Monday, April 30, 2007

Some sense

Varying degrees of originality and/or good sense in Foreign Policy's 21 Solutions to Save the World.

Fear itself

Did you ever feel any guilt that you killed your father, your brother and those [four] civilians?

What I felt was great fear. I remember being very very scared when I was killing those people.
-- A young boy from eastern Congo in an interview with Mike Thompson broadcast this morning on BBC Radio 4. The whole interview is here.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Darfur divide

Scorched, a report on the role of climate change in the Darfur crisis by Julian Borger, contains passages very close to Stephan Faris's The Real Roots of Darfur published over a month ago. But Borger's report contains a note of optimism that one would hope is well grounded -- and that is, it is possible to make choices even in severely adverse circumstances. Borger quotes Said Ibrahim Mustafa, the sultan of the Chadian border region of Dar Sila: "The real problem here is moral, it is not a question of climate."

This is a key point too in the Globe for Darfur demonstrations today. Unfortunately, it look as if no organisations with an Islamic dimension are involved in the London protests, indicating a potential risk of sectarianism over what should be a universal concern: the murder of up to 400,000 people and displacement of many more.

Meanwhile in Turkey today there is a big demonstration by secularist-nationalists, and things look as if they could turn serious (is the subtext: "a military coup, please"?). In the background, neither the secularists nor their Islamist opponents seem fully ready to acknowledge the Armenian genocide, even though, as the historian Taner Ak├žam writes, "only full integration of Turkey's past [with its historical record] can set the country on the path to democracy."

England sleeps

All the true constitutional watchfulness of England was dead to the only real danger... we are come to the moment when the question is, whether we shall give to the king, that is the executive government, complete power over our thoughts.'
-- Charles James Fox, quoted by Henry Porter

Saturday, April 28, 2007

AI and the timorous beastie

At first blink, simulating half a mouse brain at one tenth the speed may not sound overly impressive. But quite seriously this looks like a step towards something like Ray Kurzweil's singularity. And as noted in this review of one of Kurzweil's earlier books, an observation from Nietzsche may still hold good: "Technology is the premise whose thousand-year conclusion mankind has not yet dared to draw".

Friday, April 27, 2007

Creepers of the wholly baseless

Most countries sent delegates [to the IPCC] only from their environment ministries, but of the seven delegates representing Saudi Arabia at the negotiations, four were dispatched by the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources.
-- from Saudis blocking reductions in fossil-fuel consumption (New Scientist, 27 April). See also More on IPCC censorship.

Digital parapraxis

Not since Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ has Hollywood produced anything so rabidly, ferally frenzied. 300 feels as if Adolf Hitler had come back from the dead, got hooked on gay fisting web-sites, done the best digital film course in the world, then stalked into liberal-Jewish Hollywood and convinced them to give him $60m to make a movie...

For hours after I saw 300, I puzzled over how a film industry like Hollywood's - soft, liberal, formulaic - could give birth to such a snarling, unique beast. Then I remembered Freud's 1916 lectures on parapraxis. That's what 300 is: a slip of the tongue (or camera), an inadvertent "mistake" produced by the Hollywood system....the liberal surface of American cinema overlays conflicting, strongly held impulses that are far less liberal.
-- Mark Cousins in the May edition of Prospect on a film that has already grossed half a billion dollars at the box office.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

That beheading

Sam Zarifi of Human Rights Watch calls the clip (available on YouTube) of a 12 year old boy cutting the throat of a grown man for the Taliban "truly shocking, without cultural context or historical precedent". One can see what he means, or rather feels. But he misses a point. Everyone, including the Taliban, is operating in a global media environment (not merely Greater West Asia, the Ummah, South Yorkshire or whatever). In that global media context, where all are influenced by all, the actions have plenty precedents in West Africa (Sierra Leone etc) and elsewhere, and in an arms race of atrocity may be inevitable.

Goodbye, Yeltsin

...Yeltsin’s courage was partly born of calculation. He was, after all, an apparatchik, versed in the tortuous politics of the Soviet system. He had already staked out his position as the spokesman of radical reform in the politburo and then as the first democratically elected president of Russia. By 1991 he had to oppose the coup. But these were also the correct choices: he was on the right side of history. He recognised that the Soviet Union had become an empty shell and had the effrontery to break it...

