|A Modern Narcissus Looks into his Own Soul|
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Friday, October 22, 2010
Thursday, October 21, 2010
"Finally, by the greatest miracle of all, this world of superinternational controls and coercions is also going to be a world of "free" international trade! Just what the government planners mean by free trade in this connection I am not sure, but we can be sure of some of the things they do not mean. They do not mean the freedom of ordinary people to buy and sell, lend and borrow, at whatever prices or rates they like and wherever they find it most profitable to do so. They do not mean the freedom of the plain citizen to raise as much of a given crop as he wishes, to come and go at will, to settle where he pleases, to take his capital and other belongings with him. They mean, I suspect, the freedom of bureaucrats to settle these matters for him."
That seems pretty clear, and sounds about right.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Thus we have an insignificant bureaucrat from Belgium, a man with the charisma of a used teabag and the appearance of a child molester auditioning for a minor role in the school play, whose job exists not from necessity but as a result of private agreements between other bureaucrats who expect to find it useful at some stage, and who was given that job precisely because he won't be able to do anything with it- he's a placeholder, his very function is to be nobody, he is useful because he isn't Tony Blair, he isn't Felipe González, he is isn't Romano Prodi- we have this non-entity whose life is not in any danger and whose death would pass unnoticed outside his family, provided, at our expense, with a chauffeur driven car full of armed policemen, while countless thousands who really do live under a direct threat- from a violent ex-husband, thuggish neighbours, the local crooks, the drug gang that controls the area they have no option but to carry on living in, the guntoting friends of Adams and McGuinness, for being the wrong colour, the wrong sex, attending the wrong church, having the wrong opinions, doing the wrong thing with their dangly bits, or for no reason whatsoever- are told to go home and lock the door because there are not the resources to protect them properly.
Van Rompuy, like most of the unelected, unaccountable and irrelevant penpushers who use our money to make their bodies rest more comfortably and their egos shine more brightly, is robbing us because he can, because collectively they have the keys to the safe, and they have learnt to work together for the good of all of them.
And even to those who actually do matter in some way, because they have been specifically chosen by the people to represent them in certain matters, because the position they occupy does have a symbolism that would be affected by an attack on them, because their activities are important to a large number of people and could not easily be carried out by someone else, and who are under a real threat, I say this: You went into this for the money and the power, not to improve my life or anyone else's. Any risk attached to that decision is your problem, not the taxpayers.
It may appear to be a small matter to excite my ire in this way, just the use of an official car for a private journey, but it is corruption, and serves as a very clear and concrete example of what is going on everywhere the unaccountable are spending other people's money. Our MP's pay themselves, with our money, a sum that they choose, without asking us what we think they are worth; MEP's claim for expenses which they have never paid out, they claim for attendance when they were not there, they do no real work, as the Parliament has no power and they almost never pay any attention to the people they are supposed to represent. They are mostly glorified lobbyists, representing special interests to the Commission. This corruption is well documented on a massive scale, and is protected by the rules that they make themselves, and by the culture of entitlement which they have spent many years creating and normalising.
Power not only corrupts, it attracts the corrupt. The purpose of government, we fondly think, is to protect the nation and to organise, collectively, such things as are better done that way. This is total bollocks. The purpose of government is to make politicians powerful and their courtiers rich. It has, and never has had, any other purpose, from its earliest days in the tribal group in the savannah. Democracy is a deal by which they let us throw them out every five years in exchange for our promise not to slit their throats in the mean time. Both sides interpret this agreement with a certain amount of freedom, but it can, at times, work quite well. But it should not be confused with government by the people. It isn't, and probably no such thing is possible. Democracy is a way of controlling the state, not of turning the people into the state.
Thank you for your attention. Tomorrow we shall relax by talking about hedgehogs, which I enjoy much more than this depressing stuff.
Friday, October 15, 2010
I know people like that like to imagine they matter in some way, but whatever makes him think someone is going to kill him? No one even knows who he is, and no one cares what happens to him. The EU taxpayer wouldn't care in the slightest even if he were targeted by some crazed gunman or terrorist with a grievance. He is of no personal relevance to any of us, and his position, which is meaningless anyway, would just be taken by somebody else. He probably imagines the symbolism of such an act would be comparable to that of the murder of JFK. It isn't worth bothering to try to explain to him what he really means to the people.
If he is concerned for his safety, he can pay for his own security. He earns enough. Or he can go and sweep the streets and he won't have to be paranoid any more. Why should we pay for his delusions of grandeur? It is simple corruption, and contempt for the people who do real jobs or live under genuine threats to their safety (and there are millions, even in Europe).
Monday, October 11, 2010
While it’s quite possible to carp (it is hard to see quite how this squares with the promotion of peace congresses and the reduction of standing armies, it might well be possible to find more deserving people around the world, and the choice is clearly a political statement) the award is undoubtedly in the spirit that Nobel intended, the statement is the right sort of politics, and Liu Xiaobo has genuinely worked to make life better for his fellow man, risking, and ultimately forfeiting, his own comfort and liberty to do so. So, well done, that man.
China is a little freer because of what he has done, and a little more so today, because of the Nobel committee, who seem to have got one right for once*. Freedom, prosperity and peace tend to go hand in hand, and one day, in 30 or 40 years time, the Chinese press will have given up politics and will be full of articles moaning about those bloody Europeans with their round eyes, strange religious practices and smelling of milk, coming over here, taking our jobs.
