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Reflections of a stormy petrel
 
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Fabio Paolo Barbieri's LiveJournal:

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Sunday, July 12th, 2015
3:19 pm
"Love and marriage"
This essay is going to start on a very different subject from where it is going to end.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And across this wonder and this mystery, a union takes place that is more than mere friendship, more than mere feeling, more even than love. A man and a woman form a grouping that is wholly sui generis, that is not to be explained in any terms but its own. It is not friendship, even the deepest and closest and most wonderful friendship; although, if the spouses are good and decent people, it will develop among other things into an enduring friendship where the one understands the other instinctively, appreciates their views, and supports their actions. It is not love, although love is one of its highest and most admired achievements; but two people may be validly married, and even get along quite nicely thank you, without every having had a tremendous attraction to each other. It is not even only fertility, because father and mother may well, it is hoped, look to the children, but they also look to each other. It is marriage; period, end of story. And it is between a man and a woman.
2:47 pm
"Love and marriage"
This essay is going to start on a very different subject from where it is going to end.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And across this wonder and this mystery, a union takes place that is more than mere friendship, more than mere feeling, more even than love. A man and a woman form a grouping that is wholly sui generis, that is not to be explained in any terms but its own. It is not friendship, even the deepest and closest and most wonderful friendship; although, if the spouses are good and decent people, it will develop among other things into an enduring friendship where the one understands the other instinctively, appreciates their views, and supports their actions. It is not love, although love is one of its highest and most admired achievements; but two people may be validly married, and even get along quite nicely thank you, without every having had a tremendous attraction to each other. It is not even only fertility, because father and mother may well, it is hoped, look to the children, but they also look to each other. It is marriage; period, end of story. And it is between a man and a woman.
Saturday, June 27th, 2015
5:27 am
JUST SAY ANYTHING, IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT
Part of the intellectually despicable nature of the campaign for "gay marriage" is its mere looseness. They make statements that a child would find absurd, and expect them to mean something. That is, of course, the inevitable and immediate result of the underlying doctrine - stated by the US Supreme Court in the notorious Texas vs.Griswold sentence and restated in yesterday's infamous "marriage equality" one - that "freedom" means freedom to define one's identity. That is nonsense in itself, and it is the open door to utter intellectual collapse. If you can define yourself as you wish, there is no limit to what you can say or wish or think, and demand respect for. But it is also nothing to do with freedom properly so called; it is the restatement, in terms of identity, of the ancient tyrant's motto, SIC UOLO, SIC IUBEO - That's what I want, and that's what I order. What I want to be, I am, whether or not I was made such.

God can speak such words, human beings cannot. Nothing can be so only because you want it so. It is, for one thing, another manifestation of the ancient nature of sin - to want to be like God by sheer desire: you, said the snake, shall be like God. Is there a more God-like claim than to be able to alter the nature of reality by fiat? That is what you are claiming when you are claiming to be able to change your identity. And as it is an act of assumed God-like state, so it is an act of tyranny. It cannot stand so long as there is the little child in the crowd to cry that the Emperor has no clothes. So the child must be beaten, tortured, hunted, until it is made to state in public that the Emperor was never more imperially well dressed. That is the reason why the rainbow monsters assault and persecute pathetic little florists and bakers; the mere fact of saying that in their own individual view "gay marriage" is not marriage is an outrage against the claim that I am like God and can make myself to be what I wish. In order to be what I wish, everyone around me must see what I see. Just as the subjects to the most hideous tyranny in history had to assert, each and every one of them, that they were living in the society of metaphysical freedom and in the paradise of workers: people must see what they are told to see, or else the outrage against the delusion is too great.

As I said, intellectual looseness is part of the package. Once you can decide what you are, there is no more need to be rigorous in your approach to reality, to treat matters with respect, or to try and understand them on their own terms. So people just say the most ridiculous enormities and expect them to be respected, as part and package of the demand that their self-made new identity should be respected. One such statement - universally repeated by rainbow morons - is that Jesus said nothing to condemn homosexuality or "gay marriage." That is wrong, in the first instance, because it is nonsense. There are a lot of sins and crimes that Jesus did not condemn by name: if silence from the Lord were enough to excuse a form of behaviour, we would have to tolerate (and indeed to celebrate - is that not the demand?) paedophilia, rape, cannibalism, embezzlement, treason, or torture. Not that I doubt that we shall be called to celebrate a few of these virtues sooner or later.

The point however is that the statement is false. Jesus' teaching on marriage is clear, clearly stated, and very, very hard. To quote Matthew 19 (which, in spite of one textual problem, states the doctrine clearly:

3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made[a] them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’
5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?
6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”
8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.
9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality,[d] and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

The textual problem with this passage are the words "except for sexual immorality", which appear in no other statement of the doctrine. They are fairly clearly a qualification put in by someone who could not bear the severity of the doctrine. Elsewhere, in Mark, in Luke, in the restatement of the doctrine by St.Paul, nothing like that appears. But "except for" these three words, this teaching is repeated at least four times in different forms in various parts of the New Testament. There is no teaching of Jesus that is better attested. Of course you don't like it, but only a moron could pretend that it means anything other than that marriage is between a man and a woman, that it is of divine origin, that breaking it up is an evil, and that nothing else deserves the name.
Friday, June 19th, 2015
7:56 am
My view of the Charleston butchery
The photo of the killer says a lot to me. I think instinctively in terms of history. And this young man practically threw his view of history in people's faces, wearing the flags of the old racist South Africa and of Ian Smith's Rhodesia across his chest like heraldic badges.