...he made three huge mistakes: the war on Chechnya, which brought the security services into the heart of government; the “loans for shares” programme of 1995, which transferred a vast part of the natural wealth of Russia into a tiny number of private hands; and the selection of Mr Putin as his successor. These three errors, together, led to a reversal of the move towards a more democratic, liberal and open Russia... [The] mistakes were not Yeltsin’s alone. The west also made big errors...
-- from Martin Wolf's evaluation of Yeltsin

Monday, April 23, 2007

Spring





'Now, my fair'st friend, I would I had some flowers o' the spring that might become your time of day' -- The Winter's Tale. (Pictures taken near Oxford on 22 April)

Another one bites the dust

'Hunters in Russia's Far East have shot and killed one of the last seven surviving female Amur leopards living in the wild, WWF said on Monday, driving the species even closer to extinction.' (more here)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

'Meals now divided by five instead of six don’t feed an emptiness'

Jason DeParle's A Good Provider is One Who Leaves is an outstanding piece of journalism about migrant workers. It alive to and respectful of the dignity of the people it describes and also includes a good account of arguments in development theory and politics regarding migration and remittances (explored elsewhere by Dani Rodrik and others).

Hamid and Flanagan on the GWOT

"[The] aspiration [for a more cosmopolitan identity] is entirely correct and I don’t think it’s necessarily doomed. The problem is, if we’re talking about a global cosmopolitan order, the collective punishment of people needs to be ended. In the United States, if there were people who were potential terrorists in the foothills of Appalachia, a police force would be sent in, it would do investigative work, and the people involved would be apprehended and put in jail. It would not be tolerated that cluster bombs would be used to wipe out several hundred people in the hope that some of them are terrorists. That kind of group punishment of people is the antithesis of global citizenship".
--Mohsin Hamid , author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, interviewed in Foreign Policy.
"You cannot justify murder," says Flanagan when [asked] whether his attempts to understand the motives of terrorists will cause him further vilification, "but the danger for western societies at the moment is that we seek to protect ourselves by creating and feeding difference, and by making people feel alienated, and that it's not possible to share with other human beings the possibility of being fully human. The best defence we can offer against evil and the possibility of terrible, murderous acts is by letting people back in. Then the appeal of a death cult starts to evaporate. But in a world where people feel ever more frightened, alienated and tossed out to the periphery, death cults offer a way back."
-- Richard Flanagan, author of The Unknown Terrorist, interviewed by Stephen Moss in The Guardian.

Googling Darfur

Thanks to Bacon Butty (Atrocity Exhibition) for drawing attention to emerging political uses of Google Earth re Darfur and UNEP.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Gramsci-Schwarzenegger dialectic: China, the U.S. and climate change politics

In his second Reith Lecture, Survival in the Anthropocene (recorded in Beijing and first broadcast last night), Jeffrey Sachs predicted that the same logic that had led to the Montreal Protocol would lead to a new and comprehensive framework for addressing climate change by 2010.

Writing in the Washington Post last Sunday (Clearing the Air With China), Orville Schell made this proposal for China and US co-operation:
How should we proceed? By forming a coalition of respected scientists, business leaders and policy experts, calling a high-level emergency summit with their counterparts in China and then enlisting the U.S. presidential candidates to pledge to make the coal/climate change issue a priority. The ultimate goal should be to undertake a $25 billion collaborative effort, with the United States providing capital, technological know-how and entrepreneurial and managerial skills and China providing some resources of its own, research, critical leadership among developing countries, its low-cost manufacturing base and its prodigious market energy.
Schell is probably be right to highlight the future of coal as a central technical challenge. Sachs picked up on this too, emphasising the potential importance of carbon capture and storage. But in the question and answer session after Sach's lecture it was questions of governance and politics that came to the fore, not least in a question from Ma Jun.

Last November I wrote on chinadialogue that it was time for a politics of climate change in China. I do think that political issues are still a central challenge [see note 1 below] -- a point that appears reinforced by the reported role of the Chinese government, among others, in watering down the summary of IPCC WGII (climate impacts).

For this reason I would add to the list for Schell's coalition civil society actors and (to the surprise of some)...the military. As noted on this blog here, it does look like people with influence on the US military really are beginning to 'get' the issues, and it would be nice to think they might engage with their Chinese counterparts.

So, note to Schell et al: please add the likes of Ma Jun and Anthony C. Zinni to the list of candidates for your coalition.

