Friday, October 27, 2006

October 27th

Today is the 453rd anniversary of the death of Michael Servetus, polymath and unitarian heretic, burned alive at Geneva by order of John Calvin. I think it was 10 years ago today that I left a wreath with his name on it at John Calvin Presbyterian Church. I was told the other day that its name has been changed, to Willows Presbyterian Church, which was splendid. We cannot help it, after all, if the propagators of our memes have been bad eggs: but at least we ought not to name things after them.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Closer than lips and teeth

Before the 12th of October, and the 11th of September, and the 9th of November, there was the 4th of June. At least, I think of it as the 4th of June, though I suppose it began on the 3rd of the June. I was softer clay then, so it was the 4th of June that impressed me the most. I cannot really claim any family quarrel with the government of the Renegade Mainland Provinces. My grandfather, who spent part of his childhood in the old Republic of China, and whose uncle disappeared forever into Mao’s prisons in 1949, made his peace with them well enough, and must have made a dozen visits from the late 70s onwards to coal mines in Gansu and suchlike. My grandfather was in Beijing that night, and has always said that the media descriptions of it as a ‘massacre’ were propaganda. Unfortunately I can’t remember him saying what it was, just what it wasn’t. I think it was that thing more romantic and indefensible, an armed uprising quashed.

My only visit to Northeast Asia was a few years ago, and I went to the Republic of Korea. One night at the end of the conference I went out for dinner with a Canadian, a Hong Konger, and many Koreans. I must stress that both the Canadian and Hong Konger were really really nice, very intelligent, and tremendously good company, and I don’t want to personally slight either of them, but the ironies of this anecdote are too tempting. First, I remember the Canadian talked for a while about how difficult it was in Canada, being next to a big overbearing neighbour like the United States, and all the Koreans listened politely. Then the conversation shifted, and the Hong Konger asked one of the Koreans if he travelled to China often. ‘Yes, I’ve been to Yentai several times,’ he replied. ‘Yentai? I don’t know it,’ said the Hong Konger. ‘You should,’ said the Korean. ‘It’s a city of four million people.’ And so it is! It’s there in Shandong, just across the water from Korea. I thought that was so cool, a country where a highly educated and well-travelled citizen can never have heard of a city of four million people. But I don’t want to go there myself. I don’t plan on watching the 1936, oops 2008, Olympics, either.

Now I am going to come to some sort of point. Let’s imagine for a second that everything the left-leaning commentariat says about Israel was true, and that it really was an armed camp, a rogue state, a brutal military regime that lived to mess with its law-abiding neighbours. Now, let’s imagine that it had no real economy, had no way of meeting its own food and energy needs, and was propped up in toto by another much larger and more viable country. By India, say, as part of some wacky geopolitical calculation involving keeping the Muslim world distracted. Now, if Israel tested a nuclear bomb and followed it up with scary sabre-rattling gestures, don’t you think everyone would be giving India some rather hard stares? Don’t you think everyone would be saying, ‘the way to get at these Zionist wackoes is, we’ve got to lean heavy on India’? I thought you would.

I suggest that North Korea exists because the government of the Renegade Mainland Provinces wants it to exist, and it will continue to exist as long as it is useful to them. The day it ceases to be useful, there will be a controlled implosion, and the regime will be replaced by one that is more to Beijing’s liking. But so long as it remains useful, there is nothing anybody else can do about it. However, I am happy to defer to anyone who has a more informed opinion than I do!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Moral Contextualist

Some deeds are black. And some are white.
But most of them are grey.
So we must talk about them in a quantitative way.
It is fine to follow. As it is fine to feel.
For we must believe in something, and believing, we must wheel
To defend what we believe in with a fine fanatic zeal.
But we must also measure. And we must also think.

Some things are true. And some are false.
But seldom can we know
Which falsehood is the falsest as the falsehoods come and go.
I know there is a best way. I doubt that it is good.
For we all were born to trouble in a vast and sunless wood
Where many are the paths of 'must' and few the paths of 'should'.
And we wander here to measure. We wander here to think.

The usages of Sulva! The portion of Lothair.
There are two sins against hope:
Presumption and despair.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Take that, Google!

All I could find searching for this poem by author and title were posts by people saying they couldn't find it. And when I had found it out in the real world, and Googled one of the lines not quoted in Chesterton's Autobiography, I got no hits at all.

The Rebel, Hilaire Belloc
From 'Sonnets and Verse', first published 1923, 1954 edition.

There is a wall of which the stones
Are lies and bribes and dead men's bones.
And wrongfully this evil wall
Denies what all men made for all,
And shamelessly this wall surrounds
Our homesteads and our native grounds.

But I will gather and I will ride,
And I will summon a countryside,
And many a man shall hear my halloa
Who never had thought the horn to follow ;
And many a man shall ride with me
Who never had thought on earth to see
High Justice in her armoury.

When we find them where they stand,
A mile of men on either hand,
I mean to charge from right away
And force the flanks of their array,
And press them inward from the plains,
And drive them clamouring down the lanes,
And gallop and harry and have them down,
And carry the gates and hold the town.
Then shall I rest me from my ride
With my great anger satisfied.

Only, before I eat and drink,
When I have killed them all, I think
That I wll batter their carven names,
And slit the pictures in their frames,
And burn for scent their cedar door,
And melt the gold their women wore,
And hack their horses at the knees,
And hew to death their timber trees,
And plough their gardens deep and through-
And all these things I mean to do
For fear perhaps my little son
Should break his hands, as I have done.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Mañana seré un tigre entre los tigres

The troubles of our proud and angry dust are from eternity, and shall not fail.
- A. E. Housman

There is such a thing as good. Existence is a positive good. To worship any being that is other than omnibenevolent is idolatry. I cannot abide in the religion of my birth because Hell is unworthy of God. All other religions are grey and tasteless to me, and I see their logical flaws as I cannot see the flaws of the religion of my birth. Nobody wants to change my mind about anything, and I have lost the taste for monologue, so I vaguely think of things to post and then discard them, unwritten.

I still cannot fit Angel into the logical framework of the Buffiverse, as I embark on the perilous and increasingly ludicrous journey of the fourth season. The main thoughts that recur to me are:

* The continuing 'vampires and mobile phones' shtick is highly amusing.

* Angel shoulda been staked a long time ago. Nothing I have seen has swayed me from my initial position that it would have saved everyone a world of pain to dust him when he first appeared.

* Everyone's characterisation continues to swing wildly from pillar to post, to an even greater extent than in Buffy.

* Notwithstanding the above point, Cordy is so much more a hero than Buffy the whiney.

* Dave sure was right about that stubble wrangler.