These are all the Blogs posted on Tuesday, 28, 2006.
Tuesday, 28 March 2006
Author Stanislaw Lem dies
From the BBC today.
Polish author Stanislaw Lem, most famous for science fiction works including Solaris, has died aged 84, after suffering from heart disease.
He sold more than 27 million copies of his works, translated into about 40 languages, and a number were filmed.
His 1961 novel Solaris was made into a movie by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky in 1971 and again by American Steven Soderbergh in 2002........
Lem was born in 1921 in Lviv in Ukraine and studied medicine there before World War II. He moved to Krakow in 1946.
He concentrated on science fiction writing, a genre regarded by the Polish socialist government as fairly harmless in terms of censorship.
However, his first major novel, Hospital of the Transfiguration, went unpublished for eight years until the ideological thaw that followed Soviet leader Josef Stalin's death in 1956.
I am not a huge science fiction fan, but I have actually read quite a bit, for the simple reason that so many of my friends were aficionados, and if I wanted something to read on the train Asimov, Niven and Alldis were readily available. I bought The Star Diaries as a present for one friend and read it myself. And of all the strange books that I read during that period that is the one that sticks in my mind. Because it was a satire on the absurdities of trying to live in a totalitarian state. As the title suggests the hero is writing about all the places he has visited in his little spaceship. Such as a world where the robots spoke Chaucerian English. That translated into English quite well and I had the advantage on my technically minded friends there.
Another time when he was stuck in a time warp and copies of himself at every age appeared every hour. He questioned the oldest "him" to find out how he got out of the scrape but "he" was too forgetful. Eventually three of the youngest and most mischievous "hims" mended the ship without him noticing. A city was run on the electricity generated by the children as they naturally fidgeted and jumped over the furniture.
Most profound was an underwater world populated by humans who breathed ordinary air. In order to survive underwater they learned to hold their breath for long periods but had to keep making excuses to rise to the surface every half hour or so. Elaborate strategies were developed to excuse these visits, while retaining the illusion that life underwater was fine and dandy. Sound familiar? Even I could see that it was an allegory of life under communism but isn’t it reminiscent of what we hear about another ideology that covers every aspect of life?
The Star Diaries seems to be out of print now in English in the UK and is only available (expensively) second hand. Which I think is a shame.
Stanislav Lem 1921 to 2006
Posted on 03/28/2006 12:54 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Tuesday, 28 March 2006
Yesterday's Times carried a news item on a "new European league of IQ scores". Here it is:
It is disappointing that we are not "top nation", but on the other hand we would not wish to be "too clever by half", that very English insult. So does the article express pleasure at beating Finland or Serbia? No. The headline is:
"Germans are brainier (but at least we're smarter than the French)"
This is rather clumsy, as headlines go, but few Times readers will question the sentiment expressed. The first paragraph of the article continues in francophobe form:
BRITAIN and France have experienced long periods of conflict and rivalry but now victory in one area can be claimed: Britons are more intelligent than the French.
A new European league of IQ scores has ranked the British in eighth place, well above the French, who were 19th. According to Richard Lynn of the University of Ulster, Britons have an average IQ of 100. The French scored 94.
The Times is a quality broadsheet, not a tub-thumping tabloid. Yet this kind of thing is not unusual. And there can be few Englishmen who did not rub their hands in glee at this story, or this. But surely we are all Europeans now?
Not according to Robert and Isabelle Tombs, who have written what promises to be an excellent book, That Sweet Enemy. The book is reviewed by Judith Flanders in The Spectator (subscription required):
A French journalist writing in 1999 was succinct: ‘The English hate the French. Who reciprocate … A purée of prejudice on a bed of inherited loathing. The French consider the English to be arrogant islanders, eating boiled lamb with mint, and not knowing how to be seductive. The English consider us talkative, arrogant, dirty, smelling of sweat and garlic, flighty, cheating and corrupt.’ ‘Inherited’ may be the most telling word in that outburst, and it is Robert and Isabelle Tombs’ keynote in this magisterial study of the on-going love-hate relationship between the British and the French over three centuries.
The relationship, as they point out, is unique: it has lasted longer than that between any other European or American nations; and it has affected not only the countries’ political systems, but their economies, their cultures and, not least, their views of themselves as well as of each other. It created the ideas of France and Britain as nations, as each country defined itself by what it was not. Further afield the struggle — and, later, the alliance — between the two countries shaped large swathes of Asia, Africa and the Americas.
After a detailed and what promises to be fascinating discussion of the naval race of the 1790s, the book discusses how this rivalry plays out in literature:
British 19th-century proto-Peter Mayle (depicts) ‘unsophisticated, incompetent, but honest and warm-hearted peasants’; and an early 20th-century British invasion novel, where ‘a doughty Cockney cyclist’, captured as a spy, shouts, ‘La Hongletaire est la première nation de la monde [sic]’, leaving his captors reluctantly murmuring, ‘Sacré bleu, c’est vrai’, as they release him. The prize must surely go, however, to the fashion in 1760s France for novels portraying English characters named Fanni, Sidnei, Wuillaume, Nency, Betsi and ‘Sir W. Shittleheaded’. Yet although the authors have clearly enjoyed these books for their own sakes, they also have historical points to make: just as the 1760s saw a period of Anglophilia reflected in French fiction, so after the Revolution Anglophobia can be measured by the works of Stendhal, de Vigny and Balzac, where the English can pretty well be relied on to be the villains (by the Tombs’ count, nearly all of the 31 English characters in Balzac are morally reprehensible).
