Saturday, January 29, 2005


Or probably, according to this guy.a Just go there, and immerse yourself. I promise it is far too good to miss.

What have you done Rodney?

I felt moved to write a word of sympathy for Rodney Marsh, who got sacked from his job presenting Sky Sports football for a throwaway quip:

The ex-Manchester City striker, 60, joked David Beckham had turned down a move to Newcastle United because of trouble with the "Toon Army in Asia".

Alright, awful pun, but that is presumably not the sackable offence.

A spokesman for the channel described the joke as "offensive and inexcusable".

This seems a bit harsh. I appreciate it is not the thing to be quipping about, but surely getting Rodney to apologise would have done. I think he has the right to feel quite aggreived about receiving his P45.

Meanwhile, the Carnival is just kicking off, and among the upcoming festivities is a live performance by the Thelonius Monk ensemble. I thought the great man passed away in 1982, but then there are similar rumours about Elvis...

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Forgetting the Holocaust and the end of Enlightenment

It has taken me a while to post, beacause lots of the things on my mind have seemed to be loosely connected, but not quite gelled.

Walking along the fondamenta beside the lagoon on Sunday, we passed a line of stalls selling tourist merchandise. One of the most prominent items was an apron, with an illustration of Mussolini in military uniform standing proud.

If we are to believe the statistics, damned lies and statistics produced by UK polling agencies, 60% of British under thirty fives do not know what Auschwitz is/was.

This year is the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Media attention is currently focused on today's memorial for the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Prince Harry has been in tabloids world wide after wearing an African corps uniform, with swastika armband, to a friends fancy dress party.

If pressed on when I consider the modern era to be, I would give as symbolic termini the French Revolution and the destruction of the Berlin Wall.

So, what does all this add up to? The 'modern' era, following the Enlightenment was characterised above all by a great humanistic optimism. Society was progressive, and colonialiam, now such a dirty word, hurried this progress in other parts of the world. The export of Enlightenment values was, in the Enlightenment's terms, self-evidently good. The cradle of this Enlightenment was Northern Europe. The United States provided a blank canvass for the architects of the brave new world, and the Federalist Papers attest to their brilliant determination to fashion a better kind of society.

It is possible to see Hiroshima as the hubristic trough of scientific progress' collision with human fallibility. It is also possible to see this moment as ultimately shattering to the Enlightenment dream. Men had always fought wars. Hiroshima starkly demonstrated that they could never unthinkingly do so again: that men had at last designed a weapon which could destroy them.

This weapon is symbolic of the difference of the Second World War. In many ways, the Great War was more horrific for the troops fighting it, but the Second World War was the first 'total' war of the modern West.

And this is the crunch with the Holocaust. The fact that these atrocities were perpetrated by one of those countries which formed the cradle of the Enlightenment was the final insult to high minded humanists. As such, Auschwitz was supposed to be our great modern myth. 'Lest we forget', a phrase most often spoken about the Great War found a new resonance in the memory of the Holocaust. But how could we forget? To the elder half of Britain's population it is so self evident that the Holocaust provides the most terrible, infernal warning, that it will never be forgotten. Unfortunately, the very obviousness of the atrocity may have allowed the message to go unspoken for too long.

It has been written that Harry's antics suggest that Britain has a problem to deal with in moving on from the Second World War. But it is not indifference which leads to that kind of micky-taking, it is ignorance. The Germans need to be allowed to write the history of the war crimes against them, and the scale of atrocity on both sides needs to be recognised. But the winners also need to start taking history seriously and not let relativism destroy the most important cultural memory we have.

The problems 'history' faces in this task are well illustrated by the current Labour government. Their outlook "change=progress=good" is a horrible sort of pseudo-Enlightened ahistory which recognises no dissent from the maxim that democracy and a global market are the only forces for good. As each day passes, the US abroad follows the path to doom once walked by the Athenian Empire. In Britain, the cult of progress derides the humanities as indulgent folly. Following this path is a bad idea. The 60th anniversary of peace provides a reminder of the lessons the World War taught us. Harry, the Mussolini aprons, and the statistics and lies are all there lest we forget.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Be prepared...

That's what they told us in the cubs. But I wasn't prepared, oh no no no. Not for this. Moody grey skies one minute, a snow storm the next. Sporting, as is my custom, footwear well past its sell by date, I found the snow wending its devious way into the cavity normally reserved for feet. Oh dear. I am not, in general, a weakminded fool, but this was cold. Cold and wretched. soon a pleasant tingling numbness was the overriding sensation. When I got home, however, and removed the treacherous footwear, my feet were covered in an unusual array of icicles. The thawing process was not an enjoyable one.

I guess the moral of this story "is that a man should never be where he does not belong."

Stupid Mediterranean climate.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Aussies get culture?

Aussie girl on phone in internet cafe:

"All the old buildings in Prague are pristine. In Italy they are all fucked! They are fucking falling over! Like the Colloseum, is just a heap of junk! What excuse do they have? Berlin was bombed to shit, but they fixed that up all right. The Italians have no excuse. They are too fucking lazy to bother. In the colloseum, the floor was all sunken and hilly and fucked up. It was like "dudes, fix your floor!""

And so it went on...

A good journalist chooses his words with care

One of the more unfortunate things I read in the tsunami aftermath:

"With luck the impact of the tsunami reponse on global responses to aid will be of seismic proportions."


Friday, January 07, 2005

Things to think about in 2005

As well as assorted waffle and moaning about the weather, I decided to make a list of things to occupy that grey matter not thinking about Cicero.

1) 1789-1989 looks distinctly like an era. What era have we just entered?

2) China. It's important, but everybody talks bollocks about it. Especially the now sumissive to Murdoch Lord Rees-Mogg, who used to have a mind of his own.

3) Noam Chomsky. Si's hero, but it is hard to read his views on Cambodia without feeling distinctly uneasy. Not genocide?

4) Post-modernism. The most misunderstood and misused phrase in the world. I'm going to explain it simply, clearly and briefly. After which I will not tolerate further misunderstanding. OK?

5) Italy. No, forget it. This country is one messed up puppy.

6) Max Weber. He is on the list every year, and, wearily, I'm still grinding away.

7) The depredations of age. Why does the music of Nanci Griffith become more alluring with every passing year?

8) Why do Americans go to the cinema? Don't ask, its all Si's fault.

9) Bioethics. Don't ask, its all somebody else's fault.

...Which gives me three spare months. Suggestions will be taken on board and marked "ballast".

Thursday, January 06, 2005


So here we are. Back in Venice. Apologies to those I didn't find at all (notably Matt) and those who didn't find me a second time (everybody else). Shit happened. What can I say?

I'm in muted mood today, but regular updates will begin tomorrow. In the meantime, I have just read "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell" by Susanna Clarke, and heartily recommend it.