Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
A Rob on A picture of a book about pictures
MyDroneChoice on UPS drones and drone vans
Brian Micklethwait on … but there were some cute lighting effects
AndrewZ on … but there were some cute lighting effects
Brian Micklethwait on Eastern towers
Alastair on Eastern towers
6000 on Anti-BREXIT demo signs
charles on Longer life would make most of us (certainly me) more energetic and ambitious
6000 on And in Other creatures news ...
Chris Cooper on Longer life would make most of us (certainly me) more energetic and ambitious
Most recent entries
- Mr Ed has some metaphorical fun
- A picture of a book about pictures
- To Tottenham (8): Zooming in on some Big Things
- Playing golf versus following cricket
- Quota bicycles
- Another Capital Golf car
- Battersea Power Station then and now and soon
- Timing shits instead of forcing them
- Lincoln Paine shifts the emphasis from land to water (with a very big book)
- Classic cars in Lower Marsh
- Stabat Mater at St Stephen’s Gloucester Road
- A selfie being taken a decade ago
- Gloucester Road with evening sun
- Lea River footbridge
- “Yeah, no …”
Other Blogs I write for
6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adventures in Capitalism
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Another Food Blog
Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
Armed and Dangerous
Art Of The State Blog
Boatang & Demetriou
Burning Our Money
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
China Law Blog
Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog
Coffee & Complexity
Communities Dominate Brands
Confused of Calcutta
Conservative Party Reptile
Counting Cats in Zanzibar
Deleted by tomorrow
Don't Hold Your Breath
Douglas Carswell Blog
Dr Robert Lefever
Englands Freedome, Souldiers Rights
Everything I Say is Right
Fat Man on a Keyboard
Ferraris for all
Freedom and Whisky
From The Barrel of a Gun
Gates of Vienna
Global Warming Politics
Greg Mankiw's Blog
Guido Fawkes' blog
Here Comes Everybody
Hit & Run
House of Dumb
Iain Dale's Diary
Jeffrey Archer's Official Blog
Jessica Duchen's classical music blog
Laissez Faire Books
Last of the Few
Libertarian Alliance: Blog
Liberty Dad - a World Without Dictators
Lib on the United Kingdom
Little Man, What Now?
Loic Le Meur Blog
L'Ombre de l'Olivier
London Daily Photo
Metamagician and the Hellfire Club
Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal
More Than Mind Games
Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism
My Boyfriend Is A Twat
My Other Stuff
Nation of Shopkeepers
Never Trust a Hippy
Non Diet Weight Loss
Nurses for Reform blog
Obnoxio The Clown
On an Overgrown Path
One Man & His Blog
Owlthoughts of a peripatetic pedant
Oxford Libertarian Society /blog
Patri's Peripatetic Peregrinations
Police Inspector Blog
Private Sector Development blog
Remember I'm the Bloody Architect
Setting The World To Rights
SimonHewittJones.com The Violin Blog
Sky Watching My World
Social Affairs Unit
Squander Two Blog
Stuff White People Like
Stumbling and Mumbling
Technology Liberation Front
The Adam Smith Institute Blog
The Becker-Posner Blog
The Belgravia Dispatch
The Belmont Club
The Big Blog Company
The Big Picture
the blog of dave cole
The Corridor of Uncertainty (a Cricket blog)
The Daily Ablution
The Devil's Advocate
The Devil's Kitchen
The Dissident Frogman
The Distributed Republic
The Early Days of a Better Nation
The Examined Life
The Fly Bottle
The Freeway to Serfdom
The Future of Music
The Happiness Project
The Jarndyce Blog
The London Fog
The Long Tail
The Lumber Room
The Online Photographer
The Only Winning Move
The Policeman's Blog
The Road to Surfdom
The Wedding Photography Blog
The Welfare State We're In
UK Commentators - Laban Tall's Blog
UK Libertarian Party
Violins and Starships
we make money not art
What Do I Know?
What's Up With That?
Where the grass is greener
White Sun of the Desert
Why Evolution Is True
Your Freedom and Ours
Arts & Letters Daily
Bjørn Stærk's homepage
Butterflies and Wheels
Dark Roasted Blend
Digital Photography Review
Ghana Centre for Democratic Reform
Global Warming and the Climate
History According to Bob
Institut économique Molinari
Institute of Economic Affairs
Ludwig von Mises Institute
Oxford Libertarian Society
The Christopher Hitchens Web
The Space Review
The TaxPayers' Alliance
This is Local London
UK Libertarian Party
Victor Davis Hanson
WSJ.com Opinion Journal
Bits from books
Bloggers and blogging
Brian Micklethwait podcasts
Cats and kittens
Food and drink
How the mind works
Media and journalism
Middle East and Islam
My blog ruins
Signs and notices
The Micklethwait Clock
This and that
Category archive: Crime
A friend, one who evidently drops by here from time to time, recently noted that I am spending a lot of time in East London. Indeed I am.
Given that what interests me is places that are changing, and all the cranes and commotion associated with all the change, and then what they finally turn into, this map, of London “skyscrapers” in the pipeline, explains why:
I found that map in this report.
The reason I say “skyscrapers”, instead of just saying skyscrapers, is because I doubt whether all these … “skyscrapers” will really be of the sky scraping sort. I suspect they’ll just be rather tall. More like tower “blocks”, I suspect, most of them. Or maybe something between a block and a true skyscraper. Well, we shall see.
More interesting, to me, is that obvious hot spot there, in Tower Hamlets. There is a London borough that is really living up to its name. Just now, Tower Hamlets is also famous for being a hot spot of local government corruption. There is a lot of news coverage of how former Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman was bullying people to vote for him, than there is concerning mere money grubbing. But you can’t help wondering if all those planning permissions were somehow a part of this story.
I remember, when I was a teenager, travelling through Croydon on a bike trip I was making around London, to get a ferry to Scandinavia. (Ah how I wish there had been digital cameras then!) And the thing was, Croydon was then a brand new tower cluster. I was amazed, as it came into view over the brow of a hill. It was the nearest thing I had ever then seen to Manhattan, in this then green and cautious land. And a year or two later, a whole bunch of Croydon councillors found themselves in jail. I remember thinking then that if crooked councillors are what it takes for a decent cluster of towers to get built, then I’m for it.
It stands to reason that planning permission is going to go to the highest (in both senses) bidder, from time to time.
On the other hand, it could just be that the whole of London wants lots of towers in that part of town. Greenwich is also heavily involved in that hot spot, and I am not aware of any above average degree of corruption there. Comments from people better informed about such things than I am would be very welcome.
Throughout my decades of living in London (about four of them so far) I have been feeling the centre of gravity o
You don’t have to believe that animals either have or should have rights to realise that people who are gratuitously cruel to animals are likely to be more cruel than usual to their fellow humans. But what of fake cruelty to fake animals leading to real cruelty to real creatures, animal or human? I imagine there is some kind of correlation there too, although my googling skills fell short of finding an appropriate link to piece demonstrating that.
Being cruel to a fake animal that another human loves is clearly very cruel, to the human.
As was, I think, this demonstration of fake cruelty that recently hit the internet. That link is not for those who are squeamish about beheaded teddy bears.
And what of people who are nice to fake animals?
Here is a picture I took in my favourite London shop, Gramex in Lower Marsh, in which there currently resides a teddy bear who was recently rescued from sleeping rough, by Gramex proprietor Roger Hewland:
If you consequently suspect that Roger Hewland is a kind man, your suspicion would be entirely correct. I agree with you that kindness to fake animals and kindness to real people are probably also correlated.
I sometimes drop into Gramex just to use the toilet. Never has the expression “spend a penny” been less appropriate.
Last night I was at the Institute of Economic Affairs for the launch of James Tooley’s remarkable book, Imprisoned in India: Corruption and Extortion in the World’s Largest Democracy.
Here are a few of the photos I took of him, talking about this book:
James Tooley is the guy who roams the earth, seeking out freelance educational enterprises, and also setting up several of his own. But then, he fell foul of India’s criminal justice bureaucracy, and got imprisoned for a while. Scary. And then he wrote a book about it. I have only read the bit at the end, because I wanted to know that James Tooley was okay. I of course intend to read the rest, and then do my bit to plug it.
Judging by last night’s performance, James is fine. But he is also haunted by the knowledge that many other victims of the same corrupt system are not as lucky, if that’s the word, as he was.
Both were effusive about the book, more than they had to be, if you get my drift.
The Q and A focussed, inevitably, on what is to be done, about the vast scale of the corruption in India. The mood of the room, although packed, was grim. My feeling is: you start by telling the story. You start by writing books like this one.
And the rest of us start by reading them.
I’m half way through another photo-posting but it’s taking too long, so here in the meantime is a link to a Trump victory piece I did this morning, at stupid o’clock, a time of day I rather like the sound of.
I like a Rob Fisher comment at Samizdata, attached to this posting, about the anti-Trump Twitter-rage that is now in full broil:
It’s certainly hilarious on Twitter already. They’ve created a caricature monster in their heads and they believe it and they’re wetting the bed over it 140 characters at a time.
Next step for these bed wetters, scour America for hate criminals, who think that they’re entitled now that Trump has won. And they’ll find a few.
What the bed-wetting scourers won’t understand is that they will have helped to cause such hate crimes. If you say that a Trump victory is a victory for racism, and then Trump wins, you are telling the racists that they have won, and can now ramp up their racism, without any longer being punished. I’m not just saying this for the sake of an amusing blog posting, This will actually happen. It probably already is happening.
See also: Brexit.
LATER: A collector’s item.
The other day (which is an expression that strikes me as very odd – I mean: either yesterday or the day before yesterday), I was sitting on my toilet and, not having brought a current book with, I took a look at one of the Rebus books, The Naming of the Dead. All my already read Rebuses are gathered there. Immediately I was hooked, and since then, I have continued reading.
The thing is, I have already read this book. I have read all the Rebuses, except the latest, which hasn’t yet emerged in paperback. But, I have absolutely no idea what will happen in the rest of The Naming of the Dead, apart from that it involves a serial killer on the loose, which I got from the blurb on the back.
This is one of those bonuses of getting old. It’s not worth all the drawbacks of getting old, but it is a bonus. You can reread books which depend for their effect on you not knowing what will happen next, because if you read the book about, I don’t know, five years ago, you probably don’t know what will happen next.
And when I have finished The Naming of the Dead, there will then be all the other Rebuses. For me, one of the most important ingredients of contentment is to have a book on the go that I really am keen to read.
In this case police cyclists, photoed by me in Waterloo Road last Tuesday, after I had descended from the top of the Tate Modern Extension:
I am not showing you this photo for artistic impression, strictly for its content. At the time I just thought I was photoing police on bikes, which is about as common as police on horses. But while I took the photo, I heard a voice next to me say something like: “There go the police, ignoring the red lights.” And they were, as is evidenced by the green light telling us pedestrians that we could cross. At the time I also thought: did I get the green light? Yes I did. And I don’t think that the lady on the other side of the road is that impressed either.
Also, the policeman on the right is holding a mobile phone in his right hand, which is the kind of behaviour that the police are cracking down on when anyone else does it.
A few years back, cyclists behaved like the law didn’t apply to them, which presumably it didn’t, in the sense that nobody applied it to them. Cyclists would grab all the rights and privileges of motorists and of pedestrians, switching from one to the other whenever they felt like it, doing such things as biking past you at speed, on the pavement. But then, in London anyway, somebody did apply the law to them. My experience is that cyclists now behave much better than they used to.
But these police cyclists don’t seem to have got that memo.
I’ve been suffering from something a lot like hay fever. Yesterday, the doctor gave me some anti-hay-fever spray to spray it with, up my nose, which I hate. My symptoms are: aches and pains that wander around all over the left side of my head. I knew you’d be excited.
But, from the same doctor who wants me to spray chemical effluent up my nose I learned that if you get something stuck in your throat, which is what set all this off, they recommend: coca cola. I did not know that. So last night, when I went out for drinks, someone offered me a drink, and I though, no I’ve had enough (what with the headaches and so forth), but then I thought: yes, get me a coca cola. Apparently it clears out stuff in your throat by dissolving it. How come it doesn’t dissolve your entire mouth? (Maybe it does.) But whatever, it felt like it worked, and I’m drinking more coke now.
Last night, at that drinks gathering, I heard something else diverting.
We were having a coolness competition. What’s the coolest thing you’ve done lately? That kind of thing. I contributed the fact that my niece is about to become the published author of a work of crime fiction, which is not bad, and which I will surely be saying more about when this book materialises. It will be published by a real publisher, with an office in London and a name you’ve heard of, which intends to make money from the book and thinks it might. More about that when I get to read it. I usually promise nothing but I do promise that, here or somewhere I’ll link to from here. It would be a lot cooler if it was me who had accomplished this myself, but it is pretty cool even from a moderately close relative.
But another friend from way back whom I hadn’t seen for years trumped this, with something which in my opinion made him the winner, not least because he did the thing in question himself.
Remember the Concorde crash in Paris, back whenever it was, just before 9/11. And remember how the other Concordes all got grounded for ever after that crash. What you may not recall quite so clearly is that the other Concordes were not grounded for ever immediately after the crash. That only happened a few weeks later. And my friend told us that he took a trip on Concorde, on the day after the Concorde crash. How cool is that? Very, I would say. There were many cancellations, apparently, but he was made of sterner stuff, which is all part of what made it so cool.
