign of incipient decrepitude and a hardening of the arteries that new linguistic tics overload the synapses and move the bowels. However, just to pass it on ...
Until not that long ago, phrasal verbs were made up exclusively of Anglo-Saxon elements: verbs such as get, make, take, etc plus in, on, out. Now there is the tendency to create them using a Latinate verb. That in itself is no big deal. It's just that the additional particle adds nothing. I came across two this evening reading to S2: continue on & radiate out (there were no complements). I ask you - what does on add to continue, or out to radiate? Bugger all. So why say it?
That is enough. The rest is silence. (Like Hell.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Max Hastings on what history to study

An excellent article by Max Hastings in the Guardian about what children in this country should study in History. Far too obvious to be taken seriously.

It may justly be asserted that - for instance - the Muslim peoples of the Middle East sustained much higher cultural values in the 12th and 13th centuries than the European crusaders they fought; that many Indian peoples possessed more impressive heritages than our own. But the world's development in the past 500 years has been dominated, for good or ill, by what westerners have thought and done. Other societies, again no matter whether for good or ill, have been losers whose power to determine their own destinies, never mind anyone else's, has been small.
History is the story of the dominance, however unjust, of societies that display superior energy, ability, technology and might. If one's own people were victims of western imperialism, it is entirely understandable that one should wish to study history from their viewpoint. But, whatever the crimes of our forefathers, this is the country of Drake, Clive and Kitchener, not of Tipu Sultan, Shaka Zulu or the Mahdi.
No, comes the reply. We must study those who did not have any effect on how we live today, and make lots of excuses for why they didn't. (Via Samizdata)

Volunteering and purity

Libération has it in for volunteers. According to this article in Corriere della Sera, Libération says that NGOs have become institutionalised; ie their urge to survive vies with the work they were set up to do. The only example given in this article is taken from the book by Richard Werly, Tsunami, la vérité humanitaire (Jubilé) in which he says that "many aid teams could have left the devastated area 3 months after the disaster, but didn't because they wanted to be there longer just to justify the money donated". Libération concludes that even if the NGOs have not been reduced to the profit motive, this change amounts to a 'moral deviation'.
The article continues with further charges against the doers of good.

The historian Amina Yala, after 5 years of study and tens of interviews, has isolated 6 types: the Idealist, the Militant, the Opportunist, the Professional, the Part-timer, the Adventurer. Six very different types, some worthy of esteem, others less so. Yala speaks of the 'ambiguous adventure' in her book 'NGO volunteering: The Ambiguous Adventure'. She laments the scarcity of the Idealist, and the increasing number of 'Opportunists' and 'Volunteering Professionals'.
The first, evidently, just want to get away from Europe and their own problems, while the second choose the volunteer sector as a career, a well-paid international job.
I signal this article because it is one little example of a way of looking at the world that leads to despair in those that share it, and, because they always holler from any nearby moral high ground, a great deal of useless discussion among the rest of us. The question they always ask is, 'How pure are the motives?' Inevitably, the targets of the day are wanting in purity, and the activity is generally found to be yet another example of the capitalist corruption of the world.
The question should be (as it should be for government), 'How effective are they?' Because that is really all that counts to the recipients, either of aid or services.
I must declare an interest. My daughter is going to China next year as a volunteer teacher. Her motives are: she wants to get to know another culture; she enjoys helping people learn; she wants to see how well she can get along without her family. She's very balanced and has no illusions about saving anyone. Her experience with those few Chinese she comes into contact with shows every prospect of being mutually beneficial, which is the best of all possible outcomes. On which, see the answer to the first question here.

On how to survive living with teenagers

Emotional blackmail
Control of the money supply

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

King John's Christmas

Son 3, he of the Big D, received for Christmas a lovely collection of the Winnie The Pooh poems. In it, I read for the first time in many years King John's Christmas. I think it's almost perfect, expecially for the maintenance of that tone of almost-faux gravity which captures the historical figure inside an almost-faux moral tale. It's always caught me from the second line.

King John was not a good man —
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air —
And bad King John stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.

