Sunday, April 30, 2006

Antoninus Pius

One of the most successful rulers in history. How can you tell? Nothing interesting happened on his watch.

Gibbon on Antoninus Pius.

Antoninus diffused order and tranquillity over the greatest part of the earth. His reign is marked by the rare advantage of furnishing very few materials for history; which is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.
Thanks to romanhistorybooks.

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A genuine "multiculturalist"

Mark Steyn reviewing Oriana Fallaci's The Force of Reason spends too little time on the book in question, but makes up for it with a few bons mots.

Mr. Tayler, a minor civil servant in Bengal, was a genuine "multiculturalist." That's to say, although he regarded his own culture as superior, he was engaged enough by the ways of others to study the differences between them. By contrast, contemporary multiculturalism absolves one from knowing anything about other cultures as long as one feels warm and fluffy toward them. After all, if it's grossly judgmental to say one culture's better than another, why bother learning about the differences? "Celebrate diversity" with a uniformity of ignorance.
It is interesting how often writers searching for an alternative for the purblind multiculturalism of today end up citing British administrators of India.

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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Quotes Chesterton and Borges

From two typically excellent posts by Chandrahas Choudhury, I steal two quotes. The first is from Chesterton.

Man knows that there are in the soul tints more bewildering, more numberless, and more nameless than the colors of an autumn forest. . . . Yet he seriously believes that these things can every one of them, in all their tones and semitones, in all their blends and unions, be accurately represented by an arbitrary system of grunts and squeals. He believes that an ordinary civilized stockbroker can really produce out of his own inside noises which denote all the mysteries of memory and all the agonies of desire.
The second is the second part of Chess by Borges.


Faint-hearted king, sly bishop, ruthless queen,
Straightforward castle, and deceitful pawn -
Over the checkered black and white terrain
They seek out and begin their armed campaign.

They do not know it is the player’s hand
That dominates and guides their destiny.
They do not know an adamantine fate
Controls their will and lays the battle plan.

The player too is captive of caprice
(The words are Omar’s) on another ground
Where black nights alternate with whiter days.

God moves the players, he in turn the piece.
But what god beyond God begins the round
Of dust and time and sleep and agonies?
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Friday, April 28, 2006

Not enough dead in Iraq

In brief. Iraq Body Count is a group of volunteers lead by anti-war activist Professor John Sloboda. They do what their title says, count the bodies. He says he set up the site in 2003 as he was sure the occupying forces would not be keeping track of the number of Iraqi civilians killed. They have until recently been much quoted by anti-war activists concerned that the official media was not to be trusted.

Things move on. In the time-honoured manner of the left (spit most vitriol not on the right, but on those left-wingers not quite as radical as you), IBC is now being attacked by John Pilger and an organisation he commends, Media Lens. Sloboda's project is accused of vastly underestimating the number of deaths and of "handing a propaganda tool to the pro-war camp". The criticism doesn't stop at that (it never does - they just have to hurl fulminations) IBC is also "aiding and abetting war crimes".

Something must be going right in Iraq if the hysterics are knifiing their own.

(via Harry)

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Big story, please

You are probably as unmoved as I am by the rage and rumble surrounding British Home Secretary Charles Clark, and the lesser pileups of the outraged over Patricia Hewitt and John Prescott. What's more interesting is the tone of news reports and interviews. There's a barely suppressed eagerness to see something 'big' happen, continual anticipations of what will be decisive in bringing about the big event, feverish imaginings of what it may all lead to. The unspoken question colours all - is this the end? for Blair? for the government?

I'm sure there's a natural lifespan for a government, one that passes from ham-fisted vigour to measured control and so to accident-prone self-decapitation. I'm sure there are many sophisticated means of analysing this. But there's one factor that is not often mentioned, but that must play a huge part: boredom. The public get bored with the same faces on TV, the same tone of voice, the same campaigning phrases. More importantly, the hacks get bored and, quite apart from the ever-present imperative to tell a 'big' story, just want a change so they can tell a different story.

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Any Samaritans out there?

An appeal court sided with her neighbours who complained her presence put their own safety at risk and caused disruption to their lives... The court ruled that is [sic] contravened Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights which guarantees respect for a person's private and family life.
Whose presence is it that contravenes Article 8? That of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

I can well imagine what an 'awkward' guest she must be and how she must disturb normalcy. And it is conceivable that someone as pious as Mohammed Bouyeri (the killer of Theo van Gogh) might decide to punish her for her apostacy and be careless about who got caught in the crossfire. (Remember the logic of the revolutionaries of the 70s: all the bourgeoisie are guilty?)

But can it be right that someone like her be shunned by ordinary people? Can NIMBY logic be applied to someone who has risked her life as she has? What does it mean when an MP, a representative of the people, is pushed away by the people? What are we saying? She's right; she's brave, but that's got nothing to do with us - it's not our fight?

I can't help but think of High Noon.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Wrong body

How delicate solemnity is. How easily it can be shattered.

The Australian Defence Minister was about to accompany the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq to collect the body when he found out that the body on the plane was the wrong one. He then had to tell the mother, who phoned the Prime Minister. In addition, it turns out that the story the minister had originally put out about the death was now quite correct.

Either there's another story here, or Mr Cock-up is working overtime.

From The Australian.

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

A luminous novel, all the more so for the storm that threatens.

It is set in Ferrara mostly between the autumn of 1938 and the summer of the following year. Interesting times. Mussolini's 'racial laws' have just come into force. Their impact on the life of the Jewish narrator is not, at first, that serious: he is ejected from his tennis club. Indeed, for the door that has been closed on him, another more interesting one immediately opens: that to the garden of the Finzi-Continis. This wealthy Jewish family has long led a reclusive existence, the parents leaving their grounds only for the sabbath, the two children educated at home. The narrator knows both Alberto and Micol (they come to his school annually for the exams) but has had very little contact with them. Nevertheless, Micol has always drawn his eye, and at the new 'tennis club' that meets now every afternoon of that autumn, the attraction grows and seems to be reciprocated. Yet, when the winter descends on the town, nothing has 'happened', and soon Micol departs for Venice to complete her degree. When she returns, and he tries to move the relationship on, she rejects him saying that two people so similar could not be in love. He makes a fool of himself in ways familiar to us all, but eventually is able to accept what can never be.

It's a tale of first love and of becoming a man. In the background, there is the social exclusion of the racial laws, the slide towards war and the impending holocaust. Obviously the character of the unnamed narrator (it is only in the film that he acquires a name, Giorgio) is not aware of all this, but the writer is. For this book is an act of witness, though not (as with Primo Levi) of the Holocaust itself, but of the many pasts that it wiped from the face of the earth. Bassani wants to make some of those pasts live again, to rescue them from oblivion, to skirt death using the instrument of the creative memory.

Death is ever present. Our first sight of Ferrara is the massive, almost gaudy, tomb of the Finzi-Contini family. The generation that built it is now housed inside, but of the generation that followed (the four that we know - Professor Ermanno, Signora Olga, Alberto and Micol plus the first-born, Guido), only two are commemorated: Guido, who died very young and Alberto, laid there riddled with cancer in 1940. There are three missing, dead but also disappeared, their particular fates unrecorded.