I know, a bit of a ramble. It comes of me being somewhat ill. Illnesses can be cool, I suppose. But this one, which is just uncomfortable enough to be uncomfortable, but which hasn’t actually stopped me from doing things, merely from doing them energetically and enthusiastically, definitely isn’t cool.
Indeed, with cranes and with intervening roof clutter in the foreground:
One of the oddities of the internet is that if you google new us embassy london, you get lots of Big Boxy Things, all looking different from each other. By which I mean, it’s the same box, but the architectural wrapping is different. Basically what you are looking at is all the different guesses or early suggestions about how it was going to look or how people thought it ought to look, which then just hang about for the next few years. Until such time as the Big Boxy Thing is finished, at which point huge numbers of new photos of it will drown out the guesses and the failed propaganda. This makes it hard to know, now, when the Big Boxy Thing is still being constructed, if what you are seeing is the Big Boxy Thing in question, or some other Big Boxy Thing.
But, in among all the imaginings, I found actual photos of the new Embassy as it actually is, in the process of being built, and the above photo is definitely of the actual US Embassy. No doubt about it. More views from the same spot, above my head as I write this, here.
What is happening is that Spook Alley, which starts near Waterloo Station, continues via all those James Bond enterprises in anonymous Big Boxy Things, and then takes in the new MI6 building, is now being added to with an American strip of boxes of comparable scale, further up the river on the south side. This is the Special Relationship in steel and concrete form, and the idea that this relationship is now cooling is visibly absurd. It has never been more solid. A whole new district of London is being created, basically for spying on terrorists, and on anyone else that the spooks take against.
As the rest of London expands down river, towards places like the new Container Port way off to the east, governmental London moves in the other direction, up river, west.
I am in the town of Thuir, near Perpignan, for a few days. Last night, in fading but still fabulous light, looking for more amusing sights. I was not disappointed.
I’m guessing that the thinking here is that nicking a crane, or even getting inside a crane, is quite an operation, what with cranes being rigged so they’re unenterable if you are not the designated owner. But, nicking a cement mixer is just a matter of lifting it onto your vehicle. So, here is how you protect your cement mixer when you go home at night:
Cranes. Is there anything they can’t do?
Typing text is a struggle in Thuir, because in Thuir, they have slightly different keyboards to what I am used to. But photos, which in Thuir need different software to work, are also a struggle. So, blogging here for the next few days will probably (I promise nothing), as always here, be light and perfunctory, the difference being that here I have an excuse.
And I do mean eagles. Yes, it’s more fun and games from dezeen:
London’s Metropolitan Police force is considering using trained eagles to grab drones from the sky following a rise in unmanned aircraft crime ...
Next step, the drones will start shooting at the eagles.
Jemima Parry-Jones, director of the International Centre of Birds of Prey in Gloucestershire, told the BBC she thinks the idea is a “gimmick”.
Well, yes. Some journo with nothing to write asked the Met about if they’d use eagles, and the Met said yes they’d consider it. Which they no doubt did, for about five minutes. I mean, if you were an eagle, would you want to fly towards a thing with propellers? But where would fun come from if nobody could ever suggest gimmicks?
The story does throw interesting light on the fear provoked by drones, and, I think, on the reluctance of regular British people actually to want to buy these contraptions. I noted the arrival of drones in the shops, but they have not, as it were, taken off. Not in London anyway. They are strictly specialist devices, to enable the controllers of large bits of land, mostly out in the countryside, to control the land better and more cheaply.
One of the key themes of Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature is that moral advance has on the whole not been lead by religion. Religious people have often defended ancient moral positions, as when defending slavery, for instance. Only when persuaded by secular moralists of the wrongness of slavery did religious people then become fierce and very vigorous opponents of slavery. But the secularists lead the way when it came to winning the argument in the first place. All of which is unsurprising, if you look at what it says in the Bible about such things. Which Pinker does. One of the most remarkable passages in The Better Angels is Pinker’s description of what the Old Testament actually says (pp. 7-14). If you get tired of all the mayhem and slaughter, at least skip to the end and read Pinker’s final paragraph. As he says, he is not accusing Christians of believing this stuff. Christians pay the entire Bible “lip service as a symbol of morality”, but they no longer believe in the morality that is actually contained in the first half of it:
Like the works of Homer, the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) was set in the late 2nd millennium BCE but written more than five hundred years later. But unlike the works of Homer, the Bible is revered today by billions of people who call it the source of their moral values. The world’s bestselling publication, the Good Book has been translated into three thousand languages and has been placed in the nightstands of hotels all over the world. Orthodox Jews kiss it with their prayer shawls; witnesses in American courts bind their oaths by placing a hand on it. Even the president touches it when taking the oath of office. Yet for all this reverence, the Bible is one long celebration of violence.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And the Lord God took one of Adam’s ribs, and made he a woman. And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain. And she again bare his brother Abel. And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. With a world population of exactly four, that works out to a homicide rate of 25 percent, which is about a thousand times higher than the equivalent rates in Western countries today.
