These are all the Blogs posted on Sunday, 4, 2008.
Sunday, 4 May 2008
The Right Conquers Rome
John Laughland writes at Brussels Journal:
...Italian politics is often dismissed (in Britain at least) as nothing but a combination of opera buffa and artful corruption. It is true that the country’s political life seems chaotic when viewed from outside; but that is true of Italian life in general, where the appearance of chaos in fact masks the reality of extremely professional organisation. Anyone who has taken a train or a bus in Italy will know this to be true (the contrast with Britain, for instance, is very unfavourable to the British). The Italians are masterful businessmen and very hard-working professionals, who continue to produce some of the world’s best products, from cars and kitchens to fashion and food.
In politics, the Italians combine their well-known flair and kindness with a Latin proclivity for interesting political ideas. Above all, Italian politics are profoundly original: it has often been remarked that the country which appears to have no significant international profile is, in fact, a laboratory for political movements which then catch on elsewhere. No Bismarck without Cavour; no Hitler without Mussolini.
If Italy is indeed in the political avant-garde, there is surely no thinker whose work has had greater political influence in the post-war politics of Europe than the great Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci. Like many Marxists an excruciatingly boring writer, Gramsci famously formulated the idea that the Left should grasp and consolidate its power by establishing cultural hegemony. Whereas Marx and Engels thought that the revolution would come about as a result of impersonal and inevitable historical processes, and whereas Lenin argued that instead the revolution needed to be directed by a highly disciplined, centralised and violent revolutionary party, Gramsci argued that the Left should wield power not only by means of violence and coercion but also by infiltrating the cultural institutions of the state in order to be able to dictate the very terms of reference of the political debate itself.
We are all familiar with what this means in practice. Huge swathes of political discourse are kept off limits by taboos established by the Left. Immigration is perhaps the most obvious of these; those politicians in Europe who have campaigned against mass immigration, like the Front national in France or the Vlaams Blok (now Belang) in Flanders, are demonised as extremists. Some people have managed to campaign against immigration without being so demonised – Sir Andrew Green of Migration Watch in the UK, the Conservative Party and large sections of the British media are examples – but their campaigns have been either muted or unsuccessful or both. This is in spite of the fact that Western Europe continues to suffer from very high levels of net immigration, which are putting huge strains on social relations and the state.
Is Italy about to break the mould? I have always regarded Gianfranco Fini, the leader of the Alleanza Nazionale, as a dismal opportunist. But judging by the language coming out of the mouth of the new Mayor of Rome, as of other Italian politicians, this will soon change. Alemanno has said that any foreigners convicted of crimes in Italy will simply be deported. The temperature has been rising steadily in Italy, and especially in Rome, as vast camps of Romanian gypsies have sprung up in the capital city and elsewhere, from where petty and serious crimes are systematically committed. One would have thought that a promise to apply the law as it stands was a fairly uncontroversial proposition, but when the Front national said it would do the same thing in France, it was denounced as extremist. Italy has already started applying these measures and one can only assume that, with the new political hegemony of the Right, they will continue and be amplified.
If so, Italy will indeed have contributed to what I hope will be sea change in European politics. By breaking the taboo in Rome, the taboo may be broken across Europe. But what about cultural hegemony? Here, too, there are signs of optimism – stronger signs, perhaps, than the promises made on political subjects. For the new Mayor of Rome has also promised to dismantle and remove a new building which has only recently been put up in the centre of the Eternal City and which is, to use his words, an “insult” to it. I refer to Richard Meier’s building which now houses the Ara Pacis, a great Roman monument erected to the glory of the Emperor Augustus.
The Ara Pacis has been undergoing restoration for years, and the work on the new building to house it, on the banks of the Tiber near Piazza del Popolo, has also dragged on for as long as I can remember. Now that the building has been unveiled, we can see the true horror of what Meier has constructed. A disciple of the worst architects of the 20th century, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe – who also espoused its worst political ideologies - Meier puts up culturally Bolshevik buildings which are identical whether they are in Indiana or Barcelona. They all look like car dealerships on the outskirts of Nicosia. The monstrosity which he has created for the Ara Pacis is not only a repetition of his other horrors elsewhere; it also severely disfigures the architecture of Rome which is otherwise a gloriously organic harmony. You can see pictures of it here and pictures of his other buildings here.