The achievement of the novel is that he is able to evoke the living, breathing fascination of these characters and, in particular, of Micol. She is certainly a young woman seen through the eyes of a young man in love, but not limited by that. She is beyond him, something both mysterious and luminous and following a path of her own. He 'becomes a man' in the moment he is able to acknowledge that. What she might have become is impossible to say - he, and therefore, we - do not understand her enough to even speculate. But she lives as a character on these pages, and seems to come from beyond them. It says so much for this novel that he makes us feel the horror of the unimagined slaughter to come just through the awareness that it destroyed such a person as Micol.

There are a lot more reasons than this to praise The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. I don't need any more to make me re-read it.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Gallipoli - Innocence vindicated

From The Australian.

The Gallipoli campaign was a tragedy and a failure. Yet it was part of a wider war whose outcome would be momentous and whose significance was a vindication of Australia's commitment. Our war decision was not a blunder but an authentic reflection of identity, values and strategy.
It is amazing to read these words. To express such sentiments not so long ago would have brought down on your head a deluge of evil-sounding epithets: capitalist pig, imperialist lackey, fascist, militarist, etc, etc. Times have changed, in small part thanks to John Howard, "a pro-British monarchist" who "has been a champion of populist Australian nationalism" and "testimony to the authenticity of the original Australian-Briton fused identity". Amazing.

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David Myatt - Civilisation and its Discontents

You may have seen the article in Timesonline about David Myatt, ex-luminary of the Neo-Nazi movement in Britain, now a Muslim and a supporter of the Jihadist war on the West. Why this step sideways?

The pure authentic Islam of the revival, which recognises practical jihad (holy war) as a duty, is the only force that is capable of fighting and destroying the dishonour, the arrogance, the materialism of the West . . . For the West, nothing is sacred, except perhaps Zionists, Zionism, the hoax of the so-called Holocaust, and the idols which the West and its lackeys worship, or pretend to worship, such as democracy.
You could be forgiven for thinking that this is merely a case of one anti-semitic, anti-American nutter joining forces with a lot of other anti-semitic, anti-American nutters. But I've had a quick look at some of Myatt's writings, and it's obvious that his rebellion against his own culture is both deeply rooted in his own culture and in needs and desires shared by many others.

There's a word that doesn't appear in the Times article, but that recurs constantly in his writings: numinous. He calls (or called) his philosophy the "Numinous Way of Folk Culture". What he loves about Islam is its "numinosity: the beauty, the sacredness, the intimation of the divine, which manifests itself in daily life". As for the modern state, there is "nothing numinous in the policies and goals of such organizations: no rational, cosmic, perspective, no inspiring numinosity".

He sought this numinosity in Nature and in the cult of the race, but ended up in despair, from which he was rescued by conversion to Islam, a religion that not only glorifies the warrior, but retains a concept of honour (two of his other most frequent words).
It makes me angry to watch the television pictures of American and British troops swaggering around, showing off their hardware while experts talk about powerful American weaponry: it so dishonourable; so against the ethos of the true warrior. There will be no honour in such a conflict, at least not on the part of American and allied troops. You want true warriors in the modern world? Muslims defending Jenin. Mujahideen defending Tora Bora.
What is the Western way of life? Materialistic, dishonourable, arrogant, decadent and its politics either petty and soulless or oppressive and imperialistic.

Doesn't a lot of this sound very familiar? If not, then you obviously don't read The Guardian or The Independent. His search for meaning (the numinous), his back-to-nature philosophy, his attempted construction of a cosmic perspective that will bestow honour and dignity on insignificant souls - aren't these needs and desires everywhere around us from the radical self-disgust of the Animal Liberationist to the faux-satanism of heavy metal?

I think people like David Myatt are beating a path that will be much travelled by desperate dreamy males and even more desperate, though fewer, females.

Most of the quotes above came from this website dedicated to Myatt.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Four-year-old survival

Son No 3, who is 4 years old, has a strong instinct for survival, one that seems to allow for very little sentimentality. He tries to be very precise about which animal is the fastest or strongest, and which would win in a fight. Not so strange for a little boy. More unusual, however, is his identification with characters in films.

His first question after, or even during a film, is "Who are you? I'm so-and-so." And he rarely picks the goodies. There seem to be two reasons for this. 1. The baddies are usually obviously stronger (the grasshoppers in A Bug's Life; General Wormwort in Watership Down; the Daleks). 2. He doesn't realise that they've been killed at the end. In the Doctor Who I found him watching this evening with his brother, there is a cut from the Daleks to a space station blowing up. He hadn't connected the two. The last sight we have of General Wormwort is his ferocious leap towards the camera and the dog. He took it for granted that Wormwort won. When we told him that he most certainly hadn't, he swiftly decided he was one of the rabbits (Bigwig).

He knows there is a 'moral' difference between the two: he uses the words 'goody' and 'baddy' normally in other contexts. It's just that Strongest and Fastest hold greater sway.

It does seem to underline the good sense of the idea of Original Sin. He hasn't been baptised.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mont Sainte-Victoire

Did you know that Mont Sainte-Victoire (the mountain Cezanne painted so many times) was named after a victory of Gaius Marius (he who professionalised the Roman army) in 102 BC? No. Nor did I.

Dorothy King explains.


I love simple, obvious emplanations. Maybe I'm just simple, but explanations that can't be set out quickly, or with a good story ask a lot and so often disappoint. (I wouldn't want to make a law out of this, however.)

I've just come across a beauty concerning something that has puzzled me for a long time. How is it that so many intellectuals, people that have benefited so much from capitalism, should nevertheless nurture such suspicion, resentment or downright hatred for it? How is it that they could be so bedazzled by alternative systems as to ignore how inefficient, oppressive and downright murderous they are? Why do they become so hypotised by the snake charm of absolutism?

Well, thanks to Jonathan Pearce of Samizdata, I have come across a wonderfully simple explanation. Its greatest virtue is that it doesn't require any tracing of intellectual paths or rely on the maleficent influence of a certain group, but is built on the most common experience.

Robert Nozick maintains that the intellectuals' deep resentment of capitalism is born in the passage from school to the world of the market. School differs from the outside world above all in how it chooses its elite: it rewards and prizes the book-learned, the articulate, the quick-witted. Their dominion over words and ideas elevates them to pre-eminence over their peers. School is a meritocracy of the intellect. This is not the case in the outside world of the market economy. It, too, is described as a meritocracy, but the merit it rewards is quite different.

The cruellest aspect of capitalism is that it puts a value on you that is so different from the value you assign yourself. Stated baldly, it is: what are you worth to other people? What can you do for them? The intellectual sees his pre-eminence usurped by the vulgar, showy or ruthless (as it seems). Not the meritorious, but the meretricious.

There is another characteristic of the reward system at school that remains impressed on the resentful. It is that excellence is adjudicated and recognised by a central authority, the teacher, whose word is final and whose authority is established and comparatively unquestioned. Compared, I mean, to the market, which lacks a central authority and does not reward excellence (at least in the short term), but rather convenience.

The above is a summary, though (I hope) an accurate one. Does it hit below the belt? Maybe. Is is demonstable, or falsifiable. Unlikely. Nevertheless, I find it very satisfying. Have a look.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Racism or culture?

A few days ago, Margaret Hodge said that many voters in her constituency of Barking were considering voting BNP. She added

The political class as a whole is often frightened of engaging in the very difficult issues of race and...the BNP then exploits that and try and create out of a perception a reality which is not the reality of people's lives.
This, together with the Rowntree Report claiming that 25% of people had said they might vote for the BNP, has roused the usual fuss. It seems to come up every few years, and then die again as we realise that no-one in their right mind would vote for the BNP except to thumb their nose at the powerful.

