Tuesday Elephant Blogging

Following up on the Earl of Shaftesbury’s remarks about the elephant, below, we’re told today that elephants can pass the mirror test.

It seems to me to be only a short step from there to the necessary “Genius for Architecture and Mechanicks”, and then, I’m afraid, we will be finding it “hard to dispute with him the Dominion of the Continent”.

I don’t plan to get involved in this particular dispute. I intend to live in peace with the elephant, and as far as I’m concerned he (and she) can have the D of the C (though I’d still like to be able to visit France and Italy from time to time).

The Politics of Hair

I was thinking earlier today about the politics of hair. As we know, “Let us trim our hair in accordance with Socialist lifestyle” is a recent slogan of the North Korean regime. Peter the Great campaigned against beards, while the Taliban mandated them. I’m told that the easiest way to tell a Partisan from a Chetnik in wartime Yugoslavia was by looking to see if he had a beard or not. Authoritarian institutions tend to like men to have short hair. Long-haired boys get special treatment in the Salic Law (“He who kills a long-haired boy, and it is proved against him, shall be liable to pay twenty-four thousand denarii”). There seems to be a politics of body-hair today in both gay and feminist circles these days, and so on, though I can’t say I know a great deal about where things stand these days. What other good examples have I missed, and how far back can we push the politics of hair? I probably should know about this, but I don’t think I do.

(And, dull academic bibliography question, has much been written about the politics of hair in the history of political thought, or not?)

(My goodness, a moment with Google reveals a Politics of Hair Carnival from earlier in the year, which seems to be largely about the hair of African-Americans. I’ll work my way through this as soon as I can.)

Shaftesbury Beaver Blogging

Seeing the title this post over at HM’s (it refers to the second clip) reminded me that I came across another passage the other day which can usefully join the set of beaver-blogging posts from this time last year which are assembled over here. It’s Anthony Ashley, Earl of Shaftesbury, reflecting on the animal kingdom, with a valuable reflection on the elephant as well as on the beaver:

Well it is perhaps for Mankind, that tho there are so many Animals who naturally herd for Company’s sake, and mutual Affection, there are so few who for Conveniency, and by Necessity are oblig’d to a strict Union, and kind of confederate State. The Creatures who, according to the OEconomy of their Kind, are oblig’d to make themselves Habitations of Defense against the Seasons and other Incidents; they who in some parts of the Year are depriv’d of all Subsistence, and are therefore necessitated to accumulate in another, and to provide withal for the Safety of their collected Stores, are by their Nature indeed as strictly join’d, and with as proper Affections towards their Publick and Community, as the looser Kind, of a more easy Subsistence and Support, are united in what relates merely to their Offspring, and the Propagation of their Species. Of these thorowly associating and confederate-Animals, there are none I have ever heard of, who in Bulk or Strength exceed the BEAVER. The major part of these political Animals, and Creatures of a joint Stock, are as inconsiderable as the Race of ANTS or BEES. But had Nature assign’d such an OEconomy as this to so puissant an Animal, for instance, as the ELEPHANT, and made him withal as prolifick as those smaller Creatures commonly are; it might have gone hard perhaps with Mankind: And a single Animal, who by his proper Might and Prowess has often decided the Fate of the greatest Battels which have been fought by Human Race, shou’d he have grown up into a Society, with a Genius for Architecture and Mechanicks proportionable to what we observe in those smaller Creatures; we shou’d, with all our invented Machines, have found it hard to dispute with him the Dominion of the Continent.

That’s from Shaftesbury, Characteristicks, vol.3 pp. 134-5 of the Liberty ed.

Dead Socialist Watch, #233

Pierre Henri Joseph Baume, an odd chap, born 1797, died 28 October 1875. The ODNB notes that, “During the course of the Owenite socialist agitation his distinctive appearance, considerable knowledge, ready speech, and ability to devise striking placards and proclamations made him a notable character. Many regarded him as dangerously mad, however.

Oh, and a little later in the same article, “Abstemious in the extreme, he lived at one time chiefly upon dried peas, which he carried in his pocket, and at another time upon a mixture of garden snails and cabbage.”

