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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:

[ << Previous 20 ]
Friday, June 16th, 2017
9:51 am
The Grenfell Tower tragedy
There is plenty of blame to go around. Nobody is innocent, although the guiltiest parties will no doubt turn out to be the local Tory administration who seem – to judge by the fact that the police say that they may never know how many people died – not to even have had an updated list of the residents. How could anyone not know who lived where? And the matter of the cladding – which now turns out to be illegal in America; always, after such disasters, it turns out that some other administration had banned the thing which caused the disaster; and the suggestion that it was only put in as cheap insulation to meet green targets.

Then there is the building itself. My American friends with the Ayn Rand addiction – direct or indirect – will of course be blaming the very idea that the public sector should see to the housing of the working classes, as if no private homes had ever gone on fire. I know the cant by heart.
. But the matter is by no means so simple. London, like most other European cities, is full of popular homes built over a century, mostly but not exclusively by local socialist administrations. In London you can clearly see that the vast housing estates built between the nineteen-tens and the nineteen-fifties, by architects driven mainly by a sense of need and purpose – build the best houses you can at the least price, but with dignity and duration – produced buildings that nobody complained about: modest but dignified blocks of flats surrounded by green areas. But around the sixties, the sense of purpose was lost and the architects decided that their own artistry was the most important thing. The result was oversized, immense buildings of bare concrete, surpassingly ugly and often monstrously tall, which everyone except the architects loathed. The materials used – bare concrete and metal – seemed custom made to last badly and become ugly in English weather, unlike the tile and brick facing of many older GLC and Peabody Trust estates, and mixed with desolating and constant precision with garbage and dirt. I lived in one of them for a few years, and I can tell you that whatever you did to dignify and clean your own living space in the flat, as soon as you stepped out the door and into one of the bare concrete outside walkways so beloved by seventies architects, the depression set in. Everything about them was wrong; and while nobody is thinking of knocking down any of the older popular housing, many of the concrete carbuncles (thanks, Prince Charles) of the sixties and seventies have been righteously knocked down and replaced with old-fashioned English houses. (Even though that is itself a backward development, since London is in fact building more and more blocks of flats, in an obvious reaction to the insane price of land. But the hateful and traumatic nature of the concrete-and-steel erections is obviously such that people prefered to go back to the past.)

Grenfell Tower was a survivor of the bare-concrete age, kept standing in order to house the least fortunate locals. One reason why Britain does not have the devastating homeless problem that blights the USA is that local administrations have a statutory duty to find housing for the homeless. This reduces the blight on the streets, but at the risk of turning certain areas into human dumping grounds – which it is quite clear that Grenfell Tower was. This has been exasperated by the criminal idiocy of successive British governments. Margaret Thatcher – or, as I prefer to call her, Meg Thug – forbade local councils from building any more housing. At once, the largest single source of building orders in Britain dried up; and, guess what, in a few years people were complaining about a housing shortage. They never stopped. This insane order, an absolute triumph of blind ideological prejudice over sense and experience, was aggravated by the otherwise unexceptionable law that enabled residents of council developments to purchase (or better, lease for several decades – the tricky English property status known as leasehold) their own homes, and, less admirably, to lease council housing for rent to third parties. This meant that, while pressures on public housing increased, the stock diminished. To increase it somehow, the local authorities were driven to make deals with private developers and dubious “housing associations”, in the name of the all-holy Private Sector, more expensively and less efficiently than they had been able to do in the past – but at least keeping the stock going somehow and finding places to send the homeless. When Tony Blair – or the Tory Blur, as I prefer to call him – came to power, he, in his eagerness to flatter Thugcherism and Thugcherites, would not even consider altering these senseless restrictions, and the housing crisis continued unabated. That is why Jeremy Corbyn blamed these Tory laws for the disaster, and he had a point. Incidentally, the reason for Corbyn's otherwise unaccountable popularity is his recovery of a simple and by no means extreme left-wing program full of the things that the Tory Blur had wiped from the slate, thus forcing the whole arc of British politics in a tight and Thugcherite stranglehold. Corbyn's own predilections for the likes of Hamas may be unlovely, but in general and especially domestic policy he has done nothing but recover the ordinary and not at all subversive policies of any left party before the Tory Blur blurred things.

One of the horrible things about tower blocks and skyscrapers in London – and while seventies tower blocks are thankfully going down, monstrous skyscrapers, much taller than the most pretentious of blocks, are going up all over the city in a phallic homage to the pretensions of international wealth – is that, whether or not it is at all possible for a fire department to fight a fire in one, it is not for the London fire brigade. Their equipment only reaches to the twentieth floor; a limit that doomed the miserable people, God rest their souls, seen calling for help, any help, from windows thirty and more floors above the ground. I know nothing about firefighting; I certainly do not know whether equipment that can deal with fires above twenty floors up even exists. But this I do know, because it has been clearly said as the horror was unfolding, that if such equipment exists, the London fire brigade don't have it. And this in a city whose politicians and developers seem hell-bent on turning its traditionally low-rise landscape into a forest of skyscrapers. Today it was the working-class and unemployed of Grenfell Tower who suffered; tomorrow it may be some absurd conglomeration of Russian and Arab expatriate millionaires, equally doomed to a horrible death in a heaven-reaching trap with no hope of escape. (Yes, I imagine their internal fire defences will be much better than those available to the poor Grenfell Tower victims. But I am talking of a worst-case scenario – sprinklers failing and such – and such scenarios have a nasty knack of materializing.)

