Sunday, March 21, 2010

Layer 269 The LRB, Springwatch, Holy Joes, Ratso and Romero

Yesterday I received my first subscription copy of the London Review of Books, which fell on to the doormat just as I was getting ready for a long and lazy hot bath. It's a real joy to read beautifully written essays, reviews, letters and articles on subjects of real interest and importance. I was going to add, "from a left/liberal perspective", but that over-simplifies what's essentially non-aligned writing which is better characterised as fact-based truth-seeking on a kind of radical anarcho-syndicalist basis - a loose collection of independent minds communicating with a network of similar minds.

You can read it here:

This interview is brilliant:

So is this review:

But you have to be a subscriber to read all of it!

I'm now going to be a passionate convert and evangelise about a new-found fount of truth and wisdom! Everyone should subscribe to the LRB because a) this is the type of publication that should in principle be supported by people who care about literature, society, politics and the human condition, and b) for less than the price of a glass of decent wine you have the delight of hours of stimulating and satisfying reading. Even if you only read a few pages of it every month you're still quids in, and all the better for reading it. The only problem being - you could spend a small fortune buying all the books you see reviewed and advertised so temptingly.

For example:

Taming The Gods - Religion and Democracy on Three Continents - by Ian Buruma

"Buruma broaches the biggest themes in contemporary world politics in this book: what are the relations, actual and possible, between religion and democracy in a globalised world?"

"Buruma's cosmopolitan and historical perspective and his sense of complexity distinguish Taming the Gods from much other writing on religion and politics. Concrete detail, historical perspective, and practical wisdom. His major target turns out not to be the irrationality of religion but the irrationality of the political and social debate, especially in Europe, surrounding religion."


Rage and Time - A Psychopolitical Investigation - by Peter Sloterdijk

"A brilliant and conceptually rich analysis of rage on the development of Western culture."


The Nature and Future of Philosophy - by Michael Dummett

" . . . among our foremost living philosophers . . . there is no question of the importance of this book."


Women as Weapons of War - Iraq, Sex and the Media - by Kelly Oliver

"Brilliant and unforgettable . . . In these times of shame and sorrow, this book is indispensable reading."


The New Old World  by Perry Anderson

"A masterly survey of the European project, coupled with a critique of its current failings, is just what the EU needs. Firmly left-wing, his solidarity with the 'street' against the 'palace' allows him to see the modern EU for what it too often is: a 'cartel of self-protective elites.'" - Economist

"A hugely ambitious and panoramic political book." - The Guardian


The Invention of Paris   -  by Eric Hazan

"With its astonishing breadth of reference and incredible detail, this is a must for all lovers of Paris."  -  Kevin Rushby

"This book is both a political and aesthetic delight, uncovering the real mysteries of Paris."  -  Andrew Hussey



Yesterday it was raining, and mild and wet weather had taken over from cold and dry. Though we've had a couple of days last week when the sun shone and the temperature rose to 15C. The forsythia outside the kitchen window suddenly looks ready to burst into yellowness. The cherries out in the street are all budding nicely and almost ready to blossom.

Final day of the rugby 6 nations yesterday. The commentator on the Wales v Italy match said something about these two national anthems being the best ones in the 6 nations. It's true the Italian anthem's a jaunty little tune, but the Welsh? It's as much of a dirge as God Save The Queen, if not more so.

What is it with Welsh men and the singing thing? So they can hold a tune - but so what? It's a horrible sound they make. I'll make a very large bet that outside of Wales NOBODY would buy a CD of a Welsh male voice choir. Not even 0.001% of any other population. Because it's a boring drone of a sound. I'd MUCH rather listen to a Welsh female voice choir.

And why do we call them male voice choirs anyway? Surely by definition every choir uses voices? Or do the Welsh, somewhere in the valleys or down in the mines, have male fart choirs?

In any case, the Marseillaise is by a very long way the best national anthem.


Here's the Guardian's editorial on Springtime and blossom:

It has been a long and unremittingly bitter winter on all fronts: meteorlogical, financial and political

Today is the first day of spring. It is the vernal equinox, when day and night are of equal length. And even if all you have to judge it by are the flowers on sale on the garage forecourt, this is a moment which only the most miserable can ignore. Birdsong is already throbbing with testosterone. Ponds are soupy with frogspawn. And after a winter when snowdrifts were replaced on country roadsides by extraordinary masses of snowdrops, daffodils are at last coming into flower.