[Note 1: 'political' in both a narrow and a broad sense, the broad one being politics, culture and values as they interact with and within the technological and scientific sphere. In this case, cultural change might thrive on a 'Gramsci-Schwarzenegger dialectic', synthesising (an ahimsa mediated version of) Antonio's insights into the importance of culture with Arnie on being hip.]

[P.S. 20 April: On ClimatePolicy Paul Higgins asks So what's the problem with China?]

[P.S. 24 April: The Financial Times reports 'China delays climate change plan indefinitely'. See here.]

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

'A hundred years ago, Iowa had 1,300 opera houses'

Bill McKibben here.

'inspiring progress', and at least 157 dead

"We've seen both inspiring progress, and too much evidence that we still face many grave challenges," the US military spokesman Major General William Caldwell told reporters today. "We've always said securing Baghdad would not be easy."

-- in a report (4pm) about 157 dead and more than 90 injured in Baghdad today.

32 dead a la Virgina Tech would be a quiet day in Baghdad.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pitching for $645 billion

The Bush administration is asking the US Congress for $645bn for the military in 2008, more than all the rest of the world put together. It's part of a strategy (see Paul Rogers) to deal with all threats, wherever they may appear. On the sales talk, Tom Englehardt has this:
with rare exceptions, the language of Bush's Washington (and Baghdad) has been swept remarkably clean of the past -- and, on the tabula rasa of no-image, in place of everything that once was there, a new set of words and images have been implanted. Consciously or not, these mine a deep strain in our national mythology: the belief in an all-American right to a second chance, to light out for the territories and start anew.

As a description of reality on the ground in a country wracked by mass killing, flight, destruction, civil war, religious strife, ethnic cleansing, vast flows of refugees, private militias, insurgents, terrorists, foreign jihadis, criminals, and kidnappers, this new language may be out to lunch, but in terms of its appeal on the "home front," it has in its cross hairs the deepest realms of the American character...

...almost four years after [Bush] declared "major combat operations in Iraq have ended" against the backdrop of a banner that read "mission accomplished," all is again "new" in that country. If the pronouncements of his top military and civilian officials were to be believed, we are now at the dawn of a new military/political moment in Iraq, the kind of moment in which you just can't help using words like "first" and "early" and "beginning."

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Grapes of wrath

(I haven't read it yet, but) from reports (see US generals urge climate action), National Security and the Threat of Climate Change looks like a sensible advance in thinking from former US military types compared to the Pentagon study I criticised in Einstein's Gravediggers (see also The Daze After Tomorrow and Military Solutions to Climate Change).

[P.S. 16 April: The report is mostly sober and sensible. And on a lighter note the recommendation for greater energy efficiency in the US military ("improved business processes and innovative technologies that result in improved U.S. combat power through energy efficiency") is reminiscent of something David Fleming pointed to with humour in the early 1990s: a drive to put ozone friendly cooling systems on the ICBMs].

We need new words for and worlds of imagination

[Herbert] later attributed his reluctance to fall on his knees before the mighty not as an act of bravery or strength of character, but to his sense of taste: an inability to bear the regime's execrable rhetoric, its torturer's dialectic and reasoning without grace. In other words, aesthetics saved his soul: beauty played a subversive role in his refusal to become one of the corrupted.
-- Charles Simic on Zbigniew Herbert in The Philosophy of 3 am, a review of The Collected Poems 1956-1998.
When he first started to think about his book [Sari Nusseibeh] happened to be reading Amos Oz's description of a parallel city on the other side of the conflict, only a "hundred feet", as he put it, away, there were hardly any Arabs and no hint of the world he had known as a child. This made Nusseibeh ask what his parents had known of the people in Oz'sworld and of the holocaust that determined their outlook on life: "Weren't both sides of the conflict totally immersed in their own tragedis, each one oblivious to, or even antagnostic toward, the narrative of the other." Isn't this inability to imagie the lives of the 'other' at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
--Amos Elon on Sari Nusseibeh in Hard Truth About Palestine, a review of Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life.

Friday, April 13, 2007

'Mountains of the Mind in Chinese Art'

An account of a NY Met exhibition of Chinese landscape art from classical times to today with slide show is here.
A big color photograph, taken in 2005 by the Beijing artist Hai Bo, of a Chinese peasant riding a bicycle toward us down a long country road. He’s the Maoist hero of yesterday pedaling out of a nostalgia-shrouded past into a confusingly unheroic present.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Freedom is untidy

'I saw a four-year-old boy sitting beside his mother's body, which had been decapitated by the explosion. He was talking to her, asking her what had happened.' - Saad, an Iraqi humanitarian worker in an extract from the ICRC's Civilians without protection – The ever-worsening crisis in Iraq, quoted here.

