Thursday, November 29, 2007

Jacques Barzun is 100

Jacques Barzun was born a century ago today: November 30, 1907.

If you haven't read him, I recommend that you do. He's written more than a dozen books, but his magnum opus is
From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present. It was published when he was 92.

Barzun, primarily a social historian, is the archetype of a humanist sch
olar: interested in ideas but dubious about theories and ideologies that purport to explain everything; a cosmopolitan who dislikes cant and political correctness; possessor of an enormous store of facts who wants to find meaning in them. Reading From Dawn to Decadence, you get the impression that you could bring up any year within that half-millennium and he could, if you wanted, talk for an hour about what was going down at the time — in literature, arts, politics, religion — everywhere in Europe (and the United States, if it existed at that point).

He's very readable, too, which you can't say about that many people in the academic world today (Barzun spent most of his teaching career at Columbia University). No jargon, but also no pretentious writing that shouts, "Hey, sailor, how you like my metaphor in your face, big boy?" His style is fitting: he uses the right words to say what he wants to say, with just the right shadings. That may sound easy, but as someone who writes for a living, I promise you it isn't.
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A hundred years is a long time to live. It's strange to think about. He's written a book covering a 500 year period, and he's lived through almost one-fifth of that time! He can remember how things looked, how people dressed and talked, in the 1920s and '30s, which you and I (unless you're very old) can know only second-hand. I'm not sure, but I expect he's met some of the "historical" figures of the 20th century.

I met Jacques Barzun — well, sort of. It was about 1986, in Santa Fe, and he was giving a public talk at St. John's College, the "Great Books" school for trust-fund kids. (I wasn't a student there; I worked as a radio announcer at the time.)

Most of what he said has drained from my conscious memory, although I recall being impressed, but two incidents have stuck with me.

I'm one of those who like to sit near the front of the hall at concerts and lectures, and I happened to take a seat in the first row at his talk. I must have been a sorry sight: though a minor local celebrity because of being on the radio, I was very poor and probably looked it; I definitely remember that I was wearing sandals. At one point Barzun paused during his talk, glanced around for a moment, and happened to make eye contact with me. I was ready to be uncomfortable at looking a proper slob while in his immaculately suited presence, but he gave me a warm smile. I really appreciated the gesture.
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Here's the other thing I remember. During the question period, a young man in the audience who had a serious speech impediment — I tried but couldn't understand much of what he was saying — went on and on with what was presumably a very complicated question. There was also something aggressive, even a little hostile in his tone. Look, I have every sympathy with anyone who's been ill-used by genetics, and think I can understand the anger they feel, but for heaven's sake, Barzun wasn't the cause of the young man's predicament. Anyway, I felt bad on Barzun's behalf: how was he to deal with a couple of minutes' worth of near-unintelligible grunting and gurgling? (I suspect that the questioner was hoping that Barzun would be at a loss, so he could show the world how badly he was treated because of his speech defect.)

To my surprise, Barzun proved himself to be a better, or more patient, listener than I had been. He repeated the questions (there actually had been three or four) clearly, as if for the benefit of anyone in the audience who might have been too far away to have heard them, so as not to embarrass the questioner. And sailed right into an equally clear discussion in reply.

He is a gentleman.

Happy birthday, Professor Barzun. You've lived through what was, on the whole, a pretty rotten hundred years for the world, but you've used your time to make it better and more interesting. We owe you.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Is Paris burning? Oui, encore

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"Rampaging youths threw Molotov cocktails and set fire to cars in a troubled neighborhood outside Paris on Monday, the second night of street violence after two local teens were killed in a crash with a police patrol car," says the AP.

It seems appropriate at the moment that the phrase déjà vu is French. The difference this time is that the euphemistically described jeunes are using live ammunition. On police and even journalists.
"Police officers were targeted with hunting weapons; a certain number of them were wounded by lead shot," said Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie. "This is totally unacceptable," she said, adding there were six serious injuries, "people who notably were struck in the face and close to the eyes."
Otherwise, the story might as well have been hauled up from the deep freeze where it was stored after the riots of a couple of years ago. "Youths, many of them Arab and black children of immigrants [how many were of some other description?], again appeared to be lashing out at police and other targets seen to represent a French establishment they feel has left them behind." "Two teens killed." "The depressed projects that ring Paris." "Tensions between France's largely white police force and the ethnic minorities trapped in poor neighborhoods with high unemployment."

Although the AP story predictably milks sympathy for the rioters, and does everything possible to leave religion and ethnicity out of it, let's be honest: these young Muslims are not terrorists, and they are trapped in high-rise slums. The indigenous French people have no use for them. The French, being French, have no use for almost anyone of any other nationality. But if forced to make a choice, they might prefer even Americans in their urban no-go zones than North Africans. You can call it prejudice, or you can call it people who feel they have a right to choose who their neighbors will be and what kind of country they will live in. Either way the situation is the same, and won't change because one-worlders lecture the French about how they need to pour a deal more resources into outreach to the banlieus.

Probably, the government will announce new programs, initiatives, and so on to encourage assimilation. But that's just kicking the can down the road, postponing the day of judgment.