Holy Joes and Evil Spawn of the Devil

The Catholic child abuse scandal seems to be doing for the Catholic church what the expenses scandals have done for Parliament, and the financial scandals have done for the banks. All three institutions, which have held sway over huge numbers of people for so many years, have been completely busted, shamed and exposed as hypocrites, cheats, liars and frauds. Not only do these shoddy emperors have no clothes, as many of us have been saying for years - they are ugly criminals and abusers of decent people. Their foghorn voices can, and must, just shut the fuck up.

So NOW is the time for the 'common people' to assert their right to have governments, banks and churches serving US, and not the other way round. WE, the people, tell THEM what to do, in order to be of service to US. This is the way it should be.

Sorrow and shame over child abuse

The pope apologises for years of child abuse at the hands of Catholic priests. Surely this is the point at which the church finally lost its hold on the moral high ground and was exposed, for all to see, for its institutionalised bigotry.
Bernie Doeser
Helston, Cornwall

One issue that hasn't been discussed, to my knowledge, is the criminal law. The abuse of children by any person is an extremely serious crime. Surely it is not legal to keep such crimes within the church and not report them to the police. The abusers and their superiors should be charged with conspiracy to commit child sexual abuse and harbouring a criminal, multiplied by the known number of abusers.
Josette Coburn-Morgan
Potton, Bedfordshire

Lay Catholics once again experience deep sorrow and shame over clerical child-abuse scandals and mounting allegations of clerical cover-ups.

I'm deeply worried that it was the present pope who, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, took over control of child abuse cases in 2001 and as Ratzinger insisted that all investigations were made in secret and sent a letter out to every Catholic bishop to this effect. How can he then lament the failure of the Irish Catholic church to deal with the errant clerics because of a cover-up when he himself seems to have ordered it?
Kathryn Marooney
Abingdon, Oxfordshire

And talking of Ratzinger (or Pope Benedict as he now calls himself) sending out letters, today we read this on the Guardian website -

Pope Benedict apologises for Irish priests' child sex abuse

Pastoral letter to victims expresses shame and remorse of Catholic church and calls on priests to face justice

The pope today apologised to the victims of child sex abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland, saying he was "truly sorry" for their suffering.

In a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics, Benedict XVI castigated Irish bishops for "grave errors of judgment" in their handling of the paedophilia scandal and ordered a Vatican investigation into the Irish church.

But he made no mention of any Vatican responsibility and gave no specific punishments for bishops who have been blamed by victims and Irish government inquiries for having concealed the abuse.

The letter described the sexual and physical abuse perpetrated by priests, brothers and nuns as "sinful and criminal", saying they had betrayed the trust of the faithful, brought shame on the church and now must answer to God and civil authorities.

"I recognise how difficult it was to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice," Benedict wrote.

"Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgment were made and failures of leadership occurred. And this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness."

Victims have demanded that bishops resign. Three Irish bishops have offered to step down but the pope has not accepted their resignations.

Three official inquiries, ordered by the Irish government, documented how thousands of Irish children were raped, molested or otherwise abused by priests in their parishes, and by nuns and brothers in boarding schools and orphanages. Irish bishops did not report a single case to police until 1996 after victims began to sue the church.

Returning to the idea that the Catholic church should have some point and purpose in "those causes on which the church has proved a trenchant champion, stirring lazy consciences on the arms race, global inequality and capitalist excess" (Madeleine Bunting, Friday) - today's 'Face To Faith' column considers some interesting points -

Romero, a beacon of hope for the poor

Oscar Romero died 30 years ago. Yet he can still teach us much about good Christian values

by Christine Allen

In four days' time I will be among millions of people around the world remembering a man gunned down in El Salvador by a government-sanctioned bullet. In the early 1980s in El Salvador, a single death in an era of disappearances, repression and massacres was not remarkable. But this death was.

The murder of archbishop Oscar Romero – by a bullet to the chest as he said mass at the altar – was not just a personal attack on a man who was a thorn in the side of El Salvador's corrupt ruling elite. It was the murder of an icon: a man who was prepared to "speak truth to power"; a bishop who stood side by side with the poor and the oppressed.