Of course, those old governments would never have welcomed or tolerated this kind of spree violence. Whatever their own way of keeping the kaffirs in order, anyone who indulged the kind of fun this fellow did would be arrested and condemned, probably to life without parole.

But then, this young man knew nothing about them from his own experience. To us older people, white South AFrica was yesterday; but in fact, white rule ended in 1994, and nobody in his twenties or younger can remember it even in its last, compromising, deal-seeking days. Rhodesia ended in 1980. Those flags have the same relevance to daily reality as a Confederate stars and bars.

And what tells us about this man is that he lived in an evil romantic fantasy of his own, raiding an imagined past for symbols to clothe his hatred and his sense of alienness. He cultivated his hatred of the present, of reality, by making up his own version of a glorious fallen past, much like the various cultists - from the remains of the KKK in America to our own Italian lunatics, not just neo-Fascists and neo-Communists, but even neo-Bourbons and neo-Habsburgs. There apparently is no age so miserable, so oppressive, so impoverished, that some alienated gaggle of fantasists cannot use it as as the imagined golden age.

His area of obsession is more recent than that of most such cultists. He was looking at a short period, a few decades at most - South Africa broke away from the Commonwealth in 1960, Rhodesia in 1966; and the whole drama was over by 1994. Even his choice of target is redolent of the period: black churches were not particularly the target of KKK-related violence until the sixties, when the prominence of black clergymen in the civil rights movement brought them to the attention of racist murderers. At least, this is my impression after reading two accounts of KKK activities, one from the twenties, the other from the sixties.

Again, the young monster built a fantasy version of his heroes' activities. The KKK, like other terrorists of their time, weren't suicides (that came later); they did not go rampaging gun in hand across churches, looking for personal notoriety. They preferred the shadows, safer as well as more impressive, and just placed anonymous bombs and fire-bombs.

The Zinn Centre people and their likes may find it pleasant to speak of a tradition of attack on black churches, but that is plainly wrong. There have been no attacks on churches in decades; and the characteristics of this one have nothing to do with what the KKK used to do. This is a rampage killing like those at Columbine or Virginia Tech - a modern kind of crime; only, it has chosen a black church rather than an educational institution for its target.

Such attacks are always carried out by loners or tiny groups of friends. I have spoken of movements of disaffected cultists such as our Italian worshippers of Bourbon and Habsburg glories; but there actually is some safety in numbers. These groups tend to exercise a certain group control over the lusts and fantasies of individual members. They may parade in ugly uniforms or issue delirious magazines, but they don't generally go looking for trouble by themselves. The time is not yet, they would say. The same emchanism that brings people together to nurse each other's fantasies and resentments keeps them together, talking and playacting. Sometimes these groups do erupt into violence, like various Communist and Fascist groups did in the late sixties and early seventies; but that is if they come to feel that, for some reason, an opportunity has come, a often thanks to outside support - Soviet behind-the-scenes support of seventies terrorism has not been proven in a court of law, but it is, in my view, certain.

Individuals, on the other hand, are uncontrolled. Individuals don't have to consider the view of the movement, don't have to think of their fellow group members. Indiiduals have nobody to discourage them.
Sunday, May 24th, 2015
10:23 pm
Some good news
Thank God, I have discovered in my computer files a copy of the essay on Homer that I thought I'd lost last year after working on it for two solid years. It will be tough to round it off and complete it, but it is one of the best things I have ever done and I want to see if I can get it published for a change.
Saturday, May 23rd, 2015
11:00 pm
I thought of this poem when I heard of the fall of Palmyra and the news from Ireland
THE SPARROW'S SKULL

Memento Mori, Written at the Fall of France.

The kingdoms fall in sequence, like the waves on the shore.
All save divine and desperate hopes go down, they are no more.
Solitary is our place, the castle in the sea,
And I muse on those I have loved, and on those who have loved me.

I gather up my loves, and keep them all warm,
While above our heads blows the bitter storm:
The blessed natural loves, of life-supporting flame,
And those whose name is Wonder, which have no other name.

The skull is in my hand, the minute cup of bone,
And I remember her, the tame, the loving one,
Who came in at the window, and seemed to have a mind
More towards sorrowful man than to those of her own kind.

She came for a long time, but at length she grew old;
And on her death-day she came, so feeble and so bold;
And all day, as if knowing what the day would bring,
She waited by the window, with her head beneath her wing.

And I will keep the skull, for in the hollow here
Lodged the minute brain that had outgrown a fear;
Transcended an old terror, and found a new love,
And entered a strange life, a world it was not of.

Even so, dread God! even so my Lord!
The fire is at my feet, and at my breast the sword:
And I must gather up my soul, and clap my wings, and flee
Into the heart of terror, to find myself in thee.