Laurent-Fabius-Watch: The Televised Debates

The Virtual Stoa’s Laurent Fabius Correspondent writes…

Yes, it’s two down and one to go of the televised debates between the Stoa’s man Laurent Fabius and rival éléphants Ségolène Royal and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, as their battle for the Socialist nomination for French President approaches its November dénouement. More exciting still, your correspondent’s recent computer upgrade means he can now watch the debates in their entirety on www.laurent-fabius.net.

The first debate on 17 October (available for viewing here) saw Fabius — fresh from declaring to a public meeting six days earlier that “In a few months we will have a new President of the Republic. There is a one in two chance it will be a Socialist. And an important chance that it will be me.” — announce that “I am above all a militant“, as he declared combating injustice and inequality to be his top priority. In a rare break with the UK media’s concentration on Royal alone, one contributor to Radio 4’s The World Tonight cruelly commented that Fabius came across as a grand bourgeois trying to reinvent himself as an extreme leftist.

The second debate on 24 October (available for viewing here — there is an edited transcript in the print version of today’s Le Monde, but that leaves out the all-important visual clues) was especially noteworthy for the way Fabius carried out what Libération described as a “bazooka” attack on Royal’s proposal for randomly selected citizen’s juries as dangerous populism, that he argues will play into the hands of the extreme right and undermine the principle of universal suffrage.

Also watch how Fabius’ hand gestures become ever more vigorous as he attacks Royal for going against agreed party policies with various gimmicky recent announcements. Needing no lessons in popular dissatisfaction with the system — as he reminds us, Fabius represents a workers’ constituency — he denounces Royal’s suggestion that anyone who disagrees with her ideas is out of touch with reality and thinks all is well with France. Then he takes a well-aimed swipe at Blair-style private finance initatives, ridiculing Strauss-Kahn’s apparent recent suggestion that the chair of nuclear physics at the Sorbonne could be sponsored by EDF!

Moving on, Fabius makes his own proposals for extended after-school support, full student grants (pointing out that students who work during their studies are 40% more likely to fail) and the legalisation of gay marriage and adoption. A moving story of a Congolese accountant who has lived in France for 22 years and whose wife, the mother of a French citizen, is facing deportation, on the grounds that the father could look after his son alone, bolsters Fabius’ call, contra Royal, for a large-scale regularisation of sans-papiers. “France is France, for God’s sake!”

(Le Monde’s TV critic unkindly suggests however that Fabius was laying it on a bit here: “This is always the problem with Laurent Fabius. It’s when he wants to show himself to be close to people that he seems the least sincere”.)

Fabius’ website boasts that he alone was responsible for introducing two themes into the debate which would otherwise have been excluded: public services (many hand gestures again, as he blames cuts in public services for last years’ riots) and secularism (he was the only one of the three to support the ban on religious symbols in schools). Finally, his summing up announced that a Fabius presidency would bring about urgent social measures (not to mention the relaunch of “social Europe”) as well as a shift in powers from a monarchical presidency to parliament.

The final debate, focusing on Europe and foreign policy, takes place on 7 November.

Meanwhile, those of you who enjoy the retro feel of French presidential elections (Stopped being prime minister twenty years ago? No problem) may be pleased to hear that Arlette Laguiller will indeed be standing, whatever the outcome of the tortuous discussions about a unified candidate of the “left of the left”. Along with Jean-Marie Le Pen, that makes at least two 2007 candidates who first stood for president in 1974!

The Virtual Stoa Goes To The Cinema So You Don’t Have To

The Queen: Alright, but not as good as everyone told me it would be.
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait: Pretty good. Jolly interesting.
Heading South: Good. Quite a bit better than anticipated, anyway.
The History Boys: Not very good at all.

The best thing about going to The History Boys, in fact, was the 1949 Public Information short that preceded it, Handkerchief Drill. Lots more about that kind of thing (though not about Handkerchief Drill, unfortunately) over here.

I think that deals with contemporary cinema.