King John was not a good man,
And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon ...
But no one came to tea.
And, round about December,
The cards upon his shelf
Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,
And fortune in the coming year,
Were never from his near and dear,
But only from himself.

The complete poem is here. Note Shepard's illustrations with their clever mixture of styles that reinforces so well the tone of the verse.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Chrismas Day 2005

The view out the front door of my in-laws at about 2pm.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas to you

My 3-year-old, who's been debating the Big D for some time now, asked me, "Will Father Christmas die?"
Dilemma. I had previously said that nothing and no-one lasts forever. This question was obviously a test. I have my own beliefs, true, but he's 3 years old. What does a man of integrity do in such a bind? Obfuscate.
"Yes. But he'll last longer than most of us."
Momentary pause.
"But what happens when we die?"
With the wisdom born of years, I delegated this question to my wife, a woman of greater faith than my own.
"I believe we go back to God."
"What does 'God' mean?"
"God created all of us."
"Will God die?"
"No. Only things that are born die."
"Was I born?"
And you know what the woman said?

I wish you a Christmas with all the comforts it can bring.

Jack Straw speaks up for Christmas

Jack Straw in The Times Online rubbishes the idea that talking about Christmas, or celebrating it, offends those of other faiths. Well said, Jack Straw.
One minor quibble. He sets out "ten points for navigation in our society of many religions and none. " Number 7 is about extremists.

There have always been extremists in every religious tradition. We had the Crusades, effectively unprovoked, sustained and brutal assaults, on Islam, and centuries of anti-Semitism. (We also had centuries too of bloodshed between different Christian denominations.) Extremist Hindus (such as those who destroyed the Babri Mosque in Ayodyha in 1992) wish to turn India into a dominant Hindu society. And there are extremists who claim to be followers of Islam, to justify their intolerance and worse.
I realise Ministers of State have to say such things, and castigate self first and foremost. But why does talk of the Crusades never go before 1096? Why does it never go back to the previous invasions of that area, when a predominantly Christian society was put to the sword? What was the provocation for the Islamic invasions of the 7th Century onwards?
(via Ninme)

Don’t immanentize the eschaton

I can't stop saying it. 'You're immanentizing the eschaton.' 'That's just immanentizing the eschaton. Dangerous.' What a phrase! Especially the sound of 'eschaton'. (The first word is pronounced according to its particles: 'immanent', plus 'tize'. Should we change the 'z' to an 's', just as the Americans do in reverse? )

I'm continually immanentising this phrase mainly because I've had the meaning in my head for 20 years, but not the precise words to express it (as you might have noticed with my first post). The idea was that revolution was a perversion of a religious idea: salvation. However, instead of it being applied to the hereafter and to an individual, it was brought forward to Now and extended to The People; society would be saved. What does an individual do when thrown off his Damascus-bound horse and blinded by the light of God? Wipes away his past, starts again and ruthlessly sets about going for the biggest prize of all. Is not anything justified by the possibility of that end? My thesis was that this idea entered the world with the French Revolution, has infected the intellectual life of the West with its prospect of ‘salvation for all’ and done far worse in other parts – Russia, China, Kampuchea, etc.

Well, by a torturous chain of links I arrived here. To save you the time, here’s an excerpt.

To immanentize something is to draw it in closely, to make it a part of one’s immediate, subjective consciousness and experience. The eschaton is our ultimate destination, the final end toward which our lives are ordinated.
This writer had first seen it on a button: “Don’t immanentize the eschaton” sent to one of his students by William F Buckley, the founder of The National Review, for whom writes John Derbyshire. The political point is
For Voegelin, as least in his role as political scientist, the great dividing line is between certainty and uncertainty. The good thing is uncertainty. Why? Because people who are certain about humanity’s ends often seek to divinize society, to reunite heaven and earth, by establishing within this world the true and final purposes of man. For Voegelin, this form of certainty is the great threat to humanity. For the man who is certain in this way “will not leave the transfiguration of the world to the grace of God beyond history but will do the work of God himself, right here and now, in history.” Cromwell was certain in this way. Lenin and Hitler were, if anything, even more certain. Indeed, leaders and social movements possessed of this type of certainty shaped much of the 20th century, including almost all of its bloodiest and ugliest parts.
The man he refers to is Eric Voegelin, who wrote The New Science of Politics. In 1952.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Indifferent - The real enemy