Ruth Pitter (1897–1992)

Current Mood: angry and defiant
Monday, January 19th, 2015
6:51 pm
a sketch about prophets
[NOTE: I wrote this as a comment on Frederick Douglass' great speech of 1865 opposing the idea that the work of anti-slavery was done, merely because slavery had been formally abolished. I am saving it here because I envisage expanding it as part of future writing, and because I think it's not a abad bit of work in itself..]

Ever since Jeremiah asked the Lord why he had singled him out for the dubious honour of being the one clear-sighted man in a Jerusalem raging with self-delusion, and ever since Aeschylus broke the hearts of his spectators and pulled them to their feet applauding with the show-stopping prophecy and death of Cassandra, there has never been a shortage for the role of tragic, unheeded prophet. There are very few catastrophes in history that have not had their far-sighted and articulate forecasters. Perhaps the French Revolution owes its strange glow and almost obsessional attraction in history to being one. One day, the French monarchy, in spite of financial difficulties and - of all things - of a resurgent and increasingly obstreperous nobility, was the most huge, the most admired, the most imitated institution in Europe. The next, it was gone like a dream, and Europe's greatest power was being managed by an unknown lawyer from Arras or by a pamphleteering abbe' (Syeyes) and a Corsican artillery officer. But Charles Sarolea predicted not only the coming of the Great War, but even the German strategy and the invasion of Belgium, from the shape of the German military railways; and when that war was (as men deluded themselves) over, at the price of untold millions of people , there was a positive chorus of inspired voices trying to rouse the exhausted Allies from the sleep of dreams into which they were drifting day by day. Charles Spargo,Emma Goldman, even Bertrand Russell, gave exact and terrible accounts of what Lenin's government was and what it was likely to do. The Austrian journalist Heinrich Kanner warned the world that the avalanche of memoirs and historical writings from leading German politicians that had filled the libraries since early 1919 were a pack of lies, and that the war had been decided by Franz Joseph and his circle, with total support from Berlin,at least since 1912. (His pamphlet never seems to have been translated from German - what a surprise, eh?) Leopold Schwarzschild and Edgar Mowrer, among many others, dinned into deaf western ears that, far from representing a real democratic revolution, the Weimar republic had been set up by the ruling classes of imperial Germany purely for the purpose of avoiding a destructive peace settlement - and that they did, and were now planning the next war - or rather, carrying out the last by other means, in a kind of reverse Clausewitz. Tardieu, Foch, even the great Clemenceau himself, could not get it through English and American ears that, without Anglo-Saxon support in place, the whole French territory could be "overrun in a few weeks" (I am quoting.from an aide-memoire submitted to the Versailles Conference in 1919).

Certainly the great Douglass belongs with this chorus of unheeded prophet. The only thing this speech lacks is the three words Ku, Kl;ux, Klan. In fact, the only thing it does not seem to have foreseen - although it was already a "peculiar southern institution" since before the war - is the regular use of irregular mob violence (lynching) to short-circuit the wheels of politics, which, although they would do everything that Douglass had forecast, moved too slowly for the unbroken race obsession.

Current Mood: thoughtful
Sunday, January 18th, 2015
12:28 pm
importing war
For decades now we have been importing war. The massive immigration of Muslims into western countries – began with the aftermath of the Algerian war in France and with the opening of West Germany to hundreds of thousands of Turkish gastarbeiter, “guest-workers” whose grandchildren are there still – has inevitably brought to the West the native pathologies of Muslim societies, that is, the tendency to assert themselves by violence and the disregard of any law that is not Sharia – or rather, their interpretation of Sharia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And let us not delude ourselves that the mere repression of the Islamic State – which would be well into the power of European countries even without American support, if only they wanted to – will be enough. This war moves like a mole to any of a dozen possible frontlines, and once the European extremists have learned how to reach them, they will reach them. Sooner or later, our troops will be back in Afghanistan – possibly in the company of Chinese divisions – as well as in Nigeria, in Central Africa, in Somalia. This is the logic of events.
Saturday, January 17th, 2015
1:36 pm
RACE - IN INVERTED COMMAS
Race does not exist. It is either a visual delusion or an excuse for group prejudice, or both.

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Thursday, January 1st, 2015
4:53 pm
A NOTE ON GOODNESS
The word "good", as an adjective, does not imply any degree of moral value at all, and it is a gross mistake to discuss it as though it did. To be a good seducer, for instance, does not in the least prove that there is anything good about seduction. Good, and all its linguistic equivalents I know, simply mean the noun it qualifies is prominent in the action it describes - not just a seducer, but a good seducer; not just a butcher, but a good butcher. It is true that there is a certain amount of linguistic contamination; if a character is described as a good thief or - in Doris Lessing's ironic title - as a good terrorist, this tends to mean, more or less ironically, that their various crimes are justified by some greater good. But this does not deny that, in general, "good" as an adjective means "proficient".
Nonetheless the connection between "good" and morality is more than casual; the moral meaning is always felt to be pre-eminent among possible meanings of the word, and when the adjective is turned into a noun - the good, goodness, good [against evil] - its meaning is exclusively moral.
The reason for this is that, as the adjective "good" means proficient in any activity, when it is referred to human activity in general, human activity as a whole, rather than specialized fields, representing the best kind of human activity - then it is necessarily moral. And this agrees with something else that until modern times, nobody would have dreamed of challenging: that morality - or ethics - is the best description of human behaviour. Both the words morals (from Latin mores) and ethics (from Greek ethos) mean nothing else than the study of behaviour. Therefore when the word "good" is lifted from its role of describing particular kinds of excellencies in action, to describing excellency as such, then it must describe a moral excellency. There is no such thing as an immoral eminence.

