UK paperback


Don’t pay them; pay us

So, paying Afghan insurgents to stop fighting is not bribery but “reintegration”, while BAE paying foreign government officials to persuade them to buy its weapons is bribery, yet BAE paying the US and UK governments to make that nastiness go away isn’t bribery but rather “fines”?

What is bribery, readers?


He got sick

Julius seizure

Anthony Julius, the celebrated divorce lawyer and analyst of T.S. Eliot, has a new book out arguing that liberals are “fellow travellers” of anti-Semites, whatever that means (and I don’t intend to read the book to find out). But he does take the trouble to attack a few named individuals in a Guardian interview, and this in particular sticks out:

Tony Judt [who has complained of the power of the Israel lobby over American foreign policy] is a remarkable historian but I think he got sick about Israel.

He got sick about Israel? Well, in the spirit of interpretive charity so alien to Anthony Julius, I am going to firmly assume that Julius just doesn’t know that Tony Judt is, in fact, seriously ill. That Julius would knowingly exploit Judt’s actual ill-health in this way, by implying that Judt’s views on Israel are the cause of his disease, is simply unthinkable. It would place Julius entirely outwith the realm of civilized discourse.

That impossibility noted, it is even so hardly a respectable mode of debate to accuse one’s opponents of having got sick about one subject or another. In Julius’s formulation, to have the wrong kind of opinion about Israel is not mere scholarly disagreement but a species of (presumably mental) illness, and such a characterization deliberately degrades not only one’s specific opponent but everyone with actual mental illness. ((Cp Charles Krauthammer: “It looks as if Al Gore has gone off his lithium again.”)) For Julius to engage in such low nastiness, while flogging a book that decries another kind of prejudice, is rather unfortunate to say the least.


Liberal fundamentalist

‘The kind of face you want to punch’

World’s greatest historian Niall Ferguson is in the “news”, ((Thanks to redpesto.)) and the Mail provides some useful background:

He is considered a leading expert on foreign affairs and once described himself as an ‘ardent Thatcherite’ but now calls himself a ‘liberal fundamentalist’.

What is a liberal fundamentalist? Is it someone who encourages a proliferation of different readings of his fundament? Or is it someone whose fundament is itself liberal? Is On Liberty, say, the sacred text, from which no deviation is possible, on which Ferguson’s philosophy is built? Or does he prefer an endless jouissance of individual interpretation of some other set of primary texts, perhaps in the manner of the Taqwacore movement? Does Ferguson encourage liberal use and exploration of his own fundament? Enquiring fans of Niall Ferguson, and of his fundament, want to know.


Native French

You’re not from around here, are you?

Did you have any travel difficulties over the festive season, readers? Well, they were as nothing compared to what Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, went through! ((Thanks to BM.))

I’ve been marooned in Paris the last three days, waiting for a plane home after the snowstorm mess (“Poor Charles,” you’re all saying). Last night, having been struck by how polyglot Paris has become, I collected data as I walked along, counting people who looked like native French (which probably added in a few Brits and other Europeans) versus everyone else. I can’t vouch for the representativeness of the sample, but at about eight o’clock last night in the St. Denis area of Paris, it worked out to about 50-50, with the non-native French half consisting, in order of proportion, of African blacks, Middle-Eastern types, and East Asians. And on December 22, I don’t think a lot of them were tourists.

Mark Steyn and Christopher Caldwell have already explained this to the rest of the world—Europe as we have known it is about to disappear — but it was still a shock to see how rapid the change has been in just the last half-dozen years.

Imagine the author, heroically collecting data by counting people who looked like native French in a dingy suburb of Paris. How, you might wonder, did he decide what native French looks like? Did he count only those men and women wearing berets and/or carrying baguettes? In that case, I’m surprised he saw so many!

Obviously it cannot possibly be, as a kneejerk librul might uncharitably suspect, that Murray just counted white faces, since of course, lots of black people, Asian-seeming folk, and even “Middle-Eastern types” ((Particularly shifty and confusing, those Middle-Eastern types, aren’t they?)) are native French, in the sense that, um, they were born in France. These foreign-looking coves can be tricky that way sometimes. So we can surely be confident that the data-collection principle employed by renowned scholar Murray, as he prowled the trottoirs of St-Denis, was not the jaw-droppingly ignorant and racist method of counting whites as French, and non-whites as not, and expressing shock at the result. The puzzle remains, then: how on earth did he do it?


The more eyes make culture richer

Cloud cuckoo land

“Innovation consultant” Charles Leadbeater, co-author of IDon’tThink, has happened upon a new high-concept concept: “cloud culture”. In a nice touch, his essay on the subject at Edge appears to have been machine-translated in the cloud to Japanese and back again.

