Saturday, June 17, 2006

What to say

It rained a little tonight, after all that heat and humidity; it may rain again tomorrow or Monday, but that's according to the weather forecast from 4 days ago. Perhaps the updated forecast says differently.

This past week Dateline aired an interview of Britney Spears by Matt Lauer. Let's just say that I wouldn't be able to marry someone who thinks, acts, talks, and has facial gestures like Britney Spears...

From Asia News:
17 June, 2006
Vietnamese diocese organising social and pastoral activities to combat social ills
by Thanh Thao

Diocesan associations in Ba Ria Vung Tau are organising activities to keep young people away from the temptations of consumerism and materialism. Many of them are unemployed and to beat boredom they drink, take drugs or gamble.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – “In our country young people need spirituality,” said the parish priest of Binh Gia, a town in the diocese of Ba Ria Vung Tau in south-eastern Vietnam, one of the most important economic regions of the country. With a congregation of 10,037 members in an area of 17.92 km2, it is the second densest parish in the diocese.

There is a need for this sort of pastoral activity not just in Vietnam but in 'affluent' countries like the United States as well, which may be well off materially but are very poor spiritually. Meanwhile, the USCCB has approved a new translation of the Roman missal into English? Although it is unclear as to what has been approved... I don't think anyone has seen the actual text yet. Cardinal Arinze has stated that anything that does not adhere to Liturgiam authenticam will not receive approval from Rome. If the bishops could only do 'what is right' and devote their time and attention to the pastoral needs of the faithful. If only.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The War on the Military Culture, by James Webb

The War on the Military Culture
The presence of women in the armed forces raises unresolved problems.
by James Webb

An oldie, republished by Weekly Standard. I wonder what WS makes of his candidacy...

World Grain Stocks Fall to 57 Days of Consumption

World Grain Stocks Fall to 57 Days of Consumption: Grain Prices Starting to Rise

by Lester Brown

"Energy and the economy"

Published on 15 Jun 2006 by U.S. Federal Reserve Board. Archived on 16 Jun 2006.

Energy and the economy

by Ben S. Bernanke

Remarks by Chairman Ben S. Bernanke
Before the Economic Club of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
June 15, 2006

In my remarks today, I would like to discuss the relationship between energy markets and the economy. As I am certain all of you are aware, the steep increases in energy prices over the past several years have had significant consequences for households, businesses, and economic policy. At least since the time of the first oil shock in October 1973, economists have struggled to understand the ways that disturbances to the supply and demand balance in energy markets influence economic growth and inflation. At the most basic level, oil and natural gas are just primary commodities, like tin, rubber, or iron ore. Yet energy commodities are special, in part because they are critical inputs to a very wide variety of production processes of modern economies. They provide the fuel that drives our transportation system, heats our homes and offices, and powers our factories. Moreover, energy has an influence that is disproportionate to its share in real gross domestic product (GDP) largely because of our limited ability to adjust the amount of energy we use per unit of output over short periods of time. Over longer periods, energy consumption can be altered more easily by, for example, adjusting the types of vehicles that we drive, the kind of homes that we build, and the variety of machines that we buy. Those decisions, in turn, influence the growth and composition of the stock of capital and the productive capacity of the economy.

Over the past thirty-five years, the U.S. economy has experienced some wide swings in energy prices. The oil price increases of the 1970s were followed by price declines in the mid-1980s and then a price spike in 1990, with numerous fluctuations since then. From the mid-1980s until fairly recently, market participants tended to look through these price cycles and did not allow their longer-term expectations for oil prices to be greatly affected by short-run swings in spot prices. But beginning around 2003, futures prices began moving up roughly in line with the rise in spot prices. Thus, unlike in earlier episodes, the significantly higher relative price of energy that we are now experiencing is expected to be relatively long lasting and thus will likely prompt more-significant adjustments by households and businesses over time.

This higher relative price of energy poses many important questions for economists and policymakers. Why have the prices of oil and natural gas risen so much? What is the outlook for energy supplies and prices in the medium term and in the long term? And what implications does the behavior of energy prices have for the ongoing economic expansion and inflation? I will touch briefly on each of these questions.

Developments in Oil Markets

Let me begin with the market for crude oil. What accounts for the behavior of the current and expected future prices of petroleum? Supply and demand are among the most valuable concepts in the economist's toolkit, and I believe they are the key to understanding recent and prospective developments in oil markets. For the most part, high oil prices reflect high and growing demand for oil and limited and uncertain supplies.

