Looking at our own family history, we tend to pay more attention to our grandparents than our cousins. Whatever they did, we have a duty to think well of our grandparents. We often forget our cousins. So far as they are rivals, we may come to despise or hate them. So it has been with Western Europe and the Byzantine Empire. The Barbarians who crossed the Rhine and North Sea in the fifth century are our parents. They founded a new civilisation from which ours is, in terms of blood and culture, the development. Their history is our history. The Greeks and Romans are our grandparents. In the strict sense, our parents were interlopers who dispossessed them. But the classical and Christian influence has been so pervasive that we even look at our early history through their eyes. The Jews also we shoehorn into the family tree. For all they still may find it embarrassing, they gave us the Christian Faith. We have no choice but to know about them down to the burning of the Temple in 70AD. The Egyptians have little to do with us. But we study them because their arts impose on our senses, and because they have been safely irrelevant for a very long time.
Byzantium is different. Though part of the family tree, it is outside the direct line of succession. In our civilisation, the average educated person studies the Greeks till they were conquered by the Romans, and the Romans till the last Western Emperor was deposed in 476AD. After that, we switch to the Germanic kingdoms, with increasing emphasis on the particular kingdom that evolved into our own nation. The continuing Empire, ruled from Constantinople, has no place in this scheme. Educated people know it existed. It must be taken into account in histories of the Crusades. But the record of so many dynasties is passed over in a blur. Its cultural and theological concerns have no place in our thought. We may thank it for preserving and handing on virtually the whole body of Classical Greek literature that survives. But its history is not our history. It seems, in itself, to tell us nothing about ourselves.
Indeed, where not overlooked, the Byzantines have been actively disliked. Our ancestors feared the Eastern Empire. They resented its contempt for their barbarism and poverty, and its ruthless meddling in their affairs. They hated it for its heretical and semi-heretical views about the Liturgy or the Nature of Christ. They were pleased enough to rip the Empire apart in 1204, and lifted barely a finger to save it from the Turks in 1453. After a spasm of interest in the seventeenth century, the balance of scholarly opinion in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was to despise it for its conservatism and superstition, and for its alleged falling away from the Classical ideals — and for its ultimate failure to survive. If scholarly opinion since then has become less negative, this has not had any wider cultural effect.
Richard Blake, “The Joys of Writing Byzantine Historical Fiction”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2014-07-27.
July 31, 2014
July 30, 2014
… it sounds like a sober and centrist position. I mean who believes in deficit financing? Well everybody but you’re not suppose to admit it out loud. Like dwarf porn. Many watch but few will say so. What it means in practice is one of two things. If an actual conservative uses the term it means that the public service is getting taken to the tool shed. There being few actual conservatives in politics what it usually means is that we’ll keep spending until someone makes us stop.
That’s when the bond market vigilantes step in. Then everyone blames the bond market for ending the party. The kind politician would love, absolutely love, to spend more money on “X” but those evil Gordon Gekko types won’t let him. In truth the bond market traders are no more responsible for a government going broke than a doctor is responsible for giving an alcoholic DT.
The state, observed Bastiat so many years ago, is the great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else. Politics is the lie that this can go on indefinitely. Voters complain about the low levels of honesty in politics. But a dishonest political class is the product of a dishonest electorate. If people want something for nothing, they’ll get the lying louses they deserve. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me a hundred years in a row and the shame is very much on the ordinary bitchin’ voter.
Richard Anderson, “Transparent Lies”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-07-28.
July 29, 2014
Nowhere were the frictions generated by nationalist politics more in evidence than in the Cisleithanian [the non-Hungarian half of Austria-Hungary] parliament, which met from 1883 in a handsome neo-classical building on Vienna’s Ringstrasse. In this 516-seat legislature, the largest in Europe, the familiar spectrum of political ideological diversity was cross-cut by national affiliations producing a panoply of splinter groups and grouplets. Among the thirty-odd parties that held mandates after the 1907 elections, for example, were twenty-eight Czech Agrarians, eighteen Young Czechs (Radical nationalists), seventeen Czech Conservatives, seven Old Czechs (moderate nationalists), two Czech-Progressives (Realist tendency), one ‘wild’ (independent) Czech and nine Czech National Socialists. The Poles, the Germans, the Italians and even the Slovenes and the Ruthenes were similarly divided along ideological lines.