Stuff happens.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

More on IPCC censorship

A journalist who was in Brussels on 6 April to report the launch of the IPCC Working Group 2 summary (see IPCC Censorship) and who I asked for further details has responded to note George Monbiot's 10 April column, and also said:
The chairs didn't seem to notice that the good news is now the first thing North American readers light on when they go to the regional section...[But] more problematic for [the] G8 process is removal by the sole Russian [of] the table linking CO2 with consequences.
I replied:
Putin and the Siloviki seem to buy the same argument as Gregg Easterbrook, with whom I debated 'winners and losers' on The World Tonight last Thursday [see here]: that global warming will be good news because it will bring a longer growing season to Siberia. Like the Soviet Union, this view may be overtaken by events.
[P.S. 12 April - Desmogblog compares the released version to the pre-censorship draft here.]

Hope, and reason

'Don't tell me things can't change. We need to fight for them.' -- Jeffrey Sachs in question and answer after the first 2007 Reith Lecture.

I like Sach's refusal to give in to pessimism. Under cross examination from gloomsters he pointed out that in the early 1960s, when John F. Kennedy made the speech which Sachs took as the starting point for his lecture, the great majority of U.S. citizens thought a nuclear war with the Soviet Union was inevitable.

[P.S. 11.05pm: and hooray for the redoubtable Yorkshireman Edward Pearce for bringing it home in his comment -- The horror of it, as phrased by a Daily Telegraph reporter, Amy Iggulden, of "a lost generation" of 1.2 million such people "draining £3.65bn a year from the exchequer, enough to fund a 1p cut in income tax," is eloquent in unintended ways.]

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Friday, April 06, 2007

Bowdlerowitz

John Cassidy's long New Yorker profile of Paul Wolfowitz, purporting to be warts and all, is worth a look. But it has at least one glaring ommission. Referring to the time in early 2003 when the Turkish parliament turned down a request by the United States that Turkey allow U.S. troops through Turkey in order to invade Iraq, Cassidy reports an innocuous comment Wolfowitz made later about the virtues of democracy. What he does not say is that at the time Wolfowitz criticised the Turkish army for not intervening over the decision made by the civilian government.

[P.S. 1 May - Cassidy's article, and my post, just predate the whole scandal blowing open. One of the most amusing takes on that scandal, by Kenneth Rogoff no less, was published in Foreign Affairs for here].

IPCC censorship

A few minutes ago BBC environment correspondent Roger Harrabin reported from Brussels that the struggle continued through much of the night over the final draft of the IPCC's document describing likely impacts of climate change. He quoted a paragraph describing significant negative impacts on North America which has been struck out, and quoted the next paragraph describing some positive impacts on North America in the near term which has been kept it. (Note, please can someone post these on the web?)

Call me naive, but if this is as described it is beyond shocking. It does, of course, serve the kind of comfortable message found in places such as Gregg Easterbrook's recent article (see previous post)

[P.S. 9.40 BST - the document has been published. The BBC reports: 'Several delegations, including the US, Saudi Arabia, China and India, had asked for the final version to reflect less certainty than the draft.']

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Winners and losers from climate change

This evening, unless our baby decides to be born, I will be taking part in a exchange on The World Tonight on BBC Radio 4 about the implications of tomorrow's report from the IPCC's on the impacts of climate change.

It looks as if I will be discussing this with Gregg Easterbrook, who published an article in The Atlantic stressing there will be winners as well as losers from climate change. Here are some points I may touch on if there is time.

Easterbrook is right to say it’s doesn't have to be all gloom in facing up to manmade climate change, and that there’s a lot that can be done which can create benefits, opportunities and profits. This message is an important one. But it’s not enough to say there are winners and losers. We need to look very hard at what that will mean. There are winners and losers in wars too, and the winners are mostly war profiteers and jihadi recruiters. Optimism, if it is to last, has to be well grounded.

Easterbrook also underestimates the nature of the challenges and down sides of climate change. This in itself can be unhelpful if it leads to insufficient action. And on top of that he misrepresents the nature and extent of scientific understanding of climate change.

Taking the last point first, in an interview published along with the article he says:

‘There’s still a huge range of doubt about exactly why climate change is happening. We have no idea what component is natural and what part is artificial and no one has even the slightest clue about exactly what’s going to happen, what the degree of change will be’.