On the demand side, world oil consumption surged 4 percent in 2004 after rising a solid 2 percent in 2003. The rise in 2004 was much larger than had been expected and was, in fact, the largest yearly increase in a quarter-century. A significant part of the unexpected increase in oil consumption that year reflected rapidly growing oil use in the United States and East Asia, notably China. In 2005, growth of world oil consumption slowed to 1.3 percent, partly reflecting the restraining effects of higher prices. Nonetheless, the level of oil consumption was still high relative to earlier expectations. Thus far this year, underlying demand pressures have remained strong in the context of a global economy that has continued to expand robustly.

On the supply side, the production of oil has been constrained by available capacity, hurricanes, and geopolitical developments. In 2003 and 2004, as oil consumption and prices rose briskly, Saudi Arabia and other members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) pumped more oil. OPEC was able to boost production relatively quickly in response to changing market conditions by utilizing productive capacity that had been idle. By the end of 2004, however, OPEC's spare production capacity was greatly diminished. As a consequence, OPEC's oil production flattened out over the past year even as oil prices continued to soar.

Oil production outside OPEC also leveled off last year, contrary to earlier expectations for continued growth. This development in part reflected the devastating effects of last year's hurricanes. Katrina and Rita were enormously disruptive for our nation's production of energy. At the worst point, 1.5 million barrels per day of crude oil were shut in, virtually all of the U.S. production in the Gulf of Mexico and nearly 2 percent of global oil production. Recovery of oil production in the Gulf has been slow, and the disruptions from last year's storms linger even as we enter this year's hurricane season. The cumulative loss in oil production attributable to Katrina and Rita amounts to more than 160 million barrels of oil, a figure equivalent to nearly half the present level of commercial crude oil inventories in the United States.

With the background of strong demand and limited spare capacity, both actual production disruptions and concerns about the reliability and security of future oil supplies have contributed to the volatility in oil prices. The oil-rich Middle East remains an especially unsettled region of the world, but political risks to the oil supply have also emerged in nations outside the Middle East, including Russia, Venezuela, and Nigeria.

Compounding these difficulties in markets for crude oil have been constraints and disruptions in the refining sector of the energy industry. In the wake of Hurricane Rita, one-quarter of domestic refining capacity was offline, and here, too, the period of recovery has been protracted. Even before last year's hurricanes, however, a mismatch appeared to be emerging between the incremental supply of crude oil, which tended to be heavy and sulfurous, and the demand by refiners for light, sweet crude, which can be converted more easily into clean-burning transportation fuels. These developments have highlighted the need for additional investments in refining capacity to bridge the gap between upstream supply and final demand.

What about the longer term? We can safely assume that world economic growth, together with the rapid pace of industrialization in China, India, and other emerging-market economies, will generate increasing demand for oil and other forms of energy. In all likelihood, growth in the demand for energy will be tempered to some extent by continued improvements in energy efficiency which, in turn, will be stimulated by higher prices and ongoing concerns about the security of oil supplies. Such improvements are possible even without technological breakthroughs. For example, Japan is an advanced industrial nation that uses only about one-half as much energy to produce a dollar's worth of real output as the United States does. Of course, the Japanese and U.S. economies differ in important ways, but the comparison nevertheless suggests that there is scope to boost energy efficiency in the United States and other parts of the industrialized world. Newly industrializing economies such as China appear to be quite inefficient in their use of energy; but as they modernize, they can adopt energy-saving techniques already in use elsewhere, and their energy efficiency will presumably improve as well.

Still, as the global economic expansion continues, substantial growth in the use of oil and other energy sources appears to be inevitable. How readily the supply side of the oil market will respond is difficult to predict. In a physical sense, the world is not in imminent danger of running out of oil. At the end of 2005, the world's proved reserves of conventional oil--that is, oil in the ground that is viewed as recoverable using existing technologies and under current economic conditions--stood at more than 1.2 trillion barrels, about 15 percent higher than the world's proved reserves a decade earlier and equal to about four decades of global consumption at current rates. These figures do not include Canada's vast deposits of oil sands, which are estimated to contain an additional 174 billion barrels of proved reserves. In addition, today's proved reserve figures ignore not only the potential for new discoveries but also the likelihood that improved technologies and higher oil prices will increase the amount of oil that can be economically recovered.

