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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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Tuesday, July 26th, 2016
9:23 pm
Terawatt - Seven days in Italy, introduction
1.


ITALIAN REPUBLIC

MOTU PROPRIO DECREE BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE ITALIAN REPUBLIC

IN THE NAME OF THE LAW

Unprecedented events require unprecedented responses. The rise of what are called "superpowers" has caused civilized countries great grief and concern. Human beings endowed with superhuman powers have indulged their basest instincts, while occult interests and criminalized business concerns have made criminal use of dangerous discoveries. Monstrous beings created apparently by mistake or chance have threatened or taken the lives of thousands.

Against this threatening landscape, the person called Terawatt offers luminous hope and inspiration. A victim, as it seems, of the criminal experiments of the notorious Danielle Atron, she kept control of the powers she had been given - unlike other victims - and dedicated them to the defence of law and order, first in her community, then across the United States of America and other countries. Displaying equally extraordinary levels of courage and of skill, she is not known to have ever lost a battle, even though she has often been outnumbered and outpowered. She sought the support of the authorities, and insisted, in spite of numerous legal problems, on staying within the law. Conscious of her potential as role model and public image, she committed herself to never using deadly force, even though - or perhaps because - her great powers made that not only possible but easy. To this day, no one person, opponent or bystander, has died as the result of any of her actions, and very few indeed have suffered any permanent injury. 

Certain that accidents and crimes such as that which created her would become more frequent, she has worked not only to protect as many communities as possible, well beyond the borders of her own nation, but to encourage other persons to come forward as superheroes and to help foster their career. Although this aspect of her career has not yet directly concerned Italy, it would be more than enough for the Italian Republic to grant her some high honour.

However, the debt owed Terawatt by the Italian people and government goes well beyond her well-deserving efforts on the international stage. When a member of her team discovered that the city of Rome was about to suffer an attack by artificial life-forms, intended and designed to wipe at least Rome and possibly all of Italy and surrounding areas from the face of the earth, Terawatt came in person to help fight the outbreak. In spite of unfortunate misunderstandings, she effectively took command of the Italian force resisting the monsters, led them out of lethal danger, and personally accounted for most of the monsters, till none were left alive. She then went on with energetic bravery to repeat her exploit in Tokyo, as she had previously done in an island in Ireland.

No expert doubts that Terawatt's unhalting heroism has saved hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of lives, and almost certainly the whole city of Rome. The Italian Republic and the Italian people are the conscious stewards, on behalf of the entire world, of a matchless and enormous cultural and historical heritage, of which the largest single part is found in the city of Rome alone. Save for Terawatt's intelligent heroism, the as yet unknown enemy who launched this assault would have succeeded where Attila, the Lanzichenecchi and Hitler failed, and wiped out this treasure-house of civilization from the face of the Earth. It is therefore as much a duty as a pleasure, and as much an inevitability as a duty, to bestow on her the highest honour that is in the power of the Italian Republic to offer.

Therefore, I, Camillo Benso Bertini, President of the Republic, after consulting with my advisers and with members of the Council of Ministers, have the pleasure to declare TERAWATT a Knight Grand Cross with Grand Collar or the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.

At the Palace of the Quirinal, Rome [date]

Signed: Camillo Benso Bertini, President of the Republic

Counter-signed Enea Giuseppe Pio Brambilla, President of the Council of Ministers


2.

“Terawatt! Hello!”

“Lisa! You're looking fabulous!”

And she was. After all, Terawatt thought, she had only seen Medical Captain Lisa Benson during her grim and deadly space adventure, as she and the Italian officer struggled against treason and a destructive alien mold, fearing for their lives and for the lives of everyone on board (especially that of the Captain's lover and now fiancé, Commander Vince Elliot, USAF). She had already thought then that Lisa looked amazing, even for an Orphan; but it was nothing to how she was now, resplendent in her fresh-pressed Italian Air Force uniform, bright with medals and decorations - and just shining with happiness.

“Yeah, well, I feel fabulous. I'm so lucky. But I still say it will not be as good if you're not there.”

“Don't worry, I will. Now shall we do the introductions?”

“Let's.”

“Captain Lisa Benson, this is General Jonathan O'Neill, with two l's, an airman like you.” Lisa snapped a perfect salute, and Jack saluted back with none of the snark and sloppiness he often used in his unit. “Jack, this is Captain Lisa Benson, the heroine of the International Space Station rescue.”