Language has always been one of the clearest ways of marking distance between the two peoples...the hysteria of the Académie Française over ‘language-creep’ only focuses on English — no fiats command that pizza should turn into flan au fromage. Fear and disdain are focused solely on English..
For the British remain the Goddams, just as the French are the snail-eaters. These stereotypes were already in place in the 18th century; Victor Hugo restated them more elegantly in the 19th: ‘On one side precision, foresight, geometry, prudence, stubborn sang-froid. On the other, intuition, guess-work, the unorthodox, superhuman instinct.’
Stubborn sang-froid? That would be the typical Englishman's bloody cold that he never quite manages to shake off.
Book reviews can be a pleasure to read whether or not they make you want to read the book. But in this case, my appetite is definitely whetted. I particularly want to find out more about Sir W Shittleheaded.
Posted on 03/28/2006 3:44 AM by Mary Jackson
Tuesday, 28 March 2006
McCarthy: Cold Comfort on Islam and Apostasy
Iconoclast contributor and former federal prosecuter Andy McCarthy has a must read piece at NRO:
Here’s a riddle: What begins with words “In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,” a formal Islamic salutation also commonly used by militants in their warnings, fatwas, and claims of responsibility regarding terrorist acts?
What extols the virtues of “rightful jehad” (also known as jihad) in its very first sentence?
What in its first article declares its sovereignty to be an “Islamic Republic,” and in its second installs Islam as the official “religion of the state”?
What, in its third article announces to the world that, within the territory it governs, “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam”?
What sets the national calendar by Mohammed’s historic journeys, requires the promotion of religious education, and even mandates that its national anthem must contain the battle cry “Allahu Akbar” (God is great!), most familiar to Westerners in recent times as the triumphant invocation of terrorists doing their dirty work?
What requires that same battle cry to be grafted onto its national flag, along with “the sacred phrase of ‘There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet’”?
What, in the formation of families and upbringing of children, requires the “elimination of traditions contrary to the principles of [the] sacred religion of Islam”?
What requires the nation’s president to be a Muslim, and to swear to Allah, at the beginning of the oath of office, “to obey and safeguard the provisions of the sacred religion of Islam”? What requires the same oath of all public ministers?
What permits its judges to be schooled in Islamic jurisprudence (in lieu of any civil legal training) and requires that, upon assuming their offices, those judges take an oath “to support justice and righteousness in accord with the provisions of the sacred religion of Islam”?
What permits its highest court, even if predominantly comprised of judges trained in Islamic law, to interpret for all departments of government the meaning of any law or treaty?
What requires, when no other law directly applies to a question, that the courts decide it “in accord with the Hanafi jurisprudence” (Hanafi being one of the four major schools of Sunni Islamic law), with the lone exception that Shia Islamic principles can be applied in legal cases exclusively involving Shiite Muslims?
What permits any of its terms to be altered with the sole exception that: “The provisions of adherence to the fundamentals of the sacred religion of Islam and the regime of the Islamic Republic cannot be amended”?
The answer, which will come as no surprise to followers of the Abdul Rahman apostasy trial in Kabul, is the Afghan constitution. This is the celebrated foundational law which came into force on January 4, 2004, to the ringing praises of Zalmay Khalilzad, then the American ambassador under whose kneading the drafting process was completed....
Read it all.
Posted on 03/28/2006 9:53 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Tuesday, 28 March 2006
London mayor calls US envoy a 'chiselling little crook'
I feel a bit like I'm telling tales here, Oooooh did you hear what he called so and so?? Without wishing to labour the point of Ken Livingstone's abusive and insulting streak I thought this particular remark would be of interest to US readers. From The Times and the BBC.
Ken Livingstone has been reported to a local government standards watchdog after likening the US ambassador in London to a "chiselling little crook"........Mr Livingstone’s latest outburst came in a row over whether diplomats at the US Embassy should pay the £8-a-day congestion charge.
Since last summer, when the charge increased from £5 to £8, the Embassy has maintained that it is a local tax and therefore, under the Vienna Convention, does not apply to foreign diplomats. It now owes more than £150,000.
Mr Livingtone’s ire was directed at the relatively new US Ambassador Robert Tuttle. The Mayor said: "Since this new ambassador took over in July they have not paid. When British troops are putting their lives on the line for American foreign policy it would be quite nice if they paid the congestion charge.
"We will find a way of getting them into court either here or in America. We are not going to have them skive out of their responsibilities. This new ambassador is a car salesman and an ally of President Bush. This is clearly a political decision."
Later, he was even more forthright, telling ITV’s London Today: "It would actually be quite nice if the American ambassador in Britain could pay the charge that everybody else is paying and not actually try and skive out of it like some chiselling little crook."
A spokesman at the US Embassy said the decision had nothing to do with the arrival of Mr Tuttle and added that British diplomats are not taxed in the US.
On Tuesday Conservatives on the London Assembly said they agreed the US embassy, along with 55 others, should pay the charge, but criticised the mayor's "outburst".
"I am not surprised that people have taken offence to these off hand and irrational remarks," said assembly member Bob Neill.
"It seems that these gaffes are coming on a weekly basis now."
Posted on 03/28/2006 2:42 PM by Esmerelda Weatherwax