Alemanno promised to dismantle the Ara Pacis building when he campaigned for Mayor in 2006. Now he has renewed that promise, albeit saying that it is not a priority given the more pressing security concerns of the capital. No doubt all such political promises can fall victim to the pressures of inertia and opportunism. But if Alemanno does only one thing during his term in office, if he achieves this single act of cultural restoration or counter-revolution, then the entire election will have been well worth it.
Posted on 05/04/2008 6:14 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Sunday, 4 May 2008
Coming To A Gym Near You
More proof, if any were needed, that young girls can be really silly. Everyone was having a good time until Fatima's robes got caught in the treadmill....
Times of India: AHMEDABAD: A bunch of girls between 18-20 years, working out, learning karate and doing aerobics might sound like any other gym, except that the girls are pumping iron in burqas.
And they aspire a size zero Kareena’s body, even under a burqa! Taking a break from the twister, Sajeda, 19, told TOI , "If Kareena could lose so much weight then why not me. I too could be a model or pursue a course in fashion designing. All girls aspire to look pretty and slim, don't they?"
Now that's a dream being realised at this gym in Juhapura, Ahmedabad's largest Muslim neighbourhood. And if you think the burqa hinders the workout, these girls will tell you how they perfected the art of doing the treadmill in a free flowing robe. "We won't shed the burqa, it's a part of our values and upbringing. And it doesn't bother us one bit", says Heena,
At least 25 girls spend three hours every afternoon on aerobics, yoga, exercise, karate and pumping iron.
Their gym instructor, Habib Khan has been enthusiastically working on them for the past two years. "Elders merely expect girls to get married and take care of the house, but it’s essential that a girl learns to protect herself, in fact it is even more important, than eating! Why stop them now, when women are just as good as men", says Khan. Habib's daughter, Zeba, a karate champion, too is among them.
These girls come from orthodox middle class families, and going to the gym is a social revolution in their lives. And all this hoopla about weight loss and perfect figures is also motivated by a prospective marriage. "I don't wish to study" says Heena, who is happy having passed Class XII.
Posted on 05/04/2008 6:52 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Sunday, 4 May 2008
The media and the government are both tying themselves in knots trying to make excuses for Islam. Here is a quote from the government memo issuing guidelines about what officials can and cannot say which belies their assumption that there is nothing wrong with Islam.
In characterizing the broader Muslim American community, the Muslim World: and Islam generally, "mainstream," "ordinary," and "traditional" are preferable to "moderate." One can be deeply religious, strictly adhere to fundamental doctrines, and nevertheless abhor violence.
Imagine having to say that about Buddhists. Here's another story from the New Duranty with the same contradictory message.
KARACHI, Pakistan — Praying in Pakistan has not been easy for Mesut Kacmaz, a Muslim teacher from Turkey.
He tried the mosque near his house, but it had Israeli and Danish flags painted on the floor for people to step on. The mosque near where he works warned him never to return wearing a tie. Pakistanis everywhere assume he is not Muslim because he has no beard.
“Kill, fight, shoot,” Mr. Kacmaz said. “This is a misinterpretation of Islam.”
But that view is common in Pakistan, a frontier land for the future of Islam, where schools, nourished by Saudi and American money dating back to the 1980s, have spread Islamic radicalism through the poorest parts of society. With a literacy rate of just 50 percent and a public school system near collapse, the country is particularly vulnerable...
I see, it's because these people are poor and illiterate that they have this view of Islam, but what about all the professors at Al Azar and all manner of non-poor and non-ignorant "mainstream" clerics, both Sunni and Shi'a? It's also interesting that the author, Sabrina Tavernise, added American money in addition to Saudi money which "nourished" Islamic radicalism. If American money was spent, it was in the naive hope of building schools to educate Muslim children in the norms of the modern world, whereas Saudi money would have been spent openly to strengthen Islam. The Turkish schools being opened in Pakistan, while claiming to inculcate a "moderate," that is to say, non-violent Islam, actually counsel the young to be more cunning and patient. The slow Jihad is more effective than the fast Jihad.
The Turkish schools, which have expanded to seven cities in Pakistan since the first one opened a decade ago, cannot transform the country on their own. But they offer an alternative approach that could help reduce the influence of Islamic extremists.