“That would be you, actually,” said Lisa smiling. “General, Terawatt, may I introduce you to Ambassador Paolo Cortelleri della Fralta, and to Cardinal Brown, Apostolic Legate from the Pope. Your excellencies, General Jonathan O'Neill, and Terawatt.”

They had, of course, corresponded in the run-up to this encounter, but Terawatt had never met either man, and she looked at them with interest. The Ambassador was a lean, fit man in his fifties, wearing the most beautiful suit she had ever seen on a man (and with all her high-level meetings in Washington DC and elsewhere, she was becoming a bit of an expert). It was so well cut and shaped to his body that it made him look taller than he was, and immensely distinguished. His well-cut hair was a dark grey and only slightly thinning, and he spoke an almost unaccented British English. The Cardinal, on the other hand, was rather older, small and pudgy, and while his cassock was clean and well pressed, it looked neither new nor particularly cared for. Except for his red skullcap and the scarlet piping on his cassock, nothing would have suggested that he was a man of rank. His face was round and his eyes, behind thick glasses, had a slightly watery quality. He also spoke British English, but with a less polished accent, and an expert in languages would have heard the echo of the flatlands and waters of Norfolk in his accent. If Jack had not briefed her in advance, she would never have guessed that the Cardinal was by far the more consequential person of the two, and that there were remarkable stories about his past.

“I am most honoured, Terawatt. And to meet you, General – I have been told about you.”

“Nothing good, Ambassador, I hope,” answered back Jack with a grin.

“It depends – whether being described as the best in the business is bad,” and the ambassador gave a polite smile. Meanwhile the Cardinal was addressing Terawatt.

“I am also honoured to meet you both, madam. Are you aware that the Pope saw you fight when you were in Rome?”

“He did?” - and the Cardinal could have sworn that the tall, self-confident figure before him was blushing.

“You may not have realized it, but you were fighting quite near the Vatican. It's not an industrial zone in the least, but Laboratori VTT were set up there because it is next to a famous children's hospital, the Bambin Gesu'.”

“Oh my God...”

“Yes, if you had not contained those monstrosities, a lot of sick children would have among their first targets. The Italian authorities had begun emergency evacuation procedures, but it is insanely difficult to evacuate a large hospital full of sick children, in the centre of a crowded town, and with small and crowded streets. There were also a lot of civilian houses, and the Vatican Palaces only a few hundred yards north.”

“My God, Cardinal. My God. I'm glad I didn't know that... I think I'd have been so scared, I could not have thought straight. All those children...”

“Not for yourself?”

“Well, I can always fly away. It's the people who were with me who are the brave ones. But it's always civilians that scare me the most.”

He nodded. “And as I was telling you, among those civilians was the Holy Father, and the whole population of the Vatican State, including some American bishops there on an ad limina visit... that's the term” he explained as he noticed the flash of bewilderment in her eyes “for the regular visits of groups of bishops to the Pope. Indeed, I gather that some of the discussion had been about you.”

“About me?”

“I don't know if you realize it, but your existence poses a lot of questions in terms of theology and faith. Including issues about recorded miracles. And there was a general feeling that religious movements could coalesce around you.”

“You mean - ?” And after a second, Terawatt burst out in a ringing laugh, that made everyone else turn.

“No, we did not think so either,” smiled Cardinal Brown. “The general feeling among the American bishops was that you are a mature and sensible person with no itch for worshippers. The trouble is that it could happen whether you want it or not. In fact, I would say that it is pretty nearly inevitable at some point or place.”

Terawatt looked deeply uncomfortable.

“Luckily, no super-powered person so far has made any bid to set up their own sect, to the best of our knowledge. And as some of the American bishops pointed out during the debate, it was easy to see that there was nothing very divine about most of the people who turned out to have powers. They either did not use them or used them badly, but they weren't even bad enough to be really devilish in any real sense.”

“Well, some of them...” Terawatt started saying, and then fell silent. Her first reaction had been to think of her old, old hate and fear of Danielle Atron; and then the pain and guilt of “Dani,” the awakened good half of her old enemy, had come back to her. No, there wasn't anything devilish there, even in Danielle – only a very human evil, and a thankfully human guilt. Even Maggie Walsh was not a devil, but a woman with strangely warped and twisted instincts. Alex had spent long evenings with Action Girl, looking more disturbed than she had ever thought AG could be, just talking about those terrible moments when Maggie had caressed her and spoken to her as if to a beloved daughter.