*I also notice that the Literature prize has gone to Mario Vargas Llosa, a great writer, not tediously leftwing in his work, and not, as far as I know, in his life, either. Something of a novelty. If it weren’t for his pathological obsession with getting some form of detailed and slightly peculiar sex act into almost every paragraph he would probably be even better. But he’s worth reading which, in a writer, is the best thing there is, and the only thing worth rewarding.
Proverbs aside, I don’t practise constantly and I don’t interpret at the highest level, but I can do it in other, slightly less demanding circumstances and from time to time I am contracted for that purpose.
Another thing about interpreting, which you would have thought was fairly obvious but apparently isn’t, is that interpreters specialise; you interpret from one, or sometimes two, specific languages, into your own native tongue. It is not simply a question of knowing some generalised ‘foreign’. There are people who fail to grasp this, including people who should know better. I work for the courts occasionally and the last time they rang it was to interpret for a man who spoke Hindi and Bengali, but not English.
‘So you can’t help, then?’ asked the judge, getting to the point in a sharp and practical manner. Since the accused seemed an educated chap it crossed my mind to try it in Sanskrit, if only because it would have made a great story, but I could see it ending rather badly, and I dared not.
‘Afraid not, Your Honour,’ I declared. ‘Maybe we’ll have better luck next time.’ And I was sent on my way. They paid me anyway, since it’s someone else’s money.
On another occasion I was asked to interpret for the judges at a dog show. It wasn’t for the show itself, where communication seems to be done by a form of sign language, but beforehand, to keep them busy and stop them getting in the way while everything was organised. A simple enough task, it should have been. Except that they were French, and spoke no English. Again we had hit the problem of generalised foreign.
Now I read French well enough, and I speak it after a fashion, but that fashion can be seen in the title of this post, which is a verbatim answer I gave when asked what the men loading rifles into their cars were doing. Experts in the Gallic tongue well notice there is room for improvement. Had I had time to think, I would have made a better attempt, I would at least have remembered the word ‘sanglier’, but that’s the thing about interpreting- you don’t have time to think.
So there I was, through no fault of my own, taking a professional fee for doing the job of a rank amateur. To point out that I wasn’t really up to the task would have been useless, as the organisers were far too busy to look for a replacement, so I just got on with it. It went remarkably well, in the end. Everything that needed to be communicated was communicated, they were kept away from the preparations for the show, and they went off quite happy.
Due to another little mix-up of that kind I suspect there is a farmer somewhere outside Dublin trying to raise pigs on hazel nuts, and wondering why they are so expensive to feed and the meat doesn’t taste anything like what he tasted in the south of Spain, when I told him that’s what they fed on.
It all serves to make life a bit more interesting.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
With Darwin there is nothing idle, no unquestioned assumption, no glossing over the uncomfortable or inexplicable in the rush to show us that he is right; he has looked into every detail himself, confirming or rejecting what he has heard or imagined, or he has spoken to experts on those details and satisfied himself beyond doubt that they know what they're talking about.
This is not to say that he was in fact right in everything he said, and in every possibility he advanced, but his remarkable mind, and his unswerving dedication to the search for truth, took him as far as it was possible to go at that time.
The book contains hundreds of little anecdotes, incidentally told to support every, apparently minor, observation that he makes. Here I offer you one that I struck me as particularly curious:
'Hardly any faculty is more important for the intellectual progress of man than ATTENTION. Animals clearly manifest this power, as when a cat watches by a hole and prepares to spring on its prey. Wild animals sometimes become so absorbed when thus engaged, that they may be easily approached.
Mr. Bartlett has given me a curious proof how variable this faculty is in monkeys. A man who trains monkeys to act in plays, used to purchase common kinds from the Zoological Society at the price of five pounds for each; but he offered to give double the price, if he might keep three or four of them for a few days, in order to select one. When asked how he could possibly learn so soon, whether a particular monkey would turn out a good actor, he answered that it all depended on their power of attention. If when he was talking and explaining anything to a monkey, its attention was easily distracted, as by a fly on the wall or other trifling object, the case was hopeless. If he tried by punishment to make an inattentive monkey act, it turned sulky. On the other hand, a monkey which carefully attended to him could always be trained.'
Text plagiarised from Project Gutenberg, to whom be life, health and strength.
There, I have said it, and I feel purged and clean, a simpler, purer hedgehog. Rolf Harris has been guilty of many crimes against taste, and took particular pleasure in perpetrating them on British television, but this is a great song. Of course, it's a children's song, you wouldn't try it at karaoke night down the Blind Beggar, you wouldn't want to hear it more than about twice a year and I don't see Bruce Springsteen covering it in the near future, but it is a finely crafted song, linking a simple, homely tale with an equally simple but horribly dramatic one, in an imaginative, elegant fashion, telling a tragic, but ultimately mundane story with humanity and power.
I am moved to make this admission by Ben Goldacre over at Bad Science, who, in the course of explaining possible flaws in a study of an aspect of human behaviour, tells the story behind the song, which I was not aware of:
'When he appeared on Desert Island Discs, Rolf Harris chose to take his own song “Two Little Boys” with him. When war broke out, Rolf explained, his father and uncle had both joined up, his father lying about his younger brother’s age so they could both join the fight. But their mother found out and dobbed them in, because she couldn’t bear the thought of losing both her sons so young. Rolf’s uncle joined up 2 years later when he came of age, was injured, and died on the front. Rolf’s dad was beside himself, and for the rest of his life he believed that no matter what the risks, if he had been in the same infantry, he could have crawled out and saved his younger brother, just like in the song. Rolf played “Two Little Boys” to his grandmother just once. She sat through it quietly, took it off at the end, and said quietly: “please don’t ever play that to me again”.'