The oil is there, but whether substantial new sources of production can be made available over the next five years or so is in some doubt. Some important fields are in locations that are technically difficult and time-consuming to develop, such as deep-water fields off the coast of West Africa, in the Gulf of Mexico, or off the east coast of South America. In many cases, the development of new fields also faces the challenge of recovering the oil without damaging delicate ecosystems. Perhaps most troubling are the significant uncertainties generated by geopolitical instability, as I have already noted. Much of the world's oil reserves are located in areas where political turmoil and violence have restrained both production and investment.

In both the developed and the developing world, another factor holding back investment in oil infrastructure has been concern on the part of producers that oil prices might fall back as they did in the 1980s and 1990s. In light of that recognition, some oil producers have been reluctant to launch exploration projects even with today's high prices. Such concerns have been reinforced by the huge reserves of oil in several OPEC countries that could be extracted at very low cost if sufficient resources and expertise were directed toward doing so.

Developments in the Natural Gas Market

The story for natural gas shares some similarities with the story for oil, but there are important differences as well. In the 1990s, the U.S. spot price of natural gas at the Henry Hub averaged about $2 per million Btu. However, in recent years, the United States has seen a marked increase in the price of natural gas. The average spot price climbed to nearly $9 per million Btu in 2005, with the price spiking to $15 per million Btu following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. So far this year, natural gas prices have fallen back to around $7 per million Btu as an unusually warm winter curtailed consumption and boosted natural gas in storage to record levels. Futures markets currently anticipate that the price of natural gas will be about $9 per million Btu next year.

Why have natural gas prices risen so sharply over the past few years, and why are they expected to remain elevated? As with oil, high prices of natural gas reflect strong demand and diminished supplies. Unlike the globally integrated market for oil, however, natural gas markets are regional, primarily because of the difficulty in transporting gas by means other than pipelines. Although the world's capacity to trade liquefied natural gas, which is transported by ships, is growing, it is still a small fraction of world supply and is not yet sufficient to fully integrate natural gas markets across continents. Demand for natural gas in North America has remained strong in recent years, particularly as environmental concerns have led clean-burning natural gas to become the fuel of choice for new electricity generation. Moreover, increases in oil prices have boosted the demand for energy substitutes such as natural gas. However, domestic production of natural gas has not kept up. Last year, U.S. production was 7 percent below its 2001 level, with less than half of that decline reflecting the impact of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Increased trade can often mitigate price increases, but net imports of natural gas from Canada, which currently account for around 16 percent of U.S. consumption, have failed to increase in response to higher prices. Between 1988 and 2001, net imports from Canada tripled, but they have since flattened out. Both U.S. and Canadian gas fields have matured and are yielding smaller increases in output, despite the incentive of high prices and a substantial increase in the number of drilling rigs in operation.

Trade in liquefied natural gas, or LNG, is also likely to increase over time, but perhaps at a slower pace than once envisioned. LNG imports into the United States nearly tripled from 2002 to 2004, but they actually fell a bit last year as production disruptions in a number of countries limited supply and as consumers in other countries competed for available cargoes.

Thus, natural gas prices are likely to remain elevated for at least the coming few years. It is possible, however, that within a decade new supplies from previously untapped areas of North America could boost available output here, while imports of LNG will increase to more substantial levels as countries seek to bring their isolated natural gas reserves to market. Given time, these developments could serve to lower natural gas prices in the United States significantly. Nonetheless, because of the higher costs of producing these supplies relative to the traditional sources of natural gas, as well as the elevated cost of other energy sources such as oil, natural gas prices seem unlikely to return to the level of the 1990s.

Thus, the supply-demand fundamentals seem consistent with the view now taken by market participants that the days of persistently cheap oil and natural gas are likely behind us. The good news is that, in the longer run, we have options. I have already noted the scope for improvements in energy efficiency and increased conservation. Considerable potential exists as well for substituting other energy sources for oil and natural gas, including coal, nuclear energy, and renewable sources such as bio-fuels and wind power. Given enough time, market mechanisms are likely to increase energy supplies, including alternative energy sources, while simultaneously encouraging conservation and substitution away from oil and natural gas to other types of energy.

Economic and Policy Implications of Increased Energy Prices

What are the economic implications of the higher energy prices that we are experiencing? In the long run, higher energy prices are likely to reduce somewhat the productive capacity of the U.S. economy. That outcome would occur, for example, if high energy costs make businesses less willing to invest in new capital or cause some existing capital to become economically obsolete. All else being equal, these effects tend to restrain the growth of labor productivity, which in turn implies that real wages and profits will be lower than they otherwise would have been. Also, the higher cost of imported oil is likely to adversely affect our terms of trade; that is, Americans will have to sell more goods and services abroad to pay for a given quantity of oil and other imports. For the medium term at least, the higher bill for oil imports will increase the U.S. current account deficit, implying a greater need for foreign financing.