Finally, and I am sad to have to say this, because it is about a body of men I admire and respect. But whoever wrote those instructions to the Grenfell Tower residents – in case of fire, stay put and wait for rescue – has blood on his hands. The point is clear: it is the usual dislike of specialists and bureaucrats for the messy, ignorant, loud public getting in their way. But in this case, the excuse for this idiotic order – that the fire service would take no more than an hour to reach the high floors – in a raging fire and among hundreds of terrified people to be evacuated somehow – is nothing more than a fantasy. A literally homicidal fantasy.

There is plenty of blame available for everyone, as you see. And I hope the promised public inquiry will deal it out in large doses.
9:19 am
Blame for the Grenfell Tower disaster
There is plenty of blame to go around. Nobody is innocent, although the guiltiest parties will no doubt turn out to be the local Tory administration who seem – to judge by the fact that the police say that they may never know how many people died – not to even have had an updated list of the residents. How could anyone not know who lived where? And the matter of the cladding – which now turns out to be illegal in America; always, after such disasters, it turns out that some other administration had banned the thing which caused the disaster; and the suggestion that it was only put in as cheap insulation to meet green targets.

Then there is the building itself. My American friends with the Ayn Rand addiction – direct or indirect – will of course be blaming the very idea that the public sector should see to the housing of the working classes, as if no private homes had ever gone on fire. I know the cant by heart.
. But the matter is by no means so simple. London, like most other European cities, is full of popular homes built over a century, mostly but not exclusively by local socialist administrations. In London you can clearly see that the vast housing estates built between the nineteen-tens and the nineteen-fifties, by architects driven mainly by a sense of need and purpose – build the best houses you can at the least price, but with dignity and duration – produced buildings that nobody complained about: modest but dignified blocks of flats surrounded by green areas. But around the sixties, the sense of purpose was lost and the architects decided that their own artistry was the most important thing. The result was oversized, immense buildings of bare concrete, surpassingly ugly and often monstrously tall, which everyone except the architects loathed. The materials used – bare concrete and metal – seemed custom made to last badly and become ugly in English weather, unlike the tile and brick facing of many older GLC and Peabody Trust estates, and mixed with desolating and constant precision with garbage and dirt. I lived in one of them for a few years, and I can tell you that whatever you did to dignify and clean your own living space in the flat, as soon as you stepped out the door and into one of the bare concrete outside walkways so beloved by seventies architects, the depression set in. Everything about them was wrong; and while nobody is thinking of knocking down any of the older popular housing, many of the concrete carbuncles (thanks, Prince Charles) of the sixties and seventies have been righteously knocked down and replaced with old-fashioned English houses. (Even though that is itself a backward development, since London is in fact building more and more blocks of flats, in an obvious reaction to the insane price of land. But the hateful and traumatic nature of the concrete-and-steel erections is obviously such that people prefered to go back to the past.)

Grenfell Tower was a survivor of the bare-concrete age, kept standing in order to house the least fortunate locals. One reason why Britain does not have the devastating homeless problem that blights the USA is that local administrations have a statutory duty to find housing for the homeless. This reduces the blight on the streets, but at the risk of turning certain areas into human dumping grounds – which it is quite clear that Grenfell Tower was. This has been exasperated by the criminal idiocy of successive British governments. Margaret Thatcher – or, as I prefer to call her, Meg Thug – forbade local councils from building any more housing. At once, the largest single source of building orders in Britain dried up; and, guess what, in a few years people were complaining about a housing shortage. They never stopped. This insane order, an absolute triumph of blind ideological prejudice over sense and experience, was aggravated by the otherwise unexceptionable law that enabled residents of council developments to purchase (or better, lease for several decades – the tricky English property status known as leasehold) their own homes, and, less admirably, to lease council housing for rent to third parties. This meant that, while pressures on public housing increased, the stock diminished. To increase it somehow, the local authorities were driven to make deals with private developers and dubious “housing associations”, in the name of the all-holy Private Sector, more expensively and less efficiently than they had been able to do in the past – but at least keeping the stock going somehow and finding places to send the homeless. When Tony Blair – or the Tory Blur, as I prefer to call him – came to power, he, in his eagerness to flatter Thugcherism and Thugcherites, would not even consider altering these senseless restrictions, and the housing crisis continued unabated. That is why Jeremy Corbyn blamed these Tory laws for the disaster, and he had a point. Incidentally, the reason for Corbyn's otherwise unaccountable popularity is his recovery of a simple and by no means extreme left-wing program full of the things that the Tory Blur had wiped from the slate, thus forcing the whole arc of British politics in a tight and Thugcherite stranglehold. Corbyn's own predilections for the likes of Hamas may be unlovely, but in general and especially domestic policy he has done nothing but recover the ordinary and not at all subversive policies of any left party before the Tory Blur blurred things.

