Opponents of the Government’s Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, which faces its final Commons hurdle today, say the proposed legislation undermines freedom of expression.
The Bill has united groups ranging from evangelical Christians to humanists, and from Muslim leaders to secularists. Politicians from all parties, including rebel Labour backbenchers, are also expected to fight to preserve amendments to the bill made by peers in the House of Lords.
Government ministers have tabled amendments deleting the changes. The result is expected to be close, with a handful of waverers still able to influence the vote either way.
It’s classic New Labour autistic government in action. The bill was meant as a way of trying to stop Muslims voting against Labour, which conspicuously failed. It’s opposed by Muslims making up part of what’s possibly the strangest coalition ever seen in British politics, stretching by way of Mr Bean from the National Secular Society to Ian Paisley. It’s mauled by the Lords…but no, they just keep on coming, like a deranged child trying to hammer a sausage into a concrete floor with its forehead while humming at the top of its voice. Anyway, here’s Rowan Atkinson:
'I am deeply concerned for all performers and entertainers, because the climate in which we work will be very different if the government gets its way,' Atkinson said. 'If the wording of the revised bill is read carefully, it can be seen that the new freedoms the government provides with one hand it deftly removes with the other.'
Alright, I know this is going to sound way studenty, but if this bill goes through, how about a 24 hour culture strike? This affects pretty much everybody whose writings or utterances reach the public and also the organizations which produce and market said writings and utterances. So in return: no gigs; no telly; no books published; no cinema; no theatre; no gallery openings; no radio; no comedy; no news; no music – and, for that matter, since many religious groups seem to be acting sensibly on this: no sermons. For 24 hours, let’s have a nice respectful silence of the kind the government seems to like so much.
Oh yeah, and no blog posts.
Like I say, this all sounds a bit stuydenty. But there are surely enough people affected by this and hostile to it to get something like that going...
And good Lord, the childlike love of paradox - America is magnificent but mad, greedy and modest, drunk with materialism and religiosity, puritan and outrageous, facing toward the future and yet obsessed with its memories. Americans' party loyalty is "very strong and very pliable, extremely tenacious and in the end somewhat empty." Existential and yet devoid of all content and direction. The partner-swapping club is both "libertine" and "conventional," "depraved" and "proper." And so the reader is fascinated and exhausted by Lévy's tedious and original thinking:
If you think this is just a preamble to linking yet again to the famous Robert Chalmers interview with Noel Godin, then you'd be exactly right.
Godin showed me a video of this last operation, which shows Levy - as famous for his chest hair, silk blousons and Christian Dior shirts as for his philosophy - arriving at Nice airport with his third wife, the actress Arielle Dombasle. As they check in, shadowy figures can be seen in the background, ladling cream.
"They pick up their boarding cards, as you can see," said Godin, who has clearly watched this shaky footage hundreds of times but, like a footballer reviewing the goal of his career, seems unlikely to tire of it - "then three entarteurs fall on them, with me leading the charge. They shout: "Oh no. Oh not again." I deliver my cake, and he responds with punches. One of my young female comrades flans him again, point blank, while a second woman crushes alayered chocolate gateau topped with creme chantilly over the head of Arielle Dombasle. It was at that point", he added, "that things got out of hand."
Jim Henley, from the bowels of one of his own comment threads:
My rule of thumb: If Person A says ”Israel” and Person B says, ”You mean, the Jooooz! Neener Neener Neener!” *at most* Person A should spare the breath to say ”Fuck off, Person B” and get back to whatever he or she was saying in the first place.
But that’s more effort than the matter strictly *deserves*.
Missed this from yesterday's Observer till just now:
Gao Zhisheng, a firebrand lawyer who has defended hundreds of victims of torture and persecution, said the Communist party was responsible for more deaths than the Nazis, but Western governments turned a blind eye because they were desperate to trade with the world's fastest growing economy.
'When the Nazis slaughtered Jews, the outside world condemned them,' he said. 'But the Communist party has taken the lives of 80 million people, 13 times more than the death toll among the Jews, yet the world says nothing.'
Gao's comments are particularly remarkable because he still lives in Beijing, where he is vulnerable to retribution. He says his phone is bugged, his 12-year-old daughter is followed to school and more than 30 agents monitor his every move. Last month, his law firm's licence was revoked and last week he was warned he faces arrest. Ten days ago an unmarked car attempted to run him down.
