You are viewing fpb

Reflections of a stormy petrel
[Most Recent Entries] [Calendar View] [Friends]

Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Fabio Paolo Barbieri's LiveJournal:

    [ << Previous 20 ]
    Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
    4:30 pm
    From now I shall use a new word. The kind of people who argue against a minimum wage are neither conservative (how DARE they?) nor libertarian. They are starvationists. Remember the word: STARVATIONISTS.
    7:59 am
    Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
    12:43 am
    A fic: As the general saw it


    “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”.

    Thursday, July 24th, 2014
    8:49 pm
    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.
    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!! 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). 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.
    Monday, July 21st, 2014
    10:48 am
    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.
    9:00 am
    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
    5:38 am
    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
    9:52 am
    "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
    5:56 pm
    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.
    Sunday, February 16th, 2014
    7:55 am
    Tokenism, treason and murder
    There are few things I hate more than tokenism. It is evil in itself, a manifestation of hypocrisy and cowardice, particularly vile in that it shows itself perfectly aware that the thing it effectively denies its victims is the right, just and proper thing. It just will not do what is right. Instead of making life easier for disabled employees, put some rich friend's disabled son on the Board, or maybe in a management sinecure; instead of treating people according to their merits, make sure that a couple of dark-skinned people and a few women are prominent in every group photo. But sometimes it goes beyond even that; and a few weeks ago there was a news item that really made me scream with rage.

    Everybody knows that the Taliban are only waiting for the announced and timetabled withdrawal of Allied forces to take over Afghanistan, whether by a spectacular second invasion or, more likely, with a smooth deal with existing government. President Mohammed Karzai is well known to have made his deal already, whether or not it will be kept; and frankly, who can blame him? The Allies have completely failed to root up the Taliban from Afghan society, and their withdrawal is an act of surrender. In particular, the all-important security forces are penetrated from top to bottom – just ask the relatives of any of the dozens if not hundreds of Allied soldiers murdered by “men in Afghan uniform”, as the institutional cowardice of the BBC usually has it.

    It is at this time, as twelve years of occupation are about to come to an end in effective failure, that the Allies announed that the first women cadets had been admitted to the Allied-established Military Academy of Afghanistan.

    I repeat: it is at this time, as twelve years of occupation are about to come to an end in effective failure, that the Allies announced that the first women cadets had been admitted to the Military Academy of Afghanistan.

    I would not, perhaps, have become completely distorted with rage if the BBC had not ran this as their standard “ain't it wunnerful, progress for women” story; a dead and stupid way of looking at things anyway, and, in the case of these pathetic sacrificial victims, as heartless as it was inappropriate. Remember, in a year or two at most, the Taliban will be running things in Afghanistan: the Taliban, the people who bomb girls' schools, throw vitriol in teacher's faces, and shoot young girls in the head if they express any great desire to study. And at the time when this has become clear, not any time before, is this gesture to Western ideas made; I would say, this pitiful gesture, were it not that it's not pitiful, it's murderous. These women are called to make targets of themselves in order for some more than usually heartless and mindless Western decision maker to look as though something had been done for the status and rights of Afghani women. If it was so important to train some women in the profession of arms, why not enlist them in an Allied army and train them at West Point or Sandhurst? No: there had to be this tragic shadow theatre, with these few, probably very brave, certainly reckless, female cadets, playing the part of the vanguard of female enlightenment in a country where such people end up dead. In the end, that was all that was needed to put the final polish on the political, intellectual and moral wasteland that this misbegotten invasion has turned into.