No sooner do men and women begin to multiply than God decides they are sinful and that the suitable punishment is genocide. (In Bill Cosby’s comedy sketch, a neighbor begs Noah for a hint as to why he is building an ark. Noah replies, ‘How long can you tread water?’) When the flood recedes, God instructs Noah in its moral lesson, namely the code of vendetta: ‘Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.’
The next major figure in the Bible is Abraham, the spiritual ancestor of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Abraham has a nephew, Lot, who settles in Sodom. Because the residents engage in anal sex and comparable sins, God immolates every man, woman, and child in a divine napalm attack. Lot’s wife, for the crime of turning around to look at the inferno is put to death as well.
Abraham undergoes a test of his moral values when God orders hm to take his son Isaac to a mountaintop, tie him up, cut his throat, and burn his body as a gift to the Lord. Isaac is spared only because at the last moment an angel stays his father’s hand. For millennia readers have puzzled over why God insisted on this horrifying trial. One interpretation is that God intervened not because Abraham had passed the test but because he had failed it, but that is anachronistic: obedience to divine authority, not reverence for human life, was the cardinal virtue.
Isaac’s son Jacob has a daughter, Dinah. Dinah is kidnapped and raped - apparently a customary form of courtship at the time, since the rapist’s family then offers to purchase her from her own family as a wfe for the rapist. Dinah’s brothers explain that an important moral principle stands in the way of this transaction: the rapist is uncircumcised. So they make a counteroffer: if all the men in the rapist’s hometown cut off their foreskins, Dinah will be theirs. While the men are incapacitated with bleeding penises, the brothers invade the city, plunder and destroy it, massacre the men, and carry off the women and children. When Jacob worries that neighboring tribes may attack them in revenge, his sons explain that it was worth the risk: ‘Should our sister be treated like a whore?’ Soon afterward they reiterate their commitment to family values by selling their brother Joseph into slavery.
Jacob’s descendants, the Israelites, find their way to Egypt and become too numerous for the Pharaoh’s liking, so he enslaves them and orders that all the boys be killed at birth. Moses escapes the mass infanticide and grows up to challenge the Pharaoh to let his people go. God, who is omnipotent, could have softened Pharaoh’s heart, but he hardens it instead, which gives him a reason to afflict every Egyptian with painful boils and other miseries before killing every one of their firstborn sons. (The word Passover alludes to the executioner angel’s passing over the households with Israelite firstborns.) God follows this massacre with another one when he drowns the Egyptian army as they pursue the Israelites across the Red Sea.
The Israelites assemble at Mount Sinai and hear the Ten Commandments, the great moral code that outlaws engraved images and the coveting of livestock but gives a pass to slavery, rape, torture, mutilation, and genocide of neighboring tribes. The Israelites become impatient while waiting for Moses to return with an expanded set of laws, which will prescribe the death penalty for blasphemy, homosexuality, adultery, talking back to parents, and working on the Sabbath. To pass the time, they worship a statue of a calf, for which the punishment turns out to be, you guessed it, death. Following orders from God, Moses and his brother Aaron kill three thousand of their companions.
God then spends seven chapters of Leviticus instructing the Israelites on how to slaughter the steady stream of animals he demands of them. Aaron and his two sons prepare the tabernacle for the first service, but the sons slip up and use the wrong incense. So God burns them to death. As the Israelites proceed toward the promised land, they meet up with the Midianites. Following orders from God, they slay the males, burn their city, plunder the livestock, and take the women and children captive. When they return to Moses, he is enraged because they spared the women, some of whom had led the Israelites to worship rival gods. So he tells his soldiers to complete the genocide and to reward themselves with nubile sex slaves they may rape at their pleasure: ‘Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for your-
In Deuteronomy 20 and 21, God gives the Israelites a blanket policy for dealing with cities that don’t accept them as overlords: smite the males with the edge of the sword and abduct the cattle, women, and children. Of course, a man with a beautiful new captive faces a problem: since he has just murdered her parents and brothers, she may not be in the mood for love. God anticipates this nuisance and offers the following solution: the captor should shave her head, pare her nails, and imprison her in his house for a month while she cries her eyes out. Then he may go in and rape her.
With a designated list of other enemies (Hittites,Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites), the genocide has to be total: ‘Thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them ... as the Lord thy God has commanded thee.’
Joshua puts this directive into practice when he invades Canaan and sacks the city of Jericho. After the walls came tumbling down, his soldiers ‘utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.’ More earth is scorched as Joshua ‘smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded.’
The next stage in Israelite history is the era of the judges, or tribal chiefs. The most famous of them, Samson, establishes his reputation by killing thirty men during his wedding feast because he needs their clothing to pay off a bet. Then, to avenge the killing of his wife and her father, he slaughters a thousand Philistines and sets fire to their crops after escaping capture, he kills another thousand with the jawbone of an ass. When he is finally captured and his eyes are burned out, God gives him the strength for a 9/11-like suicide attack in which he implodes a large building, crushing the three thousand men and women who are worshipping inside it.
Israel’s first king, Saul, establishes a small empire, which gives him the opportunity to settle an old score. Centuries earlier, during the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, the Amalekites had harassed them, and God commanded the Israelites to ‘wipe out the name of Amalek.’ So when the judge Samuel anoints Saul as king, he reminds Saul of the divine decree: ‘Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.’ Saul carries out the order, but Samuel is furious to learn that he has spared their king, Agag. So Samuel ‘hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord.’
Saul is eventually overthrown by his son-in-law David, who absorbs the southern tribes of Judah, conquers Jerusalem, and makes it the capital of a kingdom that will last four centuries. David would come to be celebrated in story, song, and sculpture, and his six-pointed star would symbolize his people for three thousand years. Christians too would revere him as the forerunner of Jesus.
But in Hebrew scripture David is not just the ‘sweet singer of Israel,’ the chiseled poet who plays a harp and composes the Psalms. After he makes his name by killing Goliath, David recruits a gang of guerrillas, extorts wealth from his fellow citizens at swordpoint, and fights as a mercenary for the Philistines. These achievements make Saul jealous: the women in his court are singing, ‘Saul has killed by the thousands, but David by the tens of thousands.’ So Saul plots to have him assassinated.” David narrowly escapes before staging a successful coup.
When David becomes king, he keeps up his hard-earned reputation for killing by the tens of thousands. After his general Joab ‘wasted the country of the children of Ammon,’ David ‘brought out the people that were in it, and cut them with saws, and with harrows of iron, and with axes.’ Finally he manages to do something that God considers immoral: he orders a census. To punish David for this lapse, God kills seventy thousand of his citizens.
Within the royal family, sex and violence go hand in hand. While taking a walk on the palace roof one day, David peeping-toms a naked woman, Bathsheba, and likes what he sees, so he sends her husband to be killed in battle and adds her to his seraglio. Later one of David’s children rapes another one and is killed in revenge by a third. The avenger, Absalom, rounds up an army and tries to usurp David’s throne by having sex with ten of his concubines. (As usual, we are not told how the concubines felt about all this.) While fleeing David’s army, Absalom’s hair gets caught in a tree, and David’s general thrusts three spears into his heart. This does not put the family squabbles to an end. Bathsheba tricks a senile David into anointing their son Solomon as his successor. When the legitimate heir, David’s older son Adonijah, protests, Solomon has him killed.
King Solomon is credited with fewer homicides than his predecessors and is remembered instead for building the Temple in Jerusalem and for writing the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs (though with a harem of seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines, he clearly didn’t spend all his time writing). Most of all he is remembered for his eponymous virtue, ‘the wisdom of Solomon.’ Two prostitutes sharing a room give birth a few days apart. One of the babies dies, and each woman claims that the surviving boy is hers. The wise king adjudicates the dispute by pulling out a sword and threatening to butcher the baby and hand each woman a piece of the bloody corpse. One woman withdraws her claim, and Solomon awards the baby to her. ‘When all Israel heard of the verdict that the king had rendered, they stood in awe of the king, because they saw that he had divine wisdom in carrying out justice.’ The distancing effect of a good story can make us forget the brutality of the world in which it was set. Just imagine a judge in family court today adjudicating a maternity dispute by pulling out a chain saw and threatening to butcher the baby before the disputants’ eyes. Solomon was confident that the more humane woman (we are never told that she was the mother) would reveal herself, and that the other woman was so spiteful that she would allow a baby to be slaughtered in front of her - and he was right! And he must have been prepared, in the event he was wrong, to carry out the butchery or else forfeit all credibility. The women, for their part, must have believed that their wise king was capable of carrying out this grisly murder.
The Bible depicts a world that, seen through modern eyes, is staggering in its savagery. People enslave, rape, and murder members of their immediate families. Warlords slaughter civilians indiscriminately, including the children. Women are bought, sold, and plundered like sex toys. And Yahweh tortures and massacres people by the hundreds of thousands for trivial disobedience or for no reason at all. These atrocities are neither isolated nor obscure. They implicate all the major characters of the Old Testament, the ones that Sunday-school children draw with crayons. And they fall into a continuous plotline that stretches for millennia, from Adam and Eve through Noah, the patriarchs, Moses, Joshua, the judges, Saul, David, Solomon, and beyond. According to the biblical scholar Raymund Schwager, the Hebrew Bible ‘contains over six hundred passages that explicitly talk about nations, kings, or individuals attacking, destroying, and killing others. ... Aside from the approximately one thousand verses in which Yahweh himself appears as the direct executioner of violent punishments, and the many texts in which the Lord delivers the criminal to the punisher’s sword, in over one hundred other passages Yahweh expressly gives the command to kill people.’ Matthew White, a self-described atrocitologist who keeps a database with the estimated death tolls of history’s major wars, massacres, and genocides, counts about 1.2 million deaths from mass killing that are specifically enumerated in the Bible. (He excludes the half million casualties in the war between Judah and Israel described in 2 Chronicles 13 because he considers the body count historically implausible.) The victims of the Noachian flood would add another 20 million or so to the total.
The good news, of course, is that most of it never happened. Not only is there no evidence that Yahweh inundated the planet and incinerated its cities, but the patriarchs, exodus, conquest, and Jewish empire are almost certainly fictions. Historians have found no mention in Egyptian writings of the departure of a million slaves (which could hardly have escaped the Egyptians’ notice); nor have archaeologists found evidence in the ruins of Jericho or neighboring cities of a sacking around 1200 BCE. And if there was a Davidic empire stretching from the Euphrates to the Red Sea around the turn of the 1st millennium BCE, no one else at the time seemed to have noticed it.
Modern biblical scholars have established that the Bible is a wiki. It was compiled over half a millennium from writers with different styles, dialects, character names, and conceptions of God, and it was subjected to haphazard editing that left it with many contradictions, duplications, and non sequiturs.
The oldest parts of the Hebrew Bible probably originated in the 10th century BCE. They included origin myths for the local tribes and ruins, and legal codes adapted from neigh boring civilizations in the Near East. The texts probably served as a code of frontier justice for the Iron Age tribes that herded livestock and farmed hillsides in the southeastern periphery of Canaan. The tribes began to encroach on the valleys and cities, engaged in some marauding every now and again, and may even have destroyed a city or two. Eventually their myths were adopted by the entire population of Canaan, unifying them with a shared genealogy, a glorious history, a set of taboos to keep them from defecting to foreigners, and an invisible enforcer to keep them from each other’s throats. A first draft was rounded out with a continuous historical narrative around the late 7th to mid-6th century BCE, when the Babylonians conquered the Kingdom of Judah and forced its inhabitants into exile. The final edit was completed after their return to Judah in the 5th century BCE.
Though the historical accounts in the Old Testament are fictitious (or at best artistic reconstructions, like Shakespeare’s historical dramas), they offer a window into the lives and values of Near Eastern civilizations in the mid-1st millennium BCE. Whether or not the Israelites actually engaged in genocide, they certainly thought it was a good idea.
The possibility that a woman had a legitimate interest in not being raped or acquired as sexual property did not seem to register in anyone’s mind. The writers of the Bible saw nothing wrong with slavery or with cruel punishments like blinding, stoning, and hacking someone to pieces. Human life held no value in comparison with unthinking obedience to custom and authority.
If you think that by reviewing the literal content of the Hebrew Bible I am trying to impugn the billions of people who revere it today, then you are missing the point. The overwhelming majority of observant Jews and Christians are, needless to say, thoroughly decent people who do not sanction genocide, rape, slavery, or stoning people for frivolous infractions. Their reverence for the Bible is purely talismanic. In recent millennia and centuries the Bible has been spin-doctored, allegorized, superseded by less violent texts (the Talmud among Jews and the New Testament among Christians), or discreetly ignored. And that is the point. Sensibilities toward violence have changed so much that religious people today compartmentalize their attitude to the Bible. They pay it lip service as a symbol of morality, while getting their actual morality from more modern principles.
Today I had a nice surprise. I was out shopping, and saw a taxi with an advert on it that I’d not seen before, which I photoed it. But when I got home I discovered that my camera didn’t have its SD card in.
However, being a clever little camera it had stored the pictures up in its own built-in memory, and I went looking for this by attaching my camera direct to my computer with a wire. Success. I found the picture of the taxi and its advert.
And, I also found this photo inside the camera, which I had totally forgotten about, and which had been there since June 25th:
Now that’s what I call a headline. Here‘s the story.
This is one of the things I really like about digital photography. There are hundreds of things you see that are a laugh, and which you would like to be able to remember and have another laugh about later. But they aren’t worth buying, just for that second laugh. But, they are worth photoing.
Also, today, I saw a headline about how naughty persons have been using drones to get drugs into prisons. But I failed to photo this headline. I was inside Sainsbury’s, and if I had got my camera out, it might have caused a scene.
I think it must have been this story. I’ve been saying here for ages that drones were going to be trouble, as well as fun. Here is another example of drones being both fun, and incurring the wrath of our rulers, that being a story about a man taking aerial photos of things that didn’t want to be photoed.
In it, Richard J. Evans criticised some of the more casual observers of the libel case that his book described, for arguing that David Irving ought to be allowed to write what he wanted, as if the case was all about David Irving’s right to be heard. But it was not. It was about whether David Irving could silence one of his more prominent critics, Deborah Lipstadt, who had called him a bad historian and a Holocaust denier.
Yet, there was a reason why this error kept getting made by less than conscientious observers of this case, as Evans himself explained (p. 201):
Yet as the trial got under way, it quickly became apparent that lrving was going to find it difficult to set the agenda. The bias of the English law of defamation brings its own perils for the unwary Plaintiff. By placing the entire burden of proof on the defence, it allows them to turn the tables and devote the action to destroying the reputation of their accuser. Indeed, once the defence has admitted, as Lipstadt’s did without hesitation, that the words complained of mean what they say and are clearly defamatory, justifying them in detail and with chapter and verse is the only option left to them. A successful libel defence therefore has to concentrate, in effect, on massively defaming the person and character of the Plaintiff, the only restriction being that the defamation undertaken in court has to be along the same lines as the defamation that gave rise to the case in the first place, and that it has, of course, to be true. The defence had to prove that Lipstadt’s accusations of Holocaust denial and historical falsification were justified in Irving’s case. Thus it was lrving, not Lipstadt, whose reputation was on the line. By the end of the third week of the trial, as Neal Ascherson observed, the defence had thus succeeded in turning the tables, ‘as if David lrving were the defendant and Deborah Lipstadt the plaintiff’, an observation shared by other commentators too. ‘In the relentless focus on Irving’s beliefs,’ wrote Jenny Booth in the Scotsman, ‘it was easy to forget that it was actually Lipstadt’s book which was on trial. Increasingly it seemed that it was Irving himself.’
Having thus put himself on trial, Irving was then found to be guilty as charged.
I have been reading Richard J. Evans’s account of the libel trial which took place at the High Court in 2000, in which David Irving sued the American historian Deborah Lipstadt, and her publisher Penguin Books. In one of her books, Lipstadt had called Irving a bad and dishonest non-historian, and Irving was trying to suppress this opinion. Irving lost.
Richard J. Evans was the expert witness who did most to blow Irving’s claims to be an honest and effective historian out of the water.
The Evans book is entitled Telling Lies About Hitler. At the end of the chapter in it entitled “In The Witness Box” (p. 231), Evans recounts a truly extraordinary moment, right at the end of the court proceedings:
And when it came to rebutting the defence charge of consorting with neo-Nazis in Germany, Irving’s habit of improvising from his prepared text led him into a fatal slip of the tongue, as he inadvertently addressed the judge as ‘Mein Fuhrer’. Everyone in court knew that he was referring to the judge as ‘Mein Fuhrer’ from the tone of voice in which he said it. The court dissolved into laughter. ‘No one could believe what just happened,’ wrote one spectator. ‘Had we imagined it? Could he have addressed the judge as “Mein Fuhrer”?’ Irving himself denied having made the slip. But amid the laughter in court, he could be seen mumbling an apology to the judge for having addressed him in this way. Perhaps the slip was a consequence of Irving’s unconscious identification of the judge as a benign authority figure. Whatever the reason for it, with the laughter still ringing in its ears, the court adjourned on 15 March 2000 as the judge prepared the final version of his judgment on the case.