Let’s look at each of those claims in turn.

1. ‘still a huge range of doubt about exactly why climate change is happening’

This is not right. Even back in 1990 at the time of the first IPCC assessment it was only partly true. There were significant uncertainties at that time, but the range of doubt was not 'huge'. Now, after 17 years of massive effort, there are still some uncertainties but the range of doubt is not ‘huge’. We wouldn’t even be having this conversation unless we accepted that the scientific community has a pretty good idea of why climate change is happening.

2. ‘No idea what is natural and what is artificial’

Again, not right. The Fourth assessment report concludes that we can say with very high confidence (more than 90% probability) that the effect of human activities since 1750 has been to warm the planet. It also says that it is very likely (more than 90% probability) that observed temperature increases since the middle of the twentieth century have been caused by the increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.

3. 'No one has even the slightest clue about exactly what’s going to happen, what the degree of change will be

It’s of course true that we can’t know exactly what’s going to happen. But the scientific community, through the IPCC and other bodies such as the National Academies of Science of all of the world’s leading nations, have some quite specific things to say about what will happen if we carry on as we are. The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report says that for a doubling of atmospheric CO2 the most likely rise is between 2 and 4.5°C with a best estimate of about 3°C, with a tails on either side of for rise as low as 1.1 and as high as 6.4°C depending on how much feedback there is in the Earth system.

The scientific evidence also indicates that a rise in global average temperature of more than 2°C is a bad idea. And in order not to exceed 2°C we have to limit atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to substantially less than double of pre-industrial – probably quite some way below 450 parts per million by volume.

This is something very much within the realm of human choice. We can decide what we want to happen – for example by setting targets for emission reductions and meeting them.

This is where Easterbrook's positive message comes in. He says ‘The history of anti-pollution programs is that it is always cheaper to prevent emissions than to reverse any damage they cause’. A good example supporting this case that I don’t think he mentions is the US Clean Air Act of 1970. According the U.S. Government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the best estimate of the net human health benefits (benefits minus costs) of the Act was more than $22 trillion (trillion, not billion) over its first 20 years (ref here). That is, more than a trillion dollars a year.

There are some who go even further than Easterbrook. Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute says there’s a sign error on the global warming problem. That is, solving it - through smarter design and addressing market failure – will be entirely profitable, a negative cost.

Few go as far as Lovins, but it is clear there are big profits to be made from efficiency gains that reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. An analysis published in the McKinsey Quarterly, A cost curve for greenhouse gas abatement, finds that almost a quarter of possible emission reductions would result from measures that carry no net life cycle cost—in effect, they come free of charge. These measures include better insulation in building, increased fuel efficiency in commercial and private vehicles, more efficient lighting, air conditioning and water heating and so on.

One of the problems is that, just as US industry opposed the Clean Air Act and had to be dragged along kicking and screaming into compliance despite the overwhelming benefits the Act delivered to the American people, so vested interests and entrenched market failure prevent realisation of efficiency gains today. We have this problem right now in Europe with car manufacturers who do everything they can to wriggle out of higher fuel efficiency standards (see, for example this from Mark Mardell).

And there is an even bigger problem. Even if it these efficiency gains are realised it is very unlikely this will be enough to be enough to deliver cuts in emissions sufficient stabilise CO2 at less than 450ppmv. A whole range of investments in industrial redesign, new energy technologies and other measures in both the already rich countries and most especially in emerging economies will be necessary. So will better land management and a great reduction in the rate of tropical deforestation which is adding hundreds of millions of tonnnes, at least, of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. Some of these challenges are very hard.

Turning finally to winners and losers, Easterbrook overestimates the number of gains relative to the losses. His key point is that there will be big gains in high latitudes, and this is good news for Russia, Scandinavia, Greenland, Canada and Alaska. ‘Examine a Mercator projection and observe how the Earth’s landmasses spread from the equator towards the poles’, he says. Well maybe, but recall first that, unlike the Mercator projection, the Earth is not flat. The Mercator projection grossly distorts land area with respect to latitude. It shows Greenland as three to four times the size of India, for example, whereas in reality it is rather smaller.

There is much less land in the far North than appears from a Mercator projection, and we would be unwise to use it as a route map for a changing world. Remember too the sheer numbers of people who are likely to become environmental refugees from the Global South even under a best case scenario. There are, for example, more than nineteen thousand times as many people in India as there are in Greenland. Even now, Pakistan’s population is more than that of Russia and by mid century it is likely be twice the size. We cannot all "shuffle off to Buffalo" without it all getting rather bumpy.