One of the horrible things about tower blocks and skyscrapers in London – and while seventies tower blocks are thankfully going down, monstrous skyscrapers, much taller than the most pretentious of blocks, are going up all over the city in a phallic homage to the pretensions of international wealth – is that, whether or not it is at all possible for a fire department to fight a fire in one, it is not for the London fire brigade. Their equipment only reaches to the twentieth floor; a limit that doomed the miserable people, God rest their souls, seen calling for help, any help, from windows thirty and more floors above the ground. I know nothing about firefighting; I certainly do not know whether equipment that can deal with fires above twenty floors up even exists. But this I do know, because it has been clearly said as the horror was unfolding, that if such equipment exists, the London fire brigade don't have it. And this in a city whose politicians and developers seem hell-bent on turning its traditionally low-rise landscape into a forest of skyscrapers. Today it was the working-class and unemployed of Grenfell Tower who suffered; tomorrow it may be some absurd conglomeration of Russian and Arab expatriate millionaires, equally doomed to a horrible death in a heaven-reaching trap with no hope of escape. (Yes, I imagine their internal fire defences will be much better than those available to the poor Grenfell Tower victims. But I am talking of a worst-case scenario – sprinklers failing and such – and such scenarios have a nasty knack of materializing.)

Finally, and I am sad to have to say this, because it is about a body of men I admire and respect. But whoever wrote those instructions to the Grenfell Tower residents – in case of fire, stay put and wait for rescue – has blood on his hands. The point is clear: it is the usual dislike of specialists and bureaucrats for the messy, ignorant, loud public getting in their way. But in this case, the excuse for this idiotic order – that the fire service would take no more than an hour to reach the high floors – in a raging fire and among hundreds of terrified people to be evacuated somehow – is nothing more than a fantasy. A literally homicidal fantasy.

There is plenty of blame available for everyone, as you see. And I hope the promised public inquiry will deal it out in large doses.
Friday, June 2nd, 2017
3:11 pm
The BBC's news broadcast of this morning
Today's BBC news broadcast left me with a despairing sense of the mentality and attitudes of pretty much everyone it touched. First, of course, there was the hysteria about climate change. Some of my friends will remember my view about this subject: that is that climate changes, because that's what it does, and mankind can no more affect it by reducing its energy consumption by a certain amount than it can stop a flood by waving a couple of bone sticks at it and chanting “hocus pocus”. There are still many excellent reasons to reduce pollution and waste, first of all the rescue of many environments (it breaks my heart every time I see my beautiful country scarred by worthless development and uncontrolled waste dumping), the environment and a reduction, hopefully an end, in the destruction of animal and plant species; but this idea of “the planet” as a whole, put into danger by vicious human activities and rescued by correct ritual performance, is nothing but a degraded religious idea. So did the Aztecs believe that the sun kept rising and falling because they sacrificed human beings to it.

In an age of fake religions, a true, if disastrous, religion, a philosophy of existence as I call it, has unconsciously emerged: a worship of “the planet” as a whole, as an entity worthy of sacrifice in itself. It's not exactly pantheism, for pantheism would involve the whole universe; it is a kind of cosmic nationalism that places all value and all moral demand within it. So, a hundred years ago, nationalists placed all kinds of value within the nation, and Italian Fascists used the word “Italian” to mean “morally good, excellent, and admirable”, an “Italian idea” being the same as a great and progressive idea. The Earth is now vested with this kind of idolatry; it is the new idol to whom those who deliberately deprived themselves of higher religions come and worshsip. Religion gets a very bad rap in our time, and to judge by the performance of these novel religionists, there is a reason. They have been deprived of any sense of religion as a life of the intellect by their educators' terror of “sectarianism” and “bias”, and they know noting about Plato, Thomas Aquinas, or Kierkegaard, or about the bond of religion and philosophy. (Horribly, polls tell us that the favourite philosophers of those English who know enough to tell the difference are Karl Marx and David Hume.) And having no notion that religion is something that stimulates thought and creates debate, they approach it as only the most benighted and bewildered fanatics ever approached their religion – as a mental fetish or idol, whose every word is command, never to be doubted, discussed, or confronted.

This attitude was evident in what was called the BBC's “report” on President Trump's decision to vacate the Paris Accords – a decision that was fully within his rights as the head of an independent state. It was no more reporting than a party manifesto is an objective account of the state of a country. It was a half-hysterical, half-triumphant, wholly uncritical list of all those heroes of earth-worship morality who had denounced Trump. Even the list of corporate charmers who had discovered their earth-worship morality in this time of drama was uncritically and triumphantly delivered, as though Disney, Facebook and Goldman Sachs were champions of the people and excellent teachers of morality. I am not saying that a large business may not be conducted with something like basic morality; but, apart from the record of the specific companies concerned, The fact that the whole class of international big business had set up this common howl shows that, at the very least, they feel themselves protected from whatever sacrifice may be asked of the common populace. Otherwise they would, at best, be silent, and at worst be howling against the accords. The eye of big business, from its Victorian rise to this day, has always been to the bottom line, and they have always been willing and ready to fight in every possible manner anything that would damage their dividends. What is more, it is likely from their behaviour that at least some of them think that earth-worship morality may further their interests. In other circumstances, such a coming together of huge and dangerous special interests would have drawn the unfavourable attention of journalists. Today they applaud it.

