Reflections of a stormy petrel|
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|Monday, January 19th, 2015|
|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|
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|
|Thursday, January 1st, 2015|
|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|
|"...'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|
|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|
|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|
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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
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.
|Wednesday, August 6th, 2014|
|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.
|Thursday, July 24th, 2014|
|Dr. Strangelove: it wasn't just satire
This is without a doubt the most horrifying piece of news yet to come out of the Western side of the Cold War. http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/11/nearly-two-decades-nuclear-launch-code-minuteman-silos-united-states-00000000/
it seems that the American military had effectively worked to remove the supposed control over nuclear weapon from the President, and effectively allow any four officers who wished to to launch a missile. The considerations behind this piece of total insanity were purely military: suppose the C-in-C were disabled or otherwise unable to react, there could be no effective response to any kind of Soviet aggression. Well, DUH!! If the President had been taken out of the equation, then the war leadership would be probably gone, and all that would be left would be stupid, uncoordinated slaughter. Besides, the point with atomic weapon was not to use them, but to avoid using them, and above all to prevent the other side using them. Say what you will about mutual assured destruction, but it kept two power groups that hated each other's guts from replying the horrible, destructive folly of the two world wars.
But never mind the "Dr.Strangelove" option with four junior officers just deciding to go off and fire a Minuteman rocket on their own. Do you have the least idea what would have happened if this piece of idiocy by US armed forces had ever got out? NATO would have been finished, that's what. Are any of you old enough to remember the huge pacifist demonstrations of 1980-1982? I was there, and I can tell you what they were about. They were not Communist-led or pro-Russian; almost everyone who took part despised Soviet Russia as a backward, vicious tyranny. They were about the feeling that the USA were playing dice with the lives and future of Europeans. If WWIII ever came, it would have been fought in Europe. Every one of us was aware of that; many had been through military service - most European armies at the time were still conscript - and we were all aware that we were constantly staring down a lot of Russian barrels. We hated the idea that the American forces could essentially use our countries as a nuclear chessboard. That being the case, I can tell you with absolute certainty that if the European public had known that the armed aliens in their midst could launch nuclear strikes virtually at will, and that they had deliberately cut out both the US civilian leadership AND the European governments, there would have been a political earthquake. No country from Norway to Turkey and from West Germany to Portugal would have allowed a single American soldier to remain on its territory. It would have been the end of the alliance. And for that alone one has to say that the generals who had this bright idea were stupid beyond criminality.
Yet more evidence that "war is too important a matter to leave to generals" (Georges Clemenceau said that, and he knew a thing or two about it). It is an ugly thought that, today, an army that was capable of such folly remains the most respected - or at least least despised - institution in America. A few generations of corrupt and incompetent politicians have salted the fields of democratic institutions, making half the population hate one half of government and the other half the other. Let us just hope that we don't pay for this collective loss of faith.
|Monday, July 21st, 2014|
The narrow defeat of the Obama administration in the Hobby Lobby case has sent its supporters into ecstases of rage and hate that have to be seen to be believed, and that in some cases can only be described as murderous. I am glad I don't live in the USA. But this fury, that bewilders many conservatives and independents, does not bewilder me. The Mandate was criminal from the beginning, criminal in its prehistory. Remember how deliberately the President lied to poor Bart Stupak and destroyed his career. And the Mandate is really much more basic to the Obama project than people realize, because they can't see its actual purpose. Le me draw a historical parallel.
