Saturday, November 06, 2010
The world's most politically incorrect national leader
He is indeed a phenomenon. Italy was once known for constantly changing governments but no more. Berlusconi remains in charge year after year. The article below describes him as quintessentially Italian and I see it that way too. I quite admire Italians in many ways (particularly their instinctive disrespect for authority) and I always enjoy hearing of Silvio's latest capers -- JR
The late Professor Norberto Bobbio, one of Italy's greatest postwar political thinkers, authors and legal philosophers, once described Silvio Berlusconi as the incarnation of the demagogue of ancient times: "Berlusconi, in essence, is the tyrant of the classics, the man who believes it licit to do what mere mortals only dream. The defining characteristic of the man-tyrant is the belief he 'can' everything."
Bobbio, who witnessed the rise of Mussolini and was active in the anti-Fascist resistance, died in 2004 but spent the last years of his life writing about - and fighting - the phenomenon he termed "Berlusconismo".
Today, as the Italian Prime Minister battles what appears to be the umpteenth personal sex scandal and a first, truly dangerous mutiny inside his party, the prescience of the esteemed professor's observations seems almost unearthly.
"Those who voted Forza Italia," Bobbio wrote in 1996, "did not choose policy but a person … a gentleman, always elegant, well versed in the art of attracting attention … every now and then resorting to the skills of an old clown to tell a joke … equally brilliant at evoking empathy for his role as a victim of plots and conspiracies, of betrayals, and innocent target of cruel enemies and evil allies."
Just as Bobbio pinpointed 14 years ago, Berlusconi this week chose to dismiss another round of sordid revelations and priapic adventures as a "paper storm", a product of the "obsessions" of the print media whipped up by "political enemies".
"So I am passionate about gorgeous girls … better than being gay," he joked.
He also hinted at a meeting of his party's leadership on Thursday that the Mafia might be framing him as a reprisal for recent police successes.
"No one today can rule out with certainty that certain things that are happening are not the fruits of an underworld vendetta," he said. "In what other country in the world would the head of the government have to defend himself against a barrage of made-up stories?"
But this time, the spectre of illegality - Berlusconi's intervention to secure the release from custody of a 17-year-old Moroccan dancer, Karima Keyek, and €5000 ($6993) payments for sex with a 28-year-old escort - has elicited tough criticism not just from his political enemies but from centre-right allies too.
This abuse of the power of his office - asking Milanese police to release the dancer after she was arrested for stealing €3000 from a friend - involved a lie: Berlusconi allegedly told police she was a relative of the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, and she was subsequently freed.
A former political ally, the parliamentary Speaker Gianfranco Fini, warned that if the claims were substantiated the Prime Minister should step down.
"It would indicate a nonchalance, a corruption symptomatic of the use of state office for private gain," Fini said.
Even the right-wing Northern League leader, Umberto Bossi, has criticised Berlusconi's intervention, while the front page of the Berlusconi family newspaper, Il Giornale, did the unthinkable and published critical observations by a right-wing commentator, Marcello Veneziani, who described the Prime Minister's conduct as "ugly".
And yet despite national and international derision sparked this week by the dancer's mention of "bunga bunga" (a mysterious group sex practice), Berlusconi may still have enough support to weather this storm too.
A poll taken before the latest scandal broke revealed that his People of Liberty party remains Italy's most popular.
Berlusconi's seemingly inexplicable ability to be absolved of all sins by so many voters - or indeed have them ignored - has prompted the author and commentator Beppe Severgnini to write a book explaining the phenomenon to non-Italians.
Severgnini says that wherever he travels in the world, people are mystified by the 20 year electoral success of the 74-year-old known as Il Cavaliere.
"There is a reason … In fact, there are 10," says Severgnini. First and foremost, Berlusconi appeals to the everyman.
"Mr B. adores his kids, talks about his mamma, knows his football, makes money, loves new homes, hates rules, tells jokes, swears a bit, adores women, likes to party and is convivial to a fault. He has a long memory and a knack for tactical amnesia.
"He's unconventional, but knows the importance of conforming. He extols the church in the morning, the family in the afternoon, and brings girlfriends home in the evening. [He] is great entertainment value, so he gets away with plenty. Many Italians ignore his conflicts of interest (haven't we all got 'em?), his legal issues (a defendant is easier to like than a judge) and his inappropriate remarks (he's so spontaneous!).
"What do most Italians think? 'He looks like us. He's one of us.' And the ones who don't are afraid he might be."
British Army cadets banned from carrying rifles on Remembrance Day parade because it 'glamorises' weapons
Army cadets have been left ‘bitterly disappointed’ after being banned from carrying rifles on a Remembrance Day parade - amid fears the weapons might 'upset' onlookers. The young cadets have proudly marched with rifles for decades and around 100 had spent months fine-tuning the drill where they would showcase their skills.
But the cadets were left 'gutted' just days before the big event when military top brass cut the rifles from the display following complaints from members of the public. They were warned the rifle display during the march in Plymouth, Devon, could be deemed as 'glamorising' weapons.