Current Mood: thoughtful
Thursday, December 25th, 2014
7:40 pm
"...'The Bizarros' sing 'Ugliness Am Beauty'.." (Alan Moore, TOP TEN)
The name Tyson certainly does seem ill-omened. While I keep my doubts about Michael's conviction for rape - a woman of eighteen accepts an invitation to the private quarters of a well-known boxer at one in the morning and maybe expects to be playing checkers? - nobody can deny his remaining record as a thug on and off the ring. And it seems that another character with a similar name has taken a similar attitude to public polemic. This very public fool imagines, following the older idiot Richard Dawkins that bad manners and a bad attitude are winning tactics. Well, I hope that the previous sentence has shown that neither of them is an exclusive licensee in such things, and, what is more, that such things prove little. Believe me, I could insult Tyson and Dawkins imaginatively enough to make many of you snigger, and ferociously enough to make it hard tor either of them to answer in kind. Where invective is concerned, I am the thousand-pound gorilla. Then what? I may prove that I can insult them more imaginatively than they can insult me; but where does that get anyone?

Now, if you want evidence of anything, try and do something that enlarges and enriches human life. Can you? And if you can, where is the evidence? Before you open your mouths, prove yourself able to write a Missa Sollemnis, or even a Stille Nacht. The truth is that the superiority of Christianity in the field of aesthetic and cultural experience is so immense that the ugliness of Tyson's and Dawkins' aggression comes to feel, not so much like an individual defect, as like an innate necessity of their position; as if atheism were doomed to be the Unlovely Party. The sheer disconnect between any piece of atheistic prose (excluding Nietzsche, who was a case apart) and the simple experience - not even of Chartres Cathedral, or of the Divine Comedy, or of Bach's Mass in B - but of an ordinary gang of carolers singing "O Little Town of Bethlehem" is so colossal as to make it certain that, as long as any men retain an instinct for beauty, Christianity will prevail.

Understand, I do not in the least concede to Dawkins or Tyson in any other field. When I call them fools and idiots, I mean exactly what I say; I mean that their teaching is stupid as well as rude, their doctrines brainless as well as well brutish. I am willing to assert the superiority of Catholic Christianity as a philosophy and at the highest levels of thought, in any field. But as the Apostle said, we live among a cloud of witnesses: and the first, strongest, most immediate, and one of the most abiding, is the sheer beauty that we Christians have created.
Sunday, December 14th, 2014
6:44 pm
Beethoven's "Song of Sacrifice", a little-known masterpiece
This short (eight minutes) but stupendous song for solo soprano, chorus and wind instruments was composed around the time of the Ninth, the Solemn Mass and the Diabelli Variations, and frankly, even in their mighty company it does not look bad. I think it is Beethoven's own view of what his life really amounted to: a sacrifice - and God knows his life involved loss and enduring - to God for the sake of having "the beauty of what is good", beauty IN SO FAR AS it is the manifestation of goodness. It is also an unmatched manifesto for art as a moral as well as aesthetic endeavour; and, finally, it is beautiful enough to break your heart. My translation of the verses - meant, hopefully, to be singable to Beethoven's music:

Song of Sacrifice

As burns the flame, so a gentle light
Shines through the oakwood in dark night
And incense rises;
O kindly bend thine ear to me;
This sacrifice of youth to Thee
O Highest, do receive!
Be Thou for ever Freedom's sword and shield;
Thy living spirit do breathe through me mild -
Air, Earth, Fire and Flood!
Grant me, as young man and as old,
From thy hearth, Father, burning gold,
The beauty of what is good!

Sunday, November 30th, 2014
10:18 am
What if - ? The Tsar and the mad scientist
(NOTE: this is a fanfic on Diane Castle's Terawatt universe, which includes a great many characters from different fictional worlds. Maggie Walsh is indeed - originally - the mad doctor from Buffy, although Diane has made her an even better and more scary/fascinating villainess. The Tsar, alas, is not fictional at all.)

Her eyes blinked and opened, and she was aware that she was alive. Then the memories began to come back to her, swiftly, one by one. And -

Good morning, Doctor Walsh,” said a somehow familiar voice with a strong Russian accent. “I am glad to see that our experimental treatment seems to have worked. Our experts were fairly sure, but of course no treatment is ever sure until it has been tested, and what with your very rare physiology, we had never had any opportunity to test it before.”

“Treatment? I should have bled to death!”

“You did indeed, Doctor. But perhaps you have never stopped to think that the chemical barriers that you have placed in your body against certain illnesses and to delay symptoms of aging, also tended to slow down the degeneration of the brain and other organs even when blood supply is permanently interrupted. In a normal human, brain damage begins within a few minutes of anoxia. In you, we calculated it would take about three hours before that priceless brain was rendered inoperative.”

And now she recognized him. “You are...”

“Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, President of the Russian Federation, madam.” (She noticed that he did not say: at your service.)

“Please do not move. Stay where you are. I do not know what you can and cannot do exactly, but I do know from several sources that people tend to die around you, and I want to have my talk with you in a peaceful and reasonable atmosphere.” The metal of several rifles glittered behind him.

“You have an interesting definition of reasonable, Tsar Vladimir Vladimirovich,” she answered.

“I do not intend to do anything to you, Doctor. You are an asset I wish not to lose. But neither do I intend to have you in a position where you can threaten us.

“We have had our eye on you for a long time, Doctor. Since the days of the old Soviet Union, in fact. We have had ample opportunity to assess your motives and your behaviour. And based on numerous pieces of direct and indirect evidence, our profilers agree that you may be defined as a psychopath who has no problem with killing people any time it suits her, and indeed may take a malicious pleasure in it. Your affectivity seems restricted to the things you yourself create, or that are biologically very close to you. I can claim neither of these privileges, and therefore I will be on my guard against any personal initiative from you.”

After a few seconds, Walsh asked: “What do you want with me, then?”

“Anything you can do, Doctor. Our assessments tell us that you are focused on research with what one person has called 'Terawatt-like' intensity.” He grinned as Walsh looked, for an instant, as if she had bitten into a lemon. “We will deal with your injuries. You will be given the facilities and materials you need. Also the collaborators. We have been training geneticists to a very high level, and we have chosen some twenty among them who are held to be good enough to work with you, to assess and above all to understand what you are doing, and who have studied your past research with care. We understand you would want to be leader in your own lab, and there are no dominant personalities among these twenty. Leader personalities who emerged in the process of education and selection were assigned their own projects, and you may meet some of them in time. You will find your twenty assistants excellent collaborators. Nonetheless, a word of warning: we expect them to be loyal, not to you, but to Russia. Any unexplained deaths or sudden changes in health or in attitude and behaviour among them will trigger immediate investigations and put you in danger. Care for their welfare – mental and physical – as you would your own. And the same, of course, goes for any other person in the service of the Russian Federation.

“In general, what we hope to have from you, Doctor, is ideas that help with the grave crisis that has gripped our nation. Our place in the world ought to be one of leadership, but in fact we are barely holding ourselves together. We don't expect you to solve our problems for us – if I may say so, your past record suggests that you have little understanding of the complexities of leading and governing men – but we hope you may make a positive contribution.”

“Any restrictions? Twenty assistants, you know, is an awful lot.”

“Restrictions... I would have no particular problem with getting you human subjects for research, but we have to keep into consideration that sooner or later your presence here may become known, and that many countries have a quite ridiculously squeamish attitude to life – especially if it's someone else who is manipulating it. So no human subjects if you can avoid it. And as for the number of assistants, our profilers doubt that you have ever really been stretched to your full potential. Lack of resources always got in the way sooner or later, even in the Collective. We want to stretch you as far as you can go. I think that you are quite capable of running efficiently several areas of research at once, each financed to succeed. Don't be misled by what I said about our situation relative to other countries; 'Gondor may be fading, but even the ends of her strength are still very strong.' You have the resources of a real empire at your disposal, so long as you make constructive use of them. You will be working to your full potential, and that alone would be a reason for you to join with us.”

“It would indeed...” said Walsh thoughtfully.

“And there is one more thing I can offer you. You may wonder how we come to have such an interest in you and your work...” - Putin stopped, for her blank look showed that she had never asked herself that question at all, and may not have thought it of any importance. That would be typical of her narrow focus and psychopathic lack of interest in others, thought the dictator. “Well, I was one of the senior operatives in Berlin when we found out about Marissa Weigler and Project Galinka. Unfortunately, we could not keep her from finding out she was compromised, and she panicked, killing people right and left. But we had found out enough to appreciate your goals – if not to be able to replicate them – and we managed to save a couple of your subjects. Weigler did not kill everyone she thought she had.

“Captain Richter, Captain Metzgerova – step forward, please.”

She recognized them by instinct, by feeling, even in the half-second before she remembered the names – Friederike Richter and Eva-Anne Metzger, two of her successful implants, two of that damned woman Weigler's victims. And these, these were... Ridiculously young for their FSB Captain's uniforms. Boy and girl. Moving like panthers, graceful and strong and dangerous. Tall and fair-haired and incredibly handsome, with her own sculptured cheekbones and grey eyes. Her eyes could not look away. She felt that strange emotion pouring out of her like a flood of blood and fire, that emotion she had never felt except in the presence of her daughter. And she thought, what she had not allowed herself to think, to feel, for sixteen years - what Weigler had stolen from her - and she felt anger - and grief – and loss, and despair - and overwhelming, overwhelming love. She could not control her eyes, she could not take them away from the two tall young people, and there were tears in them.