Since there was no official language in Cisleithania (by contrast with the Kingdom of Hungary), there was no single official language of parliamentary procedure. German,Czech, Polish, Ruthenian, Croat, Serbian, Slovenian, Italian, Romanian and Russian were all permitted. But no interpreters were provided, and there was no facility for recording or monitoring the content of the speeches that were not in German, unless the deputy in question himself chose to supply the house with a translated text of his speech. Deputies from even the most insignificant factions could thus block unwelcome initiatives by delivering long speeches in a language that only a handful of their colleagues understood. Whether they were actually addressing the issues raised by the current motion, or simply reciting long poems in their own national idiom, was difficult to ascertain. The Czechs in particular were renowned for the baroque extravagance of their filibustering. The Cisleithanian parliament became a celebrated tourist attraction, especially in winter, when Viennese pleasure-seekers crowded into the heated visitors’ galleries. By contrast with the city’s theatres and opera houses, a Berlin journalist wrily observed, entry to parliamentary sessions was free.*
* Among those who came to watch the antics of the deputies was the young drifter Adolf Hitler. Between February 1908 and the summer of 1909, when Czech obstructionism was at its height, he was often to be found in the visitors’ gallery. He would later claim that the experience had ‘cured’ him of his youthful admiration for the parliamentary system.
Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.
July 28, 2014
True absinthe (the name is from a Greek word meaning “undrinkable”) has been illegal in most places for a long time. It is, or was, flavoured with the herb wormwood, which, as the French authorities noticed after years of using absinthe in their army to combat fever, “acts powerfully on the nerve-centres, and causes delirium and hallucinations, followed in some cases by idiocy” (Encyclopaedia Britannica). The perfectly wholesome successors to absinthe are flavoured with anise, or aniseed. The result always reminds me, not unpleasantly, of those paregoric cough-sweets children ate before the war, and I see that paregoric does contain aniseed, but throws in opium, camphor and benzoic acid as well, so I am probably just being nostalgic. Anyway, when recipes call for absinthe, as they can still do if their compilers and revisers have been too ignorant or lazy to make the change, use Pernod or Ricard instead.
Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, 2008.
July 27, 2014
This is an elementary and self-evident Principle. Indeed, it is so axiomatic that few examples of it will be given in these pages. The only point to stress is that it is useless to hope to obtain complete security in passive defense. It is also unsound. “He who tries to defend everything saves nothing.” declared Marshal Foch, echoing Frederick the Great. It should be noted that the very act of assuming the offensive imparts a certain degree of security. Make as if to strike a man, and he instinctively assumes a defensive attitude. As General Rowan Robinson expresses it in his Imperial Defence, “The highest form of strategic security is that obtained through the imposition of our will upon the enemy, through seizing the initiative and maintaining it by offensive action.” There may sometimes be an element of risk in this, but, as we have seen, war in its nature involves risk.
Lt. Colonel Alfred H. Burne, The Art of War on Land, 1947.
July 26, 2014
The French press, media and intellectuals castigate ad nauseam what they call the ‘ultra-liberalism’ of the present-day western world: and their characterization, as intellectually lazy as it is inaccurate, now goes virtually by default. Very few are the commentators who see through its inaccuracy. That a country whose public sector accounts for more than half of economic activity, and which is as highly-administered as France (and, it must be said, often well-administered, for who would not rather go on the Paris Metro than the New York Subway?), cannot plausibly be described as ‘ultra-liberal,’ ought to be perfectly obvious even on the most casual reflection, but alas it is not. If France is ultra-anything it is ultra-corporatist, but even that would be an exaggeration. And so present discontents are laid at the door of ultra-liberalism, though in fact a considerable proportion of the resentments and discontents of the young who approve of M’Bala M’Bala are attributable to the rigidity of the French labor market, which is caused precisely by an illiberal nexus of protections and restrictions.
The problem, then, is not ultra-liberalism but insufficient liberalism. The difference between France and other western countries, incidentally, is one of degree and not of type, though even degree can be important: illiberalism in the French labor market has in a matter of a few years turned London into one of the largest French-speaking cities in the world.
Theodore Dalrymple, “Illusions of Control in the Omnicompetent French State”, Library of Law and Liberty, 2014-01-07
July 25, 2014
The gulf that separates us from the near past is now so great that we cannot really imagine how one could design a spacecraft, or learn engineering in the first place, or even just look something up, without a computer and a network. Journalists my age will understand how profound and disturbing this break in history is: Do you remember doing your job before Google? It was, obviously, possible, since we actually did it, but how? It is like having a past life as a conquistador or a phrenologist.
Colby Cosh, “Who will be the moonwalkers of tomorrow?”, Maclean’s, 2014-07-24.
July 24, 2014
People who understand high finance are of two kinds: those who have vast fortunes of their own and those who have nothing at all. To the actual millionaire a million dollars is something real and comprehensible. To the applied mathematician and the lecturer in economics (assuming both to be practically starving) a million dollars is at least as real as a thousand, they having never possessed either sum. But the world is full of people who fall between these two categories, knowing nothing of millions but well accustomed to think in thousands, and it is of these that finance committees are mostly comprised. The result is a phenomenon that has often been observed but never yet investigated. It might be termed the Law of Triviality. Briefly stated, it means that the time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.