Under the assumption that energy prices do not move sharply higher from their already high levels, these long-run effects, though clearly negative, appear to be manageable. The U.S. economy is remarkably flexible, and it seems to have absorbed the cost shocks of the past few years with only a few dislocations. And conservation and the development of alternative energy sources will, over the long term, ameliorate some of the effects of higher energy prices. Moreover, ongoing productivity gains arising from sources such as technological improvements are likely to exceed by a significant margin the productivity losses created by high energy prices.

In the short run, sharply higher energy prices create a rather different and, in some ways, a more difficult set of economic challenges. Indeed, a significant increase in energy prices can simultaneously slow economic growth while raising inflation.

An increase in oil prices slows economic growth in the short run primarily through its effects on consumer spending. Because the United States imports much of the oil that it consumes, an increase in oil prices is, as many economists have noted, broadly analogous to the imposition of a tax on U.S. residents, with the revenue from the tax going to oil producers abroad. In 2004 as a whole, the total cost of imported oil increased almost $50 billion relative to 2003. The imported oil bill jumped again last year by an additional $70 billion, and given the price increases we have experienced in 2006, it appears on track to increase $50 billion further at an annual rate in the first half of this year. Coupled with the rising cost of imported natural gas, the cumulative increase in imported energy costs since the end of 2003 is shaping up to be $185 billion--equal to almost 1-1/2 percent of GDP. All else being equal, this constitutes a noticeable drag on real household incomes and spending. It is a tribute to the underlying strength and resiliency of the U.S. economy that it has been able to perform well despite the drag from increased energy prices.

At the same time that higher oil prices slow economic growth, they also create inflationary pressures. Higher prices for crude oil are passed through to increased prices for the refined products used by consumers, such as gasoline and heating oil. When oil prices rise, people may try to substitute other forms of energy, such as natural gas, leading to price increases in those alternatives as well. The rise in prices paid by households for energy--for example for gasoline, heating oil, and natural gas--represent, of course, an increase in the cost of living and in price inflation. This direct effect of higher energy prices on the cost of living is sometimes called the first-round effect on inflation. In addition, higher energy costs may have indirect effects on the inflation rate--if, for example, firms pass on their increased costs of production in the form of higher consumer prices for non-energy goods or services or if workers respond to the increase in the cost of living by demanding higher nominal wages. A jump in energy costs could also increase the public's longer-term inflation expectations, a factor that would put additional upward pressure on inflation. These indirect effects of higher energy prices on the overall rate of inflation are called second-round effects.

The overall inflation rate reflects both first-round and second-round effects. Economists and policymakers also pay attention to the so-called core inflation rate, which excludes the direct effects of increases in the prices of energy (as well as of food). By stripping out the first-round inflation effects, core inflation provides a useful indicator of the second-round effects of increases in the price of energy.

In the past, notably during the 1970s and early 1980s, both the first-round and second-round effects of oil-price increases on inflation tended to be large, as firms freely passed on rising energy costs to consumers, workers reacted to the surging cost of living by ratcheting up their wage demands, and longer-run expectations of inflation moved up quickly. In this situation, monetary policymaking was extremely difficult because oil-price increases threatened to result in a large and persistent increase in the overall inflation rate. The Federal Reserve attempted to contain the inflationary effects of the oil-price shocks by engineering sharp increases in interest rates, actions which had the consequence of sharply slowing growth and raising unemployment, as in the recessions that began in 1973 and 1981.

Since about 1980, however, the Federal Reserve and most other central banks have worked hard to bring inflation and expectations of inflation down. An important benefit of these efforts is that the second-round inflation effect of a given increase in energy prices has been much reduced. To the extent that households and business owners expect that the Fed will keep inflation low, firms have both less incentive and less ability to pass on increased energy costs in the form of higher prices, and likewise workers have less incentive to demand compensating increases in their nominal wages.

As I noted in remarks last week, although the rate of pass-through of higher energy and other commodity prices to core consumer price inflation appears to have remained relatively low in the current episode--reflecting the inflation-fighting credibility built by the Fed in recent decades the cumulative increases in energy and commodity prices have been large enough that they could account for some of the recent pickup in core inflation. In addition, some survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations have edged up, on net, in recent months, as has the compensation for inflation and inflation risk implied by yields on nominal and inflation-indexed government debt. As yet, these expectations measures have remained within the ranges in which they have fluctuated in recent years and inflation compensation implied by yields on government debt has fallen back somewhat in the past month. Nevertheless, these developments bear watching.