Here's a translation from Gao's online journal. December 27:
Recently, a lot of people want to offer me 'love.' The day before yesterday, a person with a Wuhan (Hubei) accent called me and wanted me to take on a big case involving several tens of millions of yuan, for which I can expect to make a few million yuan in legal fees. I told him: (1) my law office has been ordered to cease business by the authorities; (2) even if there was no stoppage, I have no interest presently in any case that involves only monetary interests as I would rather do something more meaningful. The other party passionately expressed his firm support for the value of my past activities and denounced the barbarity of the authorities. He said that despised the authorities and he could provide the several million yuan secretly to me without any receipt as long as I personally took care of the case. On one hand, this setup had no apparent flaws. On the other hand, I had never imagined that anyone would set up such a trap. Still, I turned it down, thank God! As I was hanging up the telephone, I heard someone laughing and saying: "Fuck! He did not fall for it!" in perfect putonghua intonation on the other side.
From the Observer report:
The fact that Gao is still free is perhaps the government's best defence against the lawyer's most strident accusations. Twenty years ago, such an anti-government tirade would have quickly resulted in imprisonment or death. Gao believes he has been left at semi-liberty because the authorities are worried about domestic protests and an international outcry if he is arrested.
If so, I'm glad to be able to add to their worries in a small way. The article tends to read a bit like an exit strategy, which would make sense given that Gao's office has been shut down and he's now unable to function. Chinese exile groups tend to consist of six people belonging to seven organisations in a small room accusing each other of collaboration, so from Beijing's point of view maybe he's better off crated up and shipped out.
Rule no 1. At all times and places and irrespective of anything else, China must be defeated:
Very roughly speaking, there are two factions jockeying for control in the Pentagon. One thinks that the U.S. military is going to spend a big chunk of the next twenty years hunting down terrorists and stabilizing screwed-up states. The other believes that China has to be smacked down, before it bulks up to superpower status.
The first group gets the rhetoric. “[P]repar[ing] for wider asymmetric challenges” is one of the “fundamental imperatives for the Department of Defense.” We’re in the middle of a “Long War,” according to the QDR. Iraq and Afghanistan are just part of it.
…the China-watchers, on the other hand, get the kind of gold-plated new hardware that costs tens, even hundreds, of billions to make. As Inside Defense notes, the QDR “leaves intact all of the military services’ most prized weapon system programs. In fact, some programs will see significant increases.
The China crowd also gets what looks to be some big-time new, as of yet undefined, weapons programs. That includes a new, long bomber of hypersonic drone that can conduct “global strike” missions against unruly states.
Plenty of dosh left over for channeling to these guys, I’m sure.
I have some friends who are big time players in the lobbying industry. They tell me that they are starting to unload baseball tickets to the Orioles and Nationals, boxes and suites at the MCI Center (home to the hockey Caps and the basketball Wizards), and seats at FedEx field, home of the Redskins. I will admint there is a silver lining here for me; I may snag my lobbyist buddy's National's season tickets. This is one way to get front row box seats to the ball game.
The restaurant scene is equally grim. Abramoff's restaurant, Signatures, is not the only one going into the tank. Many Senators, Representatives, and staffers are acting pre-emptively and declining to eat with lobbyists at Charlie Palmer's, Capitol Grill, and the Palm.
OK, that's sports and catering. I bet prostitution isn't doing so well either, nor hotels. I wonder if anyone's ever done a serious survey of the global schmooze sector. If everybody took to virtue in a big way, what would the actual effect be in terms of job losses? If lobbyists had to get jobs in accordance with their actual capabilities, would that put unwarranted downward pressure on the wages of binmen and shelf stackers, assuming that lobbyists were actually capable of these useful and necessary trades?
Maybe there's such a thing as a "de Mandeville point" at which lack of corruption becomes intolerable. I'll leave that question to people with better maths. But:
"The Root of evil, Avarice,
That damn'd ill-natur'd baneful Vice,
Was Slave to Prodigality,
That Noble Sin; whilst Luxury
Employ'd a Million of the Poor,
And odious Pride a Million more."
