The shock of the old

The latest in a long line of people (me included) who have pointed out that the Royal Academy has had a Professor of Drawing who can’t actually draw, Tracy Emin, is Quentin Letts in the Mail. Emin’s value, such as it is, is in calculated attempts to be vaguely shocking, in which she is not alone. The famous unmade bed of My Bed is a good example: bit of a laugh, no real substance. There are lots of other dreary examples of the same tactic. Yawn.

If you want to see real subversive art of one kind or another, rewind a few hundred years. Here are two very different ones.

Firstly, two sketches by Rembrandt of Elsje Christiaens. She was an immigrant maid  from Denmark, who ended up in Amsterdam, and killed her landlady. This was 351 years ago, and Rembrandt quickly sketched her hanged body on display in a gibbet. The front view in particular is heartbreaking.

I think it’s an extraordinary work in its technique, subject and emotional impact. The small details only magnify the horror.

For quite different reasons, here’s a work Danae by Jan Gossaert, a much less well known painter. Gossaert was a player in the Northern Renaissance, with a particular gift for architecture and portraiture. The painting crops up regularly in ‘erotic art’ essays. Danae was imprisoned by her father, King Akrisios of Argos, who was naturally concerned by a prophecy that he would one day be killed by a son of his daughter, Danae. Unfortunately for him she was impregnated anyway by Zeus, taking the form of a ‘golden shower’. Perseus duly killed Akrisios, albeit by accident. You can see why it gets it the erotic label. Danae is more dishevelled than Tracy Emin’s bed, and just possibly the golden shower has various dubious connotations. In the internet free world of 1527 one imagines it could convey all sorts of meanings to the different observers in the Burgundian court.

DanaeGossaert
Danae, by Jan Gossaert, 1527. Munich, Alte Pinakothek

Both of these examples also demonstrate something I’ve blogged about before, not least because it also applies to medicine – if you intend to push the limits of your art/craft, make sure that you’ve got the technical chops and reputation before you do. You may end up rich, but you can’t buy credibility.

The sex life of governments

As a general rule, my view of government is the less legislation the better,  the less interference – governmental or judicial – in our lives, the better. A libertarian sounding view perhaps, but without the wilder fringes of that movement.

Hence my position on gay marriage or whatever you want to call it, is the same as my position on abortion – this is a matter of personal behaviour/morals/beliefs, and ideally not a matter for government. The difference between marriage and the established and practical civil partnership is a semantic one, and to dress it up as something different is pushing credibility. In any event, I recognise that if something was illegal there is a necessity to formalise any change, but it comes at a price.

In the case of legalising abortion in the UK and the US the battle lines have been drawn for years, the difference between the two countries is that as you can see in various states, the US might actually reduce abortions by legislation. That won’t happen in the UK. In the case of gay marriage it seems to me that while the  legislative outcome might well be activists’ ultimate goal, but there seems to be almost an equal incentive in the irresistible opportunity it creates to vilify opponents. The terms of the debate in Ireland have been particularly ugly and virulent, and mostly from the victorious ‘Yes’ side.

Where they lose though, is in the quality of the argument. By some distance the best writing and polemicism in the build up and the aftermath of the Irish referendum has been on the ‘No’ side, and it’s by no means been confined to orthodox Catholics. Strangely enough it was also true of the ‘No’ camp in the Scottish indyref, where most of the Nats stuff was dreary ad hominem attacks or pie in the sky economics. Quality was missing.

I don’t intend to rehearse the detail of the arguments, but in a roll call of honour I give you Tim Stanley, Melanie McDonagh, Brendan O’Neill (twice), Bruvver Eccles of course, and a seriously good piece on Slugger O’Toole.

O’Neill highlights the irony in just how intolerant and shrill the Yes camp became (and will remain that way), and McDonagh coins a phrase that neatly summarises so much of the social order since, lemme guess, 1997: “a creepily imitative quality to the liberal consensus”.

She recognises that here in the UK the robust press, despite Hugh Grant, Leveson et al, ensures that multiple views get aired, but:

…in Ireland, the groupthink has a totalitarian aspect to it. I remember meeting one young Irish girl at Oxford a few years ago who declared bathetically that she had given up on the Catholic Church in favour of the Guardian; in a way, the whole country feels as if it has gone the same way. There’s a creepily imitative quality to the liberal consensus – as though the colonial mindset has morphed through clericalism to a self-congratulatory adolescence, perpetually in revolt against the vanished authority of the church. The Irish Times declared in its editorial that this vote represented the country Ireland had become. Yes it does, and not wholly in a good way.