But even before I had stopped being overwhelmed – though hardly surprised – by the blatancy of the whole operation, I was struck as if with a wet, smelly fish in the face, by the absurdity and pettiness of Theresa May's government. May, mind you, is quite clearly an earth-worship religionist; and she has taken the personal step of phoning Trump to inform him of her “disappointment” - a strong step by any standard. And yet, even in this dramatic moment, she has not been willing to put her signature to a document signed by the governments of Germany, France and Italy, condemning Trump's decision and reasserting the Paris Accords. So much does it matter to her to establish her particularist, literally Little Englander credentials. At a moment when the European Union and China, rightly or wrongly, are about to issue a joint statement on the Paris Accord, to take the position that you support their position but will not collaborate with them is nothing short of pathetic.

And that had no sooner gone by, that the BBC had me yelling at the radio and arguing in favour of May. And again, it is on an issue on which I do not support her. She had said that she would be, and I quote, “working to achieve” the hoped-for reduction of the balance of immigration into Britain to the tens of thousands. The meaning of that must have been clear to every intelligent person who heard it; being that she would do whatever she could think of, she would “work” towards it, but would not promise – could not promise – she would achieve it. And yet the BBC claimed that one of her ministers had “contradicted” her when he said, exactly, that they could not make any promises on the matter. To such a pitch of idocy and blindness does the “gotcha” culture drive people. It is possible to understand how such things happen: the heated atmosphere of a press conference, the need to get a juicy soundbite, the approximate understanding that always occurs when people work with their voices and with their memories instead of starting from extensive records. What is tragic and ignoble is that such a gross failure of understanding should be preserved, surviving the editorial process, and be broadcast as “news” every hour on the hour. This is not only bad in itself: it is counter-educational, teaching people to miss obvious connections and to look for breaks even where they aren't there. It is literally contrary to what is supposed to be the BBC's primary educational mission. And it brings to a suitably crashing end these few minutes of folly, irrationality, and bad religion.
10:14 am
A few words on the BBC news broadcast of this morning
Today's BBC news broadcast left me with a despairing sense of the mentality and attitudes of pretty much everyone it touched. First, of course, there was the hysteria about climate change. Some of my friends will remember my view about this subject: that is that climate changes, because that's what it does, and mankind can no more affect it by reducing its energy consumption by a certain amount than it can stop a flood by waving a couple of bone sticks at it and chanting “hocus pocus”. There are still many excellent reasons to reduce pollution and waste, first of all the rescue of many environments (it breaks my heart every time I see my beautiful country scarred by worthless development and uncontrolled waste dumping), the environment and a reduction, hopefully an end, in the destruction of animal and plant species; but this idea of “the planet” as a whole, put into danger by vicious human activities and rescued by correct ritual performance, is nothing but a degraded religious idea. So did the Aztecs believe that the sun kept rising and falling because they sacrificed human beings to it.

In an age of fake religions, a true, if disastrous, religion, a philosophy of existence as I call it, has unconsciously emerged: a worship of “the planet” as a whole, as an entity worthy of sacrifice in itself. It's not exactly pantheism, for pantheism would involve the whole universe; it is a kind of cosmic nationalism that places all value and all moral demand within it. So, a hundred years ago, nationalists placed all kinds of value within the nation, and Italian Fascists used the word “Italian” to mean “morally good, excellent, and admirable”, an “Italian idea” being the same as a great and progressive idea. The Earth is now vested with this kind of idolatry; it is the new idol to whom those who deliberately deprived themselves of higher religions come and worshsip. Religion gets a very bad rap in our time, and to judge by the performance of these novel religionists, there is a reason. They have been deprived of any sense of religion as a life of the intellect by their educators' terror of “sectarianism” and “bias”, and they know noting about Plato, Thomas Aquinas, or Kierkegaard, or about the bond of religion and philosophy. (Horribly, polls tell us that the favourite philosophers of those English who know enough to tell the difference are Karl Marx and David Hume.) And having no notion that religion is something that stimulates thought and creates debate, they approach it as only the most benighted and bewildered fanatics ever approached their religion – as a mental fetish or idol, whose every word is command, never to be doubted, discussed, or confronted.

This attitude was evident in what was called the BBC's “report” on President Trump's decision to vacate the Paris Accords – a decision that was fully within his rights as the head of an independent state. It was no more reporting than a party manifesto is an objective account of the state of a country. It was a half-hysterical, half-triumphant, wholly uncritical list of all those heroes of earth-worship morality who had denounced Trump. Even the list of corporate charmers who had discovered their earth-worship morality in this time of drama was uncritically and triumphantly delivered, as though Disney, Facebook and Goldman Sachs were champions of the people and excellent teachers of morality. I am not saying that a large business may not be conducted with something like basic morality; but, apart from the record of the specific companies concerned, The fact that the whole class of international big business had set up this common howl shows that, at the very least, they feel themselves protected from whatever sacrifice may be asked of the common populace. Otherwise they would, at best, be silent, and at worst be howling against the accords. The eye of big business, from its Victorian rise to this day, has always been to the bottom line, and they have always been willing and ready to fight in every possible manner anything that would damage their dividends. What is more, it is likely from their behaviour that at least some of them think that earth-worship morality may further their interests. In other circumstances, such a coming together of huge and dangerous special interests would have drawn the unfavourable attention of journalists. Today they applaud it.

