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 17th, 2018|
|Saturday, July 7th, 2018|
|Steve Ditko has passed away
My attitude to Steve Ditko and his work is complicated, and to publish about it now, in the hour of his death, might seem ungenerous and rude. But if there is one thing Ditko himself despised, it is sentimental half-truths; I don't think I would honour his memory by posting a wholly positive essay - which, given my view of his work, would involve considerable suppression. Instead, I will post, behind the cut, an essay I wrote in the nineties about one of his last published complete works, STRANGE AVENGING TALES. It contains pretty much everything I think about this great artist, good and bad.( Read more...Collapse )
|Wednesday, July 4th, 2018|
|When will this sorry bunch of twerps ever resign?
The sorry caricature of a government led – but only in the sense that the front fender leads a car – by Teresa May has hit yet another scandal, one that should by rights lead to its collapse. But we have little hope of that, because even the least self-respect, let alone respect for habits and laws, is so absent among this rabble, that they would probably all dance naked in public rather than give up their posts.
Five months ago, the government was reshuffled and the department for social security was given to a very unsuitable person, Esther McVey. This glamorous blonde, a former TV newsreader, had made such a bad impression in her previous stint as a junior minister in the same department that her own voters in a Lancashire seat had voted her out by way of thanks. She was widely regarded as having all the empathy of a rock and, in spite of her pretty features, half the charm. In fact, if Teresa May weren't notoriously straight, there would be every reason to suspect that McVey had slept her way back into office. The truth, of course, had to do with that miserable death-rattle of politics, brexit; to “balance” the factions in her government, May needed a hard-line brexiteer in the vacant social security seat, and McVey had at least some experience in the place – in the sense that a Communist union agitator has an experience of private business.
Now McVey has shown her entire quality. She has twice lied in Parliament – a resigning matter; and not only lied, but put words in a top civil servant's mouth that were the very reverse of what he had said, and implicitly charged him with incompetence. The facts are these. For the last few years, the Tories, first under Cameron and now under May, have been pushing an ugly nostrum called Universal Credit for the reform of social benefits (unemployment, disability, etc.). This meant basically taking all the state benefits and bundling them together. There have long been serious doubts as to whether this monster could possibly be implemented and as to whether it would do any good if it were, and in the last few months, the head of the Government Accounting Office, Sir Amyas Morse, has been preparing a report into the matter.
Not once, but twice, Esther McVey has stated in open Parliament that Sir Amyas had stated concerns – that Universal Credit wasn't being rolled out fast enough; that he had no problems with the reform as such; and that at any rate the report was out of date. These things seemed unlikely on the face of it, and today, two days after her second such statement, Sir Amyas Morse, head of the General Accounting Office, one of the most sensitive and senior posts in the civil service, has exploded in public with an open letter that all but calls her a liar. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jul/04/amyas-morse-auditor-general-universal-credit-letter-esther-mcvey
This is a resigning matter. If you lie to Parliament, you resign. That is a simple and well known principle, although of late some notorious instances have got away with doing just that. But I don't think that anyone has ever been called a liar in such an enormous matter, a primary government policy, and to such a disgraceful extent – yes means no, not just once, but all across the line. This is not only a lie, but a stupid lie – I am tempted to say, in homage to the colour of Ms.McVey's hair dye, a dumb blonde kind of lie. The only way she could hope to get away with it was if Sir Amyas turned out to be such a fantastic coward that he would allow himself to be treated like that and not set the record straight. Well, apparently McVey has no idea what a backbone is, because she seems to have been very surprised to find that Sir Amyas Morse had one.