If there is room left for a little bit more of ad hominem in all this, I’d just like to point out that the enduringly revolting Gerry Adams was a Yes man

Land of my forefathers etc
Land of my forefathers etc

ISIS morons empower women…

real feminists
real feminists

…well, in reality they kidnap them, rape them and sell them, as the first order effect, but the secondary consequence is more unwelcome to these jihadi misogynists, whose behaviour is uncannily mirrored by Boko Haram in Africa.

Take, for example, the now famous peshmerga female soldiers. This is no token gesture. They have their own battalion, their own officer ranks, and they can really fight. They have a wonderful degree of contempt for ISIS, To quote the splendid Colonel Nahida Ahmad Rashid:

‘I find them indescribably disgusting. How would you feel if it was women living near you who were being married off by force by ISIS? How would you feel? They are doing the most disgusting things I have ever seen in my life.’…

‘I have told all my frontline soldiers to keep one bullet in their pocket in case they are captured. I never want any of them to be captured by ISIS.’

They’re not a last minute reaction to being under the threat of ISIS slaughter, the Kurds have been giving women equal status as fighters for years. To add to their value, although the claim is disputed, there seems to be something in the story that if you’re a jihadi killed by a woman, don’t expect the legendary (and in itself, more than a bit strange) reward of 72 virgins, or as the Al-Arabiya network called it, their “virgin-fuelled utopian rest”.

So good for the Kurds. The Iraqi Kurd who sells me kebabs had his peshmerga brother killed a month ago, fighting ISIS. The ramifications of this brutal pseudo-caliphate reach our streets quickly, one way or another.

 

Then along comes this remarkable old lady, who confronts a couple of the thugs in the street in Syria,  in this now famous video. She doesn’t let them off the hook, and they have no answer to her. Brilliant:

 

 

Lastly there are the journalists. The Sunday Times’ superb Hala Jaber (@HalaJaber) completely understands the mentality of ISIS, and indeed the rest of the Middle East, and her Twitter feed is quite brilliant, attracting the enmity of what she refers to as ‘ISIS fanboys’. The Kurdish journalist Shler Bapiri (@shlerbapiri) is another tireless advocate for the truth against Islamic female genital mutilation, and the fight to the death with ISIS. These fearless women – who are not remote from danger themselves – are very much in the noble tradition of people like the superb Veena Malik and the legendary Oriana Fallaci, both previously featured in this blog. Here is Veena eloquently putting the boot into an absurd imam on Pakistani TV:

 

Her confident outspokenness has just earned her a 26 year jail sentence in Pakistan. Luckily she lives in Dubai. The late Oriana Fallaci was the Italian powerhouse who famously gave the Ayatollah Khomeini a lesson in practical feminism. As it turns out, she was something of a prophet herself, and her best-selling post 9/11 polemic The Rage and the Pride remains a much needed counterblast to the situation we find ourselves in today.

When the British idea of feminism seems often to revolve around a privileged pink bus idiot like Harriet Harman wearing an inane sweat shop produced T shirt in parliament, you can only stand in awe of these women who are out there, in the real world, dealing with unimaginable problems that men don’t have to suffer. As the reliably funny and controversial Gavin McInnes writes, Harman’s kind of feminism is basically  “women doing what they’re told”.

...really, I don't know what to say about this image
…really, I don’t know what to say about this image

 

Paedophilia and our Labour friends. Another study in moral relativism.

Yup, it was just as dodgy back then
Yup, it was just as dodgy back then

 

Writing as someone who was a fairly attractive boy in the 1970’s, the recent Labour/paedophilia revelations are of some interest.

Strictly speaking, they’re mostly not revelations at all, not just because Damian Thompson in the Telegraph went on about them in 2012, but as far back as the 70’s themselves, when I first started reading Private Eye, I remember the whole Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) getting headlines with the usual semi-amusing speech balloon on the cover photo of the Eye coming from the mouth of Sir Peter Hayman, top civil servant, and top paedophile.

There were lots of other similar scandals at that time and subsequently, the point being that despite what some apologists are saying, there was NOT a tolerance of this sort of thing back then, definitely not. And for the record, as a 10 year old, The Knife would not have been able to have an intelligent discussion on consent for sex, or indeed, incest. Both topics are relevant as they were both part of the specific proposal put forward by Patricia Hewitt at the NCCL.

Of course these clowns, Harriet Harman, her ‘all female shortlist‘ husband Jack Dromey, and Hewitt herself were not MP’s back then, they were just the usual ragbag of left lawyers and trade unionist types who, frankly, didn’t seem to give a shit about people, as opposed to their precious wacky ideologies. The only difference now is that they have incredibly, between them, held the following positions:

Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Health Secretary, Minister for Women and Equality (Hewitt), Secretary of State for Social Security, Minister for Women, Leader of the Labour Party (briefly), Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Shadow Deputy Prime Minister and Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Harman), and Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government (Dromey).