Immigration is permanent and desirable. Well, we should hope it's permanent; it's a strong economy that magnetically draws immigrants. This one needs more, especially the building industry. Immigrants are also desirable. I suppose that, being one, I would say that, but just think of the type of people who leave their homelands for economic (or any other) reasons. I can assure you, it ain't an easy transition.

Another Australian (Scott Wickstein, who nevertheless stayed at home), writing at Samizdata, puts it well.

... the society that receives immigrants is usually much better off for having them. Immigrants are usually the best and the brightest of their societies, and the most driven. Having uprooted their lives to make a fresh start, they are open to new ways of doing things, and are thus an engine of innovation. In this era of ‘baby drought’ they boost the population and the dynamism of their new societies, and increase the purchasing power of their economies. However, because these effects are spread widely, few people identify their prosperity with immigrants.
Now I wouldn't exactly 'identify' prosperity with immigrants (I think they're a consequence as much as a cause), but I agree with the thrust of his argument. More so, because he doesn't ignore the fact that, while the economy as a whole benefits, many 'homegrown' people feel immgration as a cost, an undeniable one. This is true in competition for jobs, competition for housing, property values, and also in the perception of those whose stake in the society and economy is shaky.

There is also another point, one that I haven't heard put. Is it not possible that this recent panic is not so much about race, but about culture? Could it not be the nervousness felt by many who, in the rhetoric of multiculturalism that seems to accord no primacy to the home culture, see the threat of a section of the population that does not recognise the rules that everyone else must live by? Of a group of people who ask for special consideration, special dispensation for their sensibilities? Isn't it possible that the outrageous reaction to some cartoons, and a lot more, on the part of one group among us is partly responsible for this reaction?

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Ara Pacis 2 - Why?

Ara Pacis-Before and after. Click to see larger.The previous Ara Pacis museum and the new one inaugurated yesterday. (Photo from La Repubblica, where it seems to be no longer available.)

When I saw the photo of the previous museum, constructed in 1938 by Enrico Morpurgo, I did wonder what great benefit the new structure brought to justify the expense of money and polemical energy. Structurally, we now have the same box shape with the same unvarying straight lines. The biggest difference seemed the lack of classical references in the cornice.

However, after a long hunt and having forded my way through much intemperate speech, I eventually found an explanation for the demolition of the old structure. Evidently, the interior was subject to huge variations in temperature and humidity. In addition, it afforded no protection from the biggest threat of all: the corrosive gases belched out by the traffic that streams past on three sides. The Meier building is supposed to resolve these problems.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Ara Pacis

Today, the 2,759th anniversary of the founding of Rome, was the opening of Richard Meier's museum to house the Ara Pacis, Augustus's monument to himself and his victories in Spain and Gaul. It is the first modernist building to be erected in the centre of Rome since the days of Mussolini.

From the photos I've seen, it seems a fairly characterless building designed to ensure a bright interior and not to offend the Baroque sensibilities of Romans. It's had more success in the first than in the second aim.

Vittorio Sgarbi, art critic, ex-Minister of Culture and skilled at creating a spectacle, burned a model of the building in a nearby square and called on art students to bomb it. It's been likened to a petrol station, a phone box and a 'cesso', a not-very-nice way of saying 'loo'. Gianni Alemanno, who's running for mayor, has promised that as soon as he's elected he'll have it pulled down.

The Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace), inaugurated in 9BC to commemorate campaigns in Spain and Gaul. To forestall any sarcastic comments about the use of the word 'peace' there, I should point out that, for the Romans, the word did not mean 'absence of war' but the settlement to conclude a war, which, by definition, they had won.

Photos from the architect's site.

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Last redoubt of manliness: Nepal

This is retired British colonel John Philip Cross, eighty years old, enlisted April 2, 1943 and, for many years now, a leader of Gurkhas, soldiers described here as "practically out of the Iliad".

"Late-nineteenth-century warfare never stopped,” Colonel Cross told me, “though it was masked for a time by the Cold War emphasis on atomic bombs. And in this type of warfare that you Americans must master, only two things count: the mystic dimension of service and the sanctity of an oath. It’s about the giving of one’s best when the audience is of the smallest."
Don't you like that phrase "when the audience is of the smallest"?

I wonder if you remember earlier this month when I posted about Harvey Mansfield's book, Manliness.

There are many levels of manliness, he adds. “Higher levels include risking life for a cause.”

Women have lain down their lives throughout history. Is there a difference? Yes, he says. “A woman will risk life if necessary. A man will do it for fun.”
Return to Colonel Cross.
“You can’t fight properly until you know that you are going to die anyway. That’s extreme, but that’s the gold standard. You don’t join the army to wipe your enemy’s ass. You join to kill, or for you yourself to be killed, and above all to have a good sense of humor about it.”
Is that more or less the feeling down at your pub? Mine, too.

An article by Robert Kaplan in The Atlantic Online. (Don't miss the "briefing on sex" that Cross remembers from his first days in the army.)

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Holocaust Archive

Incredibly, an archive of 50 million documents relating to 17 million people is only now to be opened to scholars. (You would think that the point of an archive was to allow scholars access to the past. However, there are obviously 2 schools of thought on that.)

The documents have been under lock and key in the small north German town of Bad Arolsen since the war, and administered by an 11-nation group. Evidently, Germany's restrictive privacy laws and fears of lawsuits were behind the consistent refusal to let the scholars in.

You do wonder how the Holocaust-deniers are going to explain away 50 million documents. However, human ingenuity knows few limits. Perhaps the Iranians could provide a scholarship or two.

The Spiegel article is here.

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With agnostics, atheists and heathens

Is it blogging under false pretences to fish out as old a document as this one? Surely not.

Anyway, I came across the results of the last census (2001), the only notable item of which for me was what I wrote in the box: Religion. I looked for myself in this table.

Nothing. So I read the summary beneath, and, to my chagrin, found that I had been lumped together with a sizeable percentage of the population perceived as without religious identity.

About sixteen per cent of the UK population stated that they had no religion. This category included agnostics, atheists, heathens and those who wrote Jedi Knight.
They put me with agnostics, atheists and heathens! (Heathens? There are people who call themselves 'heathens'? As in, non-christian? But that's also Muslims, Hindus, etc. No matter. I don't want to know.)

I learn from another page that there are 390,000 of us. That's what I would call a considerable demographic. One that you wouldn't want to offend. Especially if you weigh for just a moment the power of the Force.

Or could it be that this insulting dismissal was nothing more than their spiteful response to 390,000 people saying, "My religion is none of the your business"?


Wednesday, April 19, 2006


This is a view of Urville. Where is Urville? It

is located in the southern part of the Phoenician Island (3 022 km2), main island of the Insular Province archipelago, which is also constituted of Sloop Island at the north east (306 km2), and Sarrasin Island at the west (103 km2).
The words of the man who created Urville. Over to you, Gilles.
Hello, let me introduce myself, my name is Gilles Trehin, I'm born in 1972, I live in Cagnes sur Mer, near Nice, in south-east of France.

I'm told I have autism, some say I have Asperger's syndrome (it's very similar). Maybe it is the reason I have been drawing since the age of 5 and I have always been fascinated by big cities and aeroplanes.