“No, sorry, Cardinal, I was about to make a dumb remark. They are all human beings, we are all human beings – unhappy, and scared, and so very often wrong.”

“Indeed, that is what everyone felt. You are just the one who had the sense of responsibility and the courage. And then all of a sudden the Swiss Guards rushed in and told us of the battle going on outside and of the need to evacuate the Palace.”

“But you said the Pope watched me?”

“Indeed. The Pope ordered everyone else to leave, but he said he wished to observe so long as it was possible. They were still in readiness to move him out at a moment's notice. A few of the American bishops stayed with him. One of them said that there was no real danger so long as you were there.”

“I wish people wouldn't think that. I'm just a woman, you know. I can be beaten. I can fail. And I have, more than once.”

“Well, luckily that was not an issue. You and your helpers stopped the monsters, in spite of poor cooperation from some local people...”

“You may be interested to know,” added the Ambassador; and Terawatt realized that everyone else had stopped their own discussion and gathered round to listen to the Cardinal and to her - “that Colonel Leonetti has been reassigned. Unofficially, I may say that his career is unlikely to survive that fiasco.”

Terawatt almost growled. “Ambassador, I don't usually wish any ill to anyone, but that can only be good news. His obstructive ways cost the lives of dozens of his men, and I watched them die. I have nightmares about them sometimes. You see, Cardinal,” she turned to the shorter man bitterly, “I don't always succeed. I don't always save the day.”

“My child,” said the old man, “you are not God, and you can't always save others from the results of others' mistakes. I would say from where I stand that you looked very much as if you had won and saved the day that day at Laboratori VTT.”

“You had not unleashed the murderous monsters on our city,” agreed the Ambassador, “and neither had you given orders that guaranteed that some of your own men would die horribly. That was the responsibility of others. Your responsibility is for the lives you saved.”

“It took a while till we realized just what danger we had all been in,” added the Cardinal. “His Holiness is a brave man, and he has seen war and death, but when he read the final report from the Italian security services, he was shaken. A way of death so horrible, so swift, and so apparently unstoppable... we had rarely heard anything so hideous.”

“I know,” said Terawatt grimly.

“Anyway, we began to feel that we should signalize your achievement, and our gratitude, in some public way. At first we were thinking of an order of chivalry, but it turned out that the Italian President had already decided something of the kind by himself, and we did not want to duplicate things... it would weaken the message. And medals would be a problem too, as they are usually awarded only to members of the Catholic Church...?”

“Quite right, Your Eminence. I am not Catholic, I'm afraid... I think I can say that I am a Christian. I don't exactly keep it a secret, but I don't stress it, because it would risk all sorts of public rows I don't want to. I want to be a heroine for everybody.”

“I doubt there will ever be a problem about that.”

“Yes. Well, as we were trying to figure out how best to honour you, things kept changing. We heard of one horror after another, and you know that everyone eventually understood that the human race itself was under attack. And you and your allies were everywhere fighting these monsters, till you found their sources and took them down.

“In a way, that made it simpler. There had been a war, and you and your allies had fought and won it. What happened in Rome was just a battle. So, Terawatt, do you have an objection to appearing in a Catholic Te Deum Mass?” There was a brief silence.

“I assume this will be a public affair?”

“Well, any Mass is public in its own way... but yes, there will be cameras and journalists and crowds.”

Terawatt shook her head. “To be honest, Cardinal, I don't like the fuss that's being done over me. I'd love to be able to just do my job and go home. But if I am accepting all these honours – the Italian order – then I will accept yours, too. It's not about me. It's about what Terawatt stands for, and the people who work with her.”

“I think I understand the difference. At any rate, this is a mass of thanks for a specific reason. It's giving thanks for you and your allies' victory over the Collective.

“A Te Deum Mass is traditionally offered after a great victory, after the end of a war. We though it would be more than suitable for the defeat of a body of men who had set themselves against all mankind. And we have invited everyone who was involved.”

“Some,” broke in Jack O'Neill, “will even come. I know that Action Girl is a natural atheist, but she is very keen to see Rome and to test her Italian. A good few of my men are eager. Batman won't come... but if you see a certain tall dark individual sitting quietly in a back row, don't look surprised. I don't know about the Thornberrys. Ayananta and Tsurara would both want to come just to be with you, although neither of them is Christian. And I found out Victor Cready is a lapsed Catholic, and he may come as well.”