Ireland has one of the saddest modern histories of any country in the world. Repeatedly invaded and devastated by the larger neighbouring island, its Catholic majority was reduced to a pulverized peasantry, paying tax they could not afford to Protestant landlords and being tithed for Protestant parsons; a miserable swarm of penniless, ignorant and leaderless grubbers of the soil, fed by potatoes, with no middle class or aristocracy or any consistency. But what you have to realize is that, the destruction of the Irish educated classes, in spite of the frightful massacres and repeated wars, were not the result of military oppression or even of mass murder; they were, in the main, the result of laws. England wrote dozens, indeed hundreds,of laws, to destroy the Irish nation as elaborately and as legally as possible. As the Irish Protestant Edmund Burke said, the English laws against Irish Catholics - or "penal laws", as they are shamefully called - were "a complete system, full of coherence and consistency, well digested and well composed in all its parts. It was a machine of wise and deliberate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”
The Mass, of course, could not be said: to have it said or to say it meant life imprisonment. But neither could Catholics be educated: to set up a Catholic school was equally a matter of life imprisonment. And Catholics were to be robbed by law: "Every Roman Catholic was... to forfeit his estate to his nearest Protestant relation, until, through a profession of what he did not believe, he redeemed by his hypocrisy what the law had transferred to the kinsman as the recompense of his profligacy." The law encouraged Protestants to steal from their Catholic relations, or even pretended relations; and not just large amounts, but everything - every bit of property they had. "When thus turned out of doors from his paternal estate, he was disabled from acquiring any other by any industry, donation, or charity; but was rendered a foreigner in his native land, only because he retained the religion, along with the property, handed down to him from those who had been the old inhabitants of that land before him."
"....Catholics, condemned to beggary and to ignorance in their native land, have been obliged to learn the principles of letters, at the hazard of all their other principles, from the charity of your enemies. They have been taxed to their ruin at the pleasure of necessitous and profligate relations, and according to the measure of their necessity and profligacy,"
"Examples of this are many and affecting. Some of them are known by a friend who stands near me in this hall. It is but six or seven years since a clergyman, of the name of Malony, a man of morals, neither guilty nor accused of anything noxious to the state, was condemned to perpetual imprisonment for exercising the functions of his religion; and after lying in jail two or three years, was relieved by the mercy of government from perpetual imprisonment, on condition of perpetual banishment. A brother of the Earl of Shrewsbury, a Talbot, a name respectable in this country whilst its glory is any part of its concern, was hauled to the bar of the Old Bailey, among common felons, and only escaped the same doom, either by some error in the process, or that the wretch who brought him there could not correctly describe his person,—I now forget which. In short, the persecution would never have relented for a moment, if the judges, superseding (though with an ambiguous example) the strict rule of their artificial duty by the higher obligation of their conscience, did not constantly throw every difficulty in the way of such informers. But so ineffectual is the power of legal evasion against legal iniquity, that it was but the other day that a lady of condition, beyond the middle of life, was on the point of being stripped of her whole fortune by a near relation to whom she had been a friend and benefactor; and she must have been totally ruined, without a power of redress or mitigation from the courts of law, had not the legislature itself rushed in, and by a special act of Parliament rescued her from the injustice of its own statutes..."
It says enough about the power of brute prejudice, of a kind we see in the highest places today, that this unanswerable attack on a disgraceful law lost Burke an election he should have won. The English had been taught to hate Catholics so much that they evidently thought that nothing done to them could be wrong or unjust.
What the Mandate is designed to do, mutatis mutandis, is exactly this. This is why the political and media leadership of your country has fought for it so obstinately, so savagely, and so underhandedly; this is why it took even a narrow defeat with murderous rage. It is because the real purpose of this abomination is to exclude Christians and especially Catholics from economic life. In a world in which money is the only power that can really affect politics - as Obama and his people know all too well - it is intolerable to them that there should be a number, however small, of rich people and of company owners who take their Christianity seriously. In this day and age it is not yet possible to make it legal for a man of the government's party to simply steal the property of his dissenting relatives; and besides, there is not - or not yet - a simple test of identity to separate the government's friends from its enemies, as membership in the "Protestant" church was in Burke's time. But they can impose a tax for a purpose that no Christian can accept, and then savagely penalize them - not by jailing them, which is not what they want, but by fining them into ruin.
Look at it in this light, and the whole mechanism becomes lucid, clear, rational and perfectly designed for its purpose. It is intended to make it impossible for Christians to have any independent economic activity in the USA, by making sure that they either have to resign their principles or be taxed into bankruptcy for them. Of course, they could not possibly declare their purpose; of course they lied from beginning to end. But that, and nothing else, is what this Mandate does.
