No time to blog…

… but I’ll just say that Mike’s discussion of Hutton seems to me to be too generous to the government and that I’m far closer to feeling like an old-fashioned Guardianista today. D-Squared is, as usual, on the ball and giving no quarter.

But then, I’ll admit it: though I’ve downloaded and printed out a copy of the report, I haven’t read through it myself yet, and won’t have time until (at the earliest) the weekend. Still, it has to be said that I’m anticipating a report which will quickly join the great sequence of Denning and Widgery in the annals of implausible apologetics for the powers that be.

(I also think the entire BBC board of governors should resign, incidentally: they were catastrophically stupid in moving too fast to stand up for Gilligan – Today, etc., when they didn’t really know what they were talking about, and it’s far better that the catastrophe should fall on their own heads rather than, in the fullness of time, on the BBC as a whole.)

Also: Slavoj Zizek lectured in Oxford yesterday to start the new series of Amnesty Lectures. He said that to choose to follow The Rules is to administer a grave blow to the patriarchy, he thinks the real fundamentalists are the Amish (for whom he has a lot of time), and he’s very unhappy with a new product called Choco-Lax, or somesuch, which is, as you might expect, a chocolate bar which also doubles as a laxative.

He also said some things about and against contemporary human rights ideology, but they were more complex, and I don’t trust my memory of his lecture yesterday to reproduce the more serious parts of it accurately…

The ever-splendid Bhikhu Parekh lectures later this afternoon.

News for Parrots

It’s a longer extract than usual from a Classic Text, but here’s the bit about the parrot from John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding:

8. Same man. An animal is a living organized body; andconsequently the same animal, as we have observed, is the same continued life communicated to different particles of matter, as they happen successively to be united to that organized living body. And whatever is talked of other definitions, ingenious observation puts it past doubt, that the idea in our minds, of which the sound man in our mouths is the sign, is nothing else but of an animal of such a certain form. Since I think I may be confident, that, whoever should see a creature of his own shape or make, though it had no more reason all its life than a cat or a parrot, would call him still a man; or whoever should hear a cat or a parrot discourse, reason, and philosophize, would call or think it nothing but a cat or a parrot; and say, the one was a dull irrational man, and the other a very intelligent rational parrot. A relation we have in an author of great note, is sufficient to countenance the supposition of a rational parrot.His words are: “I had a mind to know, from Prince Maurice’s own mouth, the account of a common, but much credited story, that I had heard so often from many others, of an old parrot he had in Brazil, during his government there, that spoke, and asked, and answered common questions, like a reasonable creature: so that those of his train there generally concluded it to be witchery or possession; and one of his chaplains, who lived long afterwards in Holland, would never from that time endure a parrot, but said they all had a devil in them. I had heard many particulars of this story, and as severed by people hard to be discredited, which made me ask Prince Maurice what there was of it. He said, with his usual plainness and dryness in talk, there was something true, but a great deal false of what had been reported. I desired to know of him what there was of the first. He told me short and coldly, that he had heard of such an old parrot when he had been at Brazil; and though he believed nothing of it, and it was a good way off, yet he had so much curiosity as to send for it: that it was a very great and a very old one; and when it came first into the room where the prince was, with a great many Dutchmen about him, it said presently, What a company of white men are here! They asked it, what it thought that man was, pointing to the prince. It answered, Some General or other. When they brought it close to him, he asked it, D’ou venez-vous? It answered, De Marinnan. The Prince, A qui estes-vous? The Parrot, A un Portugais. The Prince, Que fais-tu la? Parrot, Je garde les poulles. The Prince laughed, and said, Vous gardez les poulles? The Parrot answered, Oui, moi; et je scai bien faire; and made the chuck four or five times that people use to make to chickens when they call them. I set down the words of this worthy dialogue in French, just as Prince Maurice said them to me. I asked him in what language the parrot spoke, and he said in Brazilian. I asked whether he understood Brazilian; he said No, but he had taken care to have two interpreters by him, the one a Dutchman that spoke Brazilian, and the other a Brazilian that spoke Dutch; that he asked them separately and privately, and both of them agreed in telling him just the same thing that the parrot had said. I could not but tell this odd story, because it is so much out of the way, and from the first hand, and what may pass for a good one; for I dare say this Prince at least believed himself in all he told me, having ever passed for a very honest and pious man: I leave it to naturalists to reason, and to other men to believe, as they please upon it; however, it is not, perhaps, amiss to relieve or enliven a busy scene sometimes with such digressions, whether to the purpose or no.”

