Saturday, November 28

When animals cower in fear

I don't like animals in circuses. And I'm also not that enamoured of animals in zoos although I can understand the point of conservation and zoology. If you go into the London zoo, you can see three magnificent tigers cooped up in a tiny enclosure. Tigers who are accustomed to roaming vast ranges are hemmed inside barbed wire and fences. 

And then the cruelty to animals. I see horrendous examples in my animal charity but who wouldn't get upset looking at this poor animal feeling fear and cowering in terror? 

Tuesday, November 24

Jot101: A. J. Balfour

I have to admit Kannu that I didn't know much about Balfour. His main claim to fame for me was the Balfour declaration where it states that the government of United Kingdom looks upon with favour the establishment of a state for Jews in Palestine. Not one of our country's finest hours I'm afraid. This was done around the time of the world war 1 where we were rampantly making promises and playing around with imperialism to the nth degree. Truly horrendous behaviour. What you see in the Middle East today can be drawn directly to the stupid moronic steps we took there son. And that's why I hate foreign interventions. Look at this. Interventions a hundred years back are making my children unsafe. So by stopping interventions, I can make my great great grandchildren safe. Long term son. People don't think long term. 

Anyway, that was the history behind the Balfour declaration.  But this note actually brought the man alive. He seems to be a ferociously brilliant man with a philosophical bent. I didn't realise his intellectual powers. 

Now there's a man to emulate. Whilst I'm not going to say he's a polymath, but still to be so amazing in government, diplomacy and academics is very impressive. 

Btw you didn't tell me when you want me to pick you up son on Thursday? 



Jot101: A. J. Balfour
(via Instapaper)

A good piece from the papers of *L.R. Reeve on A.J. Balfour, as a former U.K. Prime Minister he is the highest ranking subject so far (along with Lloyd George.) As usual Reeve is good on his subject's voice and oratorical skills. Reeve's frequent presence at congresses and symposiums of 'leaders of thought' shows him as an almost Zelig-like figure...He ends on a joke, that if not true, ought to be.

Despite his deceptively ornamental appearance, the late Earl Balfour was a worker. Although his attractive manner was unperturbed and casual, he must have experienced periods of unremitting labour through many months; otherwise he could never have written so many theses and philosophical books, added to political publications, parliamentary labours, constituency engagements and university visits.