    Current Mood: what do you think?
    Wednesday, January 29th, 2014
    11:53 am
    Yes, I am angry.
    Nothing could be more stupid than the mass negative reaction from every Tory, Republican and Conservative I know to the rising anger about income inequality. Let me explain something to you brain-deads, in the unlikely event that any of you should be able and willing to listen: We have been through five years of HELL caused purely by the idiot greed and purblind optimism of both sides of the ruling classes, left and right. You are both guilty. The majority of the population, middle and working classes and the lumpenproletariat below, were all made to pay to restore some sort of order to the ships of states that the top one per cent had driven straight into the storm; and all this time, not one banker has gone to jail or ended up in the unemployment queues, not one broker had his ill-gotten gains confiscated, not one politician has been convicted or impeached. We all know that we are the victims of the crimes of others and that the criminals are all "too big to fail" or jail. And now, on top of it, we are told to rejoice and give thanks to our wise leaders because larger numbers of McJobs, paid a pittance and as secure as a fungus-eaten tree branch, are becoming available, and the scum on top call this a recovery. Now I know that the left are as guilty of this as the right, and Obama and Labour just as much to blame as Cameron and the Republicans. But if you Stupid Parties allow Obama the monopoly of hypocritical compassion and of tokenistic but visible efforts to raise the bottom wages, then you will be punished at the polls once again, and, you pathetic shower, you will have deserved it. What I think of a continued rule of that gaggle of sexual antinomians and elite ignorami that dares call itself the left, I had better not say. (And Italy just managed to find the worst leader for its own Democratic party it could possibly hope for - but that is another story again.) Roll on the dark ages, come the barbarians, I don't think there is any health left in this world.

    Current Mood: enraged
    Monday, January 13th, 2014
    2:36 am
    Thursday, December 26th, 2013
    2:52 pm
    If you ever have a really bright idea, go home and have a good sleep. If the gods are not irretrievably angry with you, by morning you shall have forgotten all about it.
    Saturday, December 21st, 2013
    1:00 am
    Today I visited two places who sell meat (I am being careful not to call them by the professional name of butchers, for reasons that will become clear) to see if, expecting not to find shin of beef on display, I could at least order it. First, I went to the local Sainsbury's, a leading supermarket chain, which, like most English supermarkets, has a pretty meat counter with staff in nice-looking white aprons, for all the world like professional butchers. There I was informed not only that the resources of mighty Sainsbury's were not up to the simple task of ordering an unusual cut of beef if a client wanted one, but that the employee who answered me had never heard of Ossobuco OR of shin of beef, and was only trained to set up the limited amount of cuts that Sainsbury's were willing to sell. To give an idea, the only beef on bone he had ever seen was the T-bone steak, and that, if you please, only for Christmas. With all his white apron and cap and the shiny glass of his display cabinets, he was - God forgive his employers - no more than a shelf-stacker specializing in meat, and had got no more skills than that for the work he did.

    Then I went to the nearest independent butcher shop - not very near (more than a mile away), but then this is a suburban district and not densely populated. From the moment I entered I got a seriously weird vibe about the place: apart from being altogether too neat and polished for what is, after all, a bit of a messy trade - especially late in the day as it was - I felt the owner looking at me with a surly, suspicious and certainly unwelcoming stare. I started explaining what I wanted.
    "We call it Ossobuco in Italy..."
    "I know what you mean."(One relieved Italian, after the incredible experience at Sainsbury's)
    "Would you buy the whole part?"(I thought: I must have got him wrong.)
    "The whole part - you mean the whole leg?"
    "Well - no, I only wanted a Christmas dinner."
    "Then it's no good for me, I couldn't sell the rest."