But even before I had stopped being overwhelmed – though hardly surprised – by the blatancy of the whole operation, I was struck as if with a wet, smelly fish in the face, by the absurdity and pettiness of Theresa May's government. May, mind you, is quite clearly an earth-worship religionist; and she has taken the personal step of phoning Trump to inform him of her “disappointment” - a strong step by any standard. And yet, even in this dramatic moment, she has not been willing to put her signature to a document signed by the governments of Germany, France and Italy, condemning Trump's decision and reasserting the Paris Accords. So much does it matter to her to establish her particularist, literally Little Englander credentials. At a moment when the European Union and China, rightly or wrongly, are about to issue a joint statement on the Paris Accord, to take the position that you support their position but will not collaborate with them is nothing short of pathetic.

And that had no sooner gone by, that the BBC had me yelling at the radio and arguing in favour of May. And again, it is on an issue on which I do not support her. She had said that she would be, and I quote, “working to achieve” the hoped-for reduction of the balance of immigration into Britain to the tens of thousands. The meaning of that must have been clear to every intelligent person who heard it; being that she would do whatever she could think of, she would “work” towards it, but would not promise – could not promise – she would achieve it. And yet the BBC claimed that one of her ministers had “contradicted” her when he said, exactly, that they could not make any promises on the matter. To such a pitch of idocy and blindness does the “gotcha” culture drive people. It is possible to understand how such things happen: the heated atmosphere of a press conference, the need to get a juicy soundbite, the approximate understanding that always occurs when people work with their voices and with their memories instead of starting from extensive records. What is tragic and ignoble is that such a gross failure of understanding should be preserved, surviving the editorial process, and be broadcast as “news” every hour on the hour. This is not only bad in itself: it is counter-educational, teaching people to miss obvious connections and to look for breaks even where they aren't there. It is literally contrary to what is supposed to be the BBC's primary educational mission. And it brings to a suitably crashing end these few minutes of folly, irrationality, and bad religion.

Current Mood: grim
Thursday, March 2nd, 2017
1:47 pm
Thursday, February 23rd, 2017
5:30 pm
AN APALLING SCANDAL
The appointment of Cressida Dick to lead London's Metropolitan Police - the body known across the world as Scotland Yard - is an apalling scandal. It is scandalous enough that the lady should still be working at the upper levels of a police force; to place her at the most senior post in all British policing is an outrage.

Cressida Dick is the woman responsible for the slaughter of Jean Charles de Menezes. In case you had forgotten, or never heard (though a couple of hundred million Brazilians certainly have, and I assume they will be making their views known), this young Brazilian electrician working in London was butchered by eleven police bullets while sitting in an underground train. His only fault was to have a rather dark complexion, like many Brazilians, and to live next to a terrorism suspect. Now no matter how blundering and wrong the actual policemen who shot de Menezes were, they were only the executors of a disastrously misconceived and misperformed plan. The commander was Cressida Dick; and the commander is responsible when something goes wrong.

But Commander Dick had long since been singled out for high promotion - probably since she enlisted, with an Oxford degree to smooth the way. I am an alumnus and I love Oxford, but there are two Oxfords. One is the great research university, respected across the world, with a couple of dozen Nobel prizewinners and umpteen top scholars; and the other is the pons asinorum intended to licence people for political careers, which produces most of England's ministers and Prime Ministers. If you are studying a science subject, or a humanities research subject, you are probably part of the former; if you are reading English, Theology, or, God help us, PPE - Philosophy Politics and Economics, the course for budding politicians - you belong to the latter. I suspect Commander Dick was. She was certainly slated for the top before she got de Menezes killed. And in any country but England it would be incredible that she could survive such a disaster; in England it's not even surprising - though it is deeply disgusting - that she did.

Above and beyond any design to promote a woman to the top spot, which was indubitably part of the issue, you have to remember that the English suffer to a quite extraordinary extent from the syndrome called doubling down. To become obstinate in the defence of something just because you suspect you might be wrong is a universal humain failing; but in England, it's a national bad habit. The English are ALWAYS at their most obstinate when they are in the wrong. And so it is not at all surprising that a woman who should have been drummed out of the force for homicidal incompetence is now being put at its head.

Current Mood: angry
Saturday, February 18th, 2017
10:21 pm
An attempt at prophecy: where is Europe going?
It occurred to me that in several European countries, politics are going in a direction that leads to a scenario that is very similar to that of Italy from 1946 to 1994. During that period, a large Communist opposition and a much smaller Fascist one remained permanently in opposition, because by their nature they could not be allowed into government. This forced a number of widely different parties - the secular conservative Liberal party, the non-socialist, left-of-centre Republicans, the Social Democrats and Socialists - all representing long and individual traditions, to form majorities together with the confessional alliance Christian Democracy, which was more a grouping of parties than a party in itself and went from near-Fascist to Christian Socialist. The secular parties despised the confessional nature of the Christian Democrats, especially since Catholics had been effectively kept out of the government of Italy since independence, and their rise to dominance in the elections of 1945 and 1948 was something like a revolution. This was the reason for the famous frailty of Italian governments: the priorities, views and values of the majority parties were by no means always compatible, and sometimes one of them - most often the Liberals or the Socialists - went into opposition. That is why government crises and elections used to be frequent in Italy, even though majority and opposition never really changed.