His career as a statesman, philosopher and eminent speaker, is too well known to need emphasizing in great detail, but a few outstanding phenomena regarding his life should never be forgotten.
In appearance he was probably the most aristocratic representative of his period, and was the greatest asset to the perpetuators of the class system. When in his seventieth year he was the leader of a mission to America in 1917, he was one of the most popular visitors England could have sent at any time, because he increased our prestige and disarmed criticism. I mention "perpetuators". Let me make it clear I am not suggesting that Balfour was a determined fighter to maintain the contemporary status quo. He seemed to be fully aware that in this world of fluctuations, there must be modifications of the class system, and an acknowledgement that injustices should be eliminated until the rights of all people are recognized.
At one time he was Chancellor of his old university Cambridge. At Trinity College, he was as much at home among professors and dons, as he was in the House of Commons, or a stately mansion. Due to the success of his books on philosophy and politics, he was a most respected figure in the assemblies of learned men. During this phase in his life, less is known about his perfect control of a symposium among leaders of thought. His chairmanship on these occasions was masterly; and possibly his most finished activities in the chair were shown during an international congress of Philosophy at Oxford where at one meeting there was a discussion on Relativity. There I witnessed two unexpected aspects of his personality, the first was his voice. I anticipated a drawl and a Cambridge accent, but on the contrary there was no drawl; certainly an educated, but a robust, decisive voice and manner with no vocal legacy from his university; and I expected a somewhat diffident method of control. Instead, after four days I felt he ought to write an instructive volume on "How to be a Chairman". We all remember congresses and summer schools where sessions have been spoilt by ineffective people in charge. Balfour showed that he had learned aptitudes besides statesmanship, philosophy; authorship and the art of conversation.
Possibly one minor fault during his control at this congress, was when Henri Bergson, the great French philosopher, rose from among the audience to give a short contribution of about five minutes. Bergson looked around and asked in impeccable English, "Shall I speak in English?" As nobody answered he addressed us in French. A pity, for I am sure only a minority understood his language. Balfour should have asked for our native tongue; but I wish now that I had thought to do so.
It is unnecessary to dwell too much on such an intellectually intoxicating congress, but an event on the Sunday afternoon is worthy of mention. It was during an exceedingly vigorous discussion on Morality and Religion. Was a code possible without a belief? The arguments were heated but healthy, and I was particularly interested when Welldon Carr, an extremely attractive-looking man, jumped up.
"When you ask whether Morality is possible apart from Religion I just don't know what you mean:" He quickly sat down, but from the smiles and affirmative nods Carr was probably voicing the opinion of many. When Balfour summed up he gave us his own personal view:
"Of course Morality is possible without Religion; but it would be the harvest of a very impoverished soil." I can never recall his exact words, but he also stated:
"Morality occurs when two Ultimate Ends clash. " It is clear that one cannot delve into all Lord Balfour's many triumphs during his long life, but two major events always command my greatest deference; for each successful result was a justification of his leadership in national affairs. In 1886, when his uncle Lord Salisbury, made him secretary for Ireland, the Irish Nationalists received the appointment with contempt, but before very long the contempt gradually developed into an unwilling respect for one of the most courageous statesmen of his time, who turned one of the most turbulent periods in Irish administration into stability, and defeated the Plan of Campaign. Repeatedly his courage and audacity in Ireland itself won the admiration of friend and foe alike.
The second great achievement was his leadership of the mission to America in 1917. Here a psychologist was needed and was found. Few people know that he was at one time president of the National Institute of Industrial Psychology. His knowledge of human nature was so extensive that Americans took him to their hearts and paid him the unusual compliment of inviting him to address the House of Representatives. His speech was probably faultless, for on great occasions his approach was robust, decisive and logical, and I can think of no man of his generation better able to secure regular, vital co-operation between America and Britain.
Having mentioned one presidential office, may be an opportune moment to look at one or two other major appointments. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society; he became president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science; and as for his crowning glory as Prime Minister of Great Britain he is among the immortals of modern times: such as Disraeli, Gladstone, Asquith and Lloyd George. Macmillan and Wilson are unassailable at the present time. We may know the historian's verdict on their contributions to mankind in another half-century.
An aristocratic and public school background did not prevent Balfour being a good mixer, and he did not believe that the inhabitants of castles are the only ones born to lead. With his great knowledge of philosophy how would he but respect those outstanding philosophers born of low degree from whose books he learned so much. In Trinity College alone, most of the paintings of great men who look down from the walls were born in modest homes. Newton's widowed mother kept a farm; Porson's father was a Norfolk saddler; the great Richard Bentley was self-taught; and from my slight knowledge of great continental thinkers I know many outstanding minds emerged from humble surroundings. Balfour must have quickly realized that in parliament one finds some of Britain's greatest intellects. He certainly appreciated the intelligence of one great Welshman. I trust the story is not apocryphal, for I have read that during his last illness, when informed that the end was near and asked whether he would like a visit from anyone outside the family and household, he expressed a wish to see Lloyd George. Great learning does break down the social barriers of society.
I doubt whether he knew the number of his honorary degrees, graduates' gowns and decorations, but probably he was unusually gratified to be awarded the Order of Merit; and of the many parts he played, I have heard of his captaincy of a golf club, enjoying many holes at beautiful Sheringham, Norfolk; of tennis in his seventies, and of his musical achievements.
His was a long life of varied political experiences; a life of infinite variety which encountered the vicissitudes of outrageous fortune known to most of us. He never hesitated to accept an opportunity to learn of some unusual phase of human experience. I believe it is true that on one occasion he sat with one or two acquaintances in a certain London club which was under the scrutiny of the police. Although suspicion was unwarranted, an officer and several constables entered the premises. The inspector asked one of the group.
"Who are you?"
"Home Secretary," was the unexpected response. The interrogator turned to another:
"I suppose you are the Prime Minister?"
"As a matter of fact I am," replied Mr Balfour.

* The papers of the long defunct literary agency Michael Hayes of Cromwell Road S.W.5 - parts of a manuscript memoir by one L.R. Reeve of Newton Abbot, South Devon. Mr Reeve was attempting to get the book (Among those Present: Very Exceptional People) published, but on the evidence of the unused stamp Hayes never replied and L. R. Reeve published the book himself through the esteemed vanity publisher Stockwell two years later in 1974.

L R Reeve had, in a long life, met or observed a remarkable selection of famous persons. He presents 'vignettes' of 110 persons from all grades of society (many minor or even unknown) they include Winston Churchill, Dorothy Sayers, H H Asquith, John Buchan, the cricketer Jack Hobbs, J.B. Priestley, H.G. Wells, Marconi, E.M. Forster, Duchess of Atholl, Marie Stopes, Oliver Lodge and Cecil Sharp -- 'it is unnecessary to explain that many have known have not known me. All of them I have seen, most of them I have heard, and some of them have sought information, even advice from me." Reeve states that the unifying qualification all these people have is '… some subtle emanation of personality we call leadership, and which can inspire people to actions unlikely to be undertaken unless prompted by a stronger will."

Reeve was a teacher throughout his life and deputy head of 3 London schools, headmaster of Loughborough emergency schools, ex-president of London Class Teachers Association and very early member of the British Psychological Society (55 years)... I calculate he was probably born in about 1900. His style is markedly unexciting but he has much information unavailable elsewhere.. He sent several typed manuscripts to (from the smell) the chain-smoking agent Hayes…

Monday, November 23

Thomas Mann: An Exploration of Philosophy and Practicality

I haven't read his magnum opus, buddenbrooks but I have read the magic mountain book son. And believe you me, it was tough going. The word dense comes into the picture. I think I was 20-22 when I read it and I was much more bolshie and obstinate then than now. So I struggled through it. 

But I never read about how the author felt or his connection with the books and its characters. German literature is something that I haven't really gotten deeper into son. Big fault and hole in my education there. But well we have some time :) so I'm hoping to have fun learning more about this area. 

The first book was interesting and the underlying thesis is something that we all struggle with son. What's life for? What do you do? I was quite taken by Steve jobs words when he was on his deathbed. You know what he said? Do you think he talked about iPhone design? Or Mac operating systems? Or the iPad? No. You know what he said? He said that once you have sufficient money, spend time with your friends and family. Thought provoking no? Well he can afford to say that but you do have to get sufficient money in the first instance. 

We all have to answer that question son. And another thing. The answer changes. As life goes on, and if you keep asking this question, the answer keeps on changing. You'll find people who find AN answer early in their lives and stick with it. And then there are some like your baba who are ever restless and always thinking there's an answer just beyond the mountain in front. 

May you find your answers son. I was so happy to hear the good news tempered by the fact that you're not that well. Hope you get better soon Kannu. 

Love you and look forward to seeing you on Thursday :) 


Thomas Mann: An Exploration of Philosophy and Practicality
(via Instapaper)

Thomas Mann was born into the Hanseatic ruling Mann family, a wealthy clan who held great influence over the city republic of L├╝beck, in what was then the German Empire. Mann grew up under the aegis of privilege, raised by tales of his ancestors' prosperity and the ethos of bourgeoisie practicality. The Manns, as ruling families are wont to do, were preoccupied with the maintenance of their influence, wealth, and respectability. Thus, when the 21 year-old Thomas Mann announced his plans to become a writer, his family took his artistic calling as a betrayal of his auspicious pedigree. Despite his family's protests, Mann would not abandon his vocation, and he was effectively disowned. The irony of this event, of course, is that Mann would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and earn the reputation for being the most significant scribe in German letters since Nietzsche, becoming the most revered member of the very family that spurned his artistic pursuits.

The conflict between the Mann family and Thomas placed the young man in the middle of a plangent clash of culture and philosophy. On one hand, there was the bourgeoisie pragmatism of the Mann family and the European world at large. It entailed the management of power and wealth, of creating a life that was more abundant, efficient, and comfortable. It earned its many disciples the boons of influence, land, beef, tea, firewood, and all else that made life more ostensibly pleasant. All Mann's comforts, his privileges, were indebted to the work and labors of his parentage.

While Thomas Mann appreciated the efficacy and work ethic of his family, he felt it lacking a greater purpose. To Mann, the pursuit of mere money, comfort, and influence was the recipe of a myopic life. He believed careful thought and philosophy were the necessary tools to rescue oneself from the self-centered paradigms of work and leisure, of toil and compensation, and the like. But the artist's life was not a panacea to the spiritual deficiencies of his European milieu. Mann understood, too, that as nice as they are to have, well-wrought morality and philosophy cannot pay anyone's rent.

Mann's struggle, the grand antagonism between philosophy and practicality, between the artist and the businessman, was the thematic spine of his first novel, Buddenbrooks (1901). Published when he was 26 years old, the title lends itself to the name of the noble family it follows over four generations Mann based the family on his own noble roots. The novel begins at a family feast in 1835. The patriarch of the family is Johannes Buddenbrooks, the head of a prosperous although fraudulent grain company. Here, Mann sets the stage for the ideals of laborious pragmatism and purposeful thought to begin their tug of war, one that will last the entire book.

The fate and history of the Buddenbrooks family significantly mirrors Mann's own. Much like the ruling Manns, the Buddenbrooks experience a decline in influence and prosperity as Germany industrializes and the values and hierarchies that supported them in the past no longer apply. The most prosperous Buddenbrook, Johann, thrives as his determination to succeed permits him to swindle his partners and suppliers. His progeny, like the third generation Thomas and his son, Hanno, yearn for more than the fortune of the family business. Thomas' intellectual and financial success are at odds within him. He says, "what is success? That awareness that alone by virtue of my presence I can exert pressure on the movements of life all around me." Thomas is deeply affected by the works of Schopenhauer, and Hanno is captivated by the music of Wagner. But art does not, and cannot, completely solve their spiritual emptiness. In this family saga, Mann simultaneously brings to life generations of characters and dramatizes a great cultural and psychological crisis. Mann objectively captures this paradox of life, or as critic Daniel Burt says, "the conflicting forces in human behavior and thought that give life its fullest meaning and at the same time constitute its greatest peril."

The Nobel Prize typically honors an author's entire oeuvre, but Mann's honor is somewhat anomalous. In 1929, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for "his great novel,Buddenbrooks, which has won steadily increased recognition as one of the classic works of contemporary literature." William Faulkner considered Buddenbrooks to be the best book of the century, and he enthusiastically owned an edition of the novel signed by Mann himself.

Buddenbrooks' success as a work of art is undeniable, but many readers prefer Mann's more mature effort, The Magic Mountain (1924). Called "the great philosophical novel of the 20th century" by Daniel Burt, it illustrates the culmination of Mann's ideological thought, and renders masterfully the very practice of assessing and acquiring beliefs. It has been credited as a grand example of the bildungsroman, as well as a formidable interrogator of the foundations of Western culture itself.

The novel was inspired by Mann's visit to his wife with tuberculosis. Mann caught a cold at the sanatorium where his wife was receiving treatment, and was not allowed to leave. Like his creator, the protagonist of The Magic Mountain, Hans Castorp, cannot leave the sanatorium atop the mountains of Davos. During his stay, he encounters a cast of characters who all introduce Hans to a variety of ideologies. There's the humanist Settembrini, the sensual and carnal Chauchat, the dutiful Ziemssen, and more. The characters often debate and challenge each other, letting Hans listen and take note of the strengths and weaknesses of each philosophy.

Critic Theodore Ziolkowski said that The Magic Mountain, "approaches perfection to a degree rarely achieved on such a monumental scale." Its scope of theme and thought shapes a truly dense novel, leading Mann himself to suggest that one read the book twice to better comprehend it. Much of Mann's thought in other works reaches its apotheosis in this book. Death in Venice, the novella which The Magic Mountain was originally intended to satirically complement, gives way for Mountain to elaborate on the idea of a life of ecstatic triumph over dutiful order.

Illness and death fascinate the novelist, too. Mann wrote of his book, "There are two ways to life: One is the common, direct, and brave. The other is bad, leading through death, and that is the genius way. This concept of illness and death, as a necessary passage to knowledge, health, and life, makesThe Magic Mountain into a novel of initiation." And, as in Buddenbrooks, Mann investigates further the virtues and disadvantages of the bourgeoisie and artistic life, and extends his vital thought to the subjects of political radicalism, time, music, the philosophies of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, and beyond.

The magic of The Magic Mountain is in part due to the fact that no ideology is given preference. The novel centers on Castorp's exposure to the many contradictory and beneficial ways to live and interpret the world. When Thomas Mann was asked by high school students what Castorp's fate after the novel's end was, Mann offered a fitting answer. If Castorp had survived the Great War, the author said, he would have likely remained "the learner, the listener, testing, rejecting, choosing." This is a fitting prediction for his character, as Mann has created a book which does not purport to have found any "proper" philosophy for life. Rather, Mann has presented an imaginative illustration of how a philosophy may be gained, and how one may continue to be a student of life, dedicated to its full appreciation.

Reader, specializing in Twentieth Century and contemporary fiction. Committed to spreading an infectious passion for literature, language, and stories.

The French Way of War

This made me blink. Kannu. My image of the French forces wasn't good. The dien bein phu disaster, the Algerian mess. The Vichy regime and the performance in the two world wars. Etc etc all combined to make me doubt the efficacy of the French forces. This article may be tending a bit too on the other side. But the last line was good. If they decide to hurt somebody, they will. Now that's power. Reminds me of the clint Eastwood quote, if you want to shoot - shoot. Don't talk. And then the Eisenhower quote, speak softly but carry a big stick. And hit when required. That's where power comes in. You have to use it. British fail many times in this matter. 

Still this promises to be a fascinating study of military tactics. Politically a mess, the military charge  will be fun to observe. 

Hope you get better soon son. I felt like cuddling You to me :) but you're a bit too big now :) 



The French Way of War
(via Instapaper)

France's military may suffer from a poor reputation in American popular imagination, dating from historical events like the rapid fall to Nazi Germany in World War II and the colonial-era defeat at Dien Bien Phu. This is a mistake: The French airstrikes on Islamic State positions in Syria are only the beginning of the counterattack against ISIS, as French officials themselves are promising. And as anyone familiar with France's military capabilities can attest, when it comes to war the French are among the very best.

Moreover, whatever France does probably will not look like anything the U.S. would do. There is a French way of warfare that reflects the French military's lack of resources and its modest sense of what it can achieve. They specialize in carefully apportioned and usually small but lethal operations, often behind the scenes; they can go bigger if they have help from the U.S. and other allies—which they will probably have in any case and know how to put to good use.