They prescribe a strong Western curriculum, with courses, taught in English, from math and science to English literature and Shakespeare. They do not teach religion beyond the one class in Islamic studies that is required by the state. Unlike British-style private schools, however, they encourage Islam in their dormitories, where teachers set examples in lifestyle and prayer.
“Whatever the West has of science, let our kids have it,” said Erkam Aytav, a Turk who works in the new schools. “But let our kids have their religion as well.”
That approach appeals to parents in Pakistan, who want their children to be capable of competing with the West without losing their identities to it. Allahdad Niazi, a retired Urdu professor in Quetta, a frontier town near the Afghan border, took his son out of an elite military school, because it was too authoritarian and did not sufficiently encourage Islam, and put him in the Turkish school, called PakTurk.
“Private schools can’t make our sons good Muslims,” Mr. Niazi said, sitting on the floor in a Quetta house. “Religious schools can’t give them modern education. PakTurk does both.”
The model is the brainchild of a Turkish Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gulen. A preacher with millions of followers in Turkey, Mr. Gulen, 69, comes from a tradition of Sufism, an introspective, mystical strain of Islam. He has lived in exile in the United States since 2000, after getting in trouble with secular Turkish officials.
Mr. Gulen’s idea, Mr. Aytav said, is that “without science, religion turns to radicalism, and without religion, science is blind and brings the world to danger.”
Ms. Tavernise obviously hasn't bothered to look into the public statements of this "Sufi mystic," Fethullah Gulen, such as the following:
"You must move in the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence, until you reach all the power centers… until the conditions are ripe, they [the followers] must continue like this. If they do something prematurely, the world will crush our heads, and Muslims will suffer everywhere, like in the tragedies in Algeria, like in 1982 [in] Syria… like in the yearly disasters and tragedies in Egypt. The time is not yet right. You must wait for the time when you are complete, and conditions are ripe, until we can shoulder the entire world and carry it… You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power, until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institutions in Turkey… Until that time, any step taken would be too early - like breaking an egg without waiting the full 40 days for it to hatch. It would be like killing the chick inside. The work to be done is [in] confronting the world. Now, I have expressed my feelings and thoughts to you all - in confidence… trusting your loyalty and sensitivity to secrecy. I know that when you leave here - [just] as you discard your empty juice boxes, you must discard the thoughts and feelings expressed here."
"The philosophy of our service is that we open a house somewhere and, with the patience of a spider, we lay our web, to wait for people to get caught in the web; and we teach those who do. We don't lay the web to eat or consume them, but to show them the way to their resurrection, to blow life into their dead bodies and souls, to give them a life."
Back to Ms. Tavernise's article:
“They are totally against extremism,” Mr. Bari said of the Turks. “They are true Muslims. They will make my brother into a true Muslim. He’ll deal with people with justice and wisdom. Not with impatience.”...
In an interview in 2004, published in a book of his writings, Mr. Gulen put it like this: “In the countries where Muslims live, some religious leaders and immature Muslims have no other weapon in hand than their fundamental interpretation of Islam. They use this to engage people in struggles that serve their own purposes.”
Moderate as that sounds, some Turks say Mr. Gulen uses the schools to advance his own political agenda. Murat Belge, a prominent Turkish intellectual who has experience with the movement, said that Mr. Gulen “sincerely believes that he has been chosen by God,” and described Mr. Gulen’s followers as “Muslim Jesuits” who are preparing elites to run the country.
Hakan Yavuz, a Turkish professor at the University of Utah who has had extensive experience with the Gulen movement, offered a darker assessment.
“The purpose here is very much power,” Mr. Yavuz said. “The model of power is the Ottoman Empire and the idea that Turks should shape the Muslim world.”...
But while radical Islamists seek to re-establish a seventh-century Islamic caliphate, without nations or borders, and more moderate Islamists, like Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, use secular democracy to achieve the goal of an Islamic state, Mr. Gulen is a nationalist who says he wants no more than a secular democracy where citizens are free to worship, a claim secular Turks find highly suspect.
The problem with this analysis is Ms. Tavernise ignores goals and focuses solely on means to describe the difference between radical and moderate "Islamists." The goals are religious (Islamic supremacy) and well nigh universal among Muslims, the means are political which includes qitaal or combat (warfare is "politics by other means" - Clauswitz). It is the means to obtain political goals that differ among Muslims.