“Especially if...” said Terawatt, thinking of the barely-begun relationship between the man of fire and Tsurara, the Japanese girl of ice.

“Especially,” confirmed Jack.

Something was troubling Terawatt as they talked. One person seemed to be as good as absent. And she realized that Lisa was standing at the back of the room. Others who had not seen her an hour earlier might take her expression for mere boredom, but Alex had seen her all but glow from the inside only an hour before, and she was worried.

Then the Cardinal spoke again: “There is also something I would like to discuss with General O'Neill, as head of the SRI.” Terawatt looked at the stout little man in bewilderment, and so did the Ambassador and the General both.

“It's nothing secret, gentlemen. I just have to ask whether the SRI have any experts who can tell real super-powered activity from hoaxes. One of the theological issues that were being discussed during that visit ad limina was whether any recorded miracles might have been the result of unrecognised super-powers, and how they could be told apart.”

“Miracles? No, I mean... come to think of it, no, we haven't, and it would be an important area to investigate. If someone can put on a convincing display of super-powers, they could do a lot of things... from blackmailing people, to getting themselves cushy jobs in governments around the world. We must look into this.”

“We have sorted out fraudsters once or twice already General,” said Terawatt.

“True enough. But it was just good guesswork and intuition – we did not have tangible reasons to suspect them, or protocols to follow. We should look at that and see if we can turn it into a learning experience.”

Cardinal Brown thought for a second or two, and then said: “I am thinking that the help might go the other way, in that case. We do have experience in this field. Miracles do happen, and more frequently than people imagine...” –

- it was at this point that Terawatt, who was the only one who was following her, saw Lisa's face change as if she had just bitten into a lemon -

...”and if you had spent a few days interview half a dozen shocked doctors who have seen a large and dangerous tumour just disappear, you would know. But the Church has also spent two thousand years being targeted by hoaxers and fraudsters. We do have protocols and handbooks listing all the various tricks and false evidence that people use.”

“That does sound very interesting. And if we sent one or two of our investigation people to train with you and share any insights we might have, it could be an inter-governmental activity between the USA and the Vatican City State, and avoid any potential separation of state and church issues. If you can meet me some time in the next day or two, Cardinal, we might work something out.”

“Delighted.”

“Now, Miss Terawatt,” said the Ambassador, “before we finalize our agreements, there is another thing I have to mention. Have you been briefed about Camicia Rossa?”

“Well, yes, I have, for what we know. General O'Neill says that American records are not very full.”

“They aren't,” said O'Neill, “and they seem out of date. We know that he operates mostly in Italy, so our people have rarely had to do with him, except during the occupation period in the forties. We know that he is a masked adventurer wearing a variant of the red uniform that Garibaldi's volunteers wore in the war of 1860, and that he is supposed to have first appeared about then and never gone away. He has no power that anyone knows of, but he seems to have lived for two centuries – though most people postulate a father-to-so or master-to-disciple succession down the years.”

“That's right. Well, on the whole, I can't say that our records are full, either. For one thing, we don't know who he is or exactly where he lives, although we know he must be a resident of Romagna. The reason, Miss Terawatt, why you did not meet him during your adventure in Rome, was, one, that he was in Sicily on the day, and, two, that we did not think of him as a super-hero on the same level as yourself. He has no powers, he is just a very able fighter and investigator who occasionally helps our police forces and who also investigates and detects villains on his own. He claims to have had a mandate directly from Garibaldi – which in American terms, I guess, would be like having a mandate from George Washington – to pursue criminals and traitors and to watch over justice in Italy.”

“And from then till now his secret identity has not been exposed? That's, what, a hundred and fifty years?”

“Maybe people haven't looked too hard. They say that some individual policemen have found out down the years – the legendary Prefetto Cesare Mori was said to be one – but if they did, they all kept it to themselves. For myself, I don't believe that if a policeman discovered something like that, he would cover it up. I just think he is really good.

“He's generally regarded as a good thing, and the authorities prefer to just help him and let him do his job. He owns a few helicopters and fast cars which are kept for him at a few Air Force stations so he can move across the country. He generally keeps us informed... The police tell me that they don't like it when he drops out of sight for a long time, because it means either that he is seriously injured, or that he is investigating police or carabinieri.” Jack O'Neill visibly winced.

