Nostalgia

The demolition of the old Lucy’s factory in Jericho is well underway, to make room for more of the kind of houses that you can see in the second picture (or over here). These photos aren’t very good – the light was poor, and the battery in my camera was dying – but I wanted to make sure I got some pictures before the shell of the building gets knocked down, which I suppose may be any day now.

Self-Portrait in Lego

Actually, I haven’t been dressed up like this since I did my finals, back in 1995. Although quite a bit of gown-wearing goes on among the academic staff here in Oxford, we hardly ever have to put on the all the contents of the academic dressing-up box; and on the rare occasions I’ve been officiating at university exams, somehow I’ve managed to discharge my duties without the aid of a mortar-board. Still, this is what I’d look like if (a) I were in full regalia and (b) were made out of Lego.

The facility for you to do the same is over here. [via]

(And if you’re interested in more pics of people in academic dress, Jo Salmon’s got the links. Apparently the university’s just matriculated thousands of new bloggers.)

UPDATE [4pm]: And the same Jo Salmon has produced a fantastic self-portrait of herself, in lego, too. It’s unmistakably her.

Dead Socialist Watch, #172

Louis Althusser, French Marxist philosopher who strangled his wife, H�l�ne Rytman, on 16 November 1980; born in Algeria, 16 October, 1918; died in Paris, 23 October, 1990. Some texts are here.

Do make sure, by the way, to read his autobiography L’avenir dure longtemps (The Future Lasts a Long Time), which is a terrific read for anyone interested in French academia, Marxist philosophy, or what it was like to be on the receiving end of electric-shock therapy in the 1950s (and, let’s face it, we’re all interested in at least one of these).

Sunday Sermon

This what some members of Hizb ut-Tahrir have been saying to Harriet Harman, according to Nick Cohen:

‘We’re not a part of British society,’ they told her. ‘We stay here like guests in a hotel.’

If that’s what they think, there’s nothing to worry about at all. Guests have to abide by all the rules of the house.It’s also seems to me to be a less politically subversive position than authoritative Christian teaching on the same subject. Right through City of God, St Augustine’s opinion is that the “civis civitatis Dei“, the citizen of the city of God, must act with respect to the state as if s/he were a “peregrinus”, a Latin word that is usually translated in this context as “pilgrim”. And that makes a certain amount of sense: Christians are, on this view, to treat their time on earth as a pilgrimage through a vale of tears on their way (with God’s grace) to a better place in the hereafter.

But the translation of “peregrinus” as “pilgrim” always seems to me to be a little misleading, bypassing a lot that is most interesting about the word, and it’s worth digging out the major meaning the Latin word bears — a peregrinus is someone who comes from foreign parts, a stranger, or an alien. I’m rather drawn to the identification of the peregrinus with the modern refugee or asylum-seeker, the person who doesn’t feel welcome, or feel they quite belong in the country in which they find themselves — and, of course, there is no asylum which the state can offer to Augustine’s peregrini: they are in search of asylum, of freedom from strife, but this in a world to come.

So on the Augustinian view, the Citizens of the City of God are not to embrace the state or the nation, to internalise its values as theirs, or find any joy in its successes. They put up with it. They tolerate it. They keep it at arm’s length. Harriet Harman would probably disapprove of this attitude. If they are anything as dignified as guests in a hotel, it’s probably the crummy bed and breakfast the local authority put them in while waiting to hear the outcome of their deportation hearing, with rising damp and a hostile local population outside.

But then there’s a further twist. Harman’s question to the chaps from Hizb ut-Tahrir which prompted the reply about the hotel, apparently, was this one: “You’re British citizens. Shouldn’t you try to play a part in British society?” What would Augustine say?

Augustine argued, as I’ve suggested, that Christians should think of themselves as not-particularly welcome foreigners in the political communities in which they found themselves living, but he also argued that that shouldn’t stop them holding offices of responsibility in that society. Indeed, the example he uses is of sitting as a magistrate and authorising torture (a standard practice in criminal investigations back in the fourth and fifth centuries).

In one of the most striking passages in Book XIX of City of God, Augustine tells us that judges can never see the consciences of those they judge (only God can do that), which means that judges are

“often compelled to seek the truth by torturing innocent people merely because they are witnesses to the crimes of other men. And what of torture applied to a man in his own case? Here, the question is whether he is guilty or not; but he is tortured even if he is innocent… For this reason the ignorance of the judge is often a calamity to the innocent… And when the accused has been condemned and put to death, the judge still does not know whether he has slain a guilty man, or an innocent one…”

And then Augustine asks the key question:

“Given that social life is surrounded by such darkness, will the wise man take his seat on the judge’s bench, or will he not venture to do so? Clearly, he will take his seat; for the claims of human society, which he thinks it wicked to abandon, constrain him and draw him to his duty”

The right path is “to acknowledge that the necessity of acting in this way is a miserable one: if he hated his own part in it, and if, with the knowledge of godliness, he cried out to God, ‘From my necessities deliver Thou me’.” What the earthly city is needed to accomplish is to help secure an earthly peace, which, while it is but a shadow of the heavenly peace the “peregrini” will enjoy when they finally reach the place which really can offer them asylum, is still an important good, not least because it enables the Church Militant to preach its mission to the world more effectively. And this is why Augustine also offers an account of a just war in the passages that follow this one, which is a war which is still wretched and miserable and violent and detestable — thatï’s important, and war should never be romanticised — but one which can nevertheless be a permissible or even necessary means to the valuable end of terrestrial peace.

So his isn’t an argument about how Christians should detach themselves completely from politics. Christ himself may have made such an argument — it’s not really clear — and the earliest Christian Fathers argued strenuously that Christians should have nothing to do with powerful secular institutions, such as the Roman state. But Augustine always set his face against Christians who counselled withdrawal from the world of affairs; he took very seriously the idea that Christ had enjoined upon the Church a mission to the world, and that Christians had to engage with the world and not withdraw into isolated communities of the virtuous in the desert (Donatism). In Augustine’s vision politics is a necessary evil. Real value lies elsewhere — in religion, in good Christian living, in following the divine commandments, and so on. But politics can’t be escaped altogether, and we shouldn’t seek to try.

I wonder what either Harriet Harman or the militants of Hizb ut-Tahrir make of that.

Cameron on Iraq

Curious about the vintage of David Cameron’s recent hawkish rhetoric when it comes to the struggle formerly known as the GWoT, I played with Google for a few minutes.

Writing in tehgrauniad on 18 February 2003 about the forthcoming vote in the House of Commons, Cameron remarked that his party’s then leader, Iain Duncan Smith had been “statesmanlike, rather than opportunistic, and given staunch support to the prime minister”. But he went on to say that while “most Tories back his view”, he described four groups who didn’t, and he aligned himself squarely with the last of these, whom he called “the confused and uncertain”.

The confused and uncertain weren’t peaceniks, Cameron stressed, but they were only “prepared to vote for war in the right circumstances”. Four circumstances were specifically mentioned in what followed. First, “there may be links between President Saddam and terrorist organisations, including al-Qaida”, although apparently the affair of the dodgy dossier was persuading some of the C and the U that there might not be. On the other hand, second, the C and the U had no doubt that “Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical warheads, and a growing arsenal of missiles with which to deliver them.” And in the third and fourth places, he thought that “many of us will not support preemptive war unless Blair can produce either compelling evidence of the direct threat to the UK, or a UN resolution giving it specific backing” but that “The signs are that he hasn’t got the first and won’t get the second”.

Roughly speaking, then, we’ve got a man who didn’t agree with everything that Iain Duncan Smith was saying (otherwise he would surely have aligned himself with his leader in this article), and who presumably (I’m guessing a bit here) largely voted for the war because he believed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Cameron’s more recent rhetoric on the SFKatGWoT is now utterly different.

So the question is, what changed? This seems to make Cameron one of the very small number of people who has got much more hawkish on SFKatGWoT programme-related activities over the last 48 months, moving from being “confused and uncertain” to, well, sounding a lot like Tony Blair. I can guess at any number of explanations, but if anyone thinks they know what the answer might be, do please write something in the Comments.

TKB

Enkidu has what seems to me to be a conventional set of cat noises: he’s got a good “miaow”, which can be made in a number of different ways, in order to express different moods. Andromache, by contrast, has a much wider repertoire of cat noises, including clicks and whirrs and a variety of things that aren’t quite honks or buzzes, but for which there aren’t really words in English, in addition to mews and miaows. Is this a boy-girl thing, or is Andromache just weird?

Here’s Enkidu, with collar-and-bandage, taking it easy a few minutes ago:

And here’s Andromache, keeping him company in his Attic exile, which is very nice of her:

Scissors, Paper, Stone

My hunch at the moment is that in a run-off before the Great British Tory Public, Cameron beats Davis, Davis beats Fox, and Fox beats Cameron.

Back in 2001, my parallel hunch was that IDS beats Clarke, Clarke beats Portillo, and Portillo beats IDS.

It may very well be that I like to construct these parallel circles more than I’ve got any kind of insight into the contest. Probably. And given the various trumpetings of Cameron in polls and the press in the last few days, I’m not sure how confident I am that Fox could beat Cameron.

But you can sort of see how the logic of all of this is supposed to work, as the various candidates neutralise one of the other’s supposed strengths: Cameron can play the telegenic youth card against Davis but not Fox; Davis can harvest the non-headbanger vote against Fox but not against Cameron; Fox can get the right-wing vote united against Cameron but not against Davis.

Which means that if I’m right, and if Cameron’s guaranteed a place in the run-off, then the only way to stop him is for Davis supporters to turn en bloc to the doc, as it were, later this afternoon. (But I’m probably not right.)

It’s marvellous entertainment.