In 1984, I started to be interested by the conception of an imaginary city called Urville. The name came from "Dumont d'Urville", a scientific base, in a French territory of the Antarctic. Since then, I made many (200) drawings of Urville, and I wrote a historical, geographical, cultural and economic description. I also have a book published by Jessica Kingsley Publisher in English, about Urville in March 2006. My greatest pleasure is to be invited to give a lecture on Urville because I can make it exist!
Urville is also here.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Italian cartoon and worrying links

This is the cartoon that the magazine, Studi Cattolici, published this week and then cravenly apologised for. I posted about this on Sunday, the 16th.

The figure on the left is Dante saying, "That one split in half from head to tail, is it Mohamad?" "Yes", replies Virgil, "because he has split society in two. And that one with slumped shoulders is Italian policy towards Islam."

Here is a word-for-word translation. "That one there divided in half from the head to the buttocks, isn't it Mohamad?" "Yes, he is divided because he has brought division (divisiveness) to society." "Whereas that one with the slumped arms (ie hopeless, not knowing what to do) is Italian policy (or politics) with regard to Islam."

It should be noted, in the spirit of cross-cultural precision, that Mohamad is not depicted.

On the Italian Opus Dei site, the organisation urges its members, some of whom work for the offending magazine, to apologise for the offense given, however involuntary it may have been. It laments the fact that such a thing should have occurred "at this time, in a Catholic magazine". It draws the link between this cartoon and the more famous Danish 12 and notes how both have raised the issue of "freedom of expression and its compatability with the respect due to religious beliefs".

If you find the general purview of that last phrase worrying, you are right. The next paragraph moves on to The Da Vinci Code, as rank a piece of silliness ever to earn someone untold millions, but now, it is implied, to be brought into a debate on freedom of expression. "The problem [is], in a phrase, how to make compatable freedom of expression, the free market and respect for [religious] belief."

I humbly submit that in the hierarchy of rights in a free society the ranking should be as in the sentence above: first, freedom of expression; second, the free market; third, respect for religious belief. Because that's how a free society remains free.

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Volunteer sector flourishes in Iran

Lovers of History and of the connections that link events years apart will find this image as intellectually satisfying as it is heart-warming.

Intellectual satisfaction
Twenty-five years ago, young Iranian militants, including the current president, stormed the American Embassy in Tehran and took 70 Americans captive. They thus initiated a tradition of extra-territorial symbolic action violating all the constraints of international law and conducted with the most voluble self-righteousness the media can offer. This week, 200 men have have come to that same building in answer to the call of a "hardline group" (obviously one approved by the authorities who are therefore no less hardline) for volunteers.

The heart-warming bit
Self-sacrifice always inspires a greater faith in human nature, doesn't it? Makes you feel better about Others. Well, these Others have answered the call from the above-mentioned "hardline group" to be suicide bombers against British and American (that's us) interests. And against the Zionist Entity, as well.

So, this is all a sort of recruitment fair for the Iranian charitable sector, or NGOs (without the N). It's got some great posters, too.

Video here.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Imperialism and multiculturalism

I posted in March about a history of multiculturalism by Alain Finkielkraut which goes back to the anti-Enlightenment reaction of Johann Gottfried Herder and his rejection of absolute principles in favour of regional ones. Well, I was looking again at Boris Johnson's The Dream of Rome and was struck by a contrast that he makes between the Roman and British Empires.

... the Romans assimilated successfully and created a universal sense of Romanness; and for reasons of racism, religion and cultural prejudice on both sides, the British have failed to create anything like a comparable sense of Britishness either abroad or, indeed, at home. Now we are dealing with the consequences, in Britain, of adopting that communalistic approach, as the children of our imperialistic possessions grow up, in our own cities, in a way that is often balkanised and alienated. (p51-2)
Do you think the Guardianista supporters of multiculuralism acknowledge their imperialist inheritance?

Christian churches in Kosovo

It isn't only the Turks that are responsible for the disappearance of the Christian heritage of the Middle East. Dorothy King.

Kosovo used to have some of the oldest Christian churches still standing until ... the Albanian Muslim Kosovans destroyed them. Although much has been done to rebuild the Ottoman Muslim buildings destroyed during the Bosnian Wars and in Croatia, there has been little Western press coverage of the Christian churches that were destroyed. I never understand this concept around today that one respects every other religion, but ... is slightly apologetic about our own Christianity.


I find views like this irresistible. They are not uncommon, though I don't think we make them any more.

It is a contemplative space. Although there is movement along the borders and they are anything but trimmed, the gravel path and the vase and plinth bring it all to a focus and an equilibrium. There is variety and motion, but around a still centre. It is controlled but not dead. It is balanced.

This is an image of the Enlightenment values over which so much heat has been generated in the debate on Islam. It is an image that I think the Umayyads of Southern Spain would have understood. For both them and the men of the Enlightenment, it would have expressed confidence that they had the instruments to deal with whatever the world threw at them, and to do so with calm and ...balance.

I took this today (overcast and a bit damp) at Biddulph Grange Gardens in Staffordshire.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

If you do, we will. If you don't, we will.

Mark Steyn quotes two Iranian nuclear negotiators speaking last July.

"Iran will resume uranium enrichment if the European Union does not recognize its right to do so."
This reminds me of the negotiating stance adopted by the French Student organisation during the recent street discussions:
"We won't negotiate until they fully back down."
Was she wrong?

Steyn also dramatises the Western response to Iran and, at the same time, shows you how to kill time on a boring flight.
You know what's great fun to do if you're on, say, a flight from Chicago to New York and you're getting a little bored? Why not play being President Ahmadinejad? Stand up and yell in a loud voice, "I've got a bomb!" Next thing you know the air marshal will be telling people, "It's OK, folks. Nothing to worry about. He hasn't got a bomb." And then the second marshal would say, "And even if he did have a bomb it's highly unlikely he'd ever use it." And then you threaten to kill the two Jews in row 12 and the stewardess says, "Relax, everyone. That's just a harmless rhetorical flourish." And then a group of passengers in rows 4 to 7 point out, "Yes, but it's entirely reasonable of him to have a bomb given the threatening behavior of the marshals and the cabin crew."

More cartoon fun!

Trouble is a-brewin' in Italy. Not because Berlusconi won't shift his bottom off the chair of state out into the cold where it might get prosecuted. Nope. It's showtime again for the Big M and his devoted and offended followers.

Another cartoon. This one was published by the Italian Catholic magazine Studi Cattolici (Catholic Studies), linked unofficially to Opus Dei. The cartoon shows Dante and Virgil in Hell surrounded by flames and devils with tridents. Dante asks his guide, "That one split in half from head to tail, is it Mohamad?" "Yes", replies Virgil, "because he has split society in two. And that one with slumped shoulders is Italian policy towards Islam."

It is based on a scene in Canto XXVIII, 22–63, of the Divine Comedy which shows Mohamad in the 8th Circle, Bolgia 9 condemned for swowing 'dissension'.

The editor of Studi Cattolici, Cesare Cavalleri, is unapologetic, sying that "a politically incorrect cartoon every now and then is good. I just hope that publishing this cartoon does not provoke attacks because if that happened, it would only confirm the idiotic stance of Islam."