C. Northcote Parkinson, “High Finance, Or The Point Of Vanishing Interest”, Parkinson’s Law (and other studies in administration), 1957.
July 23, 2014
Anyway, I should be delighted by the news that the comic’s titular “Archie” is, at last, deceased. Shot to death, even.
But while I hasten to add that I was nowhere near Riverdale when that happened, my relief is tempered.
You see, in last Wednesday’s number of the Life with Archie series, the redheaded, eternally youthful hero took a bullet for a gay politician.
Of course he did.
This scenario represents progress of a sort, in that the homosexual character isn’t the one who dies this time. The gay counterpoint to the “magical negro” is what you might call the “tragical homo,” a pop culture trope exhaustively catalogued in Vito Russo’s 1981 classic The Celluloid Closet. But we’re well into a new century, and gays have milked that Harvey dry, I guess. Time to switch it up, and make the straight guy the “lovable but doomed best friend” instead.
“The way in which Archie dies is everything that you would expect of Archie,” beams Archie’s head honcho, Jon Goldwater. “He dies heroically. He dies selflessly. He dies in the manner that epitomizes not only the best of Riverdale but the best of all of us. It’s what Archie has come to represent over the past almost 75 years.”
Which is … what, exactly? Butt sex? Political assassination? Naked, shameless pandering?
Oh, wait, I know: “Eat your spinach or else” liberal propaganda! Dummy me.
Maybe there’s a comic book industry bar bet the rest of us aren’t in on. This week alone, Captain America became a black guy and Thor got a sex change.
Kathy Shaidle, “Comic Con Job”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-07-22.
July 22, 2014
Follow the advice of wine merchants, wine clubs, wine waiters, even wine journalists, but never forget that your own taste is the final judge. Like the solicitor who keeps his clientele safely under sedation by the use of fanciful legal jargon — did you know that any fool can do his own conveyancing, i.e. legally transfer property between himself and another? — so the wine snob, the so-called expert and the jealous wine merchant (there are a few) will conspire to persuade you that the subject is too mysterious for the plain man to penetrate without continuous assistance. This is, to put it politely, disingenuous flummery. It is up to you to drink what you like and can afford. You would not let a tailor tell you that a pair of trousers finishing a couple of inches below the knee actually fitted you perfectly; so, with wine, do not be told what is correct or what you are sure to like or what suits you. Specifically:
(a) Drink any wine you like with any dish. You will, in practice, perhaps find that a heavy red burgundy drowns the taste of oysters (though my wife likes claret with them), or that a light flowery hock is overpowered by a steak au poivre. But what is wrong with red wine and chicken, a light claret accompanying a Dover sole? The no-reds-with-fish superstition is widespread and ingrained, so much so that, in the film of From Russia, With Love, James Bond was able to say, in jest but without further explanation, that he ought to have spotted one of the opposition when the man broke that “rule” in the dining-car of the Orient Express. All he should reasonably have inferred was that the chap was rather independent-minded. I myself will even more happily drink a hock, a Moselle, or an Alsatian wine with my fish stems from the other fact that I am particularly fond of hocks, Moselles, and Alsatian wines. The North of England couple I once read about who shared a bottle of crème de menthe (I hope it was a half-bottle) to go with their grilled turbot should be an inspiration, if not a literal example to us all. Anyway, why not start by choosing a wine you know you like and then build your meal round it?
(b) Vintages — aargh! Most of the crap talked about wine centres on these. “The older the better” is another popular pseudo-rule. It does apply up to a point to chateau-bottled clarets, especially those known as classed growths. This is a precise technical term, not a piece of wine-snobs’ jargon, but I cannot expound it here: consult your wine merchant or wine encyclopedia. There are rich men who will drink nothing but old first-growth clarets to show their friends how well they know their wines (and how rich they are). These are likely to be wonderful wines, true, but such men are missing a lot — see below. And old wines as such are not necessarily good: they may well have gone off or always have been bad, whatever that bloody vintage chart or card may have said. Throw it away, or keep it in a drawer until you know the subject a bit and can pick up cheap the good wines of a “bad” year.
Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, 2008.
July 21, 2014
Algirdas Jonas Budrys was born in 1931 in Lithuania, but he didn’t stay there long. His father was an official in Lithuania’s diplomatic corps and while A J was still small the family was posted to Konigsberg in the German province of East Prussia. A J, who had just about got a good handle on the Lithuanian language, began to learn German. His adult memories of East Prussia — which, like the rest of Germany, had been Nazified with the accession of Adolf Hitler a few years earlier — were troublesome.
