Friday, October 23, 2015
A new Liberty Hall
"This is Liberty Hall" was once a popular way for a host to put his guests at ease and encourage them to behave naturally. It seems to have fallen out of use in recent decades, however, which is slightly odd, considering the rise of libertarianism in those same decades. Being an old guy, I still use the expression, however. Was there ever an actual Liberty Hall, I wonder? There are around the globe a lot of buildings named that but I can find no claim for original ownership of the name
When Alan Bennett's wary headmaster character declares: "I am all in favour of free expression, provided it's kept rigidly under control," he articulates a central paradox in our approach to artistic liberty. We are proud to champion it but worry endlessly about the rights of different groups, about policing and enforcing.
At Dalkey Archive Press, the leading publisher of literature in translation, they are used to struggling against both tacit and open artistic suppression. But recently it has joined something bigger and even more ambitious: London's "Free Word Centre". From this month, 60 Farringdon Road houses the new charity and nine other charitable organisations from the sectors of literature, literacy and free expression, such as Index on Censorship, Article l9, English PEN, the Reading Agency, the Literary Consultancy and Booktrust.
The FWC is more than the sum of its parts — and this is more than the usual rhetoric. It also provides Concept Lab, a forum for testing risky new ideas. It has a lecture hall, meeting rooms and hot desks, and invites all comers to partake at whatever level they prefer. Above all, the FWC is unique in bringing together organisations across literature, literacy and free expression, to collaborate with each other and partners around the world. Britain is the first country to create a centre that specifically works on literature and its international and political context. Ursula Owen, the project director who brought the idea of the centre to realisation, insists that politics should not be a dirty word but, on the contrary, that it is "absolutely essential" we make this connection.
The idea of such a centre was born at a 2004 meeting held by Arts Council England. Its London head of literature, Nick McDowell, pointed out the "glaring omission" of "a centre dedicated to literature and free expression" in London, a city in every other way a world capital of culture. Where indeed would your London taxi take you if you were looking not for dance or visual art but for literature?
In 2007, Fritt Ord ("Free Word"), a distinguished Norwegian foundation with its origins in a newsstand company, agreed to buy 60 Farringdon Road for Free Word. Its primary aim is to support freedom of expression and open, informed public debate, concepts which are highly valued in Norway [as long as you don't disrespect Islam]. Erik Rudeng, Fritt Ord's director, explains: "We regard the London free expression organisations as pioneering, leading European players, and London as the most diverse metropolis, where controversies, reconciliations and other activities concerning freedom of expression are most intense."
The director of Free Word, Shreela Ghosh, says that freedom of speech and the plurality of speaking voices form a measure of a society's health. She is clear that protecting and promoting free expression does not entail protecting English. Rather, voices in every tongue should be heard — a good thing for our Norwegian partners. Although they do speak excellent English.
Twitter trolls call for boycott of new Star Wars film using #BoycottStarWarsVII because it is 'anti-white' and 'alienates core audience of young white males'
There is a lot of pressure for "diversity" in plays and movies these days so it is reasonable to see tokenism at work
A group of racist internet trolls have called for a boycott of the upcoming Star Wars film because it is 'anti-white', just hours after the release of the movie's final teaser trailer.
Using the hashtag #BoycottStarWarsVII, they claim the highly anticipated movie is a 'social justice propaganda piece' and 'PC anti-white diversity c***.'
But Twitter users have swiftly reclaimed the tag - pointing out the original series, and the follow up trilogy, also contain black characters.
The film features black British actor John Boyega as one its main protagonists. In the few clips of the film released so far, he is seen wearing a stormtrooper uniform but is also a Jedi.
The hashtag started trending after the poster and final teaser trailer were released for the latest installment of the film - featuring some old-timers and a few interesting new details.
Among the claims made by the trolls were accusations it should be boycotted because it was 'nothing more than a social justice propaganda piece that alienates it's core audience of young white males'.
A second person tweeted: 'While children deserve wholesome movies, not more PC anti-white diversity crap.'
However, as soon as it began trending, hundreds of supporters of the new film re-appropriated the hashtag.