The Consulta islamica (a sort of 'representative' body set up by the Ministry of the Interior) responds with an Italian saying: The mother of cretins is always expecting. Father Justo Lacunza Balda, rector of the Pontifical Institute of Arabic Studies, laments, "This is not the Christian spirit. And to do it during Holy Week!"

Cavalleri's spiritual superiors in Opus Dei, meanwhile, are also taking up the 'slumped shoulders' stance. The spokesman for Opus Dei, Giuseppe Corigliano, evoked Sant'Escrivà (founder of the movement), who, he said, "would have given his life to protect the religious liberty of others."

So far there have been no calls for demonstrations, but we know that reaction times in these affairs are unpredictable and that righteous anger sometimes needs months to construct. Wait and see.

The article is in Italian.

Update (16.21)

It all goes exactly as per the standard paradigm. The editor of Studi Cattolici, Cesare Cavalleri, has apologised. He's gone even further and taken grovelling to a new low. To wit:

It was interpreted as anti-Islamic. If anything, it signals a crisis of identity in Western culture.
Excuse me. I need to dialogue with the porcelain in the bathroom.

Brief announcement from ANSA in Italian.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Iranians on top

Dinocrat on how the Iranians are playing it smart and how they are probably right.

Let's review the assumptions that Iran is making about the United States in its unapologetic quest for nuclear weapons, and its laughing at sanctions and possible military action:

(a) perhaps other countries would keep the US from doing anything whatsoever about Iran, through the UN or otherwise;

(b) the US would attack Iran with precision and restraint if at all;

(c) whatever tactics Iran would use in response to a US attack — terrorism, oil embargo, chaos in Iraq, use of the MSM — would create a “quagmire” beyond the “stamina” of the US to withstand;

(d) the lack of Iran’s actual warmaking power would be offset by a combination of military self-restraint by America, global and domestic protest at American action, dovish political opposition in the US, the MSM’s amplification of whatever Iran would do to put it on a superior footing to American military action, and perhaps factors unknown.
It's quite a long post, and he can't stop updating it, but it's worth reading.

The Euston Manifesto

On the 13th of April, Norman Geras and Harry's Place published the Euston Manifesto, which aims to stimulate a "Renewal of Progressive Politics" a distances itself clearly from the rump of the old Left mired in anti-Americanism and a fatally compromised relationship with revolutionary politics.

I find it mostly a very sensible document, especially because it starts with an acknowledgement of the worth of our own society.

We value the traditions and institutions, the legacy of good governance, of those countries in which liberal, pluralist democracies have taken hold.
It holds very firmly to one of the great creations of this society: universal human rights.
We reject, also, the cultural relativist view according to which these basic human rights are not appropriate for certain nations or peoples.
Among which, freedom of speech.
This includes the freedom to criticize religion: particular religions and religion in general.
There is much else in the manifesto and I recommend you read it all.

What is lacking is any recognition that wealth must be created. The only mention of the economy comes under the sections on globalisation and on equality, and in both there is the same slant - the desirablility of redistribution. There were obviously disagreements here
We leave open, as something on which there are differences of viewpoint amongst us, the question of the best economic forms of this broader equality.
It is the dilemma that the Left has never faced, and it can be brought down to the contradiction between liberty and equality. Insofar as there has been liberty in the West, it has innovated and constantly created new forms of wealth. Whereas in those places of an imposed equality (the Soviet bloc, China), innovation was stifled and killed and the redistibution was made from an ever-shrinking pot.

The document makes no mention of the fact that economies are in competition, as anyone who worked in manufacturing knows all too well, and that countries like the UK will depend more and more on knowledge, innovation and ideas. Those capable of producing this new wealth need room to move outside the morass of gender, diversity and racial politics, which make virtually no contribution to the 'sharp end'. When a document makes statements such as
We look towards progress in relations between the sexes (until full gender equality is achieved)
[my emphasis], it is right to fear the dead hand of central control. But it is worrying because it indicates that wealth creation is taken as a given, as it was by the unions in the 70s and the French now.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Jesuits on Islam

Sandro Magister features an article recently published by the Italian Catholic journal Studium. Entitled 'The Islamic Question', it is surprisingly bold in its description of the dilemma facing the West in its relations with Islam. Surprising because of its two authors - Roberto A.M. Bertacchini and Piersandro Vanzan - the second of which is a Jesuit priest and on the editorial team of La Civiltà Cattolica, voice of the Jesuits in Rome, and a professor of pastoral theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He is not someone from whom you would expect to hear ideas that diverge too far from those of the Vatican.

Sandro Magister offers an edited translation (the original is not available online). It begins with a dispute within Islam during the 60s, a dispute concluded with the victory of Ayman Al-Zawahiri.

Al-Zawahiri’s ideological program, which he pursues with a complex strategy. For the formula of “modernizing Islam,” he substitutes another: “Islamizing modernity,” and therefore the West.

Within the Muslim world, Islamization means de-Westernizing everything: from political and cultural institutions to economic ones, even to the point of rethinking banking operations. On the outside, it means spreading Islam through vigorous missionary activity, in both Europe and the United States: this activity is supported above all by Saudia Arabia. But according to the most radical interpretations, Islamizing the West means violently attacking its political and economic power, without sparing the civilian population.
What is notable here is that the authors see the 'radical interpretations' not as an exceptional and anamolous phenomenon, but as one end of a continuum. At the other end are activities that no Western state could constitutionally oppose, religious gatherings and education. In between, there are such examples as this, any number of which could be cited.
In Mazara del Vallo in Sicily, since the end of the 1970’s there has been a Tunisian community that obtained permission to preserve its identity in all respects, with Tunisian schools, teachers sent from Tunisia, Tunisian laws, etc. So although polygamy is illegal there, it is tolerated. In other places, Muslims open unauthorized schools, but no intervention is made. Infibulation is practiced on women, but no one is put on trial. One the whole, this creates an asymmetry among citizens before the law, by virtue of which some minorities are first protected, but then become privileged. And this proves the incompatibility of radical multiculturalism and the rule of law.
The writers do not dwell on Europe's response to Islam, though they do not hide their concerns. The Pope himself, before he became so, looked at the laws that protected Judaism and Islam in Europe while leaving Christianity to be mocked with impunity and wondered if Europe was still able to defend itself.
The West reveals here a hatred of itself, which is strange and can be only considered pathological; the West is laudably trying to open itself, full of understanding, to external values, but it no longer loves itself; in its own history, it now sees only what is deplorable and destructive, while it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure.
What Europe is always willing to do is talk. Now there's no point in talking to people who, if they do talk to you, only see it as another step towards destroying you. Negotiate with Moderate Islam, then?
Moderate Islam, properly so called, does not exist because there is no institutional and moderate form of Islamic theology. There are moderate Muslims, and some of them see things with a clear and long-term perspective. But Islam itself, or rather the institutional religious culture of the Muslims, has reacted in its encounter with modernity by entrenching itself in fundamentalist positions. And this is true not only in Iran or Pakistan, but also in Egypt.

There is, therefore, an objective convergence between the trend in Islamic theology and the ideology of the terrorists. Fortunately, not all the imams have the same zeal for jihad, but the problem is that there is no moderate Islam, or rather there does not exist an Islamic theology that has integrated modernity. This is why it would not only be prudent, as cardinal Giacomo Biffi has suggested, to discourage Islamic immigration in Europe, it would be masochistic to encourage it without demanding reciprocation in terms of integration.
In introducing this translated excerpt from the original essay, Sandro Magister notes the similarity of this analysis of Islam to that of Oriana Fallaci. For many, that would be reason enough to dismiss it. But these are two writers with a vast experience of theological debate at a very high level, a training shared by few of us layfolk, and who are close to the Vatican, itself led by a formidable thinker. Their analysis is not born of a culture that lacks the self-confidence to defend the values that sustain it, but rather one that feels it still has a lot of offer the world. If only more of us felt that way!