Still, his schools are richly supported by Turkish businessmen. M. Ihsan Kalkavan, a shipping magnate who has built hotels in Nigeria, helped finance Gulen schools there, which he said had attracted the children of the Nigerian elite.
“When we take our education experiment to other countries, we introduce ourselves. We say, ‘See, we’re not terrorists.’ When people get to know us, things change,” Mr. Kalkavan said in his office in Istanbul.
He estimated the number of Mr. Gulen’s followers in Turkey at three million to five million. The network itself does not provide estimates, and Mr. Gulen declined to be interviewed.
The schools, which also operate in Christian countries like Russia, are not for Muslims alone, and one of their stated aims is to promote interfaith understanding. Mr. Gulen met the previous pope, as well as Jewish and Orthodox Christian leaders, and teachers in the schools say they stress multiculturalism and universal values...
Posted on 05/04/2008 7:19 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Sunday, 4 May 2008
Fini Now And Berlinguer Then
"I have always regarded Gianfranco Fini, the leader of the Alleanza Nazionale, as a dismal opportunist. But judging by the language coming out of the mouth of the new Mayor of Rome, as of other Italian politicians, this will soon change. "
--John Laughland quoted below
If Fini is a "dismal opportunist" then why would this "soon change" because of the "language coming out of the mouth of the new Mayor of Rome"? Isn't this new policy to swiftly expel immigrants convicted of crimes wildly popular, and therefore "opportunistic"? And besides, it is the policy declared by the new Mayor of Rome, not by Fini.
But I don't think Fini has a long history of being a "dismal opportunist. " Early on, he deliberately, and bravely, drove the fascist fascists, such as that cheap tart Alessandra Mussolini, out of the AN. He denounced the "racial laws" -- and not only on a visit to Israel. He has his faults -- given the crazed Italian system, having to present himself as being in the same electoral galere with the smiling crook Berlusconi can't have been easy -- but "dismal opportunism" does not appear to be one of them.
When I see Fini on "Porta a Porta" or other shows, he gives few signs of being a "dismal opportunist" but -- usually -- talks sense. In this respect, he reminds me of his ideological opposite, Enrico Berlinguer. One doesn't like what the words "Alleanza Nazionale" or the "Partito Communista" make one think of -- but both Fini now and Berlinguer then, were more than the parties with which they have been identified.
Posted on 05/04/2008 8:22 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 4 May 2008
Mimsy chortling and smoggy smirting
Ben Macintyre writes on portmanteau words. I have a few querulous quibbles (querbles?) about some of his observations:
EVER SINCE THE SMOKING BAN in enclosed public places came into force last July, there has been a marked upsurge in smirting, proving that the great British public can adapt and adopt new words in the most unlikely circumstances. Smirting happens when two people, smoking outside, fall to flirting, and discover that they have more in common than simply nicotine.
Smirting is a portmanteau word, formed by packing parts of two words together to create another, combining the sense of each. Smirting is a first cousin of smog (smoke + fog). The notion of a portmanteau word is comparatively new. In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass (1871), Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice: “‘slithy' means ‘lithe and slimy'...You see it's like a portmanteau - there are two meanings packed up into one word”; later the doomed egg adds: “‘Mimsy' is 'flimsy and miserable' (there's another portmanteau...for you)”.
A portmanteau was a suitcase that hinged in the middle like a book, allowing one to carry clothes in one side and anything else in the other. The word is itself a portmanteau, formed by combining porter, the French for to carry, with manteau, meaning coat, cloak or mantle.
Before Carroll, the offspring of word marriages were rare, yet a number sneaked into the language anyway: dumbfound, a combination of dumb and confound, and twirl, a portmanteau of twist and swirl. In 1896, Punch invented “brunch”, combining breakfast and lunch.
Yet today the portmanteau is probably the most fertile vehicle for neologisms. Entire countries have been formed by packing two place names together: Tanzania, for example, was formed in 1964, linguistically speaking, by combining Tanganyika and Zanzibar. Many people seem to regard “Oxbridge” as a place, rather than an idea.
This last would explain the exam howler of the student who wrote that great men had often been to "public school and Uxbridge".