Mrs.May needs McVey to stay in her post, for the same reason why she placed her in it: it is needed to “balance” her self-splitting government. And so McVey has been dispatched to apologize to Parliament for “unwittingly misleading” them. But above and beyond the matter of political convenicence, there is something very May about this July scandal. McVey has been guilty, basically, of thinking that if you just paper over the cracks and lie over matter of fact, your policies will move ahead by some sort of inner inevitability, and people will be convinced or knuckle under. And this is, in fact, a very Teresa May sort of behaviour; it is the same way in which May continues to sail blithely on with the Irish border issue, just talking as though everyone will soon be convinced of her magnificent brilliance. It is the “What could possibly go wrong” kind of politics.
|Sunday, June 10th, 2018|
|Saturday, June 9th, 2018|
|A sketchy thought about the study of politics
A historian called Andreas Herberg-Rothe has written an interesting study of the famous Prussian military theorist, "Clausewitz's Puzzle: The political theory of war," part of whose thesis is that Clausewitz's celebrated study of war, though completed and published with great success, is in effect unfinished - Clausewitz wanted to rewrite, it, and it bears notable problems within itself, as Rothe points out. That made me think. A number of the most influential writings about politics are either unfinished, or self-contradictory, or both. Karl Marx' Das Kapital is unfinished. Machiavelli's The Prince bears problems of interpretation so formidable that it would be hard to find two scholars who read it exactly the same. And going back to the grandest and strangest of them all, Plato's dialogues are full of contradictory and speculative views. The two most important political texts among them, The Laws and The Republic, contradict each other in many ways, and The Republic, though one of Plato's most famous and popular texts, is also an outlier among its work in some ways, such as its doctrine of the tripartite soul, which also reflects on its politics.
I have a suspicion that sufficiently ambitious and brilliant studies of human society and history will always either taper off into silence, or include severe self-contradiction, or both. Of all objects of study, humanity in action is probably the most complex and confusing. It is possible that, at the highest levels, these things are not signs of failure, but of as much engagement with the subject as a single mind, however brilliant, may manage.
|Monday, May 28th, 2018|
|I think I owe my surviving LJ friends some apologies
I had been meaning to make some sort of return to LJ, at least every now and then. However, as part of that, I unwisely decided to have LJ upload my Facebook entries. From what I can see, the result must have been to crowd some people's friends pages with space-devouring links they may not be interested in or may already have seen. This setting has now been altered, and my apologies.
|Sunday, May 27th, 2018|
|My reaction to the catastrophe in Ireland
Hige sceal þē heardra, heorte þē cēnre, mōd sceal þē māre, þē ūre mægen lytlað... A mæg gnornian se ðe nu fram þis wigplegan wendan þenceð. Ic eom frod feores; fram ic ne wille...
Thought must be harder, heart be keener, courage greater, as our strength sinks... If anyone thinks of leaving this battleground, may he weep for ever! I am old; I will not move hence.
Abortion is wrong. Period. End of story. The horrendous surrender of one more nation to this evil does not change that. And it does not change my duty as a citizen to oppose this wrong by every power I have. Current Mood: nauseated
|Saturday, May 26th, 2018|
Except perhaps for the most mindless and extreme rainbow cheerleaders, I can't imagine that anyone living in our time can honestly say that they see a good future. Politics, in particular, is broken. We think of Trump with weary revulsion, but he is not an exception, not even the worst figure around. Different kinds of buffoonery prevails in Canada with Justin Trudeau, in Britain, in Italy, in Turkey. Who is up to the challenge? The heads of state and government of India, China, Japan, and Russia make crass use of the lowest kind of nationalism, coming, especially in India, to support the most cruel and superstitious brand of Hinduism at the expense of scholarship and civil peace. Where democracy is not subverted or absent, it is made such use of as to sicken the sight. In half a dozen European countries, popular rage has borne up out of nowhere parties with Fascist or Nazi antecedents or cruelly nationalistic attitudes. In Hungary and Italy, these people have reached government; in Germany and Sweden they are the official or actual opposition. Not only is nobody happy; nobody can see a way for matters to improve. Optimism, except for a few fanatics, is dead.