Envy it self, and Vanity
Were Ministers of Industry"
The tall and erect bronze statue of Mao Zedong was enveloped by a haze of smoke. In front of the bronze statue, a large group of people were kneeling down or kowtowing with candles or bowing with joss sticks. They all look very devout. One of the elder persons there said that he hoped Grandpa Mao would ensure that his grandchild can get into a brand-name university. Near the plaza, the vendors craned their necks and yelled out in alterntately high and low pitches: "Say happy new year to Grandpa Mao, special discounts on joss sticks and candles!"
If you prefer the Jung Chang version of Mao, justy scrawl a couple of horns on his forehead.
John Hemming's Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians is the second book I’ve read which appears to challenge at least some of the precepts of Jared Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel thesis, namely that comparatively tiny numbers of westerners were able to conquer whole nations in what’s now the US and elsewhere because their presence represented a kind of overwhelming hostile modernity which demoralised their opponents.
The germs part of the thesis holds up well enough. The introduction of diseases from Europe to which the locals had no immunity spread an arc of devastation around the areas where the westerners were physically present, making the business of conquest that much easier. But Hugh Thomas’ Conquest of Mexico reveals firstly that the conquistadors had to fight a good deal harder than Diamond imoplies, especially when it came to the conquest of Technoctitlan, and that they did so in alliance with local Indian peoples who wanted the Aztecs off their backs. In other words, the conquistador victory came about mainly through conventional politico-military means.
The story told in Red Gold makes the same point even more apparent. The various Indian peoples conquered by the Portuguese were not overawed by their appearance or technology, fought sophisticated and occasionally successful guerrilla campaigns against them, were eager to adopt western weapons, astutely exploited rivalries between the Portuguese, French and Dutch colonists, and formed tactical alliances with the Portuguese against traditional enemies. Rather than being overwhelmed by the presence of strange gods, the tragedy for the Indian peoples is that they tended to regard the newcomers as simply new players in the general game of inter-tribal warfare and conflict.
Some Indian nations adapted to the presence of newcomers in ways that enabled them to carve out substantial empires. The Guaicuru had never seen a horse before the year 1600. Thirty years later they’d become a kind of golden horde, never out of horseback, and controlling the territory from Asuncion north to what is now the border between Brazil and Paraguay.
As well as being innovative, the Guaicuru were curiously modern in other ways. Military service was voluntary, and rather than unquestioningly following the dictates of a tribal leader, they tended to be argumentative and value their own opinions. Divorce was widely practiced, as was abortion. Guaicuru women tended to refuse to bear children until shortly before menopause, and their right to do so went unquestioned. Their method of warfare was Clausewitzian, involving attacks in overwhelming strength on strategically vital targets, considered in advance. They had no use for the display of individual courage:
They fought to win and tried to kill without suffering injury and infuriated Europeans by having no shame about their apparent cowardice. When reproached about this, they sarcastically turned the Europeans’ religious beliefs against them. ‘They conclude that since the Portuguese and Spanish go to heaven when they die, they do well to die quickly. But since they also claim that the Guaicuru got to hell when they die, in that case the Guaicuru want to die as late as possible.’
There you go: irony. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had dinner parties as well. But they were very bad people to get on the wrong side of:
They even killed some of Cabeza de Veca’s men and severed their heads ‘with singular and barbarous dexterity: they clenched their foe by the hair; and sawing round his neck and twirling the head at the same time, it came off with inconceivable facility. The instrument with which they performed this was the jaw of the piranha.
I suppose it must be a knack, like getting the top off a jar of pickled onions.
North Korea's got into some serious dodginess in trying to keep its show on the road, including mass forgery, selling missile parts, and large scale drug dealing. Here's the latest: endangered species snuff movies:
In all probability, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il sanctioned the filming of Fighting Animals, or at least gave it his curious approval - though there is no evidence he was directly involved despite his well-documented interest in filmmaking. The film's producers would have needed access to rare and valuable animals and the only place in the country that holds them is the Central Zoo in Pyongyang. Also, they would need the cooperation of the zookeepers to match up the different animals in shared cages and goad them enough to maul one another.
The first scene is of two caged black foxes in a highly agitated state, rubbing against a tree and pawing the earth. The narrator says they are fighting over a piece of fish. They attack each other with bites to the neck in an enclosure with vertical steel bars. Then the film is spliced and the viewer sees two foxes with wet fur in a different cage built of fine-mesh chicken wire. After a few violent seconds, the scene instantly cuts back to the cage of vertical bars and the scene ends when one fox locks into the other with a death bite.