Now what is happening in the Netherlands, in Sweden, and to some extent in France and Germany too, is that an opposition is forming that is really not fit to govern, but is strong enough that, in the long run,only a great coalition of the more respectable forces can keep them out of power. Certainly neither the Sweden Democrats, with their notorious Nazi origins, nor Geert Wilders' Freedom Party, who make Trump look steady and polite, nor Alternativ fuer Deutschland or the Front National are either ready or fit to govern; but they are increasingly becoming the real opposition in their own countries, crowding the more respectable and old-fashioned parties together, and forcing alliances that, though increasingly inevitable and necessary, will not be comfortable for anyone involved. The countries that laughed at Italy's revolving door cabinets are soon going to be experiencing them.

Current Mood: thoughtful
Tuesday, January 31st, 2017
5:35 pm
A sad moment
One of the worst things about Trump is that he is bringing out the worst in his enemies. He is so ghastly that they feel entitled to vomit out the worst of their vanity, group hate, racism and narrow-mindedness, in the unacknowledged certainty that any stick is good enough to beat Trump and Trumpies with, that hate for Trump validates itself and is obviously right. People are saying things that would have been beyond the pale (or only said in the presence of ideological partners) two years ago.

I have had to defriend and block one of the great of comics art, Bill Sienkiewicz. The reason why is behind the LJ-cut, except for what are to me the key words, which are in plain view:

Read more...Collapse )
It's scientifically proven ( I'm not going out to post links- they re everywhere for anyone who wants to stray from their comfort of the FOX/ breitbart bubble) --- that conservatives are genetically wired, and innately predisposed to being afraid-- fearful- of new experiences ,and also that a vast majority of people who voted for him are equally stunted and lacking ithe ability for scrutiny and follow factual evidence. I'm not saying they're all stupid, but evidence supports the case that many cannot process information, lack critical thinking, relying instead reactionary responses, emotions and solutions based on fear and anger.Read more...Collapse )

Bill Sienkiewicz made himself responsible, in a public post, for this kind of outburst. After that, breaking contact with him was the only way I could keep my self-respect.
Friday, January 27th, 2017
6:36 pm
Faith and gullibility
It occurred to me that two enormous obstacles have been placed in the way of Christian belief. The first is the monstrous ignorance of history of most contemporaries, that makes it next to impossible to explain that the New Testament is a collection of contemporary, reliable historical documents; and second, the very concept of "belief system", which makes any religion so labelled into a mere matter of arranging "beliefs", as opposed to understanding facts. No wonder that crooks are everywhere busy inventing "religions" from wicca to scientology, with no basis in fact, and for the sole purpose of flattering their customers' minds and make money at their expense.

The two obstacles are related. If people are not allowed to understand that the narrative of John is as much a matter of experienced fact as that of Julius Caesar, and that both must be taken prima facie as eyewitness material, there is no matter of fact to be considered, only belief.

The point with Christian belief is rather different. It is that there are reliable, credible historical documents that make an incredible claim, namely that a man cured leprosy, insanity and blindness by command, raised the dead two or three times, calmed a sea storm, twice fed thousands from food barely sufficient for one person, and, having been very publicly and demonstrably killed, was soon after alive again. Obviously the point is whether you believe this account or not. That is why faith is accounted a virtue for Christians; NOT because you are supposed to believe IN DEFAULT of evidence or INDEPENDENTLY of any evidence.
Sunday, January 22nd, 2017
6:49 pm
Roland and Baldr
Throughout the Indo-European worldRead more...Collapse )
Saturday, January 21st, 2017
8:29 am
To me, the repulsive clashes between "protesters," police and "deplorables" are an ugly sign of things to come. People on both sides have lost, or rather have never had, the ability to live with defeat. Trump is a detestable creature, but he is largely the creation of a political culture that no longer allows dissent or difference, because it is genuinely convinced that it contains all legitimate "diversity" - that diversity it always demands that we should celebrate - and that is therefore incapable of recognizing real diversity. Half the free world feels despised, limited and squashed by the pressure of this diversity without difference, and has for a long time now been trying to find a way to react. Trump has given them the perfect vehicle to do so.

There are ladies and gentlemen and people of sterling honesty in the diversity party, people like my friend Michael Rosenblum, who would go out in the rain to pay a penny debt, or Anna Maria Ballester Bohn, kindness incarnate with a funny face, or Carla Speed McNeil, artistic genius and good person, or half a dozen others, the kind of people who brighten the lives of their friends and leave a clean smell when they leave. I do not doubt their sincerity, but I doubt their knowledge of the world. Time and again they make remarks that just don't agree with my experience of the opponents. The effect of the views they follow is ultimately oppressive and aggressive. Firmly convinced that they are righting injustices and setting up new rights, they are in fact - not personally, never in a million years personally - trampling on established rights and working to silence and persecute truth. And there is a streak of persecution complex that is set to do a lot of damage. They are sincerely convinced that Trumpies are coming to brutalize and rape them. In this mood, even understanding the enemy is experienced as a kind of temptation: why should you try to understand a bunch of vicious, misogynistic racists?

