November 22, 2008

Throwing kittens

The Governor-General [Warren Hastings] was particularly indulgent towards his acquisitive and much-loved second wife Marian, who dressed like "an Indian princess," braided her auburn ringlets with gems, and amused herself by throwing kittens into a bowl full of enormous pearls which slid under their paws when they tried to stand up.

-- Piers Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire: 1781-1997.

November 21, 2008

"The big issue" ... ya think?

The big issue would be whether enough people felt that a chimp-Neanderthal hybrid would be acceptable, and that would be broadly discussed before anyone started to work on it.

-- Prof. George Church, on the possibility of mapping the Neanderthal genome and altering chimpanzee DNA to ultimately match the Neanderthal. A similar, though less potentially controversial, method is envisioned for using elephant DNA to recreate wooly mammoths.

November 19, 2008

Shackled to a not-quite-dead corpse

When one state is completely dependent on another, it is the weaker which can call the tune: it can threaten to collapse unless supported, and its protector has no answering threat in return.

-- A.J.P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe: 1848-1918.

... Iraq being only the most recent example.

The pattern that Taylor describes is similar to that in the more famous Taylorism from The Origins of the Second World War: "The negotiations between Germany and the Allies became a competition in blackmail, sensational episodes in a gangster film. The Allies, or some of them, threatened to choke Germany to death; the Germans threatened to die."

November 18, 2008

Except the Italians

Though they carried on the mysteries of secret diplomacy, there were few real secrets in the diplomatic world, and all diplomatists were honest, according to their moral code.*

* It becomes wearisome to add "except the Italians" to every generalization. Henceforth it may be assumed.

-- A.J.P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe: 1848-1918.

Myth, or man, or god, it does not matter

Some weeks ago a Catholic reader of Tribune wrote to protest against a review by Mr Charles Hamblett. * * * It also appears from my correspondent's letter that even the most central doctrines of the Christian religion don't have to be accepted in a literal sense. It doesn't matter, for instance, whether Jesus Christ ever existed. "The figure of Christ (myth, or man, or god, it does not matter) so transcends all the rest that I only wish that everyone would look, before rejecting that version of life." Christ, therefore, may be a myth, or he may have been merely a human being, or the account given of him in the Creeds may be true. So we arrive at this position: Tribune must not poke fun at the Christian religion, but the existence of Christ, which innumerable people have been burnt for denying, is a matter of indifference.

-- Orwell, "As I Please" # 14.

... Not especially interesting on its own merits, but relevant today. Can America survive an objectively pro-Arian president?

Objectively pro-Coulter

Civilisation rests ultimately on coercion. What holds society together is not the policeman but the good will of common men, and yet that good will is powerless unless the policeman is there to back it up. Any government which refused to use violence in its own defense would cease almost immediately to exist, because it could be overthrown by any body of men, or even any individual, that was less scrupulous. Objectively, whoever is not on the side of the policeman is on the side of the criminal and vice versa. In so far as it hampers the British war effort, British pacifism is on the side of the Nazis, and German pacifism, if it exists, is on the side of Britain and the U.S.S.R. Since pacifists have more freedom of action in countries where traces of democracy survive, pacifism can act more effectively against democracy than for it. Objectively the pacifist is pro-Nazi.

-- Orwell, "No, Not One."

... For the time being at least, this must be my nominee for the worst thing Orwell ever wrote (which is why I feel obliged out of fairness to give the final sentence its context). I would like to think that he would recant, or at least qualify, his statement if he could peruse the Google listings. The best I can say is that 1941 was a rather tense time for an Englishman.

The ostensible object of his ire in that review essay, btw, was a dreary pacifist novel by Alex Comfort, whose future as the author of The Joy of Sex would not have surprised Orwell in the least.

Or a blog, for that matter

One way of feeling infallible is not to keep a diary.

-- Orwell, "As I Please" # 3.

... He goes on to note that he has been "not so wrong as the Military Experts," who (1943) have been wrong about most things, and goes on to ask:

Where now are the men who told us those things? Still on the job, drawing fat salaries. Instead of the unsinkable battleship we have the unsinkable Military Expert.

They are stil afloat today.

Anagnorisis, almost

The house seemed unnaturally still. Carrying his empty beer can, he went downstairs to see what Milly was doing, and he was halfway across the living room before he realized that he had four sons.

-- Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road.