Basil Downing-Waite, chairman of the Federation of Plymouth and District Ex Services Associations, which organised the event, said: 'It's political correctness gone mad. I feel bitterly disappointed because it gives the young people a sense of responsibility. ‘They are delighted to do these displays.'
The Remembrance Day march is still due to go ahead, but without rifles.
A senior cadet instructor said the children had been left 'very upset' by the ruling. Police Chief Inspector Brendan Brookshaw said his son Henry and daughter Rosie were 'very disappointed' at the late change. He added: 'This week, the commanding officer for Plymouth cadets told them they couldn't do it any more because some member of the public complained about cadets marching with rifles.
'They have been doing it forever. My children have been doing rifle drill displays for the past four years and I did it when I was a cadet.'
Chief Inspector Brookshaw added that his son was one many Plymouth cadets who marched carrying rifles as part of a Freedom of the City parade in September.
But Devon Cadet Executive Officer Major David Waterworth put an end to the tradition after he ruled that carrying weapons was 'not good for the image' of cadets, who can join between the ages of 12 and 18. He said: 'There is no need for children to appear in public with weapons. It does upset some members of the public. 'There is no need for it. It doesn't reflect our aims and ethos in the Army Cadet Force. We are not soldiers.
'People say it's traditional at Remembrance parades, but there is no need to carry a weapon to remember the dead. 'I stopped it as soon as I heard they were doing it. It's not good for our image to have children carrying weapons in public. 'We are not members of the Armed Forces - we are a youth movement sponsored by the Ministry of Defence.' He added that a ruling against children carrying rifles had been in place for ten years, but had not been enforced until now.
New men are useless morons, says British TV presenter
TELEVISION host James May has hit out at a "useless" new generation of men - describing them as "morons" who do not know how to iron a shirt or put up a shelf. He believes even his laddish, testosterone-fuelled hit BBC2 show Top Gear he co-hosts does not portray men in a favourable light - and has instead turned its male presenters into "characters in a sitcom".
May, 47, predicted if men do not return to more masculine roles, women will no longer have a use for them except as sperm donors.
May, who lives with his girlfriend of 10 years, told Radio Times: "I think women are getting a bit bored with blokes being useless. "I keep reading women are better at school and now better at parking, better at navigating. We are sort of laughing at it going, 'Ho ho ho, I'm just a bloke', but really in my lifetime men only will be required to keep sperm at operating temperature and they will have no other function."
The TV presenter - whose Top Gear nickname is Captain Slow due to his driving style and tendency to get lost - has decided to lead the way for men to fight back and regain lost skills. His new series Man Lab is aimed at helping modern men relearn vital skills once cherished by their forefathers. He said: "The decline of practical skills, some of them very day-to-day, among a generation of British men is very worrying - they can't put up a shelf, wire a plug, countersink a screw, iron a shirt. "They believe it is endearing and cute to be useless whereas I think it's boring and everyone's getting sick of it."
He went on to attack Top Gear, the show which made him famous, saying it was no longer about cars and more about the trio of presenters - May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond - getting themselves into a pickle. He said: "It's really almost a sitcom now, so we are characters.
"When I started, Top Gear was a car show about cars, and I was interested in the technology but also the sociology and the artistry of them ... the shapes and the colours. "That was something I've always been into. But it's a different programme now, it's turned into something else.
"Ultimately we do know what we're talking about and we do let that be known occasionally. "Very subtly, every now and then, you think, Oh, actually, they do love their subject and they do know a bit about it.
"And when everything goes wrong and we laugh about it, sometimes it winds me up. "I think 'Oh, for God's sake, can't we do something properly that will work, not that has to catch fire or fall over?' But I think I'm probably alone on that.
"That whole culture of being moronic that kind of grew out of TV sitcoms and popular media has produced this culture of laddish blokeishness." He blamed the move away from old-fashioned masculinity partly on 'lads magazines' such as Zoo, Nuts and Loaded, and said it was a shame that traditional male hobbies were now seen as unfashionable.
He said: "There's this idea that men aren't allowed to be interested in these things as it is a bit sad or a bit weird. "But enthusiasms are good. Hobbies are healthy. They don't harm anybody. "It's the people who don't have them that end up going mad and shooting people."
Leftist misrepresentations of libertarians go right back to Herbert Spencer (1820 – 1903)
The reason Herbert Spencer has fallen from grace is largely due to the label that has been attached to him, a label that oddly enough bears Darwin's name, and that is "social Darwinist." The implication is that Spencer took Darwin's theory and applied it to social evolution in human societies.
The responsibility for the besmirching and virtual destruction of the reputation of Herbert Spencer can be laid the door of one man, the author of Social Darwinism in American Thought 1860-1915, Richard Hofstadter. His book, a hostile critique of Spencer's work, published in 1944, sold in large numbers and was very influential, especially in academic circles. It claimed that Spencer had used evolution to justify economic and social inequality, and to support a political stance of extreme conservatism, which led, amongst other things, to the eugenics movement. In simple terms, it is as if Spencer's phrase, "the survival of the fittest," had been claimed by him as the basis of a political doctrine.