I have never been of the enemy party either. My loathing of Ayn Randism and my contempt for gun "rights" make it impossible for many of them to even speak with me. The gun nuts especially reason with the logic of addicts. As with the rainbow party, understanding the enemy is not something to do but a temptation to be avoided, because anything that might undermine your precious hold on your piece of murdering iron would expose you naked and helpless to a terrible, homicidal universe. You cannot reason with a man who has willingly made himself an addict to his own fears. Like the rainbow nut's vision of the Trumpies, an undifferentiated mob existing in an ecstasy of rape and murder, the gun nut's world is one huge threat from which only his murder implements protect him.

I don't want to go further. I think you can imagine what I fear in a country where two opposing forces have many members in this state of mind.
Friday, January 20th, 2017
1:15 am
The mills of God grind slowly - and now we are about to get the bran
Donald Trump is the end result of every subversive tendency in the Sexual Revolution. He is Justice Kennedy's "at the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life" incarnate and personified. That concept, of course, has nothing to with liberty: quite to the contrary, it is the installation of a tyrannical, uncontrolled ego at the centre of each human being's universe - the invention of a world of a million million tyrants. To "define one's own concept of meaning, of the universe" is to impose it on external reality. It is to say "that is what I want, that is what I order" to the world at large. Now the child of that thought walks into the White House.
Wednesday, January 18th, 2017
8:09 pm
A sketch of ideas for sociology of knowledge
When the study of law as a school subject began in the twelfth century, it did not begin with the active common law that at the time dominated Europe, including Italy. It began with Roman law, with the Theodosian and Justinianic codes, preserved in libraries. That was simply what the scholars of the time regarded as true learning, worthy of study. It was from the schools that Roman law poured out across the landscape to dominate most of the European continent, except for England. And yet Roman law had considerable flaws as compared with common law.
This is parallel with the way that "comics" fandom has developed out of superhero fandom and is still largely dominated by it. IN the sixties and seventies, superheroes were irrelevant to most adults and in a definite commercial retreat. But the number of fans who became professionals not only in comics but across the media, in movies, in advertising, in television, in publishing, means that the genre became influential far beyond its apparent reach. Meanwhile, "Comics" fandom continued to be focused on superheroes and associated fields (science fiction, horror, fantasy), even though most comics across the world don't really pertain to them.

So the idea of what is important in the fields of knowledge depends mostly by the social processes within the area. Those fields that have an organizational advance on the rest - superhero fandom among comics, like twelfth-century Roman law experts in the field of law - tend to set the rules for the whole field.
Tuesday, January 10th, 2017
7:43 pm
Friday, January 6th, 2017
1:59 pm
Trump sits and sniggers
And these people call the Trump electors stupid.

I can say very sincerely that I don't have much of an opinion of the brains, far-sightedness, or cunning, of the average modern politician. As far as I am concerned the breed of Bismarck and Disraeli, never mind Cavour and Lincoln, is extinct. But for sheer insanity of stupidity, for self-destructive inability to see the nose on your face, for doing the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way and for the wrong motives, absolutely nothing compares with the pursuit of Russian hacking of Democrat computers. The Democrats should forget about those damned e-mails. They should forget about Russian intrusion, Putin, Assange, the FSB, Russian hackers and everything else. They are doing, quite literally, every wrong thing they possibly could. And if they have any influence on the CIA and the FBI at all, they should tell these bodies to shut up about them, too.

Consider, first and foremost, what a disastrous scene is playing out right now. Leaders of America's “intelligence community”, as they call them these days, are going to the President-elect to, in effect, beg him to show some public support for their position. This places Trump in the position of the receiver of supplications, and the arch-spies in the position supplicants. Now, if they think that Trump will ever give in on the issue in any public way, they are so politically stupid that to remove them from their positions would be a relief: nobody who puts himself in such a humiliating and destructive position should be in a position to advise the most powerful man in the world. What the Hell are they thinking? Even if Trump were a good man, he would not have the least incentive to give in to their demands. He has called their credibility into question; to go back on that would be a setback, and also an open sign of creeping compromise with the hated DC establishment he has been elected to trash. And what does he have to lose if he doesn't? Precisely nothing. The half of his supporters who admire him regard his behaviour as all-American, and the half who voted for him in horror at the idea of a third Democrat term had such a low idea of him anyway that nothing could lower it. His core supporters would probably not think of being shocked at nations interfering in each other's internal affairs; as far as they are concerned, that is what they do. And indeed there is something about this that the Democrats, in particular, ought not to be doing, since the idea of American politicians complaining about foreign countries interfering in their elections would make a lot of the traditional left in foreign countries gag. American interference in other countries' politics is part of the hereditary folklore of exactly those forces who ought to be the Democrats' natural allies on the international stage, and to have the CIA of all agencies be the bearer of protests on this subject would rouse the bitter laughter of hundreds of millions from Santiago to Berlin. There are instruments of power that the Democrats should not be seen to be using.

But if the tactics are demented, the strategy is suicidal. The Democrats should have killed talk about those damned hacked e-mails. They should have made sure that everyone forgot that they had ever been published. Because whether or not it was the Russians who hacked them, there is one thing that no Democrat has been able to say: that they are not true. And so long as they are, and so long as they are in public, they show that everything that Catholics and Christians believe about the Democrat leadership and their attitude to them is absolutely true. The ignorance, the brutality, the contempt, the assumption that Catholicism is a remnant to be swept into the trash-can of history, are all there in black and white. And that is exactly what the Democrats should try to make people forget.