The Guardian has asked the usual pundits to pick their "highlights and lowlights of the arts year". David Hare is scathing about the neglect of H Pinter's Nobel Prize speech. The phrase 'contact embarrassment' comes to mind, but enough of me. Over to Mr Hare, who rumbles,

The shaming indifference of the political class to Harold Pinter winning the Nobel prize. Most of us are past being scandalised by the omissions of the BBC, which appears to have lost all interest in literature and the performing arts, but it seems astonishing that the BBC did not broadcast the statement by a Nobel prize-winning author. Such things used to be their bread and butter. Worse, they censored all mention of the speech from their TV news. Astonishing, too, that not one party leader congratulated Pinter or commented on what he had to say.
I must say, I rather warmed to him for the display of adolescent petulence with which he concludes.

Politicians want us to be interested in them. But why should we be, when they're not interested in anything but sport and themselves?

So there!!!!
It also put me in mind of another man with pure high aims to pursue.
There is no happiness to be hoped for as long as the last enemy of Liberty breathes; you have to punish not only the traitors but even the indifferent one; you have to punish anyone who is neutral in the Republic and does nothing for her.
Saint-Just setting out what the policy of the Committee for Public Safety should be. But those pesky Indifferent win out every time in the end. Have you ever noticed?
Norm has a few words about this piece, as well.

Peter Jackson's yukky King Kong

An outing today with S2 to see King Kong, which I enjoyed more than he did. It doesn't augur well for its box office that what must be its target audience (9 - 13-year-olds) is going to find it too long and just a bit beyond them. Not that it lacks in the ingredients to please said targets. There's plenty of action most of it spectacularly shot and great to watch; there's what must be one of the most primally frightening scenes I have ever witnessed (during the attack of the bugs and nasty sucking things, you could see people squirming in their seats - I was, and S2 jumped at one point swearing that something was crawling up his leg). However, as S2 said, there's too much yucky stuff (mind you, he says the same about James Bond).

The yucky stuff consists of the relationship between Ann (lone female) and Kong. This heroine doesn't spend the entire film in a state of apoplexy that leaves only her lungs and speech organs working well enough to scream. No, this time Ann's is the moral viewpoint of the film, which spends a lot of time on her developing relationship with the Beast. Probably the central scene of Jackson's Kong is when, after the fight with the dinosaurs brought about because she has run away from him, he takes her to the highest point of the island and, sulking, gazes at the sunset. She does too, and speaks the only word she uses directly to him, "Beautiful". They make up. So when this scene is evoked at the end, just before Kong falls to his death, it is not just for the jerking of the tears, but to underline what was implicit in the original film and explicit here: only the noble can see Beauty and be further enobled by it.

The contrast between the noble and the ignoble is very strong in this film. The bug scene I mentioned above is, in fact, one of the central images of the film. Most of the humans in it behave with as much breadth of vision as the insests after their next meal. On one level, this is literally the case: the story is set during the depression, and the next meal is, for many people, the biggest question in their lives. But it is their hunger for sensation that fatally demeans them and sends them crawling over the prone Kong to get a better shot.

This is virtually the final image of the film and it is a sobering one to leave with. The nearby Burger King is advertising a monstrously-sized burger with the caption, "For the Kong inside all of us". Precisely.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Sing for the children, and for us

You are cordially invited to a public carol service in Parliament Square at 6pm on Wednesday the 21st of December 2005.

This inclusive service will contain both Christian and secular verse, and is expected to last no more than an hour.

Candles and song sheets will be made available, with donations going to Medical Aid for Iraqi Children.

Please note that if you attend this carol service, it will classify as a spontaneous demonstration (of faith, hope, joy and/or religious tolerance) and there is a possibility that you will be cautioned or arrested under Section 132 of the Serious and Organised Crimes and Police Act 2005.