Now what occurred to me may not necessarily help or do anything to point to a solution; rather, it is a small matter – of what might be called style. Or even content. Of the things we take for granted even if we rape our language in so doing. Just how many of us do not use the word “progress” in an unmitigatedly positive meaning? Even though this word, in its daily use, has no such meaning. We may speak of the progress of a cancer, of a dictatorship, of an avalanche, without any sense of incongruity. And yet “progress” as such is uniformly taken as positive. To understand just how absurd this is, try to think of a good disease, a good tyranny, a good avalanche. Absurd, isn't it? Or if not absurd, at least weakening the subject to the point of near-vanishing. A good dictator, surely, is a man who is almost not a dictator; a good cancer (yes, there is such a thing as a benignant tumor) is one that is practically ineffective. And I defy you to think of any circumstances in which an avalanche may be said to be good. But what is more, these things have progress just in so much as they are not good. It is a malignant tumor that progresses; an avalanche is the more destructive, the more it progresses; a tyranny progresses in so far as it gains further and further control.
Our politics has now gained pretty much the character of the progress of a cancer or of an avalanche – the advance of a progressive and inevitable misfortune. It was not always so. For a few centuries, riding the progress of European power and European science, improvement in material matters seemed to everyone the inevitable lot of our society. That was the progress of our society, and it was good. Then came the period of revolutions and reforms; and people, by unconsciously squinting and editing all the bad and allowing themselves to see only the good, confirmed their acquired view that “progress” is good as such. Most of the revolutionary work was indeed good, restoring European civilization to its natural inner balance as seen in the Middle Ages; but along with it went fanaticism, violence, and above all falsehood – and that falsehood was primarily provoked by the increasingly irresponsible concept of progress.
To me, it looks as though we should be at the end of this cycle. The “progress” of world and local politics is so increasingly bad, everywhere, that it would take iron shutters over one's eyes to preserve this concept of “progress”. Indeed, the “progress” of recent politics is in only one direction, only it is not a direction that can be defined as political at all. The American presidential elections, the Brexit referendum, the Italian elections, the Irish abortion referendum, are occasions where the party that lied the most won; where hucksterism and mendacity were not only used without shame, but triumphantly. No amount of well-argued refutation of the lies of Trump, of the Brexiters, of Di Maio and Salvini, of Leo Varedkar and his accomplices, could make a dent in the will of the majority – or of the victorious minority. Why? IN part because the electors hated and despised the opposition – that was the case with America and Italy – so intensely that they did not believe a word they said, and all responses went in one ear and out the other; and in part because of the corrupt and committed role of the media – both Brexit and Irish abortion were won by revolting abuse of media power. And these two things go together; because a vague awareness of the corruption and mendacity of the media is one of the main reasons, if not the main one, why answers from an enemy who is perceived as having always lied are not believed.
We should at least get rid of this increasingly grotesque joke of a concept of “progress”. We should be aware, even if we hate each other so much, that however we regard moral improvement, it is not here and it is not happening. But the concept goes on occupying the background of our minds, idle, hollow, damaging and unchallenged. Why is this?
I would say, because of the need to sell. The mass media are only a part of the big-business skeleton of our society, and big business has a natural interest in making people believe, one, that things are always changing, and, two, that they are always changing for the better. “Progress” is certainly a good thing in, say, computers. Except where it isn't – printers have become worse, not better, with the passing of the years. But above all, this way of thinking, that is natural to people who always have to promote something to the public, is never challenged, because it would not occur to corporate persons to think that there is anything radically mistaken about it. They spend their lives in a progressive environment, how can they think that there is something mistaken about the concept? And the mass media dominate our communications across our society to the extent that they pretty much decide what is important and what not.
And this brings out another important point. The inevitable goodness of progress is the typical view of the huckster. If selling is the main business of your life – selling, that is, in itself, as opposed to selling some product you made and that you regard as good – then the first thing you say is that it is new, never used before (and so your prospective client is made to think he ought to try it) and improved on previous models. Is it a coincidence, you think, that ours is the age of hucksters, with salesmen such as Berlusconi and Trump dominating politics? Current Mood: distressed
|Friday, May 25th, 2018|
|Thursday, May 24th, 2018|