Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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- Misty (or polluted) at Canning Town
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- Slam City Skates in Covent Garden
- And in Other creatures news …
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- Looking up in the City
- Indian sign cautions against selfie sticks
- Leake Street photo session
- Longer life would make most of us (certainly me) more energetic and ambitious
- Azure Window broken
- Beltane & Pop van parked on the South Bank yesterday afternoon
- New River Walk
- Die Meistersinger was very good
- Spring in Islington
- ROH Covent Garden here I come
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Category archive: Law
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.
A few days ago, the weather was gorgeous, in the early morning. Forewarned by a typically omniscient short-term weather forecast, I got up early and went up to the roof of my block of flats. I particularly wanted to photo the progress of the building work opposite, and more distantly, the progress of the new US Embassy over towards Battersea, which happens to be very visible from this spot. But I also photoed roof clutter, near and far:
1.1 That building, on the far side of Victoria Street from me, used to be New Scotland Yard, but the Metropolitan Police are moving (to a building right next to the original Scotland Yard), and it seems that one of London’s finer roof clutter clusters will soon be no more, to be replaced by these new towers. Blog and learn.
1.2 Some of the scaffolding opposite, mingling with aerials, and with an older kind of aerial for tuning in to messages from the heavens, otherwise known as a church spire.
2.1 Clutter at its most cluttered close up. Is that stuff in the foreground maybe something to do with mobile phones? In the distance, Battersea Power Sation, with one of its chimneys yet to be completely reconstructed.
2.2 Me photoing a satellite dish, and my shadow photoing the shadow of the satellite dish.
Tomorrow’s weather is also due to be gorgeous.
I’ve spent all my blogging time today trying to write a couple of things for Samizdata, so once again it’s quota photo time, this time in the form of a photo of Tom Cruise that I photoed recently, just a few minutes before I took this footbridge photo. To be more exact, it is a photo of a photo, of Tom Cruise:
That photo that you see in my photo is to be seen outside the Duchess Theatre in the West End, where the play being shown Goes Wrong, every night, without, although this may not be quite the way to describe things, fail.
I assume that you can only exhibit a picture of Tom Cruise like that if Tom Cruise gives his permission. If that’s right, Tom Cruise proves himself to be a good sport. Or, perhaps, a greedy bastard. But for now, I’m going with good sport, if only because if he got greedy, they couldn’t afford it.
I’ve visited the top of the Tate Modern Extension several times in recent weeks, so this story particularly entertained me:
Here’s the story:
Residents of the Rogers Stirk Harbour-designed Neo Bankside apartments have threatened legal action, after Tate Modern opened an observation deck that provides views into their private apartments.
The 360-degree rooftop viewing deck is one of the headline features of the Switch House – the 64.5-metre-high Tate Modern gallery extension by Herzog & de Meuron, which opened to the public in June.
But residents of the adjacent apartment complex have claimed that gallery visitors are using zoom-lens cameras and binoculars to peer inside their glass-walled homes and take photographs.
Having failed to reach a solution with Tate, the homeowners are now seeking legal action to regain their privacy.
I was particularly diverted by this bit:
So far the only change has been the addition of a sign asking Tate visitors to be more considerate.
Dezeen does not show any picture of this sign, but here, I can, because I photoed it several weeks ago:
I remember thinking at the time that this is almost contemptuously perfunctory. I’m not surprised that it failed to subdue the snoopers
I believe that, as London gets more and more interesting, and full of more and more intriguing Big Things, there will be more and more such viewing platforms like this one at Tate Modern. So, this problem of what you can see from such platforms that people don’t want you to see isn’t going to go away.
And the problem gets far worse when you consider that zoom lenses are only going to get ever more powerful. I often joke here that my camera has better eyesight than I do, and it’s true. But pretty soon, all cameras will have better eyesight than everyone.
It could be that about half of this particular viewing platform will be shut down, in which case, I need to make sure now that I have seen everything from that part of it that I can, before this happens.
I’d prefer the other idea, which is that these people living in glass houses should have one way mirrors installed, so they can see out but the rest of us can’t see in. But then, expect the internet to be awash with before/after photos.
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.
As nudged by Simon Gibbs yesterday, I did indeed make my way to Trafalgar Square to check out Kenny and his Brexit chalk-proclamation.
The photos I sent to Libertarian Home yesterday evening were strictly utilitarian, to tell LH exactly what Kenny had written. Read the entire thing there.
Here, on the other hand, are some pictures which give more of an idea of how it looked, what the atmosphere was, and what Kenny himself looks like:
The atmosphere was low-key, actually. There were no scenes or arguments, although I did hear the occasional “not going to read it all because it says Out”, as people walked away. Others, however, did stop and read. Most significant, I would guess, were those with mobile phones who were, unlike me, maybe passing it on with twenty-first century immediacy. (I had to wait until I got home before I could send off my photos.)
I had to wait a while for Kenny to finish his efforts. I got there before 3pm, and it wasn’t until just after 5pm that he was done. And he started at 10am.
But it was worth the wait, and there was plenty else in Trafalgar Square to divert me, and to take photos of. But photos like that can wait. First things first, and that means Kenny.
One of my regular automatic google-searches is “face recognition”, and just now this has been alerting me to all the various tricks that are coming on stream for making face recognition not work, by putting on make-up, or spectacles, and such like.
Here is my contribution to this discussion:
I know what you’re thinking. Who might that be?
Exactly. Although, if you’re are supercomputer, you have probably worked it out. You have a special programme which tells you to take particular interest in any faces that are trying to not be recognised.
Most of my libertarian friends think that such tech solutions are the front line of this battle. I have long assumed that the world is moving rapidly towards a state where the question of what is X doing at the moment is technologically answerable, and impossible to prevent being answered. For me, among other desirable things, libertarianism is the claim that although we can see X saying or doing something we don’t approve of, we shouldn’t legally prevent him or her from doing that, unless it is really, really bad.
In a world of Total Surveillance by the Big Machine, the proliferation of stupid rules and regulations with no huge moral content becomes a problem like it never used to be. I means rules about things like what you should eat or smoke or, now, say in conversation. Rules like that mean that we can all now be seen and heard breaking such rules. (Okay, maybe not now, maybe not yet, but that’s where things are headed.) And that means that anyone who wants to fuck up your life or my life (for an actual real reason that has bugger all to do with the stupid rule actually being broken) can then do it. Worse, some legislative maniac might demand that anyone that the Big Machine sees breaking this or that rule that he personally is obsessed about, should be automatically fucked over, by the Big Machine, with no human intervention involved. With a big long list of exceptions, like legislators. The Big Machine can’t touch them. Libertarianism has arisen, partly, because it has become ever more necessary to insist on certain principles, principles which were imposed upon the world in former times by sheer ignorance of what other people were getting up to.
The other thing people have to do is develop thicker skins, psychologically speaking I mean, because although legislative pressure is not now a problem for most people, social pressure can become a big problem, for example if you find yourself being mobbed on the internet for some innocuous thing you said or ate. Just because a million idiots on the internet are screeching that you are an idiot, that doesn’t mean you are, or that if you are, it matters. When it does matter, bosses should chill, and not fire people just because the mob is screeching. I applaud, tentatively, the recent tendency to give social media mobsters a going-over, using the same methods on them that they have been using. Who is this mad bitch? What has she (it does often seem to be she) been up to lately? What is her job? Who is her boss? Etc. (In the age of cyber-bullying, I feel that I now understand witchcraft crazes better.)
Another problem is that as something easily mistaken for a state of everyone knowing everything increasingly pertains, that old illusion that everything will accordingly be centrally plannable is likely to keep rearing its very ugly head, and keep on having to be experienced as a disastrous illusion. (More libertarianism.) The point is, everyone doesn’t know everything. Nothing like. We can’t. Our heads aren’t big enough, and even if they were, knowledge is not like that. Everyone can known anything in particular that is easy to know (like where X is just now) that they want to know and ask the Big Machine about. That’s entirely different from actual omniscience.
I spent a lot of my blogging time today writing about a talk I attended last night, given by Tim Evans. I did not finish what I wanted to say, but the attempt left me little time to do anything here. So, a photo, taken by me on the way to Tim’s talk, as I emerged from Euston Station:
That’s part of the roof of St Pancras Station. I like how my snap makes you see this building, if not with fresh eyes, then at least from a rather fresh angle, instead of the usual one you get, from in front.
St Pancras Station was first opened in 1868, and the contrast between how they did the tops of big buildings in those times and how the tops of similar sized buildings are done nowadays could not be more extreme. Now, buildings of that size tend to have flat tops, and to be covered with telecommunications equipment.
This being New Scotland Yard. And a statue of a man scratching his back outside Westminster Abbey. Well, no, but that’s what it always looks like to me. The column of that statue can also be seen in yesterday’s numerical traffic lights snap.
London’s famed Metropolitan Police are moving out of New Scotland Yard, back to old Scotland Yard. It will be interesting to see what happens to all that roof clutter. Maybe nothing.
Indeed. Photoed by me next to Centre Point, this afternoon:
Another London facade which is nice but not totally wondrous is being carefully preserved, so that modernity can in due course be erected behind it. This time I photoed it from behind.
I have been assuming that this is a purely aesthetic thing. Done like this to get planning permission. But someone (I do not recall who) recently told me that if you preserve a facade you don’t have to get planning permission for whatever you put behind it. But, if you allow the facade to disappear, then you do have to get planning permission, even if what you subsequently do is re-erect the original facade.
Can anyone confirm or deny this?
Note that dash of Renzo Pianistic colour there.
Well, the New Year (even though the New Year is actually getting quite old now) Resolution here, to blog early, and sometimes even to blog often, is working well. I haven’t delayed going to bed because of this blog for about a week, and I sense that this may even continue.
Friday is my day for cats, and now also for other creatures, and already this Friday, even though it not yet even the middle of the day, there has already been a posting here about dogs. Republican dogs. That posting is right below this one, but there’s the link anyway.
And here now is another creature posting, about a truly unique other creature - half cat, yes, but also half dog, half bee, half zebra, and wholly suitcase - of the sort that kids can ride, at airports, to stop them getting bored:
Apparently Trunki made the first of these, and then some Hong Kong guys did a cheaper knock-off, and Trunki complained. Trunki lost.
These cases - the physical (suit)case and the legal case - illustrate the fine line that divides a design from an idea:
But five Supreme Court justices unanimously disagreed, and ruled in favour of PMS on Wednesday – stating that while it had “sympathy for Magmatic”, the “Design Right is intended to protect designs not ideas”.
It looks a lot like a design being copied to me. Not that I mind. And actually, I think the Hong Kong version is better, because the original can’t make up its mind whether its eyes are eyes or horns. HK case resolves this by having eyes and horns.
PMS website: here.
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.
From the Washington Post, yesterday:
The piece also asks if it is only a matter of time before regular driving is banned. I think this will happen in lots of places, and driving a car will become like riding a horse. It will be something you do only for fun. I probably won’t live to see this, but I probably will live to see it quite widely discussed.
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.
Time today only for three rather antiquated Citroens.
First, a Citroen DS23, photoed by me in Lower Marsh this afternoon, 3.45 pm:
Second, a second Citroen DS23, photoed by me in the Kings Road this afternoon, 5.06 pm:
To see one of these beauties is a beautiful thing. To see two, within the space of less than two hours, is to be doubly blessed.
I know they were both DS23s because I also photoed where they both said they were DS23s, at the back.
And then, before the two hours were up, I also snapped this:
It just turned off the Kings Road, right in front of me.
Magnifique. J’aime Londres.
That last one reminds me that I also took this photo, earlier in the week, in Strutton Ground:
A form of transport that is even more antiquated than are the automobiles pictured above. See also: this.
By the way, I rather enjoyed it when I just image-googled automobile. All I was doing at first was checking the spelling.
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.