My querble with Macintyre's verbal is his claim that portmanteau is itself a portmanteau word. Isn't it merely a compound word, like portfolio, and very unlike Port Talbot? The definition is not exact, but surely, in the blending, both words must lose something of themselves. An unnamed blogger on this website gets closer when he writes:
Portmanteau words are those made up words you get when you SmashWordsTogetherLikeSo so damn hard that some letters fall off the start of one and off the end of the other.
Macintyre - a suitcase you put your whole mack into? - also believes that blog is a portmanteau word. Blog is, of course, short for weblog, although its origin is probably unknown to many bloggers. But it retains so little of "web" - just the colourless final B - that it can't really be said to be a blend - not unless you know the origin.
Back to smirting. To me this sounds far less innocent than smoking and flirting. It sounds like an obscene and rather violent sexual practice. I am not sure what, nor am I sure what word, other than smoke and flirt, is thrusting itself into the bemerded cavity of my mind.
Posted on 05/04/2008 8:27 AM by Mary Jackson
Sunday, 4 May 2008
"The Original Of Laura" To Be Published
Steve Coates interviews Dmitri Nabokov in New Duranty:
BEFORE Vladimir Nabokov, the author of “Lolita,” “Pale Fire,” “Speak, Memory” and other masterworks, died in Montreux, Switzerland, in July 1977, he had been hard at work on another novel. The previous December, he told The New York Times that the “not quite finished manuscript” was called “The Original of Laura,” that it had already been “completed in my mind” and that during a recent hospital stay, “in my diurnal delirium,” he had “kept reading it aloud to a small dream audience in a walled garden.” Shortly afterward, Nabokov’s editor at McGraw-Hill revealed that the author was about to do the actual writing, in pencil on 3-by-5-inch index cards (Nabokov never worked with a typewriter). Then, in words parroted by the editor, Nabokov would “deal himself a novel.”
Nabokov, however, was able to build only part of the complete deck — 138 index cards, with many erasures and much emendation — before falling ill for the last time. Known as an artistic perfectionist and a literary purist, he left behind instructions that the cards were to be destroyed. But neither his wife, Véra, nor his son, Dmitri, now nearly 74, could bring themselves to carry out Nabokov’s injunction. Since Véra’s death in 1991, Dmitri — who was also a translator of his father’s early work and is now his literary executor — had by some accounts been wrestling mightily with the question of whether to follow his father’s wishes and consign the cards to the flames, or to preserve the manuscript for posterity.
The last work of a modern master, however fragmentary, is a matter of public interest and scholarly importance. The nuances of “Laura” and her fate have been hotly debated on bookish Web sites and elsewhere, with Tom Stoppard, for example, calling for the matches and John Banville urging clemency in The Times of London. Now, Dmitri Nabokov has announced that “Laura” will indeed be published, and suggests in a Q. and A. conducted by e-mail with the Week in Review that, in fact, her peril has been exaggerated. STEVE COATES
It’s been three decades since your father’s death. Why did it take you so long to decide the fate of “Laura”, and how did you come to your final decision? How difficult has it been?
In the words of one blogger, 30 years is tantamount to eternity in the given context, which would absolve me from any disobedience of my father’s wishes. More seriously, it did not take me 30 years to come to a decision with regard to burning the manuscript. I had never imagined myself as a “literary arsonist.” I also recalled, parenthetically, that when my father was asked, not very long before his death, what three books he considered indispensable, he named them in climactic order, concluding with “The Original of Laura” — could he have ever seriously contemplated its destruction?
It took the passing of time, the input of a few good advisers, and, above all, some concentrated thinking on my part, for the idea to crystallize of what exactly to do with the precious cards. Safekeeping, no matter how secure, would never guarantee their permanent immunity from revelation. To publish, then, but how?
How do you respond to those who suspect a financial motivation?
It’s true that my wheelchair requires some costly modifications to fit into the trunk of a Maserati coupe.
Why would your father have wanted “Laura” destroyed?
In a calmer moment, if he were no longer in a race against death to complete the work, I think, sincerely, that he would not. By the same token, if one wants to finish something before dying, one perseveres to the utmost, rather than destroying it. This should be an obvious answer to a rather fatuous question some have posed: Why didn’t he burn it well ahead of time and have done with it?