In conclusion, energy prices have moved up considerably since the end of 2002, reflecting supply and demand factors. In the short run, prices are likely to remain high in an environment of strong world economic growth and a limited ability to increase energy supplies. Moreover, prices are likely to be volatile in the near term, given the small margins of excess capacity to produce crude oil or natural gas that traditionally have buffered short-run shifts in supply and demand.

However, in the long run, market forces will respond. The higher relative prices of energy will create incentives for businesses to create new, energy-saving technologies and for energy consumers to adopt them. The market for alternative fuels is growing rapidly and will help to shift consumption away from petroleum-based fuels. Government can contribute to these conservation efforts by working to create a regulatory environment that encourages the growth in energy supplies in a manner that is consistent with our nation's environmental and other objectives. Given the extraordinary resilience of the U.S. economy, I am confident our nation will be up to this challenge.

Original article available here.

Legionary Superior Pledges Fidelity to Pope

Code: ZE06061607

Date: 2006-06-16

Legionary Superior Pledges Fidelity to Pope

Benedict XVI Receives Father Corcuera in Audience

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 16, 2006 ( The general director of the Legionaries of Christ renewed his congregation's commitment to serve the Church in a letter he delivered personally to Benedict XVI.

The audience took place this morning, confirmed the Vatican press office.

"With profound humility and veneration," the letter states, "the Legionaries of Christ and members of the Regnum Christi movement want to express, through me, their filial affection, and renew their unconditional support to your person and your ministry, as Vicar of Christ and visible head of the Church."

The text continues: "We are moved by the certainty of faith that only in Peter's bark will we sail toward the sure port of our salvation.

"And we are likewise encouraged by the 'ardent and personal' love for the Successor of Peter (Constitutions of the Legion of Christ, No. 226.2), which we have learned, in the congregation and in Regnum Christi, since the first days of our foundation."

Father Álvaro Corcuera also said the Legionaries and Regnum Christi will "continue to commit our time and persons to the service of the Church, offering our charism to diocesan bishops for the spread of the kingdom of Jesus Christ."

According to sources in the congregation, Father Corcuera revealed that after the audience "the Holy Father, with delicate and paternal benevolence, asked me to transmit his closeness, prayers and blessing to the Legionaries of Christ and the members of the Regnum Christ movement."

Of course, other recent news concerning the Legionaries and which might put this story into context is not mentioned.

Husband's Day

Husband’s Day
Your children will thank you.

By Jennifer Roback Morse

Father’s Day is a day for honoring fathers. But I would like to take a step back and honor men as husbands. In our enlightened, liberated era, we have a tendency to overlook men as husbands, since the father is so often not the husband of the mother. But without some kind of connection between the man and the woman, there is quite literally, no child. I’d like to make the case that the most important thing fathers can do for their children is to love their mother. And likewise, among the many things mothers do for their children, one of the most important is that mothers love their children’s father.

As with so many things, our family learned this from our experience with disturbed children. We encountered a gifted therapist named Nancy Thomas who taught us that attachment disordered children need a strong mother figure to whom they can attach. These children don’t really believe that anyone can take care of them, that the universe is fundamentally a hostile place, and that they must take care of themselves. If the child perceives any weakness in the mother, the child cannot entrust himself to her.

It was my husband who first went to Nancy’s workshop and came back filled with excitement. “You have to be sure of yourself. You can’t let the kids bug you. You have to stay cheerful, even when they are trying to wear you down, because they think it is funny to wear you down. And my job,” my husband said to me, “is to support you. I have to build you up in their eyes, so they will respect you. If they can’t respect you, they can’t heal.”

Truthfully, I had no idea what he was talking about. But it sounded good, so I tried being more decisive with the kids. Even more important than the impact on our kids, was the change in our marriage. My husband made every effort to back me up. He responded to any hints of disrespect from the kids. And, incidentally, he understood that I sometimes needed a break from the daily-ness of dealing with kids. He became much more willing to honor my requests for rest, especially when I made those requests without whining. Through all these things, his being a better husband made me a better mother.