My reason for writing this is not for the admittedly pleasurable task of kicking these three morons, but because of the creeping apologists who still claim it was in some way ‘different’ back then. It wasn’t.

Here is Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian this week:

It’s a reminder too that what can seem enlightened and progressive in one era can look very different years later.

then he goes and spoils it all….

What neither Hewitt nor Harman can quite say is that the Mail’s attack depends on an unspoken assumption that the NCCL crowd were uniquely indulgent of PIE and paedophilia – that, while everyone else back then shared the revulsion we feel today towards child abusers, these crackpot lefty libertarians were inexplicably permissive. But that assumption is wrong.

The clue is in the name. The activists of the PIE did not hide who they were: they put the word “paedophile” on the tin. They had named spokesmen and a letterhead (featuring a line-drawing of two bare-limbed children on a rock). The existence of such an unashamed group is unimaginable now. “Paedophile” is the worst possible insult, languishing in the moral hierarchy somewhere between “racist” and “murderer”, if not, in fact, below both of them.

Yet it was clearly not that way 40 years ago. The PIE men felt they could hold their heads up, not just among the libertarians of the NCCL but in British society in general.

As Tim Stanley puts it in a nicely judged post on the revolting Allen Ginsberg:

They were the daydreams of a Sixties intellectual elite which saw bourgeois ethics as limiting and imagined that society could be remade, and made better, by the total liberation of fleshly desires.

…but the same airheads are now seeking political office, and achieving it, and they still have a problem with “bourgeois ethics”. Then and now they have had a pretty bizarre idea of what ‘ordinary people’ think on these various sexual topics.

It’s nice of one middle class lefty (Freedland) to stick up for his ghastly, stupid mates, but when he claims that:

It’s hard for us to credit it, but it seems paedophilia did not carry quite the radioactive stigma it does today

…this is one fresh-faced 70’s boy who can tell you that such a comment is, frankly, bollocks.

 

Internet Porn: first they came for our filth, then they came for our freedom

...no one should be forced back to the dark ages...freedom of speech....Voltaire said....er...big norks are great.....
…no one should be forced back to the dark ages…freedom of speech….Voltaire said….er…big norks are great…..

So Dave wants to restrict easy access to porn on the internet.  He’s not banning it, just requiring an active ‘opt in’. That could be embarrassing in some households**, $$.

Plenty of objections it seems, emanating from a mix of  libertarians (and libertines probably), and various patronising geeks who think that only they ‘get’ the internet thing.  There is also a sprinkling of lefties who should probably be applauding Dave, given their objections to Page 3, which one suspects are entirely insincere. It’s a strange world where just because child porn etc is universally acknowledged as evil, access to every other …um..”specialist areas”…is de facto alright, and when you think about it, is really a human right, and should be defended as such.

To my mind there are two main groups of objectors here:

1. People who  genuinely see this as an attack on freedom of speech, expression etc

2. People who are worried that they may lose their own easy access to porn.

Strangely, all the complainants seem to be putting themselves in the first category, principled warriors for free speech, all of them. Personally  I think it’s a bit rich to imply that the freedom to watch gangbanging grannies is on a par with the right to, say, express politically inconvenient views. One has been available for about 15-20 years, maximum, the other is as old as human civilization. To quote a particularly boneheaded effort from The Independent:

Do we want to live in a nanny state?

The basis of Mr Cameron’s argument is that people should have to make a conscious decision to watch pornography. But civil liberties groups take the opposite approach and accuse him of hypocrisy. It was Mr Cameron who used to decry Labour’s nanny state.

Anyway, my advice is that when you next see some high minded defender of our immemorial freedoms having a go at Dave about this one, it’s wise to assume that they’re in category 2 above. Especially if they’re lefties.     W*****s.

——————————————————————————————–

I thought I’d cite examples of the above as they crop up:

1. Various Tom Watson tweets/retweets eg. “I guess Lynton Crosby doesn’t represent any internet porn sites.”

2. Something (typically) called the Open Rights Group

3. Somebody called ‘Mic’ Wright at Telegraph blogs. Note typically arch name spelling and pretentious photo.

4. Willard Foxton (??), a few weeks ago

5. Delingpole ‘fesses up. At least he’s open about it.

6. Hard to know what ‘Mic’ is trying to say with this one.

7. Delingpole again, ends up with a line not dissimilar to this post’s title

——————————————————————————————–

** Great summary by Jan Moir

$$ Remarkably good article in the Guardian, of all places, by Deborah Orr

Gay marriage and the surreal world of Dave

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

Feel free...
Feel free…

The Knife has posted before on the now boring subject of ‘gay marriage’. It is hard to find the right phraseology to register one’s concerns, which in my case – and probably for lots of people – have nothing to do with an opinion on homosexuality. What makes the subject become interesting again, is the argument which is about definitions and the inherent qualities of marriage, which are not subject to the diktat of any government. How could they be?