Describing the trolls' claims as 'stupidity', they astutely pointed out that the past two trilogies in the film series have featured multiple black actors.
Throughout the entirety of the first trilogy, villain Darth Vader was voiced by James Earl Jones, while the second and third films introduced Lando Calrissian, played by Billy Dee Williams.
And in the second trilogy, the Jedi Master Mace Windu was played by Samuel L. Jackson, and bounty hunter Jango Fett was portrayed by Temuera Morrison.
The calls for a boycott appear to have been a response to the release of the final trailer for the film, which also marked the first appearance of Carrie Fisher, who returns as Princess Leia.
Notably absent in the new footage is Luke Skywalker as three new characters - Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron - dominate the poster.
Geert Wilders launches Australia's 'first freedom party' (and it's anti-Islam)
Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders has launched an anti-Islam party in Perth, claiming it is Australia's "first freedom party".
The Dutch politician said on Wednesday that the Australian Liberty Alliance (ALA) provided hope in its commitment to "stop the Islamisation of Australia".
"At the end of the day it's all worth it as we have the truth on our side," Mr Wilders said, amid a loud protest.
He said his supporters in Holland were concerned citizens and "not extremists, they are not bigots".
'A totalitarian ideology'
The new party has been inspired by the Mr Wilders-led Party for Freedom which is currently polling strongly and holds seats in the Dutch parliament.
The Australian party's "manifesto" has detailed policies on several issues, such as support for privatising the SBS and "non-core" sections of the ABC; however it is its anti-Islam policies that dominate its political ideology.
Its manifesto reads: "Islam is not merely a religion, it is a totalitarian ideology with global aspirations. Islam uses the religious element as a means to project itself onto non-Islamic societies, which is manifest in the historical and ongoing expansion of Islam."
Mr Wilders noted that "like minded parties" were having great success in Austria, Sweden, France and Switzerland. Heated debate over immigration policies in Europe appears to have resulted in increased support for some of the far-right parties.
The ALA is preparing to run several candidates in the next federal election.
Mr Wilders, who travels with heavy security protection, was the main speaker at the launch of the ALA conference held at a secret location in Perth on Tuesday night. Supporters met in Perth city before getting on a bus, organised by the ALA, to be taken to the event.
"Everywhere in Europe, the people, not the political elite, not the governments, but the people are saying enough is enough, let us reclaim our country," Mr Wilders said on Tuesday night.
"Stop the mass immigration from Islamic countries. No more, we say no more to the governments and the Islamisation process."
The prominent Dutch politician said he was pleased to be at the "birth" of the country's "first freedom party".
A new book about my favorite Italian
His political incorrectness is legendary and Italians have always been forgiving of his peccadilloes
With a broad smile, Silvio Berlusconi greets the handsome international football star. ‘Hey, when are you going to introduce me to your wife?’ he asks. ‘Everyone says that she is the most beautiful girl. I’d love to meet her.’
Given the reputation of the Italian billionaire and three-time prime minister of his country as an unbridled playboy with a ravenous appetite for gorgeous women, it is a loaded question.
No wonder the young player looks startled. Berlusconi protests his innocence. ‘Just to see her,’ he says. ‘I’m so old I can’t do anything any more . . .’ But the sexual innuendo is clear, and it makes the flesh creep.
The encounter, revealed in a new biography of Italy’s Lothario-in-chief, took place at the training ground of mighty AC Milan, the football club Berlusconi owns (with the property and media empires that make him the 141st-richest man in the world, according to Forbes magazine, with a net worth of $8 billion).
He has swept in by helicopter and with typical arrogance is instructing his soccer superstars — every one of them an international and a household name — how to play the game. They must attack more and, by the way, here’s a personal tip for you from me on how to take corners. It’s then that he turns from football to his other great love — women — and asks Sulley Muntari, a powerful midfielder from Ghana, who also played for Portsmouth and Sunderland, about his wife.
Berlusconi, the nudge-nudge, wink-wink dirty old man of Europe, can’t seem to stop himself.
Approaching 80, he has led a phenomenal life. From almost nothing, he built a vast property business in Italy and a media conglomerate of television channels.