Click here for more information.

The Arab Drift Into Scientific Obscurity

From Arab News.

For far too long we have rested on the laurels of past achievements. The Arab contribution to civilization is perpetually held hostage by thousand-year old achievements like the innovation of algebra by Al-Khwarizmi; the articulation of the Canon of Medicine by Ibn Sina; the extensive study in astronomy by Al-Farghani, or by the mathematical and astronomical genius of Omar Al-Khayyam. And since then our contribution to science has decayed and produced almost next to nothing.
[My emphasis]
I signal this article not because it says anything new, but because it is written by a Saudi, a physician working at the Armed Forces Hospital in Riyadh. The full article is here.

Monday, December 19, 2005

history, and History

Two wonderful posts (via normblog).
Firstly, the history. Michael Yon has been sent a photomontage of the Iraqi elections. It's available here. The choice of music may make you want to cringe, but remember, we're not there.
Secondly, the History. Jeff Wientraub explains the background of this History of the World, which reminds you just what stays in people's heads after the lesson.

Traffic as a source of electricity.

Hughes Research in Somerset has built a ramp that uses the traffic that passes over it to create electricity. It can be used to power traffic and street lights.

There's a video about it here.

This is a great time for inventors. The need for alternative sources of power is going to be so great that whole new sectors of the economy will be created to provide for it. There won't be just one or two sources of energy, but tens of them and they'll come in all sizes. The benefits will be environmental (low emmissions, etc), political (no dependency on dodgy regimes) and economic (new markets rewarding new ideas).

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Australian racism

Germaine Greer in The Guardian:

Australian racism derives from the same bottomless source as British racism - from universal ignorance and working-class frustration, reinforced by an unshakeable conviction of British superiority over all other nations on earth, especially the swarthy ones. If Australia had been colonised by any other nation but the British, it would be less racist.

Scott Burgess has already dealt with this article, but I have a couple of other things to say about it.

I remember at university the way the feminists used to say 'in this country' with a sneer that crossed state boundaries, and you used to accept it, not having been anywhere else. Then, when you did go somewhere else, you sort of noticed that maybe the feminists should have gone somewhere else before making the comparison. I remember, as well, that when I first arrived in Italy (in the late Eighties), people there would comment on the comparative lack of racism in their country compared to other places; Italians 'just weren't like that'. Then the proportion of immigrants rose, just a couple of percentage points, and suddenly, it was a very different story. When I last went back (2004), the expressions I heard used about Albanians and Magrebis made my hair curl.

I was an English teacher for too many years and in that time I got to know Arabs from various countries, Chinese, Japanese and many others. With most it was a matter of hints or an occasional remark, but the attitude of the Arabs to sub-Saharan African (and to the Pakistanis that provide so much of the manual labour in their countries) was like nothing I had ever heard, or wish to hear again.

Secondly, a small note about the new Lebanese community in Australia. Figures quoted by Keith Windschuttle in The Australian indicate that, universally, immigrants to Australia have always integrated within 2 generations.

...less than 10 per cent of second-generation marriages of people of European descent were to someone from their parents' country. Much the same was true of immigrants from south and east Asia. Only 6 per cent of Indians married within their ethnic group, as did only 18 per cent of Chinese.
This is certainly true of my own family, Lebanese who moved to Australia just before the First World War. The second generation, the first born in Australia, almost without exception married outside the 'ethnic' community. It is not true of the new intake.
No less than 74 per cent of Lebanese brides and 61 per cent of Lebanese grooms married within their own ethnic group.

What's more, the figure is increasing and has been doing so since the Nineties.

Germaine Greer sounds like an adolescent first year student who has just discovered that you can say anything if you claim to be speaking on behalf of the oppressed.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christmas, or the Value of Kitsch

KITSCH: "The reduction of aesthetic objects or ideas into easily marketable forms. ... it is oriented to the masses and thus tends towards a lowest-common denominator so that anyone can relate."

It's Christmas time. According to the definition above, is Christmas a festival of kitsch? It is questionable, I suppose, in that most of the objects associated with it were never 'aesthetic objects or ideas' of any recognisable artistic value and so not 'reducible'; they were already symbols to which 'anyone can relate'. My question is, is that so bad?