Six houses on the street. Six houses for sale.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

"Let's be friends with Iran"

Simon Jenkins ends his piece on Iran in Commentisfree with these words

If ever there was a powerful state to reassure and befriend rather than abuse and threaten, it is Iran. If ever there was a regime not to goad into seeking nuclear weapons it is Iran. Yet that is precisely what British and American policy is doing. It is completely nuts.
Keep that in mind. The British and the Americans are driving the Iranians towards nuclear armaments.

Earlier in the article, he states
Elements within its regime want nuclear weapons. The country is rich and capable of buying the relevant components. The mullahs have sponsored terrorist groups abroad and fiddled elections. In February, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad restarted uranium enrichment at the Natanz plant, in defiance of the UN, and yesterday Iran's nuclear energy chief announced that it had proved successful.
[The Iranians announced as well that they want to install 3,000 centrifuges, which would make them capable of producing enough enriched uranium for a bomb within a year.] Jenkins is dead against any type of intervention, even sanctions, though his reasons seem at first to be as much pragmatic as anything else. China and Russia would oppose sanctions, therefore splitting the international front and leaving the US and Britain isolated. So, war is out; sanctions are out. Instead we should reassure and befriend.

To what end? He acknowledges that this is a regime that wants nuclear weapons and that it is also a regime that has sponsored terrorism abroad. So we should allow this to happen, even, through reassurance and friendship, encourage it, in the full knowledge that these weapons could be used against us and our allies. Is this his plan? He says nothing about how to prevent Iran making these weapons. He doesn't even signal it as a worthwhile aim. In fact, at one point, he defends Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The more the west threatens, the stronger is the case of Tehran's hawks for a nuclear arsenal. Iran is within range of five nuclear powers, including the US. What army would not want a deterrent when the world is awash with crazies?
Note that. The 'crazies' are us. Not the ones expecting the arrival of the 12th Imam and who want Israel obliterated. Bush and Blair are the crazies. Of course, he can't believe Ahmadinejad was serious (he's a victim of the West), just as he can't believe Straw when he rules out armed intervention (a tool of American imperialism).
There was no smoking gun in Iraq, only weapons conjured from the fevered imagination of Downing Street and the intelligence chiefs.
Has he been reading anything but what The Guardian writes?

I don't claim to have a solution to Iran and its ambitions. But I will not start my search for one based on the assumption that whatever we do must be wrong and whatever they do must be forgiven because it's our fault anyway. It's not only childishly inadequate; it's also cowardly.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Madeleine Bunting deserves some credit at least for the comments she has inspired. Some seedlings gleaned from a very big field.

The "word" Enlightenment is indeed Nineteenth Century. It is a translation of the German "aufklarung" (and not, as is often supposed, the reverse). It wasn't used by those who were actually part of it. The nearest they had to a name for themselves was The Age of Reason.

In 1784, in his answer to the question 'What is Enlightenment?' Kant deemed that `if it is now asked whether we live at present in an enlightened age, the answer is: No', but `we do live in an age of enlightenment'.

Jews, out of a world population of 12 million, have won some 260 Nobel prizes; Muslims, out of 1.3 billion, have won 6.

Reason ('aql) has a different significance in Islam to its Western meaning. Our rationality demands hard questioning of everything; Islamic reason is seen as confirming the truths of religion (thus, it is rational to believe God made the world, or the Qur'an presents sound arguments to men endowed with reason).

One confusion has always been between religious/shari'a law and customary/stated law, where they overlap and where not. Shari'a law has been more or less fixed in aspic since the earliest centuries and the (not entirely rigid) view that 'the door of independent reasoning in legal matters' has been closed since then. The great difference between shari'a and Western law is that the latter is subject to change through citizens electing parliaments and so on, whereas the former is not. Being ruled (in essence) by a book from the 7th century is not the same as being subject to rule by rationally-debated laws that citizens have the right to alter.

Another precursor of rocket power- the steam turbine- was invented by a Heron, a Graeco-egyptian in about the first century AD.

The Emperor Akhbar, [is buried] just across the river from the Taj Mahal. He is buried with his three wives. The first wife was a Muslim from Persia. The second wife was a Hindu from Rajasthan. The third wife was a St Thomas Christian.

France - 1 step forwards, 2 backwards

The CPE is scraped. The protests continue anyway against another liberalising law passed last August.

The bill announced to replace the CPE increases the government's role in the workplace instead of decreasing it. As if to say, We can't make it better, so let's make it worse.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Madeleine Bunting in the fog of unknowing

Madeleine Bunting is at it again. The Enlightenment, I mean. There seems to be a change of tack, though the waters are murky and I can't be sure. She seems to acknowledge that there was such a thing, and associates with it "scientific development, the importance of reason, religious tolerance, the rule of law". However, she makes this association by lamenting that we "devotees" of the Enlightenment are blind to those very qualities in the history of Islam. So I am only assuming here her acknowledgement of its existence.

Working against my assumption is her reiteration of its retrospective 'creation' by the 19th Century, and then a couple of schoolgirl howlers. One, that it had "far more to do with anti-rationalism" evidenced by David Hume and Adam Smith's preference for a "much more empirical approach of observation". Then she goes higher. She erects the straw man ("that the Enlightenment was about atheism") only to demolish it with "In fact, none of the major Enlightenment thinkers were atheists".

I must admit, I really find it difficult to understand what she FOR and what she's AGIN. I sensed a sort of breakthrough when reading the last paragraph.

That the clash of civilisations debate is being cast in the same mould as the struggle against fascism would explain how the Enlightenment has come back into play. It's being used to answer questions such as: what are we? What are our values? That's how it was used to rally an exhausted continent after fascism, but to invoke it now against Islam is a dangerous distortion of history. It draws the dividing line in the wrong place. Many traditions - not just the European Enlightenment - have a history of struggle against fanaticism and intolerance, and they (especially Europe) have fallen lamentably short of those ideals. We can value the Enlightenment without using it to feed an arrogant superiority which blinds us to our allies in other traditions.
What is she saying here? That it was OK to rally forces against Fascism by means of Enlightenment values. These values she lists above as "scientific development, the importance of reason, religious tolerance, the rule of law" and here as "the struggle against fanaticism and intolerance". But it's not OK to rally around those same values against Islam. Because they have been present in Islam and it is merely arrogance on our part to think they are closer to us than to them.

Firstly, notice something about the groups here. While few would take offence at calling Fascism an enemy of the Enlightenment, it does indeed sound outrageous to smear an entire religion with that brush. It goes without saying that we distinguish Germany and Italy, two of the great historical centres of enlightenment, from fascism, a movement native to Italy and Germany, but of short duration and not inherently bound to their character. However, we can and do find the seeds of fascism, not only in the history of these countries, but in the Enlightenment itself. Just as the influence of the Enlightenment can be seen in the French Revolution, the Soviet Union, Mao's China and Pol Pot. The Enlightenment is not all light - bright as it can shine, so deep can be its darkness. Yet in the choices made since those cataclysmic events, for the most part, it is the more sunlit paths of the Enlightenment that Western countries have chosen and lived.