But there's a problem with Hofstadter's celebrated work: His claims bear almost no resemblance to the real Herbert Spencer. In fact, as Princeton University economist Tim Leonard argues in a provocative new title "Origins of the Myth of Social Darwinism," which is forthcoming from the Journal of Economics Behavior and Organization, Hofstadter is guilty of distorting Spencer's free market views and smearing them with the taint of racist Darwinian collectivism.
And yet Hofstadter's influence remains pervasive. His view of Spencer is often repeated in academic books, as Roderick T. Long points out: Textbooks summarize Spencer in a few lines as a "Social Darwinist" who preached "might makes right" and advocated letting the poor die of starvation in order to weed out the unfit - a description unlikely to win him readers.
These comments are grossly unjust, as Long explains: "The textbook summary is absurd, of course. Far from being a proponent of "might makes right," Spencer wrote that the "desire to command is essentially a barbarous desire" because it "implies an appeal to force," which is "inconsistent with the first law of morality" and "radically wrong." While Spencer opposed tax-funded welfare programs, he strongly supported voluntary charity, and indeed devoted ten chapters of his Principles of Ethics to a discussion of the duty of "positive beneficence."
I think it is useful at this point to look at Hofstadter's background and bias. Hofstadter was born in 1916 in the United States, graduated from Buffalo University, and went on to receive his PhD from Columbia University. He joined the Communist party in 1938 and, although he became disillusioned with the Marxists, he still continued to oppose the free market, saying, "I hate capitalism and everything that goes with it." He was an historian very much in sympathy with the American Left during the New Deal era of American politics. Subsequently many left-liberal writers have quoted Hofstadter's references to Spencer without troubling to study Spencer's original work, thus perpetuating the misrepresentation.
As George H. Smith points out: " Probably no intellectual has suffered more distortion and abuse than Spencer. He is continually condemned for things he never said - indeed, he is taken to task for things he explicitly denied. The target of academic criticism is usually the mythical Spencer rather than the real Spencer; and although some critics may derive immense satisfaction from their devastating refutations of a Spencer who never existed, these treatments hinder rather than advance the cause of knowledge."
The most frequently quoted passage of Spencer's work, by Hofstadter and others wishing to smear Spencer's reputation, is: "If they are sufficiently complete to live, they do live, and it is well they should live. If they are not sufficiently complete to live, they die, and it is best they should die.
This does sound harsh, but what the Spencer-knockers fail to quote is the first sentence of the very next paragraph, which transforms its meaning: "Of course, in so far as the severity of this process is mitigated by the spontaneous sympathy of men for each other, it is proper that it should be mitigated."
Thus his argument is that the mitigation of natural selection by human benevolence trumps the benefit resulting from the death of the unfit. In other words it is better to respond to our natural sympathy and save the unfit rather than let them die. This then conveys quite a different meaning from the original sentence when quoted on its own.
It is not surprising then that since the tarnishing of Spencer's reputation (unjustly in my view), he is not regarded with the same respect as he was in his own day, and indeed is rarely studied in universities today. The most damning criticism of all is that his ideas led to the eugenics movement, which again is absolutely untrue.
As Damon W. Root explains: "Eugenics, which is based on racism, coercion, and collectivism, was alien to everything Spencer believed.
Internet sites too, often give Herbert Spencer a bad name. One website devoted to explaining evolution, and described by Richard Dawkins as "deeply impressive", names Herbert Spencer as the "father of Social Darwinism as an ethical theory." It goes on to describe the applications of Social Darwinism: "Social Darwinism was used to justify numerous exploits which we classify as of dubious moral value today. Colonialism was seen as natural and inevitable, and given justification through Social Darwinian ethics - people saw natives as being weaker and more unfit to survive, and therefore felt justified in seizing land and resources. Social Darwinism applied to military action as well; the argument went that the strongest military would win, and would therefore be the most fit. Casualties on the losing side, of course, were written off as the natural result of their unfit status. Finally it gave the ethical nod to brutal colonial governments who used oppressive tactics against their subjects."
This is what Herbert Spencer has to say about colonialism: "Moreover, colonial government, properly so called, cannot be carried on without transgressing the rights of the colonists. For if, as generally happens, the colonists are dictated to by authorities sent out from the mother country, then the law of equal freedom is broken in their persons, as much as by any other kind of autocratic rule." It is clear from this statement that Spencer is opposed to colonialism.
Despite the fact that in Herbert Spencer's day the term libertarian did not exist, I think Spencer can be classified as an early spokesperson and visionary of the libertarian movement - or, to use Roderick T. Long's expression, he can be described as a "Libertarian Prophet." I believe that Spencer not only expressed libertarian ideas succinctly but also presented a libertarian vision for the future. I will give some examples.
In ethics Spencer derived a "law of equal Freedom," which states that: "every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man.
This is pure libertarianism. Roderick T. Long elaborates: "Spencer proceeded to deduce, from the Law of Equal Freedom, the existence of rights to freedom of speech, press, and religion; bodily integrity; private property; and commercial exchange - virtually the entire policy menu of today's libertarians."
Much more HERE
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.