As with so many things, it is only when you have to do without something that you recognise its value. This was the experience of the post-war generations, especially those at the bottom of the social heap and thus fully exposed to the revolutionary zeal of the decision-makers who built their houses. This lot were determined that the new world could be constructed only by sweeping away the old, all the forms and symbolic langauge now exposed as 'constructs' of the oppressors to keep the oppressed in their place. Once purged of this corrupt visual langauge, buildings of clean, rational lines that sought to represent nothing but themselves would house the 'new man'. This was the bloke who would embody and bring about (under the leadership of the same lot that built his house) International Socialism.

That's why kitsch is important enough to be denounced and publically scorned. It is the dead hand of the past. It doesn't challenge the status quo; it doesn't critique the structure of power; it doesn't raise consciousness. So why is there still so much of it about?

There is no better commentary on the failure of the revolutionary fantasies of the 20th Century than a mall like The Trafford Centre (in Manchester). It is massive, the size of a small town, and is kitsch from the foundations to the pinnacle of its great central dome. Mostly classical-Renaissance sources (like the majority of pre-sixties government buildings in the Anglosphere), but there are also themed areas such as Ancient Egypt, Venice, New Orleans and China, and it includes such unlikely decorative motifs as the lictor's fasces (minus the axe). It is also extremely successful. Coachloads arrive from the entire North-West of England for a day out ("350 FREE coach spaces"). If it didn't make so much money, you could call it a tourist destination. Those with any architectural taste abhor the place. However, it's a shopping centre, and as such, makes its customers feel at ease precisely because they know what they are dealing with and take it as seriously as it deserves to be taken. It doesn't challenge them, or deconstruct the shopping experience, but it does make going there pleasurable with the inoffensive fantasy of the good life (the classical motifs and the Tuscan landscapes in the pseudo-frescoes and the Disney-like fun of the variously themed areas). My point is that modernism, in 100 years of idealogical struggle came up with nothing better to replace it. And so in 2005, we have to fall back on imagery that would have been entirely comprehensible to a Victorian.

As would our Christmas. Yet how many of us can say why holly is the Christmas plant? What's that star all about? What sort of bloke is called Santa? Do you feel the onset of salvation before the image of a baby in a manger? But isn't this (the last one, I mean) the essence of Christmas? Without it, isn't Christmas just a sounding brass and tinkling cymbals? Isn't it just crass sales pitches, excess and the same soppy songs year after year? Isn't it just kitsch?

Yes, but ... valuable all the same. Because of the things we do at this time of year, the presents we buy, the thoughts of others, the contacts remade, the families re-united, the celebration of plenty in the dead season, the attention given to those with little to celebrate. And the 'spirit' that animates these acts is just as strong now as it has ever been, partly carried by all the dross that Christmas has gathered on its long journey. It is kitsch that still serves just because it is kitsch; ie anyone can relate to it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The first elections since ...?

The BBC keep saying, "the first full parliamentary elections since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein". I think it's a bit longer than that.

The Victims of Multiculturalism

Melanie Philips points to an article from The Australian: Janet Albrechtsen: Racism is repulsive.

The article includes this paragraph:

Academic Amanda Wise from Macquarie University's Centre for Research on Social Inclusion blamed it on "John Howard dog-whistling on immigration" and "Bob Carr singling out the ethnicity of rapists"... Phil Glendenning of the Catholic Edmund Rice Centre went for the Howard quintet of apparent policy neglect: "Through Hansonism, the Tampa incident, children overboard, weapons of mass destruction and the unfair targeting of people of Islamic background over issues like terrorism and Iraq, Australia's young people are growing up in a culture of fear of the other.