Your mother didn’t have the heart to burn it either. There’s a famous story about how she stopped your father from burning his manuscript of “Lolita.”
It was an entirely different situation. What my father was carrying to the incinerator was a draft of the completed work, which the publishers feared and, he strongly suspected, the public was bound to misconstrue. At that stage, the working title was “Juanita Dark.” Had she been incinerated, even if not at the stake, she would have become a latter-day Juanita d’Arc.
You have guarded this manuscript very closely. How many people now have seen it, or have direct knowledge of its contents?
Excluding those present at my father’s oneiric reading, five or six.
It is said to involve a corpulent scholar married to a wildly promiscuous woman named Flora; is that accurate?
So far so good.
Can you offer any other tidbits?
Here are a couple of lines I have previously quoted to no one: “A process of self-obliteration conducted by an effort of the will. Pleasure bordering on almost unendurable ecstasy. ...”...
Posted on 05/04/2008 11:11 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Sunday, 4 May 2008
Falling Birthrates Beget Baby Substitutes
The Japan Times: Two startling facts seem to justify Shukan Economist's description of Japan's pet market as "twisted." One is the market's sheer volume — an astonishing ¥1 trillion a year. The second is that there are more dogs and cats in this country (an estimated 23 million as of 2007) than there are children under 15.
If that suggests a human and highly urban society incongruously overrun with domestic animals, there's more in the same vein. Proliferating pet hotels, cafes, health clubs, gourmet food, clothing, jewelry and, last but hardly least, funerals invite doubts as to whether pets are rising or humans falling on the evolutionary scale.
For better or for worse, pets are no longer mere pets — they are members of the family, entitled to the very best. This is a recent and abrupt reversal of the traditional Japanese attitude which, free of the Judeo-Christian thinking that gave man "dominion" over the beasts, was similarly immune to pagan reverence for them. Animals as living creatures were given their due, but no more.
Shukan Economist traces modern Japan's first of two pet booms to the economic bubble of the 1980s. The nouveau riche of the day craved golden retrievers and other large breeds as status symbols. The bubble broke and the boom went bust. It revived around 2000, with three main differences: the dogs of choice are now the smallest imaginable; their owners are economically average; and, unlike its transitory predecessor, this boom could be here to stay.
Its immediate spark seems to have been a TV commercial featuring a Chihuahua. The dog was adorable. Suddenly everyone had to have one. Lately, miniature dachshunds have surpassed Chihuahuas in popularity. As of last year, according to the Japan Kennel Club's count of Japan's top three breeds, dachshunds outnumbered Chihuahuas 88,615 to 82,658, with toy poodles third at 78,725.
The tininess and cuteness of the dogs, the care lavished on them, and the correspondence of their numerical growth with the decline in the number of babies suggest a kind of substitution at work. Are little dogs the babies of the 21st century?...
Posted on 05/04/2008 1:12 PM by Rebecca Bynum
Sunday, 4 May 2008
An Election-Day Musical Interlude: Hang Out Stars In Indiana (Al Bowlly); Cryin' For The Carolines (Ben Pollack)
Posted on 05/04/2008 1:51 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 4 May 2008
It's That Time Again: Repeal The Corn Laws
"The 2005 energy bill contained the first-ever requirement that these fuels be mixed into the nation's gasoline supply. Beginning in 2006, the mandate came on top of massive subsidies and tax breaks already enjoyed by domestic ethanol producers.
The mandate quickly proved to be a mistake—raising rather than lowering fuel costs, sparking food price inflation, and invoking environmentalist opposition during its first two years. Nonetheless, a bill to increase the requirements nearly fivefold passed Congress easily and was enthusiastically signed by the President in December 2007. Thanks to this measure, America is now committed to 9 billion gallons of renewable fuels in 2008 and 36 billion by 2022. For at least the next few years, almost all of this mandate will be met by corn ethanol."
No, it may win a few votes in farm states, but it's a foolish idea. Ethanol from corn uses as much energy from fossil fuels, in its making, as the making of it supposedly saves. Perhaps there is a case for ethanol from sugar cane or, even better, switchgrass. But the fields now being turned to corn production from wheat, at a time when wheat production is threatened (see the weather in Australia and see the warnings of Norman Borlaug).