He particularly recalled Hitler himself parading right past the Budrys apartment when he was five, he told Mark Williams in an interview shortly before he died. “After the Hitlerjugend walked through, Hitler came by in an open black Mercedes with his arm propped up.” The crowds made “indescribable” sounds. Men lost control of their bowels and had to race for the bushes or writhed and rolled on the ground.
Fred Pohl, “A J”, The Way The Future Blogs, 2010-07-26
July 20, 2014
The 1890s were [...] a period of deepening German isolation. A commitment from Britain remained elusive and the Franco-Russian Alliance seemed to narrow considerably the room for movement on the continent. Yet Germany’s statesmen were extraordinarily slow to see the scale of the problem, mainly because they believed that the continuing tension between the world empires was in itself a guarantee that these would never combine against Germany. Far from countering their isolation through a policy of rapprochement, German policy-makers raised the quest for self-reliance to the status of a guiding principle. The most consequential manifestation of this development was the decision to build a large navy.
In the mid-1890s, after a long period of stagnation and relative decline, naval construction and strategy came to occupy a central place in German security and foreign policy. Public opinion played a role here — in Germany, as in Britain, big ships were the fetish of the quality press and its educated middle-class readers. The immensely fashionable “navalism” of the American writer Alfred Thayer Mahan also played a part. Mahan foretold in The Influence of Sea Power upon History (1890) a struggle for global power that would be decided by vast fleets of heavy battleships and cruisers. Kaiser Wilhelm II, who supported the naval programme, was a keen nautical hobbyist and an avid reader of Mahan; in the sketchbooks of the young Wilhelm we find many battleships — lovingly pencilled floating fortresses bristling with enormous guns. But the international dimension was also crucial: it was above all the sequence of peripheral clashes with Britain that triggered the decision to acquire a more formidable naval weapon. After the Transvaal episode, the Kaiser became obsessed with the need for ships, to the point where he began to see virtually every international crisis as a lesson in the primacy of naval power.
Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.
July 19, 2014
It must be disheartening work learning a musical instrument. You would think that Society, for its own sake, would do all it could to assist a man to acquire the art of playing a musical instrument. But it doesn’t!
I knew a young fellow once, who was studying to play the bagpipes, and you would be surprised at the amount of opposition he had to contend with. Why, not even from the members of his own family did he receive what you could call active encouragement. His father was dead against the business from the beginning, and spoke quite unfeelingly on the subject.
My friend used to get up early in the morning to practise, but he had to give that plan up, because of his sister. She was somewhat religiously inclined, and she said it seemed such an awful thing to begin the day like that.
So he sat up at night instead, and played after the family had gone to bed, but that did not do, as it got the house such a bad name. People, going home late, would stop outside to listen, and then put it about all over the town, the next morning, that a fearful murder had been committed at Mr. Jefferson’s the night before; and would describe how they had heard the victim’s shrieks and the brutal oaths and curses of the murderer, followed by the prayer for mercy, and the last dying gurgle of the corpse.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog), 1889.
July 18, 2014
Every young American today is subject to military service; most of them, as shown by the Mayer Report, et al., are not prepared for it, either emotionally or by formal schooling…
He doesn’t see why he should expose himself to death; nothing in his experience justifies it. The whole thing is wildly implausible and quite unfair — like going to sleep in your own bed and waking up in a locked ward of an insane asylum. It strikes him as rank injustice.
And it is … [sic] the rankest sort of injustice.
My basic purpose, then, was to promote in that prototype youth-in-a-foxhole a better understanding of the nature, purpose and function of the ridiculous and dangerous predicament he found himself in.
There were various ancillary purposes but this was the main one … I was forced to limit my scope to: “Why in hell should a young man in good health be willing to fight and perhaps die for his country?” …
I do not expect you to like the book, nor to speak approvingly of it, since you quite clearly do not like it and do not approve of it. But, in fairness, I ask that you, in published criticism of it, (a) read more carefully what I did say and not impute to it things which I did not say, and (b) judge it within its obvious limitations as a short first-person commercial novel and not expect it to unscrew the inscrutable with respect to every possible facet of an extremely complex philosophical question (i.e., don’t expect of me more than you require of yourself).
Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Theodore Cogswell 1959-12-04, quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).
July 16, 2014
We went over to Magna Charta Island, and had a look at the stone which stands in the cottage there and on which the great Charter is said to have been signed; though, as to whether it really was signed there, or, as some say, on the other bank at “Runningmede,” I decline to commit myself. As far as my own personal opinion goes, however, I am inclined to give weight to the popular island theory. Certainly, had I been one of the Barons, at the time, I should have strongly urged upon my comrades the advisability of our getting such a slippery customer as King John on to the island, where there was less chance of surprises and tricks.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog), 1889.