Let's look now at the other group, the victims in her story: Islam. When was it that this invocation of the Enlighenment against Islam began. Was it with the massive immigration of the 60s and 70s? No. Was it even after the various terrorist outrages of the 90s? No. It began after September the 11th, and the gradual piercing of our dimness by what certain groups had in fact been saying for quite some time. Groups that, however loosely linked, have certain aims in common, among which is that of extinguishing any glimmer of the Enlightenment first where they live, and second, where we live. Most people are careful to call them Islamists, or Islamofascists. Now, just as we don't say Germans or Italians, but say 'fascism' instead, how would it be if we replaced 'Islam' in Bunting's sentence with 'Islamofascism'. ...
... to invoke it now against Islamofascism is a dangerous distortion of history. It draws the dividing line in the wrong place.
Is it? Does it?

In the aftermath of World War 2, it proved relatively easy to reinstate and maintain those enlightenment values in Germany and Italy mostly because they had been created and developed there for centuries. You could find people who were untainted by the barbarism of the fascist interlude: Alcide de Gasperi and Konrad Adenauer, for example. The institutions of the old republics could be reinvigorated because they had been solid before. Is this the case in Islamic societies? The traditions of tolerance and independent enquiry, how strong is their presence now? If their great contributions to science occurred over 500 years ago, what has happened since?

One final note. The parentheses:
"they (especially Europe) have fallen lamentably short of those ideals".

Says it all, doesn't it?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The threat of the Islamists (to Muslims)

An article first published in Politiken by Danish Muslim, Ibrahim Ramadan. He points to the greatest threat to Muslims in the West as in the Middle East: the Islamists.

Much of the article is spent lamenting the silence of Muslims faced with the violence and intimidation of the Islamists among them. He remembers Cairo in the 80s when tentative reform and modernisation were blocked by beatings, nail-bombs and assassinations. He sees the same logic at work in Denmark and in the West, and

the same unwillingness to stand up and protest this abuse of the religion which I saw in the Egypt of my youth, is predominant among the majority of Moslems in Denmark today.
Some excepts. (The translation is a bit awkward)
It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t lived in the Middle East how liberating it is to live in a country such as Denmark. A country where you’re free to say whatever you like, read whatever you like, act however you like, believe whatever you like and join any organisation or party with no repercussions for your life, career or family. But some seem to want to deny us Moslems that right and therefore we must now stand together and denounce these Men of Darkness.

But its time for us Moslems to choose sides. Do we want to live in this country with all that that entails of Freedoms, opportunities and Rights - or do we really want that the intolerance, the dictatorship and the limitation of the personal freedom which we have left [behind] must also be part of our lives in the country we’ve come to?

To become accepted and integrated in this country first and foremost demands that we as Moslems must stop pretending we are victims.

To do well in Denmark has as a precondition that the rules of the land are supported - to educate yourself and play an active role in the community and the debate and to not only take from, but also give something back to society.

There’s only one solution for us Moslems — use the first words that were revealed by God to the Prophet: Read! Study, be critical and take exception to those who abuse Islam.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Drugs, alcohol and insanity

Hunter S. Thompson:

I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol or insanity to anyone, but they've worked for me.

Quoted in an interview with Les Murray in The Australian.

Burqa + Spaghetti

If civilisation is the victory of artifice over nature, is this then the ultimate victory? [Scroll down to the video at the bottom.]

Friday, April 07, 2006

Burlusconi starts a new movement

You've got to hand it to him. Mister B, as he's known to his victims (Italians). He manages to do all by himself and without even thinking what every populist politician pays millions to do: put words into people's mouths.

In case you missed it, he said last Tuesday,

I've got too high an opinion of Italians' intelligence to believe that there could be so many cockheads ready to vote against their own interests.
(That is, vote against him.) The word he used was coglioni, literally 'testicles', but applied far more frequently as an insult.

Within minutes, there was a blog up entitled sonouncoglione ('I'm a cockhead') though which a new movement was born. They gathered yesterday in Rome, and 8 other cities and staged a sort of 'Cockhead Pride' march.

He is desperate. The polls continue to say the wrong thing. So what a Ruler do when people insist on saying what he doesn't want to hear? He asks other people. Deep in the night, pollsters abed, he went where only the lonely go. Heartbreak Hotel? No. A chatline. He asked, Excuse me, miss, who will you vote for on the 10th of April? The results: 7 out of 9 for U-No-Hu. And the other two were not going to vote for Prodi; they couldn't have cared less who won. Now why didn't the pollsters think of doing that?

Berlusconi has closed the electoral campaign in Naples resoundingly. (Article in Italian)
Be sure that on Monday we'll win because we're not cockheads.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Relax. He's on his way

If we work on the basis of the Expectation of the Return [of the Mahdi*], all the affairs of our nation will be streamlined and the administration of the country will become easier.
Ahmadinejad said this in January.

***Note for the ignorant (though soon-to-learn) masses
[The Mahdi] establishes justice, peace and truth throughout the world by establishing Islam as the global religion.
How long must we wait?

A member of Iran’s Parliament, Ezatollah Josefijan reports today that during a meeting
Ahmadinejad said we are acquainted with a situation which is directed by invisible power. Ahmadinejad added that this situation will go on for another seven or eight years.

All is revealed at Regime Change Iran.

On violence and violence

I want to put this here as a reminder to myself for when someone next equates the acts of this week's Islamic martyr and those of George Bush or Tony Blair.

Institutionalized violence is a necessary part of every organized state since without its availability any state would disintegrate. But those who make most use of the term tend to ignore the fact that the institutionalization of violence within a democratic system is the most responsible way available to us for containing violence. Democratic institutions can be altered by non-violent means; the use of violence by the democratic state is subject to scrutiny and criticism, and abuses can be punished and corrected. None of this works perfectly, but it works to some extent, and no such restrictions at all apply to other uses of violence, whether by non-democratic states or by terrorist organizations.
Conor Cruise O'Brien in Herod: Reflections on Political Violence, 1978, pp. 77-8

Quoted by Oliver Kamm

Something you might like to know

81, 76, 50, 49, 43, 25

The figures above show the total deaths of American troops in the last 6 months. Myelectionanalysis also has the figures for Iraqi police and military, car bomb attacks and civilian deaths. They are all moving in the same direction.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Negotiation skills

We won't negotiate until they fully back down.
Floréale Mangin of the Union Nationale Lycéenne (UNL), the French high school student union. Article from Spiegel Online here.

Cultural determinism

Amartya Sen, the 1998 Nobel laureate in economics, has an essay in Opinion Journal arguing against cultural determinism, especially with regard to democracy. He opposes the notion that, because a country is not a democracy now, and has a history that lacks the democratic sheen, it cannot be a democracy. I certainly hope he is right. If not, a lot of blood and money will have soaked into Iraqi sands for no good purpose.