I knew we were making progress, when my son’s school bus driver told me, “I hear you are the queen of Primrose Avenue.” My son had told her I was the Queen of Primrose Avenue. He had heard his father call me that.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I can overlook a lot of dirty socks on the floor for a guy who calls me “queen.” And, by the way, it really did help our kids’ development to see us show one another that kind of respect and appreciation.

The feminist movement introduced an unbelievable amount of tension into the relationships between men and women. Feminism gave us women permission to nag and criticize our husbands, which most women can do just fine without any special permission. The legacy of the feminist movement has been to turn the home, which should be the place of cooperation, into a sphere of competition between men and women. And ironically, feminism, which was supposed to be about getting beyond stereotypes, supported the most negative of stereotypes about men.

I have my own pet theory about the stereotype of men dragging their feet about getting married. The socio-biologists claim that men want to invest their seed in as many women as possible, and therefore do not want marriage. I think this is only a dim shadow of the whole truth. The whole truth must include this great fact about men: They are capable of heroic loyalty. When men finally do marry, they are capable of committing themselves to the care of their wives and children. Many men spend a lifetime working at jobs they don’t like very much, for the love of their families. When men marry, they take it very seriously. It is women who initiate most divorces. It is divorced men who commit suicide at twice the rate as married men, while divorce has little impact on the suicide propensities of women.

When women marry, we get things that we want and value. We get the opportunity to become mothers. We get a home, our nest for our little ones. What do men get? They get the right to throw themselves on a live grenade for the protection of their families. Or, as St. Paul suggested to the Ephesians, husbands get the right to be crucified.

Most men, with an insignificant number of exceptions, are capable of this heroic loyalty. We women can call this out of our men. We don’t achieve this by nagging. We certainly don’t achieve it by competing with them over who makes the most money, or by keeping score with them on who does the most household chores. We need to build them up, as St. Paul says. Watch them sit up straighter and taller when we appreciate and admire them.

We need to build up our marriages because our children suffer from broken relationships or non-relationships. We now know that father absence inflicts a wound on children that social science can measure, but only partially fathom. We are finding that even the children conceived by artificial means long for a relationship with their fathers.

So if we are going to honor fathers, we women have to honor our husbands, as husbands. And sometimes, just sometimes, we will find that they will honor and build us up as well.

Jennifer Roback Morse is author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love In A Hook-up World.

References to ancient Hindus’ beef-eating past deleted from school textbooks

References to ancient Hindus’ beef-eating past deleted from school textbooks
Hindu fundamentalists succeed after three years of disinformation campaign to have offensive chapters deleted from history textbooks that told how ancient Hindus considered beef a great delicacy. For historians, deleting pans of history is an error that eliminates a page of actual history.

Interesting--didn't know eating meat was compatible with Hinduism; then again, Hinduism may have been more monotheistic at one time...

SK: Christian groups claim right to manage their own schools

South Korea
Christian groups claim right to manage their own schools
Under the new law, which comes into effect on July 1, one quarter of boards of directors must be named by outside groups.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

This week from Boundless

JUN 15, 2006 CAUGHT IN A CRUSH by Jenny Schroedel

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Theodore Dalrymple on the World Cup and 'football'

Theodore Dalrymple explains why it is the inescapable duty of every decent citizen to express no interest in or enthusiasm for football and the World Cup.

The Prime Minister, Mr Blair, once claimed in a speech to a Labour Party conference that he was kept awake at night by worry over the fate of "his" team, Newcastle United. It was a joke, of course, and everyone laughed; but there was clearly a serious point behind it. (By serious, I do not mean morally or intellectually serious, of course, I mean electorally serious.) And the point was this: that notwithstanding Mr Blair's privileged personal background, notwithstanding his predilection for the company of and invitations to stay in exotic locations with multimillionaires of dubious reputation, notwithstanding his acceptance of donations to his party from such multi-millionaires, notwithstanding the large sums made by his wife in a branch of law the scope of which his government has extended, and notwithstanding his self-important presidential style, he remains a man of the people, whose tastes are no different from yours and mine.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the members of his first government also claimed to be interested in football. Indeed, according to their entries in Who's Who, football was the only thing, outside politics and therefore the welfare of the whole of humanity, in which they claimed to be interested. They claimed, as I recall, not a single cultural interest between them, though many of them were highly educated men and women. It was as if a cultural interest were a political kiss of death.

Several related questions present themselves about the importance clearly attached by ruling politicians to the public expression of interest in football. Is it genuine or assumed? Which would be worse, a sincere or insincere expression of interest? And what does the seemingly obligatory expression of such an interest tell us about the culture of the country these politicians rule?