He then went into politics, launched his own party and within months was Italy’s prime minister, a position he held for a record-breaking total of more than ten years over three terms.
On the world stage he shared the top table with international power brokers Bush, Blair, Sarkozy and Merkel. He was close friends with Colonel Gaddafi of Libya — and still is with Vladimir Putin. Yet he can never throw off the stench of sleaze, which exploded into massive headlines in 2010. In what was known with a worldwide snigger as the Bunga-Bunga scandal (a euphemism for unbridled copulation), he was accused of taking part in orgies and having sex with an under-age prostitute known as Ruby.
The Italian Press pounced, describing in lurid detail allegations of sado-masochism and girls dressed as nuns and nurses doing lap dances.
There were stories of lavish presents showered on dozens of wannabe starlets and models who attended his parties and allegations that he kept a harem of 33 young girls housed in an apartment block that was part of his property empire.
As soon as the story broke, he found himself ridiculed. ‘Bunga-Bunga’ bars opened from Moscow to Manchester and Berlin to Bali. Everyone joined in the joke. David Cameron left Downing Street for a meeting with Berlusconi and apparently reassured his wife: ‘Don’t worry, Samantha, I’ll get someone to pull me out of the Jacuzzi before the whores turn up.’
Berlusconi dismissed the whole business with self-deprecating humour. ‘Though I’m definitely naughty, the idea of 33 girls in two months seems a bit much!’ he said.
It was the sort of quip he can’t help himself from making. On marital fidelity, he once said with a smirk: ‘I am not a saint. I have been faithful frequently.’ His detractors inevitably took from that aside what they wanted to hear — that he was a serial philanderer who played around and enjoyed every minute of it.
But now he has been given free reign to tell his side of the story in a major new biography by American journalist Alan Friedman, in which the old rogue affords intriguing insights into his private world and defiantly insists: ‘I don’t feel guilty about anything.’
So WHAT is the truth about this most maverick of statesmen — and is his love life really as colourful as has been claimed?
In this regard, Berlusconi would like to set one thing straight: he insists he’s always been the chased rather than the chaser. ‘When I was a teenager, my mother always used to say I was the most handsome guy on the beach. I sang, I played the guitar and I excelled in sports and so I was really attractive to the girls,’ he says.
‘In truth, I would say I was often the one who was seduced rather than being the guy who did the seducing.’
Indeed, he insists that he is actually a lot less exciting than people might think. ‘I have always been pretty much a workaholic . . . I have not devoted much of my life to the pursuit and seduction of the gentler sex.’
Rather, he’s been a husband and father. ‘I have had an orderly life. I was always a family man, trying to dedicate my free time to my kids. These other stories about me are just fantasies to damage me as a public figure.’
His wives may be forgiven for a rather different view.
First, there was quiet and assuming Carla, the hometown girl he glimpsed at a distance in the street when he was just starting up in business, followed home and whisked off her feet. He was 24 and she was 20. She lasted the best part of 20 years, until he threw himself into the open arms of an actress named Veronica Lario.
When he first saw Veronica she was on stage in a theatre he had just bought. At one point in the play she lowered her top and revealed her breasts. Berlusconi rushed backstage to her dressing room with a bouquet of roses and romanced her straight into a relationship.
They married in 1990 and she kept a very low profile for many years, bringing up their children, until in 2007, Berlusconi was shown on TV flirting outrageously at a star-studded party filled with models, showgirls, actresses and dancers and telling a shapely Venezuelan model that he would go anywhere to be with her.
Veronica went public with her hurt and thereafter took to hounding him in the Press. One particular salvo concerned an 18-year-old lingerie model he was seen with at a party and who called him by the affectionate nickname of ‘Papi’.
The wronged Veronica’s response was a Press release that stated: ‘I cannot stay with a man who frequents minors. I’m bringing down the curtain on my married life.’ Which she did.
Berlusconi is now dating 29-year-old Francesca Pascale, a stunning brunette half a century his junior — proof that he can still charm the birds out of the trees.