The first time a flic is killed by a weapon wielded by one of the jeunes, the civil war will begin — quietly, under the surface at first, but in earnest. The police and military will believe they know what they need to do, and eventually will do it. Guaranteed.

There is only one way to stop that happening, and I wish that President Sarkozy and his acolytes would have the foresight and political courage to sign onto it. Here is what Sarkozy should say (only he should say it in French):

"My friends, Frenchmen of all races and religions, it is evident that past mistakes are now playing out in a much magnified form. Our predecessors in government heedlessly created policies that seemed right and just at the time, but are now seen to have been disastrous for the social fabric of our society.

"Where French citizenship is concerned, we know now that indigenous French and immigrants from Africa simply do not mix, any more than oil and water. I do not blame either side for this; it's human nature, which I'm afraid our ancestors understood better than today's intellectuals. But, without declaring any group of people wrong, we cannot keep on a suicidal course just to avoid admitting that a mistake has landed us in a situation where areas in hundreds of French cities and towns are reminiscent of no-man's-lands in '14–'18.

"I therefore call on our lawmakers to enact legislation to ensure the peaceful, orderly, and compensated emigration of our African population to homelands that are more agreeable to them, where no French people will look down on them, where they can live under shari'a law if that is their wish. There are of course many difficult details to work out, but the principle is clear: we will become once again the France of traditional ethnicity, while giving a helping hand to others who are currently so alienated, as they are repatriated to lands that are culturally amenable to them.

"Once this process — and I repeat, it is to be a peaceful process with due compensation for any property or business lost in the transition — is completed, we are going to tear down these goddamned suburban hellholes and turn them into green zones and low-density developments.

"Thank you."

Not nice? No, it isn't. But the civil war, when it comes, will be a lot not nicer. The French should spare themselves the worst.

UPDATE 11/28: Since the news media are so coy about reporting the ethnicity of the rioters, false assumptions are possible. Steve Sailer has found a UPI story that suggests the insurgents are mainly black, sub-Saharan Africans rather than North African Muslims. If so, it doesn't affect my point that France should divest itself from its incompatible population elements.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

The world is deep

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Gustav Mahler's Symphony no. 3 is very likely the most philosophical piece of orchestral music ever composed — certainly nothing like it on such a scale (an hour and a half in length, calling for a gargantuan ensemble including a vocal soloist, chorus, and unusual instruments) has been attempted before or since.

That in itself is would have been no guarantee of immortality, and the symphony might have been a crackpot folly if it were not, like almost all Mahler's music, the product of genius. Even without knowing a scrap of what the composer had in mind, listening to a performance of the Mahler Third is an overwhelming experience. The themes, instrumental colors, rhythms, moods combine to captivate a listener's senses. But there is no doubt that Mahler was probing the meaning of life and the universe, influenced by Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, whose "Midnight Song" from
Also Sprach Zarathustra he used in the symphony's fourth movement.

Explaining and illustrating the philosophical content of the Mahler Third in a video sounds quixotic, boring, or impossible. But the documentary What the Universe Tells Me is none of those things; it accomplishes its purpose brilliantly, a work of controlled imagination that enthralls as it elucidates.

Mahler originally titled the six movements "Pan Awakes: Summer Comes Marching In," "What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me," "What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me," "What Humanity Tells Me," "What the Angels Tell Me," and "What Love Tells Me." Before the premiere performance he scrapped the titles, perhaps fearing that the audience would picture the themes too literally and miss the variety and subtlety of the music. The video narration takes its cues from the original titles, though, and tries to understand what Mahler implied.

The narration — by the actress Stockard Channing plus specialists, both musicological and philosophical — is closely bound into excerpts from a well played performance of the symphony by the Manhattan School of Music Orchestra, expertly conducted by Glen Cortese. The sound recording is clear and wide-ranging, the location a beautiful neo-Gothic church.

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Gustav Mahler

At the cost of being overly schematic, the course of the symphony can be described as a journey from the creation via a blind but imperative "Will" (as Schopenhauer put it), through the stages of a kind of spiritual evolution that includes both sweet and angst-filled intervals, to a final, paradoxical knowledge of ultimate joy won by passing through despair. A mezzo-soprano (here, Mignon Dunn, previously unknown to me but very much up to her part) singing the Nietzsche lyrics and a solo played on a posthorn (literally, a somewhat primitive instrument played by postmen in Mahler's youth) provide some of the work's misterioso effects. The long, slow final movement could well have been called "What Love Tells Me": it streams from another world of ineffable glory.

The performance selections aren't just little snippets, but long enough to convey the flavor of the part of the symphony under consideration. Visuals, mainly from nature, and commentary are very skillfully integrated with the music. The scholars who offer their thoughts (and who expand on them at greater length in the special features bundled with the documentary) provide interpretive insights without any of the agit-prop that would have been in the mix had this been produced by the BBC or PBS. Commenters include Henry-Louis de la Grange, author of the immense biography of Mahler, the star baritone Thomas Hampson, thoughtful musical scholars Morten Solvik and Peter Franklin, and an eloquent (and pretty) theologian, Catherine Keller.

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Even if you think you know Mahler's Third Symphony well, I can almost promise you that What the Universe Tells Me will deepen your appreciation. It's available for rental as a single disc from Netflix, although I didn't realize until I read the reviews on that it's actually from a two-disc set that includes the complete performance on the second disc.

One of the incidental pleasures for me was seeing the young instrumentalists — mostly under 30, by their looks — playing their hearts out for Mahler. They will carry his vision to generations yet unborn, provided Western civilization survives its current troubles.

Midnight Song
(Friedrich Nietzche)

Oh, man, give heed!
What does deep midnight say?
I slept!
From a deep dream I have waked.
The world is deep,
And deeper than the day had thought!
Deep is its pain!
Joy deeper still than its heartbreak!
Pain speaks: Vanish!
But all joy seeks eternity,
Seeks deep, deep eternity.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007


I'm out of town for a family visit. Probably no more postings until next week.

To all my dear friends and readers,

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Scotland Yard's mascot sacked for being too white

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Look, I admit it. I've exceeded my weekly quota of entries about politically correct dementia in Britannistan. You are entitled to more variety. But I just can't let this pass without note.

From the Times:

Mascot is too white, male and blond …
so Met introduces the PC PCs
Scotland Yard is spending £15,000 on ethnically diverse police mascots after complaints that PCSO Steve, its current rubber representative, is too white, too male, and too blond. …

The initiative follows the creation of a working group within the force’s Diversity and Citizen Focus Directorate to tackle “race and gender” issues within the Met’s mascot division.
I love these ideological Holy Office titles the U.K. is lumbered with nowadays — "the force's Diversity and Citizen Focus Directorate."

When I read the headline I thought at first that the mascot must be a dog, like fire departments' proverbial Dalmatians. I was going to title this posting "Cry 'fetch' and let slip the dogs of diversity." Oh well.
Complaints about him first appeared in The Job, the Met’s monthly magazine, in September when a Sergeant Wright wrote about using the mascot at a community event.

“An Asian member of our team agreed to be Steve,” the sergeant said. “He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and because the character would not have dark-skinned arms it became apparent that the officer would not be able to perform the role. Female team members also felt isolated.” The Met responded by saying that it was addressing the race and gender issues around mascots, prompting Richard Barnes, a Conservative member of the London Assembly, to table a series of questions to Sir Ian.

After receiving the answers, Mr Barnes told The Times yesterday: “Are they serious? There are so many issues that are of greater importance than the gender of a giant foam doll.”
Special relationship, blood is thicker than water and all. But Britannistan needs to be sedated and kept for its own protection in the attic and fed through a slot in the door.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A slight victory in the Battle of Trafalgar (Square)

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Rule, Britannia!

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Rude Britannia.

Lord Nelson's column stands in the center of London's Trafalgar Square, the city's symbolic heart. At the corners of the square, statues of celebrated political and military figures on three plinths, or bases, have been supplemented for the past two years with a different kind of monument: to the classless elite's new standards based on cultural Marxism and ugliness inflicted on the helpless population in the name of authenticity.

Along with the relics of a formerly self-confident society with a sense of gravitas, the statue Alison Lapper Pregnant has occupied a strategic place on the fourth plinth in the square. It portrays a naked, real person's misshapen body.

You understand the symbolism. Uncompromising. Nothing to hide. A cool Britannia taking the piss out of those laughable old celebrations of nationhood. Above all, Homage to the Victim. Yes, Alison is a victim of Nature, not Man, but that will do.

"I regard it as a modern tribute to femininity, disability and motherhood. It is so rare to see disability in everyday life – let alone naked, pregnant and proud," said Alison Lapper. The Telegraph magazine said, "If you like art to be brave, original and challenging you'll love the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square." And chortled, "Since its award-winning refurbishment, Trafalgar Square has regained its place as London’s central piazza where people can meet and relax." As though the space had previously been as empty as the Arabian desert, and Alison added a touch of casual chic that left people feeling relaxed, good all over.

"Its re-opening has seen visitors increase by more than 200 per cent. These stunning pieces of modern art exhibited on the fourth plinth will further enhance the Square’s appeal. And provide a bit of company for Nelson." A bit of company, ha ha, yuk yuk.

Well, Alison's had her brush with fame, and much good may it do her. Time's up. The statue's been removed — not because the light of graciousness has broken through, but because it had been scheduled for a two-year run and is now replaced with another modern sculpture.

Brendan O'Neill, writing in Spiked, has a few appropriate thoughts on this chapter in the barking-Chihuahua cultural politburo's determination to undo the United Kingdom's cultural heritage:
The statue captured much of what is rotten in the heart of new Britain. When it was first unveiled, some art critics gushed about how it would challenge people’s perceptions. ‘Against a sky the colour of old underwear, and a circle of buildings that might as well be built of concrete for all the life and warmth their stony facades exude, Quinn’s womanly but warrior-like Lapper [glows] like a beacon’, said one overexcited observer.
In truth, Alison Lapper Pregnant was about as challenging as old underwear. It was a drab monument to the backward pieties of our age. It showed that we value people for what they are rather than what they achieve. In our era of the politics of identity we seem more interested in celebrating individuals’ fixed and quite accidental attributes - their ethnicity, cultural heritage or in Lapper’s case, her disability - rather than what they have discovered or done in the world outside of their bodies. We prefer victims to heroes.
He went on to deliver the coup de grâce:
Alison Lapper Pregnant celebrated what nature, in all its arbitrariness, does to humans rather than what we do to shape, lead and transform the world around us. In this sense, it captured the deeply conservative nature of the identity agenda. The politics of identity privileges fate over self-made destiny. In all the talk of black, Muslim, gay or disabled ‘identity’ - categories created and sustained by the authorities to describe sections of the population who apparently have special needs and desires - we can glimpse the reintroduction of fate into public life, where individuals’ fortunes are seen as being determined by their skin colour or physical afflictions or cultural background rather than by the choices they make and actions they take.
Lord Nelson, on his lofty pinnacle in the square, was not portrayed as a giant eye patch, and his empty sleeve is no more than a detail. For our ancestors, it was enough that the man was responsible for destroying Napoleon's fleet in the Egyptian harbor at Aboukir and quite possibly prevented the Little Corporal from invading England by handing him another thrashing at Trafalgar. Nelson was killed in the battle. He was only a hero, not a victim.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Franchise operation

Lawrence Auster argues that the right to vote should be limited, with the details to be worked out. He says the "basic idea" suggested to him by a friend is "compelling."
The franchise, my friend said, should be limited to married men with children who are net tax payers.

This means that the vote, and the ability to serve in political office, would be limited to men who are responsible contributors to society. Men who are not married, or who do not have children born in wedlock, or who are not net tax payers, do not have a sufficient material stake in the society as an ongoing enterprise to be counted on to play a responsible role in its direction. Therefore they should not have a direct voice--as voters and office holders--in its direction.

Women, generally speaking, are too much guided by emotion and personal considerations to have a direct voice--as voters and office holders--in the direction of society. Look at the ridiculous things political parties today must do to appeal to women. The entire three day minority dog-and-pony show at the 2000 Republican Convention was basically for the purpose of convincing "soccer moms" that the GOP is "nice" to minorities. No serious politics is possible under such conditions. Married women are naturally represented in politics by their husbands, and can exert political influence through the influence they have with their husbands, but the husband is ultimately the one who votes for both of them. Unmarried women as a whole inevitably look to the state to be their provider, and therefore they should not have a direct voice in the government. Also, unmarried women under this proposal are barred from voting for the same reason that unmarried men are, which is that they do not have a sufficient material stake in the society to be counted on to play a responsible role in its direction.

Lawrence Auster is one of my intellectual heroes, but I'm afraid I have to register one of my occasional dissents.

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But first: I agree with Lawrence (I don't think he'll mind the first-name familiarity, as we've corresponded) and his friend that the right to a voice in political decisions is not one to be given frivolously, as our society now does. It's insane that having to present identification at the polling place should be an issue; the "motor voter" law letting people register to vote by checking a box when they apply for a driver's license is equally corrosive to any serious notion of citizenship.

So I'm not claiming that the franchise is something sacred, absolute and never to be limited. I have no problem with keeping people who are ignorant, logic-challenged, and foolish — for example, 18-year-olds — from voting. In determining the course of the state, we should also do without felons, those of considerably subnormal intelligence, and the severely mentally ill.

Beyond that, though, it seems to me hard to devise eligibility criteria that aren't simply a roundabout way of selecting for people who you think are most likely to support your own politics.

Let's talk about this "responsibility" thing, on which Lawrence's case mainly rests. Sure, only responsible people should be allowed to vote. Who's going to disagree with that in principle? But when you get down to the nuts and bolts of implementing the idea the trouble starts.

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People have different notions of what classes are, on average, most responsible. If Robert Heinlein in his novel Starship Troopers was speaking for himself through his characters — and I've read that this was the case — only people in the military, or veterans, should have the vote. That seems absurd to me. People who've been in the armed forces have served their country, which is a reasonable criterion, but hardly the only one and hardly unique to them. There's nothing in particular about military life that gives a person special insight into political philosophy, and those who choose the military as a career probably score higher on certain personality traits that may or may not be conducive to good judgment in matters of state.

Property qualifications have a certain superficial appeal, although inheriting real property indicates only a talent in choosing parents. Still, many people who own land have acquired it through their own efforts, which says something for their initiative. However, acquisitiveness or commercial talent are not per se political virtues. The idea that owning land develops character by requiring foresight, sustained attention, and so on used to be a better argument than it is today. How much character does it take to phone the lawn service and the plumber?

Lawrence sees a potential litmus test in requiring voters to be (a) men, (b) married, (c) with children, (c) who are net taxpayers. I will not caricature his thought by implying that he imagines those qualifications guarantee wisdom, or even support for his political views. I accept that he just means that, on the whole, that is the kind of electorate more likely to make considered and sensible judgments.

Is it?

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I don't pretend to be completely objective. Although I meet three of his four criteria, saving only having children, I would be ineligible. So would my wife. I make no claims for myself other than being reasonably intelligent, although I do not believe I have lost any IQ points for declining to propagate. My wife, on the other hand, is extremely intelligent. The idea of withholding the vote from her and expecting her to
"exert political influence" through me as her husband is a non-starter as far as I'm concerned, and I'm sure it would be for her, since we don't always agree politically.

To repeat, I understand that Lawrence is not claiming he has the perfect formula, and he just feels that some well-considered criteria are better than none at all. I do jib at the idea that parenthood is an earnest of maturity or intelligence or other desirable qualities in a voter. Most men are parents, and as far as I can observe they are all over the lot concerning personal characteristics. The same is true of men without children. I can't buy this as a determining factor.

There is a good argument that a person should have some stake in society other than dependency to be allowed to have a share in decision making. If the term "net taxpayers" is designed to take account of people who have worked but become disabled, it's a reasonable qualification. Of course, someone might be physically disabled all his life and incapable of gainful employment, but still be a modern Aristotle. Any rule is going to create the odd inequity, though.

Lawrence Auster is one of our most valuable provocateurs, which I recognize even when I can't second him. And the question of who we want choosing our lawmakers deserves to be considered without preconceptions.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Words without songs

A blogging breakthrough!

"Rick Darby, whose blog posts have been noticed by dozens of readers on two continents, advances into new territory with a turn to poetry." — Pecos River Observer

"Darby breaks through the walls that have bound poetry in the late postmodernist period. Those walls will be rebuilt by close of business, you have my word." — Chaldean Review of Literature

"The most challenging new voice to come my way this morning." — West Quoddy Head Monitor

"Promising, but can it be sustained, or is he a one-hit wonder?" — Bury My Duodenum in the Old Root Cellar: New Directions in Poetry, 2007–2007

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Frivolously Serene Palette

I was rescued from town, by a crank sniffing glue,
But he vanished before he was through.
I climbed Mount Rainier to see how low I could sink.
A voice said, “More than you can know, but less than you think.”

Well, I tried to sail the Black Sea, just to ease my mind
Yes, I tried to sail the Black Sea, just to ease my mind
But the captain wasn’t fond of me
He said, “I know your kind.”

“I’m fleeing a rocket, please let me through,”
Said a Sibyl just out of view.
My heart is a key, a key without a lock.
She said, “I know you’ll arrive, to join our sweet flock.”
The wind pawed the ground to add, “Now ask why.”
Was that meant for me or you?

The note on the door said, “This message is true.”
One of many, or few?
I spawned several letters and mailed them on a moonlit breeze,
But one of the best was caught in the trees.

Well, I spoke to King Arthur, just to show I care
Yes, I spoke to King Arthur, just to show I care
He said, “I’m touched by your frozen honor,
But I can’t stand those clothes you wear.”

You were gentle enough, but fearsome too,
Which should have been a clue.
My eyes were dazzled, closed tight against the shade.
I said, “You know I’ll arrive, it’s the choice I’ve made.
We’ll open the window, peel the curtains, drink that sky,
That sky of green on blue.”

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Heads up! Here comes another hate crime

Did you wake up this morning feeling like beating up a double amputee? Don't do it — no, I say! No matter how satisfying it might seem, it's just not worth it. Especially if you're in the United Kingdom.

Over in Orwellia, the government is planning to outlaw "inciting hatred against disabled people." (Tip of the hat to the ever-watchful DumbJon.) That comes bundled with legislation against inciting hatred of gay, lesbian, and transgendered people. (That is, I presume, someone who falls into any of those categories: you don't have to be both lesbian and transgendered to be "special.")

The Barmy Broadcasting Company reports:
Damon Rose, editor of the BBC's Ouch website [excuse me?], said he had seen increasing stories about disabled people being bullied. "There is something about the happy slapping culture which hasn't helped disabled people. Disabled people are 'interesting' targets in that way," he said.
"Happy slapping," in case you live in a civilized place and have not heard of it, is the latest trend among Britain's apprentice criminals. Usually performed by a group, it consists of walking up to someone minding his own business and punching him till he's on the floor and bleeding, while capturing the celebration on a video camera, later posting it on the Web.

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Mr. Rose has a point. There is undoubtedly something — I can't quite put my finger on it — that hasn't helped disabled people. However, let's not be too judgmental; happy slapping has been no little help to others who've been treated to a punch-up, especially accountants wearing pin-striped suits and carrying attaché cases. They deserve it, the toffs. But they're such unimaginative targets; surely it's more interesting, maybe even artistic, know what I mean, to bash some poor sod who's blind and a little lame into the bargain.

Simone Aspis from the British Council of Disabled People, which represents 350,000 members, said a "huge number" of disabled people were being victimised. "At the moment people don't take it as seriously as other forms of hate crime. Research suggests that you are four times more likely to be a victim of crime if you are a disabled person."
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Four times more likely? To be a victim of "crime" in general? I can just about believe that the differently abled would be mugged at a somewhat greater rate than their samely abled fellow citizens, although four times more likely seems like a number plucked from the ether. But to leave the field behind in suffering burglary, identity theft, car theft, investment fraud? Well, there are lies, damned lies, and … hold on, I'm sorry, we're talking about the unfortunate.

And David Congdon, head of campaigns and policy at Mencap, said it was important to try to "change the culture, to ensure people value each other equally".

Aha. Person Congdon, you have spilled the beans. As DumbJon notes, "So it's not about the huge number of people in wheelchairs being thrown off cliffs, after all. Instead it's about closing down the debate, so we won't be allowed to ask, for example, whether or not a guy so delusional he can't be held responsible for acts of hideous violence should be out on the streets in the first place. After all, asking that would be 'hateful'."

No, in Britain it is Year 25 in the Revolutionary Calendar, and the Union of Certified Guillotine Operators is sharpening the blades for necks bearing heads that don't value people equally. The People's Tribunal can't look the other way if any of the plebs lets slip a hateful statement of unequal regard for someone who falls into the category of, let's see, membership in a race (unless it's white) or religion, being gay, lesbian, transgendered, disabled, having a previous condition of servitude … my apologies if I've left anyone out, which I'm sure I have.

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The diverse, egalitarian state of Orwellia knows what you should think and feel. And it isn't asking you. It's telling you.

Just in case I ever visit the U.K. again, I want to make it clear that I value everyone as equally as they want to be, and one of my best friends was a Zoroastrian sight-impaired transgendered unwed Tibetan father, formerly a foot washer in the mansion of a Saudi prince. It really bothered me when the happy slappers failed to show him due respect.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Lone justice

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Plainclothes British police patrolling their beat.

It's been a while since I posted anything in the "Britain self-destructs" category — too easy. No sport in it. But this article, while about an incident that probably drew little attention, seems so symbolic of the state of the contemporary U.K. that it's worth pondering. From the online BBC News:
A pensioner fought off robbers with her walking stick after seeing them attack a 12-year-old girl.

Police are trying to trace the woman, believed to be in her 70s, who came to the girl's aid in a subway in Stretford, Greater Manchester.

The girl was robbed by three youths who stole money from her blazer pocket. The pensioner comforted the girl and even replaced her stolen money. Police say the girl's family want to thank the "brave" pensioner in person.

Robberies like this happen by the hundreds every day in Britain; the only thing that makes this newsworthy is the intervention to protect a young girl from feral youths. Not by the police, but by a 70-something woman, who no doubt can remember when her country, whatever its faults, was a place where you could walk outdoors practically anywhere without worrying about getting mugged.

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Nowadays, every city in the U.K. is like New York in the '70s. Crime as wallpaper. Unless you manage to get yourself murdered, preferably while being black or an immigrant, don't expect any joy from the police. Burglaries in particular are so routine that if you are victimized, you can jump up and down on a pogo stick in front of the cop shop while singing "Jerusalem" without persuading The Bill to bother about your case.

What's going on here? Well, to take proximate causes first, the police leave crime prevention to septuagenarian ladies because something like 90 percent of their time is spent on desk work. Never mind citizens getting bashed, first things first: get those forms done properly. No bobby is safe from the long arm of the bureaucracy.

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However much individual police constables and detectives want to do the job they imagined they were signing up for, they are up against a system that thwarts them. PC David Copperfield (a pseudonym, presumably) wrote a book, Wasting Police Time, describing his first-hand experience. The blurb says:
PC DAVID COPPERFIELD is an ordinary bobby quietly waging war on crime...when he’s not drowning in a sea of paperwork, government initiatives and bogus targets. 'WASTING POLICE TIME' is his hilarious but shocking picture of life in a modern British town, where teenage yobs terrorise the elderly, drunken couples brawl in front of their children and drug-addicted burglars and muggers roam free. PC Copperfield reveals how crime is spiralling while millions of pounds in tax is frittered away, and reveals a force which, crushed under mad bureaucracy, is left desperately fiddling the figures.
And that's before you add the ultimate fear factor: racial relations. In 2000, following a report that accused the U.K. police of "institutional racism," the Race Relations Act was amended to include all public authorities.
The new act for example covers the Police and makes it unlawful for any police officer to discriminate on racial grounds in carrying out functions including stop and searches, arresting and detaining suspects. Chief Officers of Police will be liable for all acts of discrimination under their command, unless they can prove that all reasonable steps have been taken to prevent discrimination.
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While the intent of this legislation is defensible, it clearly puts the burden of proof on the police to show that they are not "discriminating," a term so general that it can mean practically anything. And chief officers, knowing that their careers could take the hangman's drop for any instance of supposed discrimination, and that there is no way to tell what a court might consider "reasonable steps," will naturally try to make themselves legally bulletproof. So the word goes out, sotto voce, that ethnic minorities and immigrants are by definition victims and the only villains are indigenous Brits, unless you catch a victimperson in the act with 14 witnesses and CCTV footage.

Those are the immediate causes of the U.K.'s plunge into apocalyptic criminality and the defense at the sharp end being left to civilians (who have to be careful not to use "unnecessary force" against robbers or burglars, lest they be sued for violating the criminals' civil rights).

I think these are symptoms of a deeper malady, though, the culmination of trends that go a long way back. After their gallant stand against the Blitz and their contribution to the allied victory in World War II, the British people promptly voted out Winston Churchill and voted in a Labour Party with the express aim of socializing the country. Thus began the nationalization of industries and the welfare state. It was 20 years before Britain started backing off from nationalization, and the welfare state has never relaxed its grip.

The Left's ideas were put into practice in the U.K. and remain the working ideology. The state sets the rules for everything right down to details of everyday life. If there is a problem, it's the state's to fix. About the only thing that has changed in 60 years is that the Thatcher government's "reforms" turned corporations loose to pursue profit pretty much as they saw fit. Today, hemmed in between the corporations and the government — opposites in theory, partners in practice — individual preferences and initiative count for almost naught.

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When people find themselves in a situation where they have little influence on their country's policies or their living conditions and are assured that the state will "take care" of them come what may, regardless of what they do or don't do, it's disturbing but not surprising that so many of them simply abandon responsibility for their society or even themselves. The result is what Britain has sunk to: kids running wild, career criminals preying on what remains of the middle class, politicians out of touch with their supposed constituents, street-level policing shackled by bureaucracy and political correctness.

Maybe the lady who rescued the young girl from the yobs is smart not to step forward and allow herself to be identified and acknowledged for her bravery. After all, the yobs are still out there, and might come calling on her while 90 percent of the bobbies are diligently serving and protecting — themselves from the politicians.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

John McCain, tough on immigration

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Two-horned chameleon, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) montium

From the Arizona Republic:
Sen. John McCain has hardened his position on immigration reform, hoping the new stand will make his presidential campaign more appealing to conservative Republican voters.

The comprehensive approach he championed for years, one that emphasized a guest-worker program and legalization for those here illegally, has taken a back seat to a plan that puts a priority on tightening border security and beefing up enforcement.
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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Hard-headed woman

Wanda Jackson

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketQueen of Rockabilly she undoubtedly was, but she must feel in retrospect to have been queen for a day in a genre that itself lasted only a few years in mainstream popular music.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketSuch fame as Wanda Jackson once had coincided with the heyday of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly, but whereas they are household gods whose lares are kept polished, it's probable that even rockabilly fans of younger generations, raised on the Blasters and Stray Cats, have never heard of Jackson, or know her just as a name. The only song of hers I can ever remember hearing played on the radio, and that was ages ago, is "Let's Have a Party." It was a cracker, but I wrote it off as a one-hit wonder.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketLately I happened to run across this anthology of her releases circa 1957–1963 at my local library and checked it out, for curiosity's sake as much as anything. And was very nearly flabbergasted when I played it. This woman was the real deal!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe CD linked to is a fairly recent compilation from the U.K., and bless the heart of the engineer who transferred the old tapes to the digital medium. It must have been a labor of love as well as money, because the sound is remarkably clean and immediate for its age, the instruments well balanced on most tracks — I suspect some helpful remixing took place.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketJackson belts 'em out with a mixture of gunpowder and honey. She adapts some vocal mannerisms from Elvis, like filling out lines with breathy "uh-huh-huh's," but contributes her own trademark "growled" notes. The anthology is a diamond mine of three-minute wonders from the days when rockabilly was new and high on itself.

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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAs a performer, she strikes me as having as much star quality as the Big Names of the era. So what happened?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAccording to the CD notes — I can't quote exactly because I returned the album to the library — Wanda Jackson was too wild for the times, and audiences — especially country audiences — weren't ready for a woman who rocked out. Normally I dismiss claims like that as feminist cant, but for once I suspect there's some truth in it. Women country singers of the time like Patsy Cline typically sang melting ballads, and even female vocalists who occasionally slammed one home (e.g., Brenda Lee) kept plenty of soft'n'tender items on the menu. No one in skirts consistently shook the walls like Jackson, a hard-headed woman for sure.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHer producer and record labels must have been at sea trying to figure out how to position her. The best they could come up with was to put her in the country music frame, as can be seen
in the YouTube video from her guest appearance on a "Grand Ole Opry"-type program. But her style didn't easily mesh with traditional country. (I wonder what the other musicians on the show thought of her. The guitarist in the white Stetson seems to get into the spirit of things, as does the Jerry Lee Lewis–ish pianist. How about the fiddler who is reduced to marking time because the arrangement didn't call for her?)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOne other factor probably held Jackson back: rockabilly has pretty narrow limits. There's only so much you can do with it before it starts devouring itself. Elvis soon evolved from rockabilly into other pop styles, but to judge from the anthology Jackson kept in the same groove as the '50s became the '60s. By '63, in apparent desperation to bring some variety into her act, her producer was inserting those terrible background vocal choruses that were the fashion of the time into the mix. She even reprised "Let's Have a Party" with a copycat "Man, We Had a Party."

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAccording to the liner notes as I remember them, Wanda Jackson dropped out of sight, resurfaced for not very satisfactory periods as a pure country singer, then took up gospel. Today she still performs her early hits on stage, although examples on YouTube suggest she doesn't wear the intervening half century lightly. Better to look at the grainy old black-and-white videos of her electrifying early days. Better still, check out the CD. She'll bring the party.

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Invade the universe, invite the universe

Have you seen me?
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Name: "Starshine"
Age: 4,593,229,129

Missing since: 11/05/07

Description: Light on dark background. Still growing.

If seen, contact: University of Alabama at Huntsville.

Astronomers have determined that 20 percent of the universe is missing. Most likely it entered the United States via Mexico and is hiding in a "sanctuary city."

According to the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO), our "invade the world, invite the world" country has mistakenly allowed 21,000 people to enter the United States in a single year. That, mind you, is at legal border crossing points. It is only a small fraction of the number of illegals that actually make it through by clandestine means.
Staffing shortages and poor management at legal border crossings are among the reasons that people got through improperly, GAO found. A publicly released version of its report states “several thousand” of these people made it past Customs and Border Protection officers. An official with access to more detailed information told The Associated Press the number is about 21,000.
I am sure that Jorge W. Bush-Gonzales and his ruling junta would be terribly upset for a few minutes if it were later to be found that the cell members behind the next big time terror festival came swanning in through Checkpoint Jorge. But look, the important thing is to get this country to return to its Mexican roots as fast as possible. George Soros has been on the phone again, complaining how hard it is to get good lawn cutters for his mansions. The Wall Street Journal guy won't give him a break either: "This isn't the first time we've had this conversation, Georgy boy. You've been a big disappointment to us. Lettuce is rotting in the fields, burgers are going un-flipped. We need a breakthrough. Twenty-one thousand a year at the official border crossings doesn't crack the piñata, amigo."

So if a few of those weapons of mass destruction walk through, well, that's the price for keeping the globalization elite in a good mood. Besides, no human being is illegal. Suicide bombers are just coming to America to find a better death for themselves.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

The darkness and the Light

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Life and death are but a passing from dream to dream. They are only thoughts: you are dreaming you are alive, and you are dreaming you are dead. When you get into the great Christ Consciousness, you see that life and death are dreams of God.
— Swami Paramahansa Yogananda

It's hard, these days, not to feel that the darkness is closing in. Not personally — I don't think I've ever been more content — but for the future of my country and the civilization, going all the way back to classical Greece, from which it arose.

We are caught in what military strategists call a "pincer movement." Pushed on one side by a revived, militant, uncompromising Islam, on the other by a Third World invasion. We could stand up to either or both, except that our natural defenses have been weakened by what is now widely called cultural Marxism, as well as the economic globalization of the power elite. We have lost the will to stand up for ourselves, as if we don't deserve to survive as a free and prosperous society.

In the trauma following September 11, 2001, the American people seemed for a time to look up from their preoccupation with the stock market, celebrities, shark attacks, electronic gadgets, space shuttles, and all the rest of the culture of technological determinism and materialism. They seemed ready to put away childish things and become serious.

Six years on, we have reverted to type. We want everything to be normal again, "normal" meaning '60s radicalism for some, the '90s bull market for others.

All that is a statement of feeling, not of fact. One of the few things history clearly teaches us is that it does not move in a straight line. It reverses, shoots off in unexpected directions, curls back on itself. The future will not be like the present only more so. And however anxious or pessimistic we might be, we still have the freedom to act, and action has power.

Just the same, for some of us, it's important to remember every now and then that there is a realm that exists outside of time, beyond the concerns of this world.

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In that realm, there are no victories or defeats, except in the growth of the individual soul toward being ready for a home in Spirit. Does that mean we should forget about the struggles for what we perceive to be right in the everyday world? No, far from it. How we act here is part of our soul building.

The relationship between the world of Spirit and ordinary life (even in extraordinary circumstances) has preoccupied some of the best minds of mankind at least as far back as Plato, and no doubt earlier philosophers and mystics whose names have vanished from the human record. It is very hard to grasp, and I've struggled with it for years. As best I can understand it from my present state of development, it comes down to the saying found in many spiritual traditions, to be "in the world but not of it."

To put it another way, the human world that seems to be darkening before our eyes is not the ultimate truth.

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At the end of my blogroll, since I first started Reflecting Light, has been a quotation from Bernard Bosanquet: "Everything is real, so long as you do not take it for more than it is." I have not read Bosanquet; I picked up the quotation from the epigraph to a book by G.N.M. Tyrell, the famous psychical researcher.

What I take this to mean is that we must act as if this world is meaningful, which it is, but still understand it as a kind of dream, real but unreal. The world of matter and the world of Spirit are linked in mysterious ways, but we cannot affect one without affecting our essence in the other.

So we struggle against darkness in time and history, but if darkness is to come, it must come. It is not the end. We must not take it for more than it is. In Spirit, there is no defeat, no death, no exile from our eternal home.

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