A necessary, though not sufficient, condition of a sincere interest in football would require at least one such activity as attendance at matches, watching games on television, reading reports in newspapers, keeping up with league tables (one would hardly expect cabinet members themselves actually to play football, though such a thought gives rise to pleasing fantasies). The condition is not a sufficient one, however, because it would still be possible for someone to do any or all of these things out of pure political calculation. The age of ideology may be past, but certainly not that of political monomania. Those who seek political office must devote themselves to the quest from adolescence or early adulthood, to the exclusion of all else, and are therefore perfectly accustomed to tailor their activities to their political ambitions.

Suppose for a moment that the interest is genuine and the expressions of such interest sincere: does it automatically presage something wrong? Is there anything inherent in the sport of football that excludes it from the consideration of civilised people? Is interest in it confined, by its very nature, to fools or philistines?

The answer is obviously no. The sport itself involves great physical skill and stamina, as well as resources of character when played at a high level, and all such sports have the power to move and excite spectators. There is nothing wrong with this: it accords with human nature. The objection is therefore not to the sport itself, but to the exaggerated importance given to it, and to the place it occupies in modern British culture (here using the word culture in the anthropological sense). To fail to recognise, or to pretend to fail to recognise, football's relatively lowly place on the scale of human accomplishment is to be uncivilised – or, in the case of the dissimulator, to ally oneself with enemies of civilisation, which is perhaps yet worse.

Of course, someone has to take football more seriously than it deserves if the sport is to be played at an entertainingly high level; and society would be deeply impoverished if no one were ever impassioned by relatively trivial or unimportant accomplishments. But that is certainly no reason for us to take trivial or unimportant accomplishments as seriously as those who have laboured long and hard to achieve them must take them.

An interest in football is not in the least incompatible with other interests, and no doubt a long list of great men who had or have an interest in it could no doubt be drawn up, but the virtual exclusivity of the interest in football of members of the British cabinet was very striking. If this were a true reflection of their mental horizons, then we, the British people, had elected to be ruled by a group of culturally very stunted and primitive individuals; and if it wasn't, if in other words these individuals were presenting themselves to us differently from how they actually were, then their purported exclusive interest in football was a reflection of their opinion of the stuntedness of the electorate upon whom their power depended.

It follows that the political elite of this country either has an exaggerated idea of the importance of football, evincing a kind and degree of enthusiasm appropriate to twelve year olds, or it believes that the population it flatters to represent, but in reality aspires to rule, is so obsessed by football that it would be electoral suicide to acknowledge an interest besides football. Either way, football looms much larger in national life than it should.

If men and women whose real extracurricular interests were, say, French poetry or Byzantine art, nevertheless felt obliged for the sake of their political careers to express an interest in football to the exclusion of all else, they would in effect be acknowledging that an interest in football was antithetical to more cultivated tastes, or at least that those with an interest in the sport were actively hostile to intellectual and artistic refinement. Of course, they might be entirely mistaken in this view: there might, among the football crowds, be thousands who are really thirsting for intellectual enlightenment and artistic beauty. On the other hand, they might well be right.

Judging by the appearance and behaviour of football crowds, however, the latter appears to me to be by far the more likely. Indeed, one could hardly have a better illustration than the conduct of British football crowds of mankind's desire to break away from the constraints of civilisation. No doubt there are those who think it is better that they should break away in this fashion than in some other, even worse fashion, because (it will be alleged) such a breakaway is inevitable in one form or another. And we must, after all, get things in proportion: the disasters wrought in and around football stadiums, while not a few, have always been small-scale by comparison with the other man-made disasters of the Twentieth, and no doubt the Twenty-First, Century. So even if football crowds behave in an uncivilised fashion, they are never uncivilised in the worst or highest possible degree.

The benign view of football crowd conduct depends upon the idea that it is somehow cathartic, that there is a fixed quantity of irritation or resentment at civilised standards within the human breast, and that if it is not successfully discharged in relatively harmless or benign ways (such as shouting abuse for hours on end at an opposing tribe of supporters), then it will be discharged in other and far more noxious and malignant ways. This is much in accord with the modern British attitude to emotional life, an attitude which represents something of a gestalt switch from the old or traditional view: that far from seeking to control one's emotions by restrained behaviour, one should allow one's emotions to control one's behaviour.