Easterbook highlights forecasts that a warmer climate may bring a longer growing season and fewer deaths from cold in Russia and other northern climes. This may be so in the short run, although there are also likely to be negative consequences in the short run including forest fires, heat waves. But there’s another danger. He advises us to ‘assume global warming is uniform’, because ‘even though models suggest it will vary widely... all predictions regarding an artificial greenhouse effect are extremely uncertain’.

This is to misrepresent both actual observation to date (see, for example, the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment) and the degree of confidence in predictions. The evidence from both points strongly to global warming not being uniform, and high latitudes heating faster. And if, as looks probable, that continues to happen then we could see the acceleration of some potentially dangerous effects.

For example 90% of the upper layer of tundra, or permafrost, may thaw by 2100. These regions contain a lot of carbon – perhaps 1600 billion tonnes. Recent measurements already show a 10 to 15% increase in the area of thaw lakes in northern and western Siberia. In northern Siberia, methane emissions from thaw lakes are estimated to have increased by 60% since the mid 1970s. It remains unclear what rate methane could be released in future, but preliminary estimates indicate that, along with the drying out peatlands this could add another 10 to 25% to current man made emissions (source Friedlingstein et al, Lawrence and Slater, quoted in Stern, page 16)

There's more. Perhaps above all, the rich North is not going to be isolated from big disruptions in the Global South. On a lighter note, do we really like the idea of Starbucks in Nunavut but no polar bears? - but I am out of time.

[P.S. 6 March: the debate can be heard via the listen again feature on the World Tonight's web site (Thursday). It starts at 31 minutes in to the programme]

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"Not the most attractive"?!


Anyone who knows me well, knows that walruses have long been my greatest love - my pinniped paramours, my Helen of Troy meets Audrey Hepburn, only with tusks. So this informative article that describes them as "not the most attractive of Arctic creatures" is a gross insult to walruses everywhere.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Cold road

At least two issues arise in a fine piece by James Painter, Farewell to a melting glacier.

One, reflection and sadness: "It really hurts...We have had the privilege of seeing [the glacier's] beauty. The next generations will not."

Two, who if anyone will pay for adaptation (to the degree this is possible) by financing new dams (and, I guess, other measures including water conservation, though the article doesn't mention that).

There's an interesting but not-easy-for-the-unitiated exchange on mitigation 'versus' adaptation at Prometheus here.

Spinoza

I believe the real problem for Jews is not the problem of identity - namely, who are are - but the problem of identification - with whom should we identify. Whose values and views and qualities do we want to adopt as our own? The so called identity crisis should more accurately be seen as an identification crisis. Spinoza, in my view, is not a problem for the Jews but a solution for them. He is a saintly 'secular' Jew who, unlike religious saints, does not believe we should be burdened by our sense of guilt. Spinoza is an ethically serious man with whom Jews, or at least secular Jews, can and should identify, in feeling, thought and action.
--So writes Avisahai Margalit in a review of books about Spinoza, Leibniz and modernity. This is well and good, but I guess that Margalit might agree this analysis can have bearing on many in the other 99.78% of humanity (including when it comes to the guilt thing those from Christian backgrounds), who are still struggling towards ethical, coherent modernity. And, of course, there are others besides Spinoza to learn from.

Monday, April 02, 2007

US Supreme Court narrowly in favour of sanity

As the US Supreme Court today orders the Bush administration to shape up, a reminder of the arguments:
“Would you be up here saying the same thing if we’re trying to regulate child pornography, and it turns out that anyone with a computer can get pornography elsewhere?” Justice Breyer asked, adding, “I don’t think so.”
(30 Nov 2006)

Rivers of blood

Schools have avoided teaching the Holocaust and the Crusades in history lessons because they are concerned about causing offence to Muslim pupils or challenging 'charged' versions of history which children have been taught at home, government research has found.
(Guardian, 2 April).

Sunday, April 01, 2007

"The heart beats iambically"

...Si non e vero, e ben trovato, but this article about one of England's finest is not as good as it should be.

How remarkable it is that "Andrei Tarkovsky's film Mirror revealed verse to Harrison as the 'fittest narration' for stark, even terrifying, images" - although in my memory the actual images in Mirror are not in themselves horrific; it is what they don't show and what haunts them which is.