This is the cloud culture equation. New stores of digital cultural artefacts will become more accessible in more ways to more people that ever. More people will be able to explore these digital stores to find things of value to them. That could set in train a process of akin to the collaborative creativity that drives open source software. The open source software movement’s rallying cry is: “many eyes make bugs shallow.” The more people that test out a programme the quicker the bugs will be found. The cultural equivalent is that the more eyes make culture richer. The more people that see a collection of content, from more vantage points, the more likely they are to find value in it, probably value that a small team of professional curators may have missed.




Quiet, please

As the Irish ask: why keep a dog and bark yourself? Well, one reason might be that you have had your dog debarked. Debarking in this context has nothing to do with stripping the epidermis from trees or getting off a ship. As the New York Times explains, it is rather a gruesome bit of unspeak for a surgical procedure in which a dog’s vocal cords are cut. The dog is not merely having its bark removed, but a part of its anatomy deliberately maimed, so as to appease complaining neighbours. (Debarking is thus substantially more euphemistic than the poultry industry’s debeaking.) Dog owners who submit their pets to a debarking are quoted by the NYT as insisting that their dogs are no less happy afterwards, which rather makes one wonder why this “humane” procedure could not also be applied with profit to certain humans.

Terry Albert, of Poway, Calif., said her life revolved around dogs: she boards them, rescues them, and even paints portraits of them. And she refuses to give them up. She has had two dogs debarked. “You may think it’s horrible,” she said. “But if I had to give up my dog or get the surgery, I would choose the surgery.”

Brave Ms Albert, choosing the surgery, is scheduled to have her vocal cords cut by a surgeon next Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, would it not be to Britain’s enormous benefit if we were also to volunteer George Osborne for a debarking, thus pacifying those millions of citizens whose lives are made a misery by his near-constant outbursts of wheedlingly aggressive and meaningless noise?


He’s got no talent

Tradition and the individual chucklehead

Martin Amis is interviewed for Prospect:

MA: People assume that it’s the gloomy buggers that are the serious ones — but in fact, anyone who has ever been anywhere in fiction is funny. Yet there are whole reputations built on not being funny. Who’s that German writer doesn’t even have paragraph breaks?

TC: I don’t know him, I don’t tend to read that kind of German writer.

I believe Amis might have been thinking of the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard, who in my opinion is extremely funny. ((This, on Bernhard, is rather good.)) Meanwhile, what is the import of Amis’s curious locution anyone who has ever been anywhere to mean — presumably — “anyone who is any good”? ((It might, alternatively, be a mistranscription of “anyone who has ever been anyone”.)) Where do you go when you’re good? Does Martin Amis have holiday snaps to prove it?

Leaving us pondering that question, Amis motors on:

MA: Coetzee, for instance — his whole style is predicated on transmitting absolutely no pleasure.

TC: Do you admire his books at all?

MA: No. I read one and I thought, he’s got no talent. The denial of the pleasure principle has a lot of followers. But I am completely committed to it, to pleasure.

Whether one takes pleasure in Coetzee’s style or not is, I suppose, a matter of taste. But the claim that Coetzee has got no talent convicts Amis as irredeemably second-rate in the matter of literary judgment.

Firstly, to couch his opinion in terms of the man Coetzee himself and whether he has “talent”, rather than in terms of the merit of the books themselves, is of a piece with Amis’s longstanding, schoolboyish preoccupation with the ranking of literary figures (M. Amis himself not seldom considered among them), and is really to express personal envy passed off as aesthetic evaluation. Secondly, the choice of “talent” itself as the criterion for the good writer, though it perhaps once began as a more-or-less-serious borrowing from Eliot, has long been in Amis’s conversation and writing an obsession at once cartoonishly egotistical (he has never been shy of referring to his own “talent”) and depressingly middlebrow. In combination, Amis’s puerile infatuation with “talent” and his laboriously hedonistic avowal of loyalty to “the pleasure principle” show that what he values above all in fiction is a kind of chucklesome facility, of the sort he once was able to practise himself.

That J.M. Coetzee’s astringent genius does not register on Martin Amis’s talentometer is, I conclude, certainly to the discredit of one of them.



An itinerant seller of quack medicines

One need not be an uncritical admirer of the work of Howard Zinn to wonder idly why noted obituarist Oliver Kamm is so keen to denounce an ideological opponent as not only wrong but a charlatan (Merriam-Webster: “one making usually showy pretenses to knowledge or ability: fraud, faker”). Might it somehow be related to the fact that Kamm himself has an impressive track record of pontificating about subjects on which he has failed to do the most elementary research or of which he lacks the most rudimentary understanding? ((Previously in “The ‘scholarship’ of Oliver Kamm”: Discomfited; Meld; A stale image; Implicitly believes; The dominance of western music; A blatant distortion.))


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