Incidentally, this also gives you an insight into the real view that Obama and his henchmen have of the political process in your country, and of the nature of political power. This law is not meant to strike at Catholic or Christian faith. It does not try to obtain conversions. It does not set up anything like the imposing apparatus by which republican France, after 1875, worked tirelessly to break the ancestral Catholicism of its masses. The only thing that matters, the thing for which they have fought, the thing for which they have lied, the thing for which they ruined Bart Stupak and compromised the word of the President of the United States of America, was to be sure that no rich Catholics or Christians should exist. Wealth had to remain exclusively among people who had no problem with paying tax to distribute IUDs and abortifacients with a shovel. Because in the eyes of Obama and his crowd, only the very rich are politically significant. This attempt to winnow the Christians from their numbers makes it perfectly clear.
Today I discovered that it is much more tiring to translate a simple glossary than to translate even a much larger amount of prose. Each heading in the glossary is a separate piece of work, so you don't have the flow that you get when dealing with continuous writing.
|Tuesday, May 13th, 2014|
The BJP's crushing victory in India is the worst news I heard since I don't even remember when. Long term and in a global perspective, it is even worse than the spread of jihad in central Africa. It means that the world's largest democracy is now in the hands of a party whose ideology is effectively Fascist and of a leader whose political career has been built on the blood of hundreds of Indian Muslims. Nothing I know of the BJP disposes me to look at them with anything but horror, and I feel sure that the morons who applaud their victory because they are "pro-business" will find reason to regret their cheerful idiocy.
|Friday, March 7th, 2014|
|"History is on our side." It probably is, and that is why you are doomed to lose.
The people who say that history is on their side are the people who look back to the recent past and see a direction in it. That is why they are bound to lose: because the future is practically never like the past. It changes, and changes exactly at the point when a tendency has reached its peak and seems established as a law of history - because when a tendency has reached its peak, it has peaked. Example: Hitler grew up in a world where Germany was growing economically and politically stronger and stronger, till by 1914 she was effectively the strongest power in the world, strong enough to launch that bid for world domination that became known as World War One. (Very simplified version of what happened - but that is what happened.) Hitler could not imagine a world where German power would not go on growing above all others, as he had seen it in his childhood and adolescence, and so he went into another World War, without being able to get his head around the fact that in the intervening years America and Russia had grown way beyond Germany's potential. Come the war, America and Russia ate Germany and burped. Likewise, Lenin grew in a period when the Socialist movement was growing riotously all over Europe, from about 1890 to about 1910, when most European countires had a Socialist plurality among their electorates and in their parliaments. Convinced that socialism was the wave of the future because it was the wave of his own recent past, Lenin brutally imposed his own tyrannical version of it on Russia - but Socialism was in fact peaking across the West. It would never achieve more than a plurality in any election, and never, in spite of its claim to represent "the people", represent more than an important section of it. And on this partial and mistaken claim Lenin and his followers built their demand for absolute power. Indeed, by introducing into the unstable Socialist movement the acidic element of his own centralized and aggressive movement, and by associating it with tyranny and unreason, Lenin may actually have sped up its decline. People can't see the future, only the recent past, and the very fact that they declare that history is on their side proves it beyond any doubt - for history is the record of the past.
|Sunday, March 2nd, 2014|
I just had an insight, from the New York Times' disgraceful attack upon the Little Sisters of the Poor. It is this: Freud was right in pointing to transference as a mechanism, but wrong in believing that it is principally a defence mechanism. Here, for instance, we have a classic case of transference: the New York Times claims that the Little Sisters’ suit “boils down to an unjustified attempt by an employer to impose its religious views on workers.” We know perfectly well that that is transference, that the so-called newspaper of record is the place where unshared religious opinions would not long survive. But the point is that there is nothing defensive about it. The Times, even in its current parlous financial state, has nothing to fear from the Little Sisters, any more than Obama has. The fact is that they are simply transfering the company's own standard behaviour on to the nuns because that is what they would do in their place, or in anybody's place. The oppression of conscience and the silencing of religious independence is their way to be. And when you look at cases of transference, you will always find it clear: the person who ascribes to others his or her own standard behaviour does so because it finds it natural. It also explains a streak of paranoia that made Freud see this as a defensive reaction. There may be nothing to defend oneself against, but there would be
if the modus operandi that the person sees as natural
were actually present. If others behaved to the NYT executives as the NYT executives behave to their employees and to anyone under their influence, they NYT executives would have reason to fear. And the same goes for anyone whose similarly low expectations of human nature are really based upon their own low standards.