“Now the thing is, he is certainly going to be a part of the new Italian super-hero unit we are forming. He and Captain Benson are the only two people we are certain of. And he has expressed an interest in meeting you and in being your guide during his time in Italy.”

“I see. I thought Captain Benson... no, I guess not.”

“Sorry, Tera, I couldn't,” burst out Lisa with a visibly embarrassed face. “I shouldn't have promised. I just hadn't realized how much time getting married asks for. I wish we could spend time together, but that week is all taken.”

“I understand,” said the blonde heroine with a smile, putting a hand on the redhead's shoulder. “I should have thought of that myself. We shall find more time later, I'm sure.”

After a tactful few seconds, the ambassador started again: “Well, Camicia Rossa has volunteered to take Captain Benson's place as your guide around the country. You will, of course, be the President's guest at the Quirinal Palace as long as you are with us.”

“That seems... all very generous and kind. Of course I accept. And I am interested in meeting this Camicia Rossa, especially if we are going to work together in future.”


3.

After all the protocols had been signed, Terawatt turned to Lisa and said: “Well, if you can't show me around Rome, at least I can show you around DC. Want to come along?” Lisa smiled and agreed.

However, as they walked the corridors of Andrews AFB and Terawatt kept being greeted, saluted, and even receiving handshakes and attempts to start conversations, Lisa Benson worried. “Aren't we going to be a bit conspicuous?” she said at length.

Terawatt turned into an inconspicuous little office on the side, where an attractive Latina army lieutenant sat as if guarding a large, unmarked gym bag. “Captain Lisa Benson, meet Lieutenant Josefina Lupo. Yes, it would be,” she said as she turned silvery and threw herself into the gym bag, “if if was Terawatt who was showing you around.” The gym bag shook violently.

“But nobody,” said the silvery being as she emerged from the bag again “is going to pay attention to a junior USAF officer showing an Italian Air Force captain around” - and she turned into a shorter, somewhat stumpy female Air Force officer with glasses. “This is Washington DC.” She saluted. “Lieutenant Anne Farrell, at your service, ma'am” - and Lieutenant Lupo was struggling not to laugh.

….....................................................

After they left the base, Lisa turned and said: “This is not your actual secret identity, is it?”

“Not really. It's just another disguise. Awfully useful for a lot of things. I am not sure about showing you my real ID, at least just now... but if we are going to be working together with the Justice League, you ought to know this sort of thing, at least.”

They came out into the bright sunshine, and Lieutenant Farrell led Captain Benson to a small parked car. After they had negotiated the exit and shown their military IDs, “Anne Farrell” turned to Lisa.

“May I ask you a question, Captain Benson?” Lisa just smiled.

“Well, that name 'Benson' – it just doesn't sound very Italian to me. Or am I wrong?”

Lisa chuckled. “You might be, you know. In north-east Italy, in Venetia, where my family comes from, there are quite a few families with names in '-on'. As a child, I used to know a man called Barison.. Federico Barison... he was immense,” giggled Lisa, “just like his name. We used to call him Barison the bison, il bisonte Barison. He could have been one of your quarterbacks, but in fact he was a watchmaker. I still don't know how he did it – all those little watch gears and those huge hands.”

“Maybe he had superpowers,” smiled the disguised Terawatt.

“Maybe he did at that! Well, all I can tell you is that 'Benson' is not an impossible name in my part of Italy.

“Even so, I can't be sure. You know, when I was a child, and not aware I was adopted, I'd think of my red hair and just make up romances about our family being English and exiled. Or Scottish, not that I was very clear on the difference – except that Scottish lords wore tartan. We were lords, of course, in my imagination.

“But the truth is that none of us knows. It could be local. It could be English descent. Or it could be what one of my cousins maintains, that we were originally Jewish and Benson comes from Ben Zion. We just don't know, because all the records are lost. The village we come from was flattened in many wars – Napoleonic, Wars of Independence, World Wars, you name it – we're not even sure when exactly the local records were destroyed, but the fact is that we have little before 1945 and nothing at all before about 1888. There are only a couple of references to people who might have the same name, in legal papers from the eighteenth century, and we're not sure either, because they are also called Mensoni. It's a mystery. But you always have to remember that while the English name is stressed on the first syllable, ours is on the second – BenSON, not BENson.”

And then, as if to herself: “I wonder if my cousin even means it...”

Terawatt just looked curious.