He also argues against the allegedly "Western" nature of democracy and its source in Ancient Greece. Redefining democracy by quoting JS Mill's "government by discussion", he claims that this has existed all over the world at different times and that it is therefore absurd for the West to claim any ownership. His examples are Nelson Mandela's childhood memories of meetings in his home town; Ghandi in India;

Saladin, who fought valiantly for Islam in the Crusades in the 12th century, could offer, without any contradiction, an honored place in his Egyptian royal court to Maimonides; the Great Mughal emperor Akbar (who was born a Muslim and died a Muslim) had just finished, in Agra, his large project of legally codifying minority rights, including religious freedom for all; ... the practice of democracy in Susa or Shushan in southwest Iran 2,000 years ago.
[What contradiction should there be between fighting the Crusades and welcoming a Jew?] I will admit immediately that I have never heard of democracy in Susa and Shushan 2,000 years ago. However, I really don't see much of a case here. Apart from the number of cases of democracy in Europe, there is another point. It is the consciousness of what you do, the way you explain it to the world. The importance of the Greeks was their awareness that they were doing something exceptional (they said so - the contrast between West and East comes from them) and the evident fruits, intellectual, economic and military, of what they were doing. That example and their words never died. So with the addition of the Christian notion that all men and women were equal before God, the two Pillars of Democracy were erected. Theory and fact would one day come together, even if slowly.

The 'discussion' is a necessary, though not a sufficient condition for democracy. It has to be theorised and institutionalised. No doubt most cultures have somewhere in their pasts the intellectual tools for this, but bringing them together is another thing. This the West has done. Others haven't. Mandela's South Africa is a western country. India owes its democracy not to Ghandi, but to the British.

Wards of the state

A few quotes from French philosopher, Pascal Bruckner's interview in signandsight. Just to show that someone in France is saying more or less what everyone this side of the water is.

In the wise words of Raymond Aaron: it's easier to instigate a revolution in France than to implement a reform.

The state as a paternalistic protagonist, hated and condemned by its supposedly incapacitated citizens, who at the same time expect the world from it.

Yes, but society is weak and equally nationalised. I'll go even further; even the individual who expects everything from the state and who invests all authority in the state is mentally nationalised. I think that the Left carries a greater responsibility here, because it – unlike the traditional Right – originally demanded emancipation, worker's assistance, education etc. Unfortunately, it didn't (and doesn't) invest enough faith in the energy of the individual, so its pathetic Utopia still consists of making "the masses" into happy, well provided-for wards of the state. Even leaving aside the Stalinist history of the Communist Party which still today has only been faint-heartedly worked-through, the Socialists and even some Greens still underestimate the potential of the individual. Instead of giving people reasons to oppose their fate – to borrow from Camus – and bolstering their sense of solidarity, their powers of resistance are being weakened, and they're being turned into egotistical, atomised dole-takers from a bankrupt state.

[Emphasis in original]

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Threshold to the Kingdom

In Alvin Hall's Secret Collection this afternoon, he interviewed John Conrad, collector of videos. They played one of them, Mark Wallenger's Threshold to the Kingdom. And despite only hearing rather than seeing and hearing, and that through a fog of oohs and ahs from Alvin Hall, it was moving and even momentarily visionary. (The moment was necessarily brief; I was driving.)

The video shows an Arrivals Hall, where you watch the doors flapping open and shut as people stop at Passport Control and come out to greet their families and friends. There is music, Allegri's Miserere, and the opening and closing of the doors is synchronised to it.

What he is trying to do is obvious: ritualise this banal routine and elevate it through the music that seems to control it. Strangely enough, it worked, even on someone driving through the Derbyshire Dales relying on the wonderfully visual medium of radio.

John Conrad said he paid £5,000 for this video. Seems to me there's a weakness in that business model. Rarity and video just don't go together.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Private enterprise is state-owned

From the Religious Policeman.

There are many tales, from reliable sources, of Saudi entrepreneurs building up profitable businesses, only to have minor royals decide that it's a good market to be in, come in, and buy them out at less-than-fair prices. Why do the businessmen accept? It doesn't take much persuasion when the purchaser belongs to a ruling family with total control over the police force and a legal system where you can just "disappear" for long periods of time. It's easier to sell up, start up again, and hope that next time they don't notice you.
This is a footnote to the Policeman's very funny tale of the 'liberalisation' of the Saudi Stock Exchange. Evidently, in China, it's even worse. No one but the government can own media property. Of course, many people effectively do set up and run magazines, newspapers, etc, but at a certain point they'll receive an official visit, which will lead to a 'sharing of resources' on good socialist principles. Read about Cornishman Mark Kitto's experience in China.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Bacterial fuel of life

Perhaps only a scientific illiterate like me would be surprised at this, but one of the many possible methods of creating a replacement for fossil fuels could be the use of bacteria. Bacteria especially created for the purpose of creating fule. This, I learn from an interview in Prospect with Craig Venter, is his next big project. His last, you may recall, was the privately-funded human genome project.

Evidently DuPont are already making a polymer for plastics from a bacteria they have spent 5 years adapting. Venter, who is not amenable to the monastic pace of normal development, is not going to spend his time tinkering with complicated real bacteria. He's going to make his own.

I think that if we can build a cell from scratch with only the very minimum of processes it needs to survive, we won't need to go through this long process of modifying an existing bacterium to shut down all the pathways you don't want. Instead, you can add to this "minimal cell" the pathway you need in order to make a specific product. I have been trying to understand the minimum a cell needs to survive for the past ten years, as part of a basic research project; the fact that it has commercial and social applications is wonderful...we've been finding ways to build genomes artificially. The first time a team built a simple virus genome from scratch, it took three years. Using new techniques we did it in two weeks. The genome of the simplest bacterium is around 60 times bigger so it is much more difficult, but we are moving towards creating the first very simple living organism.
The almost dormant catholic in me has always nursed deep misgivings about a lot of green politics, the strong whiff of pantheism about it travelling via myriad neural pathways to primeval memories of the Earth-Mother and her maws voracious for human blood. This project, however, is quite a different kettle of microscopic crawlies. A beautiful idea, but look how the line between life and non-life grows blurrier by the minute.

Lost man. Lost woman.

Under the rubric "Explore The Sunday Times", there are 10 articles listed. The 5th is "In search of lost manliness", about Harvey Mansfield's book, Manliness. The 8th is "Decline and fall of the caring woman", which links to an edited version of Alison Wolf's essay from this month's Prospect. The connection between the two hardly needs pointing out.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Power, embedded in deep cynicism

A very good article (yes, another one) from Victor Davis Hanson on eight assumptions made by both "original critics and the mea culpa recent converts". As always, he is able to provide the historical perspective without which we become like squabbling children. Among much else:

Had the British and Americans quit in 1943 — after Pearl Harbor, the fall of Singapore and the Philippines, the Kasserine Pass, Tobruk, and other assorted disasters — then the carnage of 1939 to 1943 would have properly been seen as a tragedy that led not to emergence of a free Europe and a reborn Japan, but as needless sacrifice against the unstoppable juggernaut of Asian and German fascism.
He ends with this question.
Can Western enlightenment and power, embedded in deep cynicism, still prevail over ignorance and self-inflicted pathology energized by fanaticism?


From the founder of the Political Correctness Corrective Party.

“I do think we should have controls on immigration. I can say these things because I am dark-skinned but, if a white person says them, they are accused of being racist. We need to have a civilised political debate. You can’t go around waving placards and threatening to behead someone just because you disagree with them.”
Johannes Shanmugam, a Sri Lankan who came here, via Sweden, as a refugee, is the head and entire membership of the PCCP. So far. He is the owner of a sandwich shop. Good luck to him.

(via Harry's Place)