And the ruler of Russia looked calmly at her and knew that he had won.
Friday, November 14th, 2014
1:18 pm
John Bunyan was born in 1628, probably in the November of that year, since his baptism followed in that month. His birthplace was the village of Elsow, just outside Bedford. His family was a good example of a thing of which there are many examples, and of which there cannot be too many-- a sort of plebian aristocracy, plain and insignificant in name and handicraft, but rooted in the land like a royal dukedom. The notion that Bunyan's origin lies amid vagrant tinkers is an error; it lies amid highly respectable tinkers, whose presence can be traced for generations and who had left such evidences as a whole farm which had always been called "Bonyon's End." Bunyan's grandfather, Thomas Bunyan, was a small tradesman or "chapman" who died in 1641; of his father less is known, beyond the fact that he had three wives, of whom the second was the mother of John Bunyan, and the third was to all appearance his worst enemy.

He has left on record himself that his youth was riotous, but to judge by the specimens which he gives it would have seemed to boast only a very mild and clumsy sort of rioting. In all human probability he was really only a course and awkward boy, sometimes dropping in among dubious companions, far more often drifting off sulkily by himself. He served in early life in the army, no uncommon episode in the careers of that kind of sullen wastrel. Some dispute has arisen, not indeed about the actuality of his military service, but about the side on which he served in the Civil War. General internal evidence, however, as well as enormous moral probability, allot him to the Parliamentarian camp.

In the year of the Restoration he was arrested for having preached to unlawful assemblies, and was imprisoned in Bedford Gaol for twelve years. In this sudden isolation, shut out from effective acting or speaking, it occurred to him systematically to write, and he opened the first window on the dark and amazing drama which had been going on within his seemingly dull personality while he ran about the fields to be away from his stepmother or leaned on his pike by the watch fires of the great war.

He wrote "Grace abounding to the Worst of Sinners" perhaps the most powerful work ever wrought by genius with the materials of morbidity. Certainly no Parisian decadent, no Swinburnian poet, no Beardsleyian artist so completely contrived to give disease the vigor of health. It is the masterpiece of an element which has a right to have a masterpiece, since it is a living and recurring element-- the element of the dark and hysterical soul of early youth. It is the epic of the pessimism of boyhood.

During the same period he wrote a less-known work called "The Holy City." He was released in 1672, but as he refused to abandon his preaching, which was now powerful and popular, he was flung back again into prison in 1675. It was during this second detention that he wrote the work which has set him finally among the English immortals, "The Pilgrim's Progress." Many controversies have raged as to whether he owed the allegorical type of narrative to anything before him, but all the allegories mentioned in this connection are almost as unlike "The Pilgrim's Progress" as they are unlike "Vanity Fair." The Elstow tinker produced an original thing, if an original thing was ever produced. Nothing stronger can be said of it than that it dwarfs altogether into insignificance "Grace Abounding" published before it, and "The Holy War," published afterwards. Bunyan, released from prison, died quietly in 1688.

Nobody will ever plumb the real depths and meaning of that extraordinary thing, the English Puritan movement. Why the English, whose nature it is to be particularly happy and particularly muddle-headed, should have been the one people in Europe to be influenced in so startling a manner by the bitterness and the logic of Calvin, must remain a riddle. It must remain a riddle for two reasons. First, that it was a religious thing and therefore unfathomable; and second, that it was a successful thing, and therefore we are all its heirs; we are looking at it through our Puritan spectacles, and talking about it through our Puritan noses. But whatever else the Puritan revolution was, there is one thing that it was not, and that is what a vast mass of opinion constantly represents that it was. It was not a step towards greater rationalism, or what we choose to call progress, it was not an advance in inquiry; and it was not, in the ordinary sense, an advance in civilization. To put the matter shortly, it was emphatically not a continuation of the Renaissance. If anything, it was a reaction against the Renaissance. It was essentially a barbaric thing, an outburst of the fierce, mysterious part of man. It had far less in common with modern nonconformist decorum. It had far more in common with some primitive religion, beating gongs and bellowing at an eclipse of the moon. It was the voice of that veiled thing within us which is so secret and intractable that men have never really known whether it is the beast, mystically enthroned, or the God sitting in the underworld. The word "savage" used here may, perhaps be misunderstood as indicating an animadversion against Puritainism; I use the word as a compliment. For I think the probability of the matter was really this, that Puritanism was a blind and heroic protest against a world that was growing more and more rational. At least we see that after the fall of Puritanism, when Cromwell's "righteous Commonwealth" had come crashing to the ground, we suddenly find ourselves in a world of dapper commonsense, a world perfectly unbelieving, perfectly modern. It may be that Bunyan was the last cry of English mysticism under the foot of Hobbes. Religion was indeed preached by the Cavaliers, both before and after the great war: before it, as a very noble scheme of national civilization; after it, as a very ingenious cog-wheel in the political constitution. Between the two rises Puritanism, a naked and roaring giant, announcing that religion is a wheel in no policy, a part of no civilization; a thing as old as fear, and a rapacious of love; that religion is what it really is, a terror, a splendor, a necessity, and a nuisance.