Trump has not been elected by the hard-core of unfocussed anger he expresses. He has been elected because millions of Catholics and Evangelicals had become convinced that another term such as the last two would mean the beginning of persecution in earnest, a legal and extra-legal assault on the churches that would lead them to have to make the dreadful choice between apostasy and second-rate citizenship. The split in the Christian communities ran between those who, like me, Catherine Alexander, or Rachel Hamilton, thought that Trump was so bad that he would pollute every cause he touched, and those, like Tony Esolen or Jonathon van Maren, thought that the prospect of a Rodham Clinton presidency had to be avoided even at the price of touching the foul thing. The idea of a widespread Christian enthusiasm for the orange adulterer is grossly overstated. Many people, as Barbara Ehrenreich observed, voted in advance, as if to get the damned thing over with.

But if that is the case, and if the Christian vote made the difference, then, if the Democrats cannot wean themselves of their addiction to abortion and rainbow causes, they should at least do their best not to have it talked about. And that means silence, silence, silence. And if personal documents fall into enemy hands to show what your real attitude is, be superior, ignore them, treat them with contempt. The madder you get, the more you prove that it's all true, and that the enemy has shown you as you are.
Thursday, January 5th, 2017
10:12 pm
Charmers
Translators like me work mostly from internet contacts, which means we can have clients across the world. I have a link with an agency in the Palestinian Territory, no less, with whom I haven't done a lot of work - and the story that happened today will tell you why.

Morning, I get an urgent request for revision for a death certificate. The job is easy, and the certificate tells a heartbreaking story - a girl of twelve, dead in a foreign country, probably in a holiday, from what sounds like an undiagnosed brain aneurism. The fee offered is tiny but adequate, if hardly generous. It's easy work, and I do the best I can - because I always do, and because in this case I am moved.

A few hours later I get another e-mail from the same source. Another bit of the job needs doing fast, the consul is waiting, the body needs to be released. I open the attachment - and immediately fire off a response.

"Are you having me on? This is not a bit of additional revision, this is the translation of a whole, sizeable, official letter. This is a full new job and I will charge for it separately and at my minimum rate."

Immediate answer. Sorry and all, it was a mistake, it IS a separate job - offered at a fee two-thirds of what I'd required.

Me: sorry, but that was my absolute minimum, and I've already done you a favour by reckoning it in dollars instead of British pounds.

I did not hear from them again.
Wednesday, December 21st, 2016
1:13 pm
I'm off to see the Wizard.... well, Shezan, actually
Tickets for Paris on the seventh bought and paid for. Considering that I live in London and have lived in Rome, Oxford and Milan, it might be surprising how excited I am about this, but I've only ever been in Paris once before, and that was (like this time) for a few hours only. I reckon I'll do it again pretty soon. And I might want to visit Edinburgh and York, who knows?
Friday, November 11th, 2016
11:02 pm
Pas d'ennemis à gauche, Pas d'ennemis à droite
The most shocking part of the Trump triumph has been the open and unresisted entrance of the hard right, from the Ku Klux Klan to Stormfront, into the ranks of Trump supporters.

I imagine most Trump supporters don't want to argue on this, and that most would say that it has nothing to do with them and that it does not affect them. But that would be wrong. It marks a serious change in political attitudes, with Trump adopting, like Berlusconi before him, the old and bad motto of the left: "No enemies to the left". I have seen it happen before. When Berlusconi set up his new centre-left gathering, he deliberately let in the fascist party - MSI-DN - which had been excluded from all previous parliamentary alliances. Part of this party, which tended to win four or five per cent of votes, was made of decent citizens with a stupid attitude to the Fascist past; but a considerable minority were outright thugs waiting for a chance.

It's not as though those people had lots of votes to offer (if they had, we'd have long been in trouble): it's a kind of perverse principle, which I have already observed at work among American conservatives, that says "It's impossible that right-wingers might be wicked or totalitarian", just like the old socialists found it impossible to say that people who mouthed the word "socialism" might be tyrants and monsters. The stupidest and yet most widespread instance of this refusal to accept that right-wingers might be villains is the idiotic and universal American conservative belief that Hitler and Mussolini were socialists. This is the same as our old socialist friends asserting that, ultimately, Stalin and Mao were nationalists and fascists. When confronted with the facts, they stuttered and changed the subject.
Sunday, October 9th, 2016
3:44 am
Friday, September 23rd, 2016
7:04 am
A tragedy
I don't know how to say this. Sometimes life just leaves you bewildered at the injustice of brute chance, and tempted to curse, were it not that you know how useless it would be.

My older friends will know that I am fond of fanfic and that I have sometimes found, among the many merely lively and interesting products, a few that have, in my view, the dignity of great literature and that stand a good chance of immortality. You may remember what I had to say about Hijja or Inverarity.

This week I came across another of the same level, on the site Twisting The Hellmouth: someone who signed himself "becuzitswrong", and whose story, "Life's Ending, Life's Beginning," was simply magnificent, broad in conception and moving across the whole range of expression from heart-rending tragedy and loss to heroic brilliance to sweet, affecting teen-age romance.

And on the very morning after I had been kept up half the night reading this remarkable story (and had only got a third of the way through), I read on Twisting The Hellmouth that he had died, just keeling over one day as he was mowing the lawn.
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