“It's just that... I think he just likes twisting their tail. Every time he mentions his Jewish theory, half my uncles and aunts choke on their dinners.”

“Oh,” said Terawatt. It was a very intense “Oh.”

Although she was describing a gag, Lisa's face was not amused. To the contrary; Alex thought she recognised that expression: it was the same stony expression she had worn through the conference – even though she had been smiling and laughing before.

“Do you have problems with your family?” she hazarded.

“It's not that they are anti-semites or such,” said Lisa with an even unhappier air. “They are, however, very obstinate Catholics; quite fanatical, some of them. They don't particularly object to Jews or Protestants or atheists, so long as they keep well out of the way and don't trouble them in their own home. They just hate the idea that any one of us might be anything else.”

“You sound... pardon me saying so.... you sound like this hurts you personally.”

“That blatant, eh?”

“It's your face. You were just glowing when we met. Then the conference started, and suddenly you seemed to turn to stone. And then you came out and the sun came out again. And now you are wearing the same stony face. Something is hurting you, and you are trying not to give it away.”

“I don't know. I don't want to offend you or anything.”

“Offend me?”

And then Lisa said in a very small voice: “Well, you said you were a Christian...”

For a second, Alex felt like the world had turned upside down. And at the same time, that things were suddenly clear. Lisa felt she might offend her because she was a Christian. Lisa was uncomfortable in the presence of a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, and looked disgusted when he mentioned miracles. Lisa was bitter about the “fanatical Catholics” in her family.

So she turned to her and smiled gently: “You can talk to me. I'm pretty offend-proof, you know.” And as the older woman looked hesitant, she added: “I promise not to try to convert you today.”

That did it. It was hardly the best quip of Alex' life, but it came at the right time. Lisa's pressure dissolved into a burst of laughter, and “Anne Farrell” smiled back at her.

“God, you're such a nice person. If everyone was like you, it would be a better world.”

“I don't... don't make me blush, OK? I don't think I'm all that nice.”

“You are, but I won't insist if you don't want me to. But you see, Anne... Lieutenant Farrell... “

“Anne will do, but call me what you like.”

“Well, I'm not going to call someone who can throw lightning with her bare hands 'Hey you'!” And it was Alex' turn to giggle. “Anne, I am a woman of science. I am a doctor. I believe in things that are rational, reasonable, provable. I believe in experiments and research and reason. I just can't get my head around the whole set of ideas in religion. I don't see how anyone can take them seriously.”

“I see. Well, all I can say is that two of the smartest and most scientific women I know are certainly religious.”

“I know. I've seen it happen with some of my colleagues... and other people who may not have been scientists, but who are smart anyway... and Vince is a believer, and I'm going to marry him no matter what. He just makes me happy.

“The thing is, I could live with it if it wasn't for my family. I don't know if I can explain how it is. You HAVE to get along with your family – and that does not just mean your parents and your brothers and sisters, but also your cousins, because their parents are your dad and your mom's brothers and sisters, and with your grandparents, and with a number of people who are more or less related or just trail along. And when I was younger, and I first declared that I was an atheist....”

“There was trouble?”

“Not even that. I mean, I have had a few shouting matches, but it was worse. My own mother looked at me as if I had let her down terribly, and a number of people just acted as if I had only spoken in order to offend them. It was all cast as a personal injury. You've heard about moral blackmail? There's the portrait of a couple of my aunts next to the expression in the dictionary. One person even brought in the fact that I was adopted, and at that point my mother was offended, and I had to make some sort of apology just to avoid a worse row.”

“Good heavens...”

“And their priest was involved, and I never particularly liked him in the first place, but when he tried to talk to me in private, I hated him. He was kind of trying to psychoanalyse me into going “back” into the Church, and suggesting that it was some sort of rebellion against my parent figures that drove me. It was all so offensive... I love my parents so much I can't express it. I'd die for them. They gave me a house and a family and never gave me anything but love, and I became a doctor because of them. It all just made it sound so dirty, messy, emotionally exploitative, when I only wanted to say that I believed in reason and that I could find no reason to believe.

“So I don't much like priests either. I don't think they are all child abusers or stuff, but I think they are defending a false position by false means, and I tend not to believe what they say. And when I heard Cardinal Brown talk about miracles, I'm sorry, but that was too much.

“You see why I was worried about - ? I mean, I'm trying, but there's no way this is not going to sound at least a little offensive to a person who takes the clergy and their teachings seriously.”