The single best short summary that I’ve read on this topic, is from Martin Kochanski in a letter to Standpoint magazine, back in March. It’s worth quoting:

Thanks Dave, no we get it
Thanks Dave, now we get it

Strictly speaking, men have always been permitted to marry other men just as they have been permitted to make one another pregnant. It hasn’t happened because marriage, like pregnancy, has the union of the sexes as part of its inherent nature. Its theology and liturgy reflect this.

What the well-meaning call “letting men marry men” is really abolition by redefinition. It is the act of a totalitarian liberalism that tolerates no limits to its power. Redefining the word “marriage” to mean something different is to destroy marriage by making it impossible even to talk about it: a technique from Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Men who want to enter into a lifelong committed relationship with each other deserve better than a redefined, imitation “second-rate” marriage…..It cannot be a pretend version of something else..”

If you want to keep religion out of it, try the truly impressive Brendan O’Neill (atheist), on what a bile-filled, conformist, elitist,  statist mess Dave and his buddies have created:  here, here, here, here, and here!

The old gay mollusc question

Homosexuality: it’s all the rage. At least it feels that way sometimes when I write this blog. This post makes no judgement on that sexual orientation, but does agree with the author (Brendan O’Neill) of the article from which I’m quoting:

The idea that humanity should work out what is morally OK, and should look for a justification for human homosexuality, through observing the behaviour of beasts is seriously warped. After all, some animals are known to engage in necrophilia..

He has a point. And it gets funnier:

The hunt for evidence of beastly homosexuality has become a serious intellectual pursuit in recent years. In America, scientists have overseen something called the Sheep Experiment Station, where basically — there’s no nice way to put this — a ram is put in a pen with two ewes in heat and two others rams while scientists watch to see which one it chooses as a mate. Apparently some rams opted for ‘ram-on-ram action’, as one columnist described it, which was held up as proof not that these rams were a bit bamboozled but that they were gay. As in, they consciously thought to themselves, ‘I am going to turn down this lady sheep in favour of that hunk of a ram lurking in the corner over there. Hello big boy…’

Scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Centre in California claim to have observed squids acting gay. Apparently, the Octopoteuthis deletron, a deep-sea squid, indiscriminately shoots sperm at both male and female squids that swim by. But is this gayness? I know lots of gay humans and, to the best of my knowledge, none of them stands around on street corners shooting their sperm at passers-by.

Well, maybe not where you live Brendan, but…

Put that camera away!
Put that camera away!

Could’ve done, should’ve done…

To people of The Knife’s generation, Clive James was a very well known face on the TV. He spent most of the time drolly hosting chat shows, or appearing on them, or introducing silly clips from world TV (this was before Rude Tube, before the internet). James though, is also a big hitting intellectual and a poet. A proper poet, not like the current Poet Laureate. His stuff is mostly very good.

He is now terminally ill, coming after being unmasked by his ex-mistress after a long affair, and by all accounts is in a difficult situation. When your life is drawing to its end, family are all important. Here is his wonderful reflective poem, in full (pinched from the TLS):

Holding Court

Retreating from the world, all I can do
Is build a new world, one demanding less
Acute assessments. Too deaf to keep pace
With conversation, I don’t try to guess
At meanings, or unpack a stroke of wit,
But just send silent signals with my face
That claim I’ve not succumbed to loneliness
And might be ready to come in on cue.
People still turn towards me where I sit.

I used to notice everything, and spoke
A language full of details that I’d seen,
And people were amused; but now I see
Only a little way. What can they mean,
My phrases? They come drifting like the mist
I look through if someone appears to be
Smiling in my direction. Have they been?
This was the time when I most liked to smoke.
My watch-band feels too loose around my wrist.

My body, sensitive in every way
Save one, can still proceed from chair to chair,
But in my mind the fires are dying fast.
Breathe through a scarf. Steer clear of the cold air.
Think less of love and all that you have lost.
You have no future so forget the past.
Let this be no occasion for despair.
Cherish the prison of your waning day.
Remember liberty, and what it cost.

Be pleased that things are simple now, at least,
As certitude succeeds bewilderment.
The storm blew out and this is the dead calm.
The pain is going where the passion went.
Few things will move you now to lose your head
And you can cause, or be caused, little harm.
Tonight you leave your audience content:
You were the ghost they wanted at the feast,
Though none of them recalls a word you said.

Sad, though beautifully written , in my view. And tinged with that most potent of emotions, regret.

 

Clive in happier times
Clive in happier times