I have taken care that the reader should have the story at large in the author’s own words, because he seems to me not to have thought it incredible; for it cannot be imagined that so able a man as he, who had sufficiency enough to warrant all the testimonies he gives of himself, should take so much pains, in a place where it had nothing to do, to pin so close, not only on a man whom he mentions as his friend, but on a Prince in whom he acknowledges very great honesty and piety, a story which, if he himself thought incredible, he could not but also think ridiculous. The Prince, it is plain, who vouches this story, and our author, who relates it from him, both of them call this talker a parrot: and I ask any one else who thinks such a story fit to be told, whether, if this parrot, and all of its kind, had always talked, as we have a prince’s word for it this one did,- whether, I say, they would not have passed for a race of rational animals; but yet, whether, for all that, they would have been allowed to be men, and not parrots? For I presume it is not the idea of a thinking or rational being alone that makes the idea of a man in most people’s sense: but of a body, so and so shaped, joined to it: and if that be the idea of a man, the same successive body not shifted all at once, must, as well as the same immaterial spirit, go to the making of the same man.

And with all that in mind, here’s the News for Parrots

Calendrical Calculations

A correspondent writes to the Virtual Stoa:

Just a tiny point about the French republican calendar: your converter is a day out at the moment (presumably it’s using a different leap year rule).

Thanks for this: you’re right that the Calendar installed at the top of this page is a little different from the one over at the site you link to, and right to guess that it has something to do with where the leap years come in.The page that you linked to presents the astrological version of the Calendar, which was the one that the French actually used for about a decade; the Calendar on this page is based on the 1795 amendment proposed by the Montagnard Gilbert Romme (and, I think, approved but never implemented), which aimed to regularise the pattern of leap years and — crucially — to forgo the need to calculate the precise date of the equinox each year.

On this mathematical model, every fourth year was to be a leap year, except every hundredth year, which was not to be a leap year, except for every four hundredth year, which was to be a leap year; and in addition to all of this (which is, so far, along the lines of the Gregorian Calendar), a three-day correction was called for every four thousand years, and each of these four thousand-year cycles was to be known as a “franciade millaire”. And that’s where the radical improvement over the Gregorian Calendar, over the very long haul, comes in.

The bit of script which generated this calendar was originally written by my friend Steve to turn Star Trek Stardates into and out of Gregorian dates, and he did the conversion job himself to turn the code into an altogether more progressive Revolutionary Calendar Generator. I’m forever in his debt.

Dead Socialist… Websites

SIAW, as I’m now to call them (it?), has begun what we can all hope will be a semi-regular series, picking over the corpses of some of the the Dead Socialist Websites which litter the cyberspatial landscape…

… it’s a sort of bloggers’ equivalent of the splendid passage on “The View from Futures Past”, which opens Mike Davis’s excellent City of Quartz

Karl Marx, comedian

Simon at the silverdollarcircle is thinking about how funny Marx can be:

i’d forgotten how darkly funny Marx can be, since i last read him properly in the run-up to Finals and so wasn’t really paying attention to his humour. loads of possible examples,. of course, but my absolute favourite is this bit from Capital, where Marx reveals his dramatis personae for what they really are:

“He who was previously the money-owner now strides out in front as the capitalist; the possessor of labour power follows as his worker. The one, smirking, self important, intent on business; the other is timid, holding back, like someone who has brought his own hide to market and now has nothing to expect but- a hiding.”

My own favourite? I’ve got a soft spot for the sheer loopiness of “I may negate powdered wigs, but that still leaves me with unpowdered wigs”, which has never attracted the discussion it deserves, but which appears on one of the most famous pages Marx ever wrote — it’s just below the “opium of the people” passage in the Introduction to the Contribution to the Critique of… oh, I give up.But I think in the end for me it’s the joke in the Critique of the Gotha Programme when Marx explains why socialists should oppose compulsory, free state education for all, “particularly, indeed, in the Prusso-German Empire… [where] the state has need, on the contrary, of a very stern education by the people”!

Other favourite Marx funnies, please, in Comments below. And no Groucho-isms…

Lost in Translation

The promised post by my brother Michael on this film which I mentioned four posts back is now up, responding to the piece in yesterday’s Guardian. As I say, I haven’t seen the film, so I couldn’t possibly comment…

… Though this didn’t stop me the other day denouncing as “egregious nonsense” a book which I hadn’t read, Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath’s Who Killed Homer? I came to this conclusion on the strength of Peter Green’s brutally funny review in the NYRoB, but I felt a bit bad — no, I sort of almost felt a very little bit bad — about doing that. I’ve read most of it, however, since then, and I can confirm that, on the strength of that, it is, as I suspected, egregious nonsense. Glad to have cleared that one up, and apologies for the confusion.

From Yes, Minister:

JIM HACKER: [reading a short piece about him in Private Eye] “… the egregious Jim Hacker”. [to Humphrey] What does “egregious” mean?

SIR HUMPHREY: I think it means “outstanding”, Minister… in one way or another.

For sheer entertainment, My Brother Michael will take a lot of beating

Over at, my brother Michael has changed the name of his blog to “Mischievous Constructions”. He explains why here, and he’ll get another link when he posts his promised refutation of the piece in the Guardian yesterday which argued that Lost in Translation (which I haven’t seen) is racist twaddle, as I dare say it’ll be interesting and at least reasonably well-informed. I doubt that I’ll change the name of his blog on the blogroll, though, as I’m not sure it’ll fit onto one line on most browsers…