So here we are again, 162 years after another, much more celebrated set of Corn Laws were finally repealed, on grounds well-fertilized by Ricardo and his comparative advantage, iin 1846.
It's time to repeal the latest, and surely the least thought-out, versions of the Corn Laws -- the ones mandating the use of ethanol from corn in gasoline.
And, come to think of it, now that everything is being made in China more cheaply than anywhere else, from silk ties (there go the family businesses in Como), to cheesy children's toys (millions recalled for safety reasons ) and drugs (Chinese-manufactured heparin, banned for ditto), it is time to re-examine that touching belief, by free-market fundamentalists, that comparative advantage is all, and not national survival, or the survival of arts and crafts (see again, those Como silk-manufacturers now enduring near-extinction).
But that's for another occasion. Right now, time for a little common sense about something else. Right now, let's start with the foolishly mandated ethanol from corn. Repeal those Corn Laws.
Posted on 05/04/2008 2:19 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 4 May 2008
Right thinking left drivers
I had seen this picture of Vladimir Nabokov before. Without looking too closely, I had assumed he was in the driving seat, or "driver's seat" as Americans seem to call it. I'm English, you see, and we drive on the left.
Soon, as I prophesied a few months ago, that is to change:
Since the EU has graciously consented to Britain keeping its imperial measurements, it is only reasonable, they argue, that we should make a concession towards harmonisation. And what could be more anomalous than the fact that the British drive on the left? In nearly all other countries, not least the USA, drivers keep to the right.
The EU, as we know, likes to rotate its Chief Decision Makers. This is only right, otherwise you would always have the French in charge of wine, the Belgians in charge of beer and the Italians in charge of music, and this would be quite unfair.
Currently, decisions about transport fall to the Italians. Recognising that changing to driving on the left will be a massive upheaval for the British, Minister in Chief Garibaldo Biscottini has delivered a groundbreaking solution: piecemeal implementation.
“It would be absurd,” said Biscottini (in Italian), “For such a change to occur all at once. We must stagger the changes. For six months all vehicles will keep to the left, except lorries, which will drive on the right. In six months’ time, buses will also drive on the right, then after another three months, all cars over 1200 cc, then all cars under 1200 cc, and finally all motor cycles. To avoid congestion, pedal cycles will keep to the left, as before. The new rules will be phased in gradually over different roads, starting with motorways for the first year, then A roads, then B roads. In all cities beginning with a B-, the direction of traffic on one way streets will be reversed. Priority will be given to traffic coming from the right, as in France, except on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
Rather like Italy, then. I asked Mr Biscottini if
he’d ever been dunked in vin santo what would happen to unadopted roads? He didn’t know, because he isn’t British and hadn’t read his John Betjeman. Let’s have the last bit, before it gets banned for not being multicultural enough:
By roads ‘not adopted’, by woodlanded ways,
She drove to the club in the late summer haze,
Into nine-o’clock Camberley, heavy with bells
And mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells.
Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
I can hear from the car-park the dance has begun.
Oh! Full Surrey twilight! Importunate band!
Oh! Strongly adorable tennis-girl’s hand!
Around us are Rovers and Austins afar,
Above us, the intimate roof of the car,
And here on my right is the girl of my choice,
With the tilt of her nose and the chime of her voice,
And the scent of her wrap, and the words never said,
And the ominous, ominous dancing ahead.
We sat in the car park till twenty to one
And now I’m engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.
You can’t get much more English than this poem. “She drove…” and “here on my right” narrow it down before you even start on the Rovers and Austins and Camberley. I suppose Betjeman must have rhymed “one” with “Dunn” and said it like "won". I'm not sure anybody does nowadays.
Americans, with their "baby beside me at the wheel" and their "Burma shave" would probably assume that the girl "on my right" was a passenger, even though she drove into Camberley. Her strongly adorable tennis-girl's hand could hold the wheel, but her left hand was kept away from any funny business by the need to change gear. Heaven knows what might have happened in one of those automatics that Americans go in for.
Who's driving then, if Nabokov isn't? His wife? A chauffeur?