That charm was the secret of his meteoric rise in business and in politics. And here, he admits, he was ‘a natural-born seducer . . . I always succeed in establishing a personal rapport, a feeling, a chemistry. This is how I achieve my goals.’
When he set up Forza Italia as a Centre-Right, free-market party to challenge the Left, he kissed babies, schmoozed voters, pledged lower taxes, promised the earth.
He was a relentless entertainer putting on a good show — a skill learned as a young man whose first job was as a cruise ship crooner, singing his heart out in a natty jacket and straw boater.
During his summer holidays at university (where he read law), he entertained blue-rinsed grannies and honeymooning newlyweds on board ship. ‘I played in the five-man orchestra and sang while the passengers danced,’ he says. ‘But from midnight until 3am I was on my own as Une Voix et Une Guitare (One Voice and One Guitar). That was me!’
Sinatra was a favourite of his, and still is. An apt choice, for like Ol’ Blue Eyes, Berlusconi has faced accusations of links with organised crime. When mention of the Mafia is made, Friedman notices ‘the slightest hint of discomfort’ at the line of questioning.
Why did he hire a man later convicted as a Mafia killer and drug trafficker as his country estate manager? Berlusconi denies knowing of the connection. Where did he get the capital to launch his many businesses?
These issues have been endlessly investigated and ‘nothing irregular has ever been turned up,’ he insists, falling back on his favourite argument — that he has been targeted over many decades by judges, prosecutors and militant magistrates determined to get him. They have spied on him, wire-tapping his homes and his friends, he declares, incensed at the violation of privacy.
The Bunga-Bunga case, he notes, is one of 61 trials he has had to go through in the past 20 years.
His outrage, however, has to be balanced against the questions that still hang in the air. How come, for example, that the first member of Italy’s tax police to investigate him found nothing and then left the police to work for Berlusconi?
‘I liked him,’ says Berlusconi and dismisses any suspicion as ‘far away from reality and absolutely false’.
What, then, of the fact that his various governments introduced laws that seemed tailor-made to suit his personal legal problems? One decriminalised the charge of false accounting, another allowed the prime minister and other top officials to avoid court appearances because of their busy schedules and high office.
This, too, is dismissed with a laugh: ‘Complete and utter nonsense.’ But the suspicion remains.
For many years, he saw off what he calls his ‘persecutors’ (though at vast cost in legal expenses), but there have been numerous close shaves.
Which bring us back to Bunga-Bunga. Faced with charges of having sex with an under-age prostitute and for abuse of office relating to her release from detention, Berlusconi was found guilty, sentenced to seven years in prison and banned from public office for life. He looked a goner.
But he appealed and, after three years, the conviction was quashed on the grounds that he could not have known the exact age of Ruby at the time, and the courts had been unable to prove they had ever had sex.
He was off the hook, but only for a while. The tenacious Milan prosecutors have upped the ante and are now claiming that Berlusconi bribed dozens of girls to commit perjury on his behalf.
His reply is that he paid them as an act of generosity and not a payment for any ulterior motives. That issue has yet to be resolved.
But a conviction for tax fraud has stuck, and only the fact that he is over 70 kept him out prison. For a year he had to live at his sumptuous 70-room Villa San Martino in a semi-curfew and semi-imprisonment, his passport confiscated, doing community service in a home for Alzheimer’s patients as recompense.
He has been thrown out of the Italian senate and been banned from public office until 2019. The verdict was a bitter blow to his psyche from which, says Friedman, he has not fully recovered.
Yet still the Great Survivor is not giving up, but plotting his latest political comeback. Friedman is a spectator at San Martino as he talks electoral politics and the resurgence of Forza Italia with members of his inner team, his so-called Magic Circle, at the centre of which is Pascale, his girlfriend.
The Italian Press see her as the villain, manipulating Berlusconi, isolating him from the world, doing irreparable damage to him with her inexperience, bad judgment and ambition.
This doesn’t ring true to Friedman. Those who know Berlusconi even a little, he says, recognise it is not easy to manipulate him. In the autumn of his years, he is still most definitely the boss.
His Bunga-Bunga days may be finished, but we haven’t heard the last from Silvio Berlusconi, the natural born seducer.
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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.