“Well, actually – no, it's not. I think you have run into too many people who used offence as a weapon. I don't think you were offensive at all and I think you explained your problems quite clearly. I'm just sorry that you met with that sort of bullying and with an unsympathetic clergyman.” Then something else occurred to Alex. “If you feel like that, is marriage... well... an issue? Or marriage in church?”

“It wouldn't be, if it was just Vince. I'd gladly go that extra mile to make him happy, and to show that I respect his beliefs. And I do want to get married in a big white dress with lots of flowers and people cheering, I guess most women do. I'm not a dessicated rationalist with algebraic terms for a soul. I'm an ordinary woman and I cheered and got misty-eyed when my friends got married.

“But that part of the family has pretty much danced a witches' sabbath about the idea – and guess who is scheduled to celebrate?”

“Oh, Lisa, no.”

“They have all sorts of ways to make themselves felt... from the choice of venue to the dress... and quite frankly, they are well on the way to making a misery out of what should have been the happiest day of my life. That's one reason why I want you along. I want as many friends along as I can get.”
Tuesday, July 19th, 2016
7:31 am
Mahler: Symphony no. 8 (LSO/Horenstein)
This live 1958 performance of Mahler's Eighth by Jascha Horenstein and an army of musicians and choristers mustered by the BBC is probably the greatest Mahler performance on record. But the reason I am posting it is that, staggeringly, not only had Horenstein himself never performed it before, none of the musicians apparently knew it at all! The BBC only staged it because the third channel needed to spend a lot of money in a hurry to avoid having coming budgets cut. (Ah, bureaucracy!) And come the day, they performed like an erupting volcano,and burned the name of Mahler into the memory of the English public.

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016
3:25 pm
My contribution to the general happiness of mankind
I've come up with a way to make Brussels sprouts taste nice. I used frozen ones, but I think it would work equally well with fresh ones. I put them in an oven dish, mixed a teaspoonful of strong mustard (I used the lethal English yellow kind) with enough cold water to cover them, and put them in the oven on a middle heat for an hour, till the water was all evaporated. The sprouts came out tiny in size and so soft you could have pureed them, but they had a fine and intense flavour. The one problem is that they were on the salty side, and I don't know what to do about that, since the salt comes with the mustard. But I suspect that something like raisins would go well with them (remember, this is only the first try).
Saturday, July 2nd, 2016
1:07 pm
A new and bewildering experience
A little learning is a dangerous things, said Alexander Pope famously. With due respect, I would reply, it can rarely be as dangerous as self-satisfied ignorance; especially ignorance not just of the what, of things, but of the how, of how to understand and learn about things.Read moreCollapse )
Friday, June 3rd, 2016
6:10 pm
My reaction to the Brexit crowd...
...is one of intense contempt. Their arguments are false and specious, their fundamental idea is that 45 million English count for more than 450 million other Europeans, they charge others with using "scare tactics" while drawing up a fantasy world where the English are the wretched hostages dragged away in Hitler's chariot while he fills their houses with Turks. There is nothing whatsoever about them that even begins to be intellectually dignified or respectable. They are the local version of Trump, Grillo or Marine Le Pen.

I have no doubt that if they win the referendum, England will pay for it dearly. I have no doubt that they will manage to blame the evil conspiracy of Europeans when their idiotic notions catch up with them. I just hope that if it happens, and when, as is inevitable, they come begging to the EU to be left back in, the EU will have the self-respect to tell them to get lost.
Sunday, May 15th, 2016
5:00 pm
Frazer, Leach, and Virgil, The Popularity (and Unpopularity) of The Golden Bough
Sunday, August 23rd, 2015
12:16 pm
Gary Trudeau and courage
One of the projects I dream of but never shall produceRead more...Collapse )

Current Mood: thoughtful
Thursday, August 13th, 2015
11:29 am
Dialogue of the Masters - a fanfic
“Oh, I don't deny your brand of magic is powerful,” said Albus Dumbledore. “The Sorcerer Supreme of your Order is usually the mightiest combat wizard alive. But it has flaws... flaws and dangers.”

“You think?” answered Stephen Strange.Read more...Collapse )
Sunday, July 12th, 2015
2:47 pm
"Love and marriage"
This essay is going to start on a very different subject from where it is going to end.Read more...Collapse )
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.

Read more...Collapse )
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.
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