Far from being a "revolutionary", Oscar Romero was a quiet, mild-mannered soul whose faith compelled him to speak out for the people who couldn't. When he took office as the archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, violence and murder were claiming the lives of 3,000 people each month. In the words of one witness: "The streets were flooded with blood."

What was an archbishop to do about such brutality? Most of the senior clergy had remained tight-lipped out of fear or out of complicity.

[This is putting it mildly. In those days the Pope actually spoke out against priests and bishops in South America who espoused "liberation theology" and who identified themselves with the poor and powerless against the rich and despotic.]

Romero quickly became a "bishop of the people", demanding answers for the mounting deaths, visiting the poorest and most oppressed in far-flung communities, and bravely speaking out against what the poor told him was happening. It was a dangerous task, and one for which he paid the ultimate price.

Romero became world-famous overnight. Over the last 30 years, he has been a guiding light for all Catholics concerned for peace and justice. Today his memory lives on. In the towns and villages of his home nation . . . masses, vigils and talks will be held to remember this man who gave his life for the poor in El Salvador.

But to remember Romero, as important as that is, is only a part of the story. His life and death also hold a prophetic message for us now and in the future. Romero calls on each of us to be transformed into good news for the poor and oppressed in our world.

Today, there are many who say that rather than walking hand in hand with the oppressed, the hierarchy of the Catholic church is too disengaged from the plight of the vulnerable and marginalised.

In principle, the church is with the poor. Take this, for example, from a statement by the Catholic bishops' conference just weeks before a general election: "Development requires that people are rescued from every form of poverty, from hunger to illiteracy … "

But, as Romero himself said, "things can't just be written on paper". His prophetic message is that it is our duty as Christians to bring these values to life. We have to act to put our principles into practice.

A young man in El Salvador told me recently: "Monsignor Romero provided a means through which social protest could be expressed. If a poor person said that beans were expensive, they were killed. No one could talk. But he could say those kinds of things.

Thirty years on from his death, Romero's life and murder is a challenge to the church and to all believers: are we prepared to actually put that power at the service of others, and to fight for justice for the world's poor and marginalised, whatever the cost to ourselves?


It's worth taking a look at the comments about this piece on CIF, providing you ignore the usual bollocks from MoveAnyMountain.



Might I direct you to the report that the US Ambassador, Robert White, made on the matter (1980)
    The major, immediate threat to the existence of this government is the right-wing violence. In the city of San Salvador, the hired thugs of the extreme-right, some of them well-trained Cuban and Nicaraguan terrorists, kill moderate-left leaders and blow up government buildings. In the countryside, elements of the security forces torture and kill the campesinos, shoot up their houses and burn their crops. At least two hundred refugees, from the countryside, arrive daily in the capital city. This campaign of terror is radicalizing the rural areas, just as surely as Somoza's National Guard did in Nicaragua.

This is from the ambassador of the country that supported the Salvadorian Government throughout the period, and of course was utterly opposed to the communist insurgency.

Later in the document he also says that for any Salvadorian government to have legitimacy they need to gain the support of Archbishop Romero.

Of course, White was dismissed by the Reagan administration who just went on blithely supporting the torturers and killers.


Think about what Hugh O'Shaughnessy wrote in a recent blog:

I wondered about why some in the Vatican held out so long against any move which would signal an end to their hatred, and I don't use that word lightly, of the late Archbishop of San Salvador, Óscar Romero. Thirty years ago next month he was assassinated while saying mass by one bullet fired at the instance of a right-wing extremist trained by the US army.

When John Paul II visited El Salvador he was perfunctory towards the shining record of martyrdom by Romero, a hero to millions, Christians and non-Christians round the world. Nor can I remember any word Rome said about the action of the western-trained forces in machine-gunning the faithful massed in their tens of thousands at Romero's funeral at the ugly concrete cathedral of San Salvador which had been his.


El Salvador was a dictatorship run by thugs who were supported blindly by the USA. The only place worse in Latin America at the time was Guatamala where full scale genocide was being perpetrated against Mayan indians in the countryside.

The vast majority of killing in El Salvador was by government forces or right wing death squads (who were often the same people). And it was directed at anyone who protested, not just supporters of the FMLN, including Romero, the American Nuns that were killed and many many more people whose only crime was to fight for human rights for the population.

To justify the torture, kidnapping and murder of tens thousands of people by the right, by blaming the left, shows complete moral bankruptcy.

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