This impression is, at any rate, borne out by a strange literary phenomenon, which everyone must have noticed in connection with the literature of Puritanism. It can also be noticed in connection with the literature of the French Revolution, and of almost all other such religious wars. If we read the high-class literature just preceding or standing apart from the Puritan movement, we are startled to find it seem so much more recent and like ourselves than the literature of Puritanism. Puritanism seems thousands of years old, something that happened in the Stone Age, with its strange cries, its strange visions, its strange tears, its strange happiness. It has in its record a set of things indescribably big and primitive-- the slaying of a king, a sacred book, disgusting massacres, and an immortal epic. Go back a few years before it, and you pick up George Herbert or Herrick, and you will find yourself reading a perfectly modern and sensible sort of gentleman. This produces a peculiar impression on the mind. It is as if we were told that Herbert Spencer lived before Judas Maccabeus. The same singular effect can, as I have said, be noticed about the French Revolution. Danton and Marat are distant and gigantic figures in the dawn of the earth, and one sometimes finds it difficult to remember that they wore any clothes. When we remember that they lived a considerable time after the publication of "The Rivals" and about the time of the invention of the top hat, we feel our head turning topsy-turvy.

These great new outbursts of the elemental in man become suddenly centuries old. And this must, I think, be the real description of English Puritanism; that the soul of an ancient people which had once been profoundly religious, whose country had been called the Garden of Mary, and the Island of the Saints, felt by that sixth sense, that only the simple possess, the earth vibrating under the advancing elephant of Reason. Blinded by dense ignorance, bewildered in an anarchic age, furiously suspicious of philosophers and colleges and kings, it snatched up the first wild piece of new theology that lay to its hand and made war for religion, for the everlasting savage and the everlasting child. It had no culture, no guidance, no tradition, no dignity, no manners. The Puritans struck people of taste in their time simply as a sort of black goblins with big ears. But against every obstruction of misery and vulgarity, a way was broken by the divine energy of its hatred of the wisdom of the world. Before the Puritans were swept off the scene for ever, they had done two extraordinary things. They had broken to pieces in plain battle on an English meadow the chivalry of a great nation, bred from its youth to arms. And they brought forth from their agony a small book, called "The Pilgrim's Progress," which was greater literature than the whole contemporary culture of the great Renaissance, founded on three generation of the worship of learning and art.

The "Pilgrim's Progress" certainly exhibits all the marks of such a revival of primitive power and mystery. Its resemblance to the Bible is not a mere imitation of style; it is also a coincidence of mood. Bunyan, who was a soldier in Cromwell's army, had himself been thrown into a world almost as ferocious as that of Gideon, or the Maccabees, and he was really under the influence of the same kind of emotion. This was simply because, as I have said, Puritanism was a thing barbaric, and therefore eternal. Nowhere, perhaps, except in Homer, is there such a perfect description conveyed by the use of merely plain words. The description in Bunyan of how Moses came like a wind up the road, and was but a word and a blow; or how Apollyon straddled quite over the breadth of the way and swore by his infernal den-- these are things which can only be paralleled in sudden and splendid phrases out of Homer or the Bible, such as the phrases about the monstrous and man-killing hands of Achilles, or the war-horse who laughs at the shaking of the spear.

There is another aspect of Bunyan and the Puritan movement which cannot be neglected, because it throws so great a light on the particular work of Bunyan. To a very considerable extent it is possible to identify even the most important theological and philosophical movement merely with frames of mind. The peculiar frame of mind of Puritanism was a sense of the deadly danger of existence. The whole tendency of England and of the greater part of Europe during the sixteenth century was towards the settlement of everything; toward a pleasant piety, a satisfying learning, well-ordered politics, an authentic philosophy, and so on. It was characteristic of an age in which, for the first time, comfortable private houses began to be built. Just as comfortable houses were built, so were comfortable constitutions built, and comfortable churches built. But no one to whom the name of Bunyan is anything more than a name can ever forget the impression of that awful chapter in "Grace Abounding," in which the sinner takes refuge in place after place only to expect that roof after roof will crash down upon him, and that he is safe nowhere if the very Universe that he inherits belongs to one who is his enemy. Nor will anyone forget the chapter in which the sinner is reconciled to the Universe, and walks about the fields and cannot forbear from talking to the birds about the great mercy of God. It is this general an acute sense of danger that is the soul of Puritanism, and the soul of the "Pilgrim's Progress."

There are an innumerable company of good and picturesque figures in the "Pilgrim's Progress." There is the dark man clad in bright vesture (that admirable person), there is Mr. Worldly-wiseman, whose conversation is indistinguishable from that of a modern philanthropist. There is Apollyon, whose eloquence is like the noblest eloquence of the seventeenth century. There is the Giant Despair, who needs no introduction in the modern enlightened world. But no figure in the whole story quite seizes on the imagination, at once pictorial and spiritual, like the figure with which the whole graphic parable begins. The wild figure of the Pilgrim himself with the burden on his back, and his fingers in his ears, running like mad out of the clamorous and scornful and derisive city, which is called the City of Destruction--this certainly is the embodiment of the actual literary energy of Bunyan.