Posted on 05/04/2008 2:30 PM by Mary Jackson
Sunday, 4 May 2008
Signs Of Nascent Mental Life Stirring In Saudi Arabia
Posted on 05/04/2008 3:00 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 4 May 2008
Ambush In Baghdad
BBC: ...The press release said simply: "It is with deep regret that the Ministry of Defence must confirm the death of a British soldier in Iraq today, 26 March 2008. The soldier died as a result of gunshot wounds sustained during a firefight in the early hours of this morning."
The soldier was from the SAS. The firefight also left four other SAS troopers injured. Two insurgents were killed but as many as nine civilians also died, including a four-month-old baby.
The engagement ended with an airstrike. The full story reveals a lot about the way the coalition is fighting the counter-insurgency war in Iraq - and the chances for eventual success...
Early in March, the coalition says an insurgent bomb-making team moved from Baghdad to a heavily Sunni area outside the capital.
They found a house in one of the nicest parts of town and got to work. It seemed, said one US officer I spoke to, that the whole neighbourhood knew they were there.
This represented a huge failure for the coalition, since the neighbourhood included the city's Iraqi police chief, who lived opposite the house, the commander of the local Iraqi Swat team, who was just as close, and a judge.
The officer told me: "This target was surrounded by the Iraqi police, authority figures, a judge. My question to them was and has been for the past week: 'How come all the local civilians... know all these people came in and don't belong here but you as commanders of police don't go in there and check it out?'"
One very damaging possibility is that the local police knew all along, and turned a blind eye as long as the bombs were intended for coalition soldiers and not their own men.
Similar deals have been done by the Iraqi police in the past in this part of the country...
An interpreter called over a tannoy for the men - there were two "targets" - to surrender, or at least to let the women and children come out. There was no reply from inside the house.
At one stage the coalition forces also threw "flash bangs" - percussion grenades - through the front portico to ensure there was no confusion about which house was being targeted.
They wanted to make sure that the people inside knew all the shouts from the tannoy weren't meant for next door, giving them every chance to surrender. This is a detail which will become important later on.
After a short wait, the SAS men stormed in. They ran into a withering crossfire. Four troopers were injured. One was killed.
A US officer involved in the investigation the Americans carried out afterwards told me: "They ran into an ambush. I mean the guys got it from both sides...
Yes, our Iraqi allies...ordinary moms and dads...moderate, traditional and peace-loving...who won't lift a finger to help us and in many cases will collaborate with terrorists to target American and British soldiers. This is the true situation in Iraq. We are the despised infidels. If we can't use the word "liberty," to describe what we're bringing them, what in the world are we doing?
John M. Joyce and Rosemary A. Greenlaw, requested this musical interlude, "in memory of all our brave servicemen, and women, who have layed down their lives for our freedoms and liberties, and in the thankless and fruitless task of trying to bring democracy and freedom and liberty to the violent hordes of Islam."
Posted on 05/04/2008 4:07 PM by Rebecca Bynum
Sunday, 4 May 2008
Information In The Data Base
Posted on 05/04/2008 4:56 PM by Rebecca Bynum
Sunday, 4 May 2008
Eensy-Weensy Spiders Marching As To War
: ...British defence giant BAE Systems is creating a series of tiny electronic spiders, insects and snakes that could become the eyes and ears of soldiers on the battlefield, helping to save thousands of lives.
Prototypes could be on the front line by the end of the year, scuttling into potential danger areas such as booby-trapped buildings or enemy hideouts to relay images back to troops safely positioned nearby.
Soldiers will carry the robots into combat and use a small tracked vehicle to transport them closer to their targets.
Then they would swarm into the building and relay images back to the soldiers' hand-held or wrist-mounted computers, warning them of any threats inside.
BAE Systems has just signed a £19million contract to develop the robots for the US Army.
Plans for a creature that can crawl like a spider are said to be well developed, and researchers eventually hope to be able to create creatures that can slither like a snake or fly like a dragonfly.
While some of the creatures will be fitted with small cameras, others will be equipped with sensors that will be able to detect the presence of chemical, biological or radioactive weapons.
A computer-generated video from BAE Systems shows the tiny invaders being released by a soldier, before scouting out a suspect building, which is finally blown up by ground forces...
Posted on 05/04/2008 5:08 PM by Rebecca Bynum
Sunday, 4 May 2008
A Cinematic Musical Interlude: Every Now And Then (Helen Kane)
Posted on 05/04/2008 6:05 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald