Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Higher Ignorance

It is quite normal to hear people- not in the corner of the saloon bar, but on some public forum, presented to the public by the government or the media as an expert in whatever material is being discussed, people with academic titles or professional prestige- making, in all seriousness, suggestions that show they do not have the faintest idea how government, societies or individual human beings actually function. Often it is about the operation of economic activity, about which people make the most spectacularly wrong assumptions, failing utterly to understand what trade is, and what a market is, and what can and, most importantly, cannot be done to them. Particularly, if you stop people trading, they starve. That means you and me, not Microsoft, or Big Pharma, or the chairman of Citigroup. We know this is true not because some elaborate theoretical edifice has been constructed which says it must be so, but because that little experiment has been tried and is still being tried in many parts of the world- nearly all of them at one time or another- and the results are unambiguous. It takes a particularly staggering kind of, obtuseness, or evil-minded stupidity, to fail to notice the murder, starvation, repression, poverty and general misery of hundreds of millions of people, but a lot of people manage it.

And why do they think Bill Gates founded Microsoft? It wasn’t so could have communication of a scale and comfort unimaginable only twenty years ago; it was so he could get stinking rich. But if he hadn’t been able to get stinking rich you would not now be reading this. That is the simple truth. The way to make a thousand people better off is not to stop one of them from getting filthy rich. What got us all of these comforts we like to think we have a right to be given for nothing was greed, someone else’s greed. And if you don’t like it you can go back to living in a cave, or shrug your shoulders and get on with life. What you cannot do is propose that we define the laws of nature, the absolute truths of man and the universe, to be other than what they are. It doesn’t work. The universe is not listening. But a lot of mediocre intellects make a good living by making sure not too many people notice this.

This chap says things like this quite regularly. He does it rather better than me, too, partly because he can stick to the point.

Philosopher Kings

The suggestion is often made, apparently seriously, that the best form of government would be that by philosopher kings, or it is expressed as ‘least bad’, which seems to be the same thing; a reduced, or weak version says that it would be better than some specified form of government, or better than some perceived state of affairs is held to be. It is fairly clear that this notion is complete and utter nonsense.

The reference is to Plato’s Republic, in which he suggests that if philosophers would be kings, or kings would philosophize, the state would be a much better place. In fact, he says in book VII that it is necessary in order for his ideal city-state to come into being. And there we begin to spot the flaw.

Firstly, does anyone have any idea what a philosopher-king would look like? Or how we could go about finding a few of them? Or how we could interest them in politics, which is almost entirely the preserve of the personally and intellectually inadequate? (The world knows almost nothing of its greatest thinkers. What the press, and, presumably, the public, seems to consider public intellectuals shows that they have no conception of what an intellectual actually is. But that is another matter. And another rant) And, having agreed on what a philosopher-king is, and found enough to make a respectable oligarchy, and persuaded them to take an interest in governing their fellow-man, how do we propose to persuade their, and our, fellow-man to let himself be governed by such people? The practical difficulties are insurmountable, and there is therefore little point in considering it as a practical possibility, rather than an intellectual game.

But the point is that it does not stop people proposing such a thing as though it could in fact be done. And it is a very good thing that it can’t be done, because it would undoubtedly be the end of all freedom, almost certainly it would be the end of the very concept of freedom. And probably the end of wealth and happiness, too. The destruction of what it means to be human, or at least of what makes it worth being human. And all, ultimately, so that an abstract entity we call the state can be seen to function more efficiently.

So yes, it’s a good thing it’s impossible. Unfortunately, those who get into positions of power tend to think that they are that elusive creature, the philosopher-king, and to act accordingly. This is a very bad thing, indeed. Which is why it is absolutely vital that we can argue with them, criticise them, call them names, and kick them out when we have had enough of them. The idea of the members of government and of parliament as servants of the people has always been utopian, since they will never think of themselves that way, but the people should treat them like servants anyway, to remind them of what they should be.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

‘The Signifying Monkey’

Is the title of a book by Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University, and Director of the W.E.B. du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. This thick but empty volume bases its premise, that all white people should be chained up and beaten to death (it’s what he means, though he doesn’t quite dare say it), on the title phrase, which he spends 300 odd pages interpreting in the most extraordinary ways, and showing he doesn’t understand it. It is a West African expression for man, anthropomorphized as not a white insult at all, and refers to the obvious fact that man is an ape that talks or thinks or however it has been put by thousands of people, often, I should imagine, independently. It is a fairly obvious comment to make on man. Nevertheless, despite showing that he knows its origin is a descriptive phrase used by blacks he presents it a symbol of racism.

He also treats signifyin’, which he repeatedly calls a homonym of signifying, as though it had some special, esoteric meaning for Africans. It is perfectly clear from the examples he gives that ‘signifying’ in that sense simply means talking, especially perhaps conversing, yet he randomly derives a series of ideas and wild interpretations from this perfectly clear and simple expression. The book is doggerel, illogical rubbish devoid of any reason, a racist diatribe dressed up as serious research, the work of a stupid and hate-filled man. Yet it is on the reading lists of many English and other departments, and he has prestige among people like himself. (By which I mean fashionable critical theorists, and those who do similar nonsense for whatever reason.)

I have written this from memory, but the memories are clear. If anyone can explain why this book is other than what I have said, I should be glad to hear from them. But not from critical theorists. I refer to people who know how to think, and who can understand a text rather than having to invent a meaning for it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Do we only talk to our own heads?

I wrote this piece some time ago, but I publish it now, in the hope that someone will think the idea makes sense of some sort. It reads rather negatively, but why not? It is a depressing conclusion. It is meant, however, to be a description of an observed phenomenon, and a partial explanation of it. It is also incomplete; there will be more.

People only speak to the images within their own minds. Intelligence, I should say, is the ability to do abstract analysis, and the vast majority of people do not use that ability, even if they possess it to any degree. The reasons for this, one may imagine, are various, and must frequently have to do with the necessity to consider survival above other things- intelligence may, at times, be useful for survival, but, in general, survival is a matter of perseverance, debilitating the body and the mind and not allowing it to do more than is essential. We are not, however, concerned with the inability, intrinsic or extrinsic, temporary or permanent, to think, to use the mind in the ways in which it can be used, but with the deliberate refusal to use it for any purpose but immediate personal gratification.

People, we have said, talk almost exclusively to their heads. They do not want to hear anything which does not confirm their previous ideas and opinions, prejudices, one should call them, since they do not wish, either, to analyse, or submit to judgement in any way, those opinions, they simply have them, because they think they must have them, and that the possession if them is a sign of their character and of how their minds work. This is not the case- they state these ideas because they have heard them from some source that inspired trust at some moment, for equally unanalysed reasons.


  1. People do not think.
  2. People like to believe that they think.
  3. People are only prepared to assimilate information which seems to confirm their prejudices. (They only want to be told that they are right.)
  4. People are only interested in news which tells them about things they already think they know about. (This is why almost all of what passes for news is derivative.)
  5. People are angered by opinions that conflict with their own because they do not wish to have to think.
  6. Opinions which conflict with their own, and to which they do not have to respond, are satisfying when they can be used to classify others absolutely as good or bad.
  7. Almost all entertainments, and most of what is intended to be, at least in part, informative, simply pander to this, as the only way to keep an audience is to reassure it it will not have to think. (gossip, TV drama, Hollywood films, pop music, even political debate)
  8. Almost nothing in the life of people in wealthy countries requires them to think, or encourages them to think.
  9. People do not want to know about, perhaps are afraid of, what is outside themselves.
  10. People have little or no concept of objective truth.

So, people talk to the images in their heads and relate everything to the mental pictures they have created there, arbitrarily. The information conveyed by the senses is analysed and assimilated in terms of the images and ideas that are already present in the mind, rather than being used to reassess these images. What they hear and see is accepted or rejected depending on whether it can be interpreted as confirming the previous image. It is not considered in itself, and then used to correct the mental image, which it should be in a thinking person. The process, in other words, is the reverse of what it should be, the reverse of thinking. It is, perhaps, for this reason that most people have no understanding of the concept of objective truth- they do not understand it and they cannot understand it when it is explained. (Tony Blair said something like, “I only know what I believe.” He meant, I think, not that he defined what was true, but that his only measure of truth was his own opinion, but I do not think he meant that he analysed extensively before reaching those beliefs.)

For most people truth is any of their images in which they see no obvious contradiction. Even educated people often think that truth can be arrived at by some form of consensus of the images held by people who are, in some way, qualified to comment- that is, whom they perceive as like themselves in whatever ways they consider important. Uneducated people usually hold the truth to be whatever image they themselves hold. They will bluntly defend the expression of an opinion which they cannot defend of itself, which is against the logic of argument. Their purpose, coherent if not logical, is to protect their own image of themselves as thinking beings.

Many people enjoy gossip programmes because they do not have to think- none of us wishes to think all the time, in any case- but there are further elements to them which are essential to their interest: familiarity- the information must be given by someone the audience considers it knows, and be about people it thinks it knows, or at the very least a subject that is often repeated; confrontation- there must be shouting, consisting preferably of mere contradiction, so that there is no difficulty in forming the image, and those involved must be clearly classifiable as good or bad, if only arbitrarily; seriousness- this is called news, and the participants journalists, so the audience can believe it is not frivolous. These programmes are directly aimed at the images people have, and could not work if there were any objective analysis.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


The name will not mean anything to most of the people who drop by here. To very few indeed, in fact. Our reasons for being there this weekend are of little interest, I imagine (mostly eating and drinking, since you ask) but the area is attractive. Terrinches itself is a small village in a corner of Ciudad Real, very near the borders with Jaen and Albacete. To the East is the Sierra de Alcaraz, to the south and West the Sierra Morena. The village, may its inhabitants forgive me, has almost nothing of aesthetic interest, but there is some history, and the surrounding landscape is good fro walking in, being full of mountains, valleys, streams, olive groves and that patchwork of large and small fields, intersecting at random angles, and all of slightly different colours, that give interest and novelty to a place.

The stream just south of the village, that flows past the Cerro Conejero (actually full of partridges) has been dammed, creating a small lake, and there is a path beside it part of the way. The result is what is know as an Hoz, a gully I suppose, with rocks rising on each side. It is not big, or high, or sweeping, or stunning, or anything particularly superlative, but to walk through it this morning, and clamber along the rock face at times (Mrs Hickory having left her vertigo at home, apparently) in a brilliant, though not warming sun, was very pleasant indeed.

The castle is of historical, rather than aesthetic interest. It was built in the 13th C and was defended by the Knights of Santiago. Aben Yucef attacked and besieged it in 1282, and even set fire to it, but it didn't fall. A friend of ours is in charge of the restoration, and is doing a good job of leaving it looking fresh and imposing, inside and out.

All of this is, naturally, an excuse to post a couple of photos. Of the castle and of the lake.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Bit of Freedom Would be Nice

A couple of thoughts, and I am not the first to say this, but I have never seen an answer: Why is it that I cannot make a private phone call unless I go to a call box and wear gloves? In Spain, and I believe in Britain as well, it is not possible to buy a phone without attaching the number to a name, address and NIF. The only reason for this can be that someone may want to know who we have called at any time, and the assumption is that they are perfectly entitled to know. Why is this assumption accepted by everyone? Why can I not talk to a friend, or try to sell something, or discuss business of some sort, or call a tart, without leaving a record somewhere? You are thinking you have nothing to hide, but neither do I; but I don't understand why anything I do is automatically the business of anyone.
This is not a personal complaint; it is general. And most people don't care because no one will have any reason to follow up what they do, but someone might, and you may never even know.

Unfair tax competition is surely a phrase that can only be uttered by those who do not understand what tax is, who believe that tax is a penalty that government legitimately imposes on anyone who dares to earn a living. Taxes, in the sense that they are legitimate at all, are needed to pay for those things that the public in general thinks necessary. The amount of tax paid depends on the demand on the public purse. The idea that tax rates can be a duty owed by one country to another is quite perverse. It is a symptom of fundamentalist socialism, and like all such ideas, will cost the rest of us a lot of heartache and a lot of money.

Why am I wrong? I would like to be wromg. I could sleep more easily if I knew we were all in good hands.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Who the Hell Loves Teeth?

Can anyone (perhaps a dentist) explain why dentists say things like, 'I am now going to shove this bloody great needle into the root of your left number 7', 'Just relax, Mr Smith... you're not relaxing, Mr Smith...', 'The large object approaching the pulsating mass that was once your third molar is a 5-gauge drill, which spins at 4,000 revs per minute and whines in that horrible fashion not for technical reasons but because we are sadists', (the last bit they don't say out loud, of course)? Wouldn't it be better if they just shut up? And above all, why do they say it won't hurt?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

There are very strange people out there

A couple of comments on Spivak. This is how other people are capable of seeing her:

From Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture edited by Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1988, p. 271-313. All page number citations refer to this edition.

“Spivak's contribution with "Can the Subaltern Speak" is to politicize Derridean deconstruction in order to elaborate a method for emancipatory readings and cultural interventions. She defines her project as fourfold: 1) Problematize the Western subject and see how it is still operational in poststructuralist theory (Foucault & Deleuze);
2) Re-read Marx to find a more radical decentering of the subject that also more leaves room for the formation of class identifications that are non-essentialist;
3) Argue that Western intellectual production reinforces the logic of Western economic expansion;
4) Perform a close reading of sati to analyze the discourses of the West and the possibilities for speech that the subaltern woman has (or does not have) within that framework.”

The expressions close reading and epi-reading are words that sound a warning; they mean that the writer intends to interpret a text or a situation arbitrarily and in a way that will support their own prejudices. (As opposed to graphi-reading, which is actually identifying the meaning of a text, and is a term they use with disdain).

And in case you were wondering, the above quotation does not mean anything whatsoever. Nothing. Not even a little bit. Don’t look for sense. It isn’t there.

Try this one:

“Can the Subaltern Speak and Other Transcendental Questions”- Warren Montag in Cultural Logic: An Electronic Journal of Marxist Theory and Practice

"Not that Gayatri Spivak needs to be told any of this. Her essay "can the Subaltern Speak?" (which exists in several forms--I'll be examining the longest version, which appears in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture) displays a dazzling array of tactical devices designed to ward off or pre-emptively neutralize the attacks of critics. We might say of Spivak what Althusser said of Lacan--that the legendary difficulty of the essay is less a consequence of the profundity of its subject matter than its tactical objectives: "to forestall the blows of critics . . . to feign a response to them before they are delivered" and, above all, to resort to philosophies apparently foreign to the endeavor "as so many intimidating witnesses thrown in the faces of the audience to retain the respect."

This is so far from the truth as to produce ridicule and despair. She and her acolytes are constructing a massive, solid edifice of commentary on a foundation which is so full of holes as to be almost non-existent. It would surely be easier just to rewrite the essay than to hide its vacuity with such comparative lucidity. But they cannot see that it is empty and worthless, because it doesn’t matter. The dogma is what counts. Any old string of words will do to justify it. They only have to exist, not to make sense.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

She is a name well-known to all those who have had anything to do with cultural studies, post-colonial studies, subaltern studies, Marxist thought, generalized stupidity or what I like to call the higher ignorance. Her seminal text is ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ an essay whose central conceit is that in any cultural environment there are those who define and control it and those who are controlled, and that those who are not in control cannot express themselves in their own words. Having set all of this up, she asks the question.

The answer is no, but not because she has proved anything about self-expression among those who are not in control in any particular culture (which is what the subaltern is supposed to represent), but because she implicitly defines her ‘subaltern’ at all times as one who cannot freely express anything, but must filter it through the language (way of speaking) of those who are in control. It is therefore what Kant would call an analytic statement, and is recognised by mathematicians as proving that 0=0. It is not, however, easy to spot this. The discussion is long and full of errors of fact and logic, besides this essential one, many of which also invalidate any conclusion. She has no interest in truth. Yet it is a standard text. There is a whole field of subaltern studies spinning off from this tripe.

I can’t find a link to it, which is a pity, although it’s not worth reading of course, except as an exercise in spotting falsehood, unreason and prejudice, and most people have better things to do. But she obviously believes it makes sense, that she has discovered something, and so do a lot of others, who refer to what they have learnt from her ‘work.’

It is late, and she is not worth the effort. Avoid her rantings like the plague.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tom T. Hall

I mentioned Tom T. Hall a while ago. He tells stories because that is what is in his head, and he sets them to music because he knows no other way to tell them. That is what makes a musician and a poet. It is not the inclination to 'be an artist', nor a general love of music or words. You need to have something to say. Listen to this song. You may like it or you may not, but you will learn something about yourself and about music.

El Vicario

We have been walking to the reservoir north-west of here, to the dam, then along the bank for several miles, to the road bridge. It is a beautiful place when the weather is right, and it was today; suuny and warmish, with not a breath of wind, nor a cloud in the sky. The opposite bank and the mountains beyond were reflected in the water, fowl of the heron family were seeking a living in many places, or resting proudly on rocks and logs. It is hard to explain why it was so satisfying to be there today- you have to like that sort of thing, and you probably had to be there.

There were many fishermen along the bank; recently, in the last couple of years, steps have been run down every 20 feet or so for over a mile, and these are rented out to fishermen, who catch cat-fish, carp, and what we call 'lucios' (Esox lucius) and black bass. I must say I do not understand the attraction of fishing. I appreciate the beauty of the wild and of silence disturbed only by birds, insects, the rippling of water and the rustling of leaves, but sitting for hours waiting for a fish to bite does not appeal. It has often seemed to me that fishing is the quantum unit of human activity; it is impossible to do less than to fish, unless you are dead.

The photos say what I can't, and you can ignore them if you wish.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Miriam Makeba

The death of Miriam Makeba came as something as a surprise to me because I had no idea she was so old. I wasn't really aware of the politics, but I loved the voice. And I find click consonants fascinating. It's hard to understand why anyone would bother to invent them, so complicated do they seem. But of course, languages do not work like that.

Her native language was Xhosa, which has a number of such sounds, and she sang in it frequently. I am not the first to link to this song, but it is a good example of her voice, and her style, and of what clicks actually sound like.

They are really a feature of the Khoisan family, and some of them seem to have been borrowed by neighbouring, or not-so-neighbouring languages, mostly Bantu. So far, so reasonable. But on Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Leerdil used, until recently, a ceremonial language called Damin, which had a large number of click consonants of varying types. Leerdil also several different airstream mechanisms, which is, to saythe least, highly unusual. And it had an egressive bilabial click, a sound which is, I believe, unique in the world.

It is the existence of such things that reassures us that the world is more endlessly fascinating, inexplicable and uncontrollable than we may, in moments of gloom, come to believe. It is such things that seem to fill the lungs with air and the soul with light. There are things which seem to make us completely free, in spite of everything, and one such thing is human wonder.

RIP Miriam. Viva the wonderful.

Friday, November 14, 2008

How to spot an idiot

Following my comments a few days ago on the monumental stupidity and ignorant prejudice of many of those who have managed to be considered authorities in Universities in the supposedly advanced countries of the world, I offer a few of the more common symptoms, mostly, but not all, errors of logic and reasoning, none of which seem to bother them or their adulators. One of the things I have learnt about truth is that it does not matter to those who like power, even to those who claim to live by the truth. It is obvious that politics does not attract lovers of the truth, but it would be a better world if journalists, for example, had some understanding of the importance of the truth they claim to defend. Even many of those who seek intellectual authority have nothing but contempt for reason and truth. So here are some of the clear signs of this contempt, or of simple stupidity in many cases:

- There is usually no attempt to justify the original premises, they are just stated baldly as fact that cannot be denied.

- There is often no logical justification for the steps that supposedly make up an argument.

- There is often no recognition that there need be any connection between the steps of an argument, other than the will of the speaker that it be so.

- The meaning of words is so fluid that they are frequently used in different senses when this immediately invalidates the relation between two ideas which they are trying to establish. They never seem to notice this.

- The meaning of words is so vague that a term can be understood in such of wide range of ways that it is impossible to say precisely what a sentence is supposed to say. They are usually slightly unusual or deliberately obscure words. This is not a complaint about the use of technical terms, which have a very precise meaning in a given context within a given discipline, though this may be obscure to the non-expert. These people use words so vaguely that they can, when they attempt to use the sentence to show something else, be interpreted in whatever way seems useful.

- They frequently use pairs of words, separated by a stroke, and if possible with some phonetic similarity, to suggest some relation between them which they cannot in fact express any other way, much less justify. They are much addicted to this, in fact, and it is infallibly a sign of one who does not think.

- Arguments, when they can be said to have any kind of logic or coherence at all, are frequently circlular, and say nothing but what can be concluded immediately from the (usually implicit) definitions of the terms.

- Abuse, refined and often disguised, is carefully and pre-emptively directed at anyone who might question what is said.

- Sources, such as they are, are hidden, and there is no transparency in any of the alleged research.

This list is far from complete, and there may even be more important things than these. I would appreciate remarks, preferably intelligent, informed ones, but anyone who has anything to say will be welcomed.

There will be examples of the stupidity and prejudice of those named in future posts.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Value of Truth in Academia

There is a certain type of commentator, ostensibly on literature but in fact more on aspects of social relations, very common in University departments in America and Europe, and whose best known exponents are seen as groundbreakers, leading the way for others to follow along a particular path, which they imagine is the only important one for their discipline to consider. They are to be found in all branches of the humanities, and in many departments of many leading universities they have taken control. In some places they seem to control entire universities, and even the whole of academia.

Their principle characteristic, by which they are easily recognised, is that they do not know how to think. They are therefore unable to do any real academic work, but are limited to the endless repetition of false or empty statements purporting to support their favourite idea, which is always a variation of men/ whites/ the middle class/ heterosexuals etc are bastards. The variations are many and frequently they are in conflict with one another, but the elite do not argue among themselves. They do not dispute the value of other people’s dogma (they may not even be capable of doing so) because to attack one would be to question all and might diminish the value of their own. They are, of course, afraid of thinking in others, which would be a threat to their position, and so they impose a regime of rigid orthodoxy, not only on their students, whom they control by not teaching them anything beyond standard dogma, only giving good marks to formulaic reproduction of that dogma, and punishing any kind of real thinking by administrative means; but also other lecturers, whom they deny preferment, spread rumours about, accuse of –isms which they have themselves raised into terrible crimes, refusing any defence to those so persecuted. There is a certain class of word, which changes depending on the fashion of the moment, which is popularly held to justify itself. Thus an accusation of racism is in itself proof of racism which is then held to be the greatest of all thought crimes.

How this situation has been allowed to come about is another question, but the undoubted fact remains that in many areas thinking is persecuted, students are denied the education they think they are receiving, and anything approaching proper research becomes impossible. This cannot be done in mathematics, for example, but areas which permit of other than pure scientific method, which are open- legitimately or otherwise- to more speculative theorising- linguistics is a clear example- are under very serious attack.

The motivation of the practitioners of this betrayal of a generation of students and the brutal bullying of colleagues is very clear. They wish to propagate their prejudices and hide their inability to reason, and thereby keep their posts and gain prestige. They are stupid people, filled with prejudice, incapable of proper reasoning.

Intelligence is the ability to do abstract analysis. I offer this definition for what it may be worth. Opening any academic text it is possible to tell in a paragraph or so whether the writer is able to reason. Even if the text is only providing general information the organization of it tells you quickly whether it is worth reading on, whether one can learn anything from it, trust it, whether the writer can think.

The major exponents of the original techniques of obfuscation that were applied blindly by later leaders in the field were Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault. The particular writers of whom I wish to speak, and to whom all of the above is strictly applicable, are Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Susan Gubar, Sandra Gilbert, Homi Bhabha, Edward Said, Roland Barthes, Henry Louis Gates…; the list goes on.

To read the writings of any of these is to be struck immediately by their ignorance, prejudice, narcissism, irrationality, illogicality, inability to construct even the very simplest argument, and utter disregard for the truth. They are people who cannot think, who are afraid of reason, as we shall doubtless have cause to say again and again. To compare these scribblings with the work of true scholars in any discipline (this has nothing to do with the pre-eminence of pure science) is to laugh out loud at them, and to feel very sad at the thought that they control young minds and the careers of better teachers.

It will take several posts to explain in detail why what they do has no academic rigour, and is therefore valueless, and I shall not try the reader’s patience too far. Later there will be general discussion of their errors and critique of some illuminating particular examples.

Of Baths and Bridges Redux

This Sunday we went again to the old railway bridge over the river north of the town, by a different path over a wooded hill. Crossing the bridge, we went along the bank, through the reeds and peat bogs to be more accurate, and along a walkway picked out in stone among the rushes, which leads to the baths. They are known as the 'Baños del Emperador,' although I cannot find out which Emperor this refers to, nor when they were built. They were declared 'of public benefit' in the middle of the 19th C and were briefly run by a family called Trujillo before the Civil War. That's about it.

There are two baths, one for men, one for women, with stone and brick containing walls around the pools, and muddy bottoms through which CO2 bubbles up continuously in a large number of places, creating a background fizz which can be heard against the sounds of the birds and the swishing of the reeds in the breeze.

A pleasant way to spend a morning, and as good a place as any to eat a ham and cheese sandwich.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Can We All Be Gay Hobbit Porn?

NickM, one of these people, and usually worth having a look at, was complaining yesterday about being gay hobbit porn (here's that link again; you'll need to read it). Now, everything is relative, and NickM wants to be bigger, better and more popular than he is. He wants to be Halle Berry a little drunk on a beach in Waikiki. Quite right, you need ambition. But everything is relative. Those of us down here in the nether regions of the blogworld admire gay hobbit porn; it is what we aspire to be. Personally, I am somewhere between and Taiwanese amputee zoophilia, and I do not know if things will improve.

So, good luck, NickM. You're doing well.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Is Bardem a Filthy, Soulless Capitalist?

I recently watched 'No Country for Old Men'. It won an Oscar, which doesn't usually tempt me, but was made by the Coen brothers, and I have often laughed at them (as it were). I didn't think much of it; it took itself much too seriously, and was mostly a series of intense facial expressions with no apparent connection between them. It was obviously meant to mean something, but I don't know what.

My opinion of a film is of no interest to anyone, but it starred Javier Bardem. Despite living in Spain I had never actually seen any of his work before. It reminded me of remarks of his that I have heard repeated in the press. He is more or less a communist; he probably would be if he dared. His ideas about politics are rather foolish, and he would be advised to stick to acting, which he does well. But his remarks are typical of a certain kind of actor.

This is not a rant about Bardem. But it is a rant. How can a Hollywood actor- Bardem or any of a hundred who come out with the same nonsense- presume to tell anyone that they earn too much money or are somehow immoral because they are slaves to capitalism?

These are people who make enormous sums of money in one of the most brutally capitalist industries in the work. Its only purpose is to make money. It sells a product that is intrinsically worthless- don't tell me it does art- and it has created and constantly recreates a market for itself by spending huge sums on ferocious, manipulative advertising aimed mainly at children and the uneducated. No one who works at a high level in such a business can preach to the rest of us about social responsibilty.

As usual, I may be wrong, but I want to know why.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Truth is What it is, Not What Someone Says it is

The Law of Historic Memory, as it is known in Spain, is described by those who have sponsored it as an attempt to do justice to the remaining victims of the Civil War and the Dictatorship, understood to mean those who suffered directly, and their living families in many cases. It is not as bad as it is sometimes made out to be- it wasn’t, after all, written by idiots- but its primary motivation is clearly political. The political intent is not disguised.

It is criticised for many reasons. It is hard to see why it is necessary. During the transition agreement was reached by all political parties, other social organizations, and the public through a referendum, to accept the War and the Dictatorship as part of history, to seek to redress still rightable wrongs, and to work together to create a stable and prosperous democracy. Not even the Communists tried to upset things too much. If it was the right answer then, and hindsight has shown it undoubtedly was, then surely it is not suddenly wrong after more than three decades.

The effects are unpredictable. The left appears to be trying to win the War that it lost seventy years ago. Spanish society could be destabilized by this. It is hard to imagine it increasing stability, and stability, prosperity and freedom are still greatly valued here by those who remember how it was. The idea of doing justice where it still remains to be done is, of course, a good one, but not in this divisive, highly politicized fashion.

The victims of the Republicans are being forgotten. There were many thousands murdered by the left during the War, including half my wife’s family, and although the law supposedly recognizes this, there is a very strong feeling that it will not in fact be used in favour of these victims. This is being borne out in practice, in that the press, the government itself, and the more vocal of the groups that are interested in this, are only investigating or calling for the investigation of crimes attributed to the Nationalists. Those whose families were murdered by the Communists are deeply unhappy about this, unsurprisingly, and those who try to have Republican crimes looked into are dismissed as trouble-makers or even fascists.

Federico García Lorca is about to be dug up on the orders of a judge, though his family don’t seem too keen on the idea, to attempt to prove some point or other, or just to draw attention to what they are doing. He is perhaps the most famous of the victims murdered by the Nationalists. It was undoubtedly a terrible crime, depriving a young man of his life, and Spain of one of its greatest poets. But we shall hear little or nothing, I fear, of the murder by the Communists of Ramiro de Maeztu, one of the greatest intellectual writers of his time, and Pedro Muñoz Seca, a popular, prolific and rather good dramatist, whose work is still well-known. The latter was killed along with hundreds of others, most of them guilty of nothing more than Monarchist sympathies. When I say murder in this article I refer to the extra-judicial killing of non-combatants, neither convicted nor accused of any crime, usually for their supposed political stance, for owning land, or simply out of greed, revenge or hate.

It is hard to see what purpose any of this will serve. And it bound to do a great deal of damage. But the real danger, and what everyone should be concerned with, whatever side of history or politics they are on, is that the government believes it has the power to legislate truth, to define truths which the people must acknowledge on pain of imprisonment. It is bad enough that governments indoctrinate children by forcing teachers to present certain material in particular ways, with no possibility of encouraging research, analysis and debate, but to criminalize the expression of certain thoughts is far worse, and much more dangerous.

A narrative is being constructed, an official version of the history of the Civil War and the dictatorship of Franco, with identified victims, heroes and villains named as such, events described in a form which is defined as the reality, and to deviate from this is to become an outlaw; subject to criminal law. There will be thoughts that it will be illegal to express, ideas which cannot be articulated, opinions which must be kept to ourselves, and our children will parrot the official truth in chorus until everyone finally comes to believe it. Research will become difficult, politicians and the press will have a new way of setting the dogs on their opponents, and no good will come of it.

Freedom of thought should be absolute; freedom of speech can be subject to limits, where it is intended, or very likely to result in violence- fire, theatres, incitement and other words come to mind. Freedom of speech is the freedom to be wrong, the freedom to be stupid, to speak in ignorance, to blindly defend a position one does not even understand, to articulate one’s gut feelings and reactions, to offend others if that is the result, but also to speak intelligently, to question and investigate matters, to express hypotheses, to overturn the established understanding, and to use the truth one has discovered for purposes less reputable than the process of finding it.

Once we accept that we can be forbidden from saying some things, or from questioning the truth as we have been told it is, we will have lost an important part of what makes freedom available to those who are not afraid to possess it and use it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Historical Truth

This was inspired by a reference I saw this morning, it doesn't matter where, to the tendency of certain democratic European governments to attempt to determine what may and may not be presented as truth, and what may or not be questioned. I would state unreservedly that this is a bad thing; bad for freedom, bad for truth, and bad for anybody who might at some time find themselves on the wrong side of those who are in charge. Once the idea is accepted as legitimate in democracy the possibilities for abuse are endless. And good intentions are no guarantee of anything.

I am well aware that no one reads long posts, so I shall be brief, and divide the ideas into several sections. I should make clear at this point that I do not defend the idea of free speech, and of free thought, with the purpose of defending any particular position. And I draw the line very sharply at incitement to violence, which is a different matter entirely. I would also suggest that it is not, in itself, a bad thing that a British court can detain an Australian subject and send him for trial to Germany for a crime which allegedly took place in Australia. If the idea of this is to protect people from criminals, then a bit of international co-operation is no bad thing at all. The problem is what is considered to be a crime, and who determines it. Gerald Toben (who is an example here, not the inspiration for this article, which I have been thinking about for a long time) presides an organisation whose primary purpose is to express its own hatred of Jews. This is perfectly clear from its website. Despite the very poor attempts to present it as serious historical research it is nothing more than irreflective antipathy, and deserves no real consideration. But you can here the same degree of casual 'desprecio' in any bar in England and many other countries, at any time. And this is not a remark about the prejudices of some imagined underclass- I like bars and many friends of mine express just such irreflective remarks, though about groups they would not perhaps identify so clearly.

Most of us cannot be bothered to think too much; it is hard enough to make a living and make some sense of the world, and it is too easy to condemn Gerald Toben because what we have been told of him is not pleasant. Even if we read or hear what he has actually said, rather than what others interpret him to have said, we are unlikely to be impressed. Few people care if Gerald Toben is jailed in Germany.

David Irving has in fact been jailed, in Austria, for things that he said in Austria. He is a serious historian, a man who knows how to do proper historical research, and who does it. His website is worth looking at. It is clear that he uses the results of that research to advance a particular point of view, which serious historians should not do (although they often do). The question is, 'Is the purpose of justice and freedom served by locking up these men?'

I welcome answers; I do not object to abuse, but I should prefer intelligent comment. If I am wrong in any of my assumptions I should like to know why.

I promise (really) more tomorrow- on the 'ley de memoria histórica' in Spain, on the brutal censorship which exists in Universities, and other things.