It is depressingly familiar. How intellectually economical it is to be able to blame always the same people, the same system, that at the root of this and so much other violence are the actions of those same few people. While those who actually do the violence are encouraged to think of themselves as victims of injustice. And it is not merely the injustice of one person over another. It is racial injustice - "whites have power and wealth stolen from me." It is historical injustice - "European colonialism has made my culture weak and ineffectual." It is economic injustice - "the system keeps me powerless and poor." So why should the victim of racism, colonialism and capitalism respect the rules of those who benefit from that system? "As a victim of these monstrous forces, I can do nothing to better my situation. No, it is you who must give it all back to me - you owe it to me. You are wrong, so I must be right."
Tim Priest writing on the effect that Peter Ryan, a senior British police commander, had when he took over as NSW Police Commissioner.

[Police leaders] became more concerned with relations between the police and ethnic minorities than with emerging violent crime. The power and influence of the local religious and minority leaders cannot be overstated. Police began to use selective law enforcement. They selected targets that were unlikely to use their ethnic background and cultural beliefs to hinder police investigations or arrests. It was mostly Anglo-Saxons and Asians that were the targets, because they were under-represented by religious leaders and the media. They were soft targets.

The rule of law, which we in the West rightly laud as the sine qua non of a successful modern society, is overthrown. Multiculturalism, identity politics and the cult of the victim have played a great part.

Janet Albrechtsen also says,

Recognising human nature means that multiculturalism, though a fine sentiment, can only work if we unite behind a core set of values. Unfortunately though, that policy has become a licence for rampant cultural relativism. We are loath to criticise any aspects of cultures (except our own) for fear of sounding terribly judgmental and unfashionably un-multicultural. Instead, culture is talked about only as an excuse for abhorrent behaviour so that the offender becomes the victim.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

There's reality and then there's me

The latest edition of The Choice on Radio 4 features a Manchester United fan (name not given on the website, to which I'd send you if only it were worth the trouble), who surrendered his season ticket when Malcolm Glazer took control of the club. A very articulate fan. He spoke very well of what it means to be a fan. Not the winning (that's what he said), but the connection with all the others on the hill; lifting the Cup at the Camp Nou; running away from some Liverpool scallies after lifting the FA Cup. He spoke about the way that for 2 hours you can forget who you are and where you come from as the men on the field live out your dreams and fantasies. And a business model applied to all that entirely misses the point. Michael Beurk very reasonably pointed out that every quality he applied to being a fan (well, maybe not being chased by Liverpool scallies) was equally true of being a fan of Hollywood movies. Would he suggest that they become a non-profit venture?
Both men are right. The romanticism of the fan creates; but the business model maintains and grows. No, the business man does not feel the passion of the fan. But he knows the passion of survival.

On CS Lewis

Back link to my post: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
Splendid essay on Lewis, his religion and, more importantly, his imagination by Adam Gopnik. From the New Yorker. It's
The Narnian books are set fair to be a very lucrative franchise for Disney. They don't even need to be too much in a hurry since the characters change over the 7 books thus obviating the inconveniences of aging actors.
However, there is one characteristic of the books that will require some creative editing. At a certain point Narnia suffers a slip in status, from 'world' to country. And as a country among others, it has enemies. It so happens that these enemies have complexions that are not English country apple, are ruled by a warrior caste presided over by a despot, deploy onion-shaped domes and worship a god called Tash. Some might go so far as to say that they resemble the Ottoman Turks. This is liable to cause a fuss. What will Disney do?
I think the reason that Lewis's baddies took this form is not hard to find. His first, and probably most enduring academic book, The Allegory of Love, showed an unfashionable enthusiasm for, among others, Ariosto and Torquato Tasso, whose books (Orlando Furioso and Gerusalemme liberata, Jerusalem Delivered) sang of heroes and heroic deeds against the Moor and the Saracen. Lewis himself had founght in the war that had finally brought down the Ottoman Empire, long the 'Sick Man of Europe'. At the time of writing the Narnian books, a Saracen-style enemy must have seemed both well-sourced in the collective English imagination but also as belonging to another time, safely in the past. The wheel turns.