There may be some--I do not know if there are--who will be so much alienated by the seventeenth century apparatus of the great story, so much out of sympathy with endless arguments about the Atonement, so unresponsive to the significance of the Scriptural names and titles, so weary of old texts, so scornful of old doctrines, that they will fancy that this ancient Puritan poetry of danger is interesting only from a literary and not at all from a philosophical or religious point of view. For such people there is, I suppose, still waiting untried that inevitable mood of which a man may stand amid a fields of flowers in the quiet sunlight and realize that of all conceivable things the most dangerous thing is to be alive.
Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
6:24 am
DC comics, self-hatred, and the drive to death
I have a suspicion that when a business becomes invincible, when its market position makes it so unchallenged that its leaders are more in the position of hereditary barons than of anyone who has to work to live - even at a very high level - sooner or later a sort of greed for destruction sets in, and they start making decisions that can only be interpreted as weariness of life - as suicide - at least as corporate leaders. So Ford make the Edsel, and Pan Am make a half-dozen decisions that cancel it from the face of the Earth, and Microsoft make Vista.
I think this incredible free comics day from DC belongs to the same area of unconscious greed for self-destruction. I will certainly not take a single one of their 52 free comics; at zero dollars each, they cost at least $520,000.00 more than I think they are worth. In other words, you would have to pay me at least $10,000 to read a single one of the 52. In the words of someone who has gone through the degrading experience, "the whole [story] is a bloodbath in which all the DC heroes are hacked apart and assimilated by some Borg-like Big Bad who's taken over the world. Bruce Wayne, mortally wounded after having his arm graphically chopped off, sends his protege back in time to fix it." And the poor sod in question never even demanded his £10,000 per free comic in advance. What, seriously, does this express, except a weariness and hatred and desire to violate the characters to whom these corporate stooges own their position and their wages? Is this not an infantile fantasy of revenge against things you can no longer bear to see daily? Does it not feel as though DiDio and his helotry feel the very fantasy entity that makes DC as a suffocating, hateful construct that they, consciously or unconsciously, would like to destroy and pervert? How else can it be explained?
But if that is what is actually going on,then their plight is even more miserable than it sounds. They cannot even destroy their company, even with business decisions compared with which the Edsel was a model of fresh, economical, functional, quality engineering. They certainly seem to intend to salt the fields: "Free Comic Book Day" is supposed to attract new readers - and those new readers are treated to a story that Freddy Kruger would think over the top (Wonder Woman's head on a spike...). There goes the reputation of superheroes, to a generation that at any rate looks at games, TV shows and anime first (compare the number of Buffy or Sailor Moon fanfics on the net with the number of Superman or Avengers ones). The supremacy of comics in the lives of kids, that scared Dr.Wertham so much seventy years ago, is now not even a memory; and from now on thousands more kids will regard superhero comics as boring, depressing, and basically worthless. As the Destroyer said to Hela in Simonson's Thor: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
But DC is not its own master and cannot die until TimeWarner says so. And TimeWarner may be a big, stupid corporation, prone to similar errors, but it is still too big to even notice a loss in a corner of its empire that it uses mainly as an R&D department and source of useful franchises. So DiDio and his minions will continue to make a living from concepts and characters they secretly loathe, and Warner will continue to make bad Superman movies and wonder why the character needs to be rebooted every five years.
Friday, October 3rd, 2014
8:27 am
People who lie on their deathbeds
For me, personally, the final evidence of the guilt of British criminal Hanratty, of anarchist Nicola Sacco. and of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg - however different the circumstances - have been a personal shock. They are the undeniable proof that people can lie even in the face of death and eternity, that claims of innocence from the scaffold are no more reliable than from any other point. The case of Sacco's fellow-accused Bartolomeo Vanzetti seems even darker: he was probably himself innocent, but he knew that Sacco was guilty as Hell, and he deliberately died with a lie on his lips, for the sake of his imagined revolution. (And to add a further taste of futility to his false sacrifice, the historical fact is that the only party who benefited from his and Sacco's executions were the Communists, who had organized all the protests against their executions, and who were sworn enemies of Vanzetti's Anarchists and would have murdered him a good deal more nastily if he had ever fallen into their hands.) But perhaps the most significant of these is the lie of Hanratty, because that had nothing of the ideological justifications of Vanzetti and the Rosenbergs. Hanratty was not fighting for any "cause", however bad: he was a rapist and murderer with no ulterior motives. And he declared his innocence right to the point of death with a passionate intensity that deceived generations of activists including myself.
Friday, September 12th, 2014
10:31 am
Being a translator can be less than fun
This is the second time in a few days that I have been assigned a text I find REVOLTING - and by revolting I mean fraudulent, mendacious, propagandistic. In fact it's much worse than the last. And I can't really turn it down. How do the other guys deal with this kind of problem?
Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
4:30 pm
Starvationists
From now I shall use a new word. The kind of people who argue against a minimum wage are neither conservative (how DARE they?) nor libertarian. They are starvationists. Remember the word: STARVATIONISTS.
7:59 am
Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
12:43 am
A fic: As the general saw it
PLEASE NOTE: THIS FIC IS AN OUTGROWTH OF DIANE CASTLE'S ENORMOUS AND SUPERB FIC "THE SECRET RETURN OF ALEX MACK." http://www.tthfanfic.org/Story-28614-181/DianeCastle+The+Secret+Return+of+Alex+Mack.htm IF YOU FIND THE TIME TO READ THAT FIRST, YOU WILL UNDERSTAND THIS BETTER, AND YOU WILL DISCOVER A WHOLE NEW ENJOYABLE SUPERHERO WORLD.

AS THE GENERAL SAW IT


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

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

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

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

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

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

And taking her troops home after.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END OF THE STORY.
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