    And now tell me again, boys and girls, how and why it is so wicked that Poles and Romanians should come in and take all your jobs. This man, who was rather old, had a store that relied so much on the local clientele that he was startled and looked suspicious when someone unknown walked in. And yet, in front of the problem of disposing of a single leg of beef, he expected me, the customer, to make life easy for him by taking it all myself. Apart from anything else, I am not a butcher, but I can think myself of ways to not only dispose of at least enough of it not to make a loss, but also to do so while brightening the experience of your own clients; and so can any of you who has spent even a little time in business. Exhibit it as a novelty and a rare opportunity. Print out little leaflets with the recipe for Ossobuco alla Milanese, assuring your clients - and it is true - that this is the most admired meat dish in Italy, where people know a thing or two about good food. Assure them - and it is true - that it is easy and inexpensive to make, all that it requires is time and occasional attention. You could even make little packets of herbs and lemon zest to go with each portion; the price would be next to nothing, and it would impress your clients with the thought you'd put in. Talk personally to all those you know to favour casseroles and brisket, cheap stewing cuts, and/or fancy foreign dishes. And price it to sell; shin of beef is not the most expensive cut by a long way. Is that too tough? It's elementary salesmanship. But this man, who had been in his business long enough to know what "ossobuco" was - that is, he was not a glorified shelf-stacker like his unhappy contemporary at Sainsbury's - literally reacted with hostility to a new client, and expected the client to pay a fortune and saddle himself with a years' worth of ossibuchi, rather than do his goddamn job as a butcher. AND NOW TELL ME AGAIN, BOYS AND GIRLS, HOW AND WHY IT IS SO WICKED THAT POLES AND ROMANIANS SHOULD COME IN AND TAKE ALL YOUR JOBS.
    Wednesday, December 18th, 2013
    9:56 pm
    What an extraordinary day
    1) I received, ahead of time, the first season of Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, that I had ordered through Amazon.
    2) I went out to do some shopping and all my shopping plans came together. Including the pleasure of a local charity shop - working for an important and overlooked area of charity, a hospice - taking my whole donation of domestic bits and bobs with every evidence of pleasure.
    3) I got an eighteen-inch pizza free.
    4) I received a payment for almost 150 pounds, which means that the slight concern I had about being late with the rent is gone. My landlord's agent is going to go on placing me among the reliable payers, which in this climate and country is very very important.
    5) Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes turned out to be as good as I hoped, reminding me of why I had loved Marvel.
    6) I made it home before it started raining.
    Sunday, December 8th, 2013
    7:12 am
    Horace Odes 1.22
    Integer uitae scelerisque purus
    non eget Mauris iaculis neque arcu
    nec uenenatis grauida sagittis,
         Fusce, pharetra,
    siue per Syrtis iter aestuosas
    siue facturus per inhospitalem
    Caucasum uel quae loca fabulosus
         lambit Hydaspes.
    Namque me silua lupus in Sabina,
    dum meam canto Lalagem et ultra
    terminum curis uagor expeditis,
         fugit inermem,
    quale portentum neque militaris
    Daunias latis alit aesculetis
    nec Iubae tellus generat, leonum
         arida nutrix.
    Pone me pigris ubi nulla campis
    arbor aestiua recreatur aura,
    quod latus mundi nebulae malusque
          Iuppiter urget;
    pone sub curru nimium propinqui
    solis in terra domibus negata:
    dulce ridentem Lalagen amabo,
         dulce loquentem.

    A man whose life is whole and without evil
    Will never feel the need of Maghreb lances,
    Nor of its bows and poison-heavy arrows,
    Fuscus, my friend;
    Whether to travel through the torrid Sirte
    Or make it through Caucasus inhospitable
    Or where Hydaspes, legend-laden, waters
    The desert.
    For I was singing, all cares left behind,
    (All weapons too) well past the forest's limits,
    With nothing but Lalage on my mind
    Here in Sabina;
    A wolf saw me unarmed – and ran away,
    A monster large as any born from fighting
    Daunia, or from Juba's ancient kingdom,
    Mother of lions.
    So place me where in workless fields no tree
    Is ever recreated by soft summer,
    That part of earth where mists and a malignant
    Jupiter drive,
    Or place me where the Sun rides far too close,
    The soil denied to human habitation;
    The sweetly smiling Lalage I'll still love,
    The sweetly talking.
    Thursday, December 5th, 2013
    9:29 pm
    As a child I must have been one of those fussy eaters. I have an idea, indeed, that very early on I did not even like potatoes. I cannot say I have altogether grown out of the tendency. Some foods I reconciled myself with over time – gorgonzola and blue cheese; sauerkraut; fish; potatoes, of course – if I ever did dislike them at all, and if that is not a false feeling (it is barely articulate enough to be a memory). But some foods I still can't face; I react badly to many kinds of seafood, especially octopus; snails (although I used to go on snail-hunting expeditions with my grandmother); black olives; beetroot and rhubarb; and grapefruit. Most things with bitter in it I dislike. But there is one thing I have only recently rediscovered, and which yet did more than any other foodstuff to darken my early life.

    There is a kind of leaf cabbage that grows, it seems, only in Italy, or that at least is only eaten there. It has no head, growing out in great, grim, very dark green leaves with an ugly bubbly surface. The person who first tried to eat it must have been very hungry. But it is an important plant in north and central Italian cuisine, the secret ingredient in two of the most popular and beloved soups, Ribollita and Minestrone.

    Now black cabbage must be more dear to the good Lord than any other plant, because the punishment He has placed for anyone who overcooks it is something that has to be felt to be believed. There honestly is magic in it. It is not enough to say that it tastes awful, not even that it tastes like poison. Overcooked black cabbage tastes like the cry of the Nazgûl; there is no other way I can describe it. It tastes as if you will never again be able to remember anything good and pleasant.

    My childhood is a long time gone, and there are a lot of things I only remember if I go back and find them. I always remembered, of course, that as a child I hated minestrone – I enjoy it mightily now – and I thought it was just one of those childish fads of mine, that I grew out of. But last year I bought a batch of black cabbage from the local supermarket, as a curiosity; and inevitably I made a mess of the cooking. And I remembered.

    There is a busy cottage industry that dedicates itself to denouncing the cruelty of the Catholic Church to children and other living things. By the work people put in it, there must be money in the business. So here is my contribution to it. Most of my years at junior schools were spent in private nuns' schools. I cannot say that those nuns were cruel, or stupid, or bigoted, or nasty, or bullying, or uneducated. (Sorry!) In fact, some of them I remember as wonderful people. But they bloody well overcooked their black cabbage. As I recall it, they overcooked it every time, and their minestrone – which was served most days of the week, especially in winter – came out correspondingly awful. The very first mouthful I took of my own torturously overcooked black cabbage, I remembered. I remembered all I had suffered every winter day that I went to lunch and found minestrone on my plate; and I remembered why there would be merry Hell at home every time mother tried to introduce the idea. My poor mother, she never knew.

    So here is my contribution to the “The Catholic Church is a vicious child-abusing torture cult” industry. I have had bad luck; I never met a vicious or savage nun of the kind that other people remember so well, nor even an abusive priest (though I know that such people exist). The priests and nuns of my childhood were decent people and they tried their best. But good God, did they overcook their black cabbage.
    3:49 pm
    My first post in a month and a half (I'll explain later); Obama, the Vatican and Italy
    President Obama has made a unilateral decision to place the American Embassy to the Vatican in the same building as that to Italy, excusing that with expenditure and security considerations. This is my comment on it, as a historian who knows a little about diplomacy and its conventions, and an Italian who knows a lot about Italy and Rome.

    Right. To begin with, the diplomatic world is a very artificial world, and there are things you do and don't do according to its own code. The do-est of the do things is that any country or organization of importance gets an embassy. They don't have to be huge mansions – several embassies in several capitals occupy little more than a flat – but they have to stand on their own. And states are not the only thing you send ambassadors to. You have embassies to the UN and to various UN bodies, to international organizations such as Organization of American States, to NATO, and so on. You DO NOT have the same embassy in Brussels merely because you have one mission to NATO, one to the EU, and one to Belgium. That's expensive? Sad. If you are not disposed to spend a certain amount of effectively wasted money, you are only proving that you are not a first-rate presence on the international circuit and that you are not able to afford what such presences are. Diplomacy money is in good part display expenditure, but anyone who does not see that display of various kinds is utterly essential to status in foreign eyes (and that in diplomacy it is part of a fixed system that you simply don't have the power to rewrite, since it is shared by every other state and international organization) should not be in politics in the first place.

    Now from the point of view of Washington DC, both embassies in Rome (there is a third, to FAO, of which nobody seems to be talking) are first-rate missions, for wholly different reasons. Italy is a major ally, with the third or fourth largest fleet in NATO, two aircraft carriers, over 120,000 men under arms, NATO and UN missions in various places, efficient and wide-reaching security and secret services, one of the world's top ten economies, a crossways of trade and industry, and a strategically dominant position in the Mediterranean. It is also visited and lived in by millions of Americans who need consular services every day of the week.

    The Vatican, on the other hand, is by far the single most important trans-national body other than the UN and its various parts. In some ways it is more important. For one thing it has a far better information service than the USA or anyone. They have men in places where the CIA would not dare send a drone, and because of the nature of priestly work and the close relationship of priests with their bishops, they get to hear things fast. Have you noticed recently that a country called the Central African Republic has come to the attention of leading governments? I had been trying to get people to notice the civil war – or rather, the pseudo-civil war – in that country for about a year. Why? Because I follow the missionaries' information agency, Fides, and I knew that the country was being invaded by a bunch of thieving, murderous jihadis under the guise of a local revolt. And that's me, a private citizen. How many more interesting bits of information like that would a friendly government get from all those nice, unworldly celibates in the Vatican? But Obama has a problem with that, obviously. And he does not want the operational and political support that any American presence in any country could get if they were friendly with the local priests. Obama does not want to be in any kind of debt with the Church, because he has long since declared war on the Church over abortion. And from this point of view, it makes sense that the change was an entirely one-sided affair which the Vatican had to swallow, with no consultation, no previous warning, no courtesy of any sort. And courtesy is the soul of diplomacy.

    On a purely local and operational grounds, the two embassy complexes have remarkably different aspects, that correspond remarkably well with their two very different missions. The American Embassy to Italy is in a former World War One military hospital on Via Vittorio Veneto, the famous shopping avenue, near Porta Pinciana; a major highway, densely trafficked, within walking distance of the Italian Confederation of Industry and of the Ministry for Defence (if not to the Italian Foreign Ministry, which is located in the eccentric and distant Farnesina), close to a couple of underground stations and comparatively easy of access to any American in need of help or any Italian in need of any of its services. On the other hand, the US Embassy to the Holy See is in Villa Damiana on the Aventine Hill: a super-luxurious residential neighbourhood made for old money and a few of the more discreet institutions, isolated from main roads (although well connected) and served by churches of incredible antiquity. The head office of the Knights of Malta (a theoretically independent state and the last redoubt of Europe's bluest blood) is not far. It is about as likely to be struck by a riot or invaded by terrorists as one of the more exclusive gated communities in the richer towns in America. And it seems to me rather evident that each of the two settings was chosen – by wiser judges than Obama – with their different role and use very much in mind, and that they confer on each a clear atmosphere that means that the workers of each would find themselves terribly ill at ease in the other. The Embassy to the Holy See is, as I said, in the most expensive, quietest and most secure neighbourhood in inner Rome, a place for soft contacts, fine manners, delicate suggestions and careful deliberation. The Embassy to Italy, a former military hospital, is a large building that towers over the bend of Via Vittorio Veneto, one of Rome's busiest and most luxurious highways, surrounded by hotels, businesses and splendid fashion shops, and constantly at work with American citizens and foreign visa seekers. To bring them together in the Via Veneto building is an act of brutality.

    There is no organizational or practical advantage in the transfer, either. Neither location is at all near the Vatican. They are both on the eastern bank of the river, within the circle of the imperial walls, but they could not be much further from each other either. Anyway, physical closeness to the actual territory of the Vatican does not matter. Visit your own capital city; see where the embassies of the main powers are. I shall be very surprised if they are all next door to the White House or to Foggy Bottom. At any rate Roman distances are smaller than American ones, and a healthy man can walk both from Via Vittorio Veneto and from Villa Domiziana to the Vatican in an hour or two (and enjoy some of the world's finest sights along the way). And if we are talking security, the Villa Domiziana, surrounded by high walls and a garden, isolated in quiet residential streets where any intruder would be easy to spot, is considerably safer than the Vittorio Veneto building, open to anything that can come up one of the city's great highways (and there were, in fact, some security scares a few years back). Obama and his accomplices are simply falsifying fact, as is obvious to anyone who knows Rome.

    To finish with, it is not just the Vatican that receives a savage and undeserved insult with this crass decision. In case nobody had noticed, Obama has implied that the streets of Rome are no safer than those of Benghazi. Thank you so much, Mr.President. You may not be aware of it, but one of the things that binds Italians together is pride that we have police, carabinieri and security forces loyal, brave and competent enough to have broken the Red Brigades and brushed back the Mafia at the price of many, many courageous dead. This is an insult to them.
    Monday, October 21st, 2013
    12:52 pm
    Happy birthday fellmama
    Happy Birthday.
    Saturday, October 19th, 2013
    8:38 pm
    Exhausted. Vaguely feverish.Did not write except for a bit of Facebook aguments. I actually made some progress with ordering my archives, so I can hope the crazy job may actually be finished one day.
[ << Previous 20 ]