Please take note

A survey commissioned by the BBC and others finds that Iraqis don't agree with what most others (including the BBC) say about the state of their state. What does it prove? What should be concluded from this? That those stuck in the middle can't appreciate the bigger issues? That a wrong committed which improves their lives remains nonetheless a wrong? Maybe. Maybe not. Those with a better head for the moral high ground can safely be left there while others deal with dirty reality.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Just took D and S1 to see The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Cinema packed, though fewer kids than you might expect. I wonder if it will draw more adults who remember it from childhood than kids who sell it in the playground. Not that the kids won't be selling it in the playground; they will, because it is very, very good. I laughed out loud at a Guardian writer (Polly Toynbee) up in arms a few days ago at the 'manipulation of children' in this film. The fear is justified only insofar as the film is good enough to make any child new to the stories an explorer of new worlds.

It's got the effects of The Lord of the Rings but is very different in atmosphere. Here the story is built on character, specifically on the character of children as they become responsible for their own decisions however much the choices they must make are thrust upon them rather than sought (now that's something worth talking about). The moral compass is the smallest, Lucy, still young enough not to be careful and conventional in her idea of right and wrong (played by Georgie Henley, a wonderful young actress; they could hardly keep the camera off her). The 'deviant', ie he who strays furthest from the path direct, is Edmund. The screenwriters have added a prologue which not only gives the setting (the Blitz), but also ecapsulates in one scene the essential family conflict: with father away, why should younger brother accept his elder in that position? Is Peter, the oldest, up to it? In fact, it is Peter and the second oldest, Susan, who struggle to take on the mantle of chivalric heroism asked of them (and of many others in 1940). As Susan says when told of the prophecy that has them not only as saviours of Narnia, but also as Kings and Queens of same, "But we're from Finchley". It is around these struggles towards adulthood and Edmund's 'single-parent family' behaviour, that the plot revolves.

Part of Peter's climb towards his role is the fight with one of the Snow Queen's police-wolves. The boy won't, can't make the first move and the wolf leaps. Silence, the wolf on top of Peter. A child's voice, full of grief and begging for solace sounded out over the auditorium. "Peter!?". Then Peter got up.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Another view of Iraq and Afghanistan

Mick Hartley quotes Amir Taheri on US efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On revolution

The idea is this. With the French Revolution, a new concept entered the languages of the world, a cancer that metastisised and invaded every part of the body politic and social.
Before that, we can talk about rebellions, the more serious of which would overthrow the country's rulers and put in their places a new set, but always occupying the same positions in a structure that was basically unaltered. The English Civil War went further in that it sought to replace one class with another in a structure that differed markedly from its predecessor. However, and this is the point, it did so by calling on values that were long established and perceived as lost. So, too, the American Revolution was a cry for the restoration of rights that had been lost and never retrieved.
The French Revolution went beyond all this. Here, by 1792, the attempt was made to erect a structure that had never existed before, to prepare which its founders would start again from ZERO. It was not just to be a new political system; it was a new man. Previous to this, it had been intellectually impossible to make this move; it was literally inconcievable. At least applied to an entire society. As an idea, it had been around for almost 2 millennia, but it had a different name and regarded a completely different relationship. It was called salvation, and it was an event that was purely personal and was something that happened between one person and God. As a religious impulse involving the conscience, acts of sin, contrition and penance leading to a moral and spiritual rebirth, it could only happen inside the heart of an individual man or woman. During the 18th Century, it somehow became possible to think the unthinkable: that just as a man could be saved, so too could a society. But because, from the past came only superstition, corruption and error, it would be necessary, for society's own salvation, that the old structure be razed to the ground so that the new could rise in its place.
The possibility of this thought brought something entirely new to the world. It made Marxism possible, and so Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. These are the most egregious examples, where the thought crushed lives and whole societies. However, its ramifications have been far more widespread and insidious. It has entered the mental patterns of the West and props up almost every radical movement of the 20th Century. It has undeniable power because it breaks down every barrier; no social structure is immune to an analysis that begins (or rather, ends) at Ground Zero. Combined with a view that sees power only as win-lose (those that have power do so only by taking it from those under them), it underpins the guilt that lacerates westerners.
The Fall of the Berlin Wall, 200 years after the upheaval that brought it into being, was its death knell, at least for those that could hear.