This gestalt switch was, at least in part, the result of the progress of the slow poison of crude Freudianism (crude because Freud never actually subscribed to it, quite the reverse in fact): namely, the idea that an emotion that remained unexpressed, which is to say repressed, was bound in the end to lead to psychopathology and pathological conduct. Emotion is thus like pus that builds up in an abscess: if it is not released, it is likely to infect the whole organism. It is therefore a good thing – a safety valve for frustrations of every kind, a mere blowing off of steam that might otherwise cause an explosion – that football crowds should conduct themselves in a crude and offensive way.

Unfortunately, this view of human emotions and of catharsis by the public expression of vulgarity and aggression is almost certainly wrong. It is far more likely that appetites grow with feeding. An analogous argument was put forward in favour of extreme representations of violence in film and on television: that they would somehow safely discharge the fixed quantity of violence and aggression that lurked in every human breast waiting to emerge (we are, or at least were, before the advent of such representations of violence, all mad axemen waiting to happen).

While there can be no absolutely conclusive proof in this matter, the evidence points all in the other direction: that a mental diet of representational violence conduces to actual everyday violence and criminality rather than its reduction. It is true that fully-formed adults, raised in a different ethical atmosphere, do not become violent when exposed to representations of violence: they are, so to speak, living on the ethical capital of their youth. But in every society that has been studied in which television, with its vast repertoire of violence, has been introduced comparatively late in the day, from whole countries to isolated populations within large countries, the rate of violence has risen a few years later, as those who were brought up with it reach the age most susceptible to the attractions of violence, namely adolescence and early adulthood. And while no society ever finds itself prey to total violence, disorder and breakdown (the nearest to such a society known to me being the Ik as described by Colin Turnbull [Colin Turnbull, The Mountain People, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1972], because countervailing forces come into play, any society that encourages representations of violence is making things more difficult for itself, from the point of view of the safety of its streets, than they need be.

As for experimental evidence, it mainly points in the same direction: that representation of violence, far from being cathartic, are demonstrative.

It seems to me likely, then, that the crudity and vulgarity of football crowds is self-reinforcing, not cathartic, and that such crudity and vulgarity are likely to spill over into other aspects of life. (I don't think it is possible to say that the general behaviour in our streets has become ever more refined and gracious as football crowds continue with their vulgarity.) This is the more so when the supposed elite of the country not only fails to make an objection to such crudity and vulgarity, but seeks to flatter those who indulge in them by professions of sympathy, interest and solidarity.

Is this not too puritanical? Are the masses not to have their popular entertainments? Was it not ever thus? Did not the circus factions of Byzantium, the Blues and the Greens, indulge in mayhem and riot, and on a much larger scale than our modern football crowds? [Alan Campbell, Circus Factions, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1976 - The author demonstrates that the Byzantine circus factions, long thought to have been expressing by their behaviour either political or social discontent, were merely vandals and hooligans.] Is there not vulgarity enough in Chaucer and Shakespeare? Are there to be no more cakes and ale? And are not football crowds sometimes capable of genuine wit?

Clearly, vulgarity has its place. No one would want to live in a society composed entirely of well brought-up young ladies. But vulgarity is interesting and amusing only in contradistinction to something else. Bawdiness is, or should be, parasitic on refinement, sometimes as a satire on or corrective to over-refinement. Nor is it always and everywhere appropriate. Even Mistress Quickly in Shakespeare reveals herself to be a woman of fine feeling and humanity when she describes the death of Falstaff. She is not vulgar to the very depths of her being. When vulgarity achieves cultural hegemony, when it is praised, flattered and deferred to, however, then people will be vulgar to the depths of their being.

Football is, or has become, a pretext for behaviour that would not be tolerated in other contexts, and which has coarsened and continues to coarsen the whole tenor of society. This behaviour has become so widespread that politicians fear to criticise it, or at least to draw attention to the connection between it and "the beautiful game" in which they feel it necessary to claim to be so interested.

It is not very difficult to observe the connection. In pubs in which large television screens relay matches, for example, large numbers of young adults behave in a disinhibited way, screaming and shouting, often obscenities, and always with a hint of menace. You feel that violence is never very far removed, and could break out at any time. Only people who have given up entirely on the notion of civilised behaviour would fail to find these scenes deeply unattractive, as well as profoundly depressing. These are people not so much enjoying themselves, as straining to persuade themselves and each other that they are enjoying themselves. The void – and awareness that life is a brief spell of consciousness with a complete lack of purpose, between two eternal oblivions – does not seem very far away.

The behaviour of the crowds is often perhaps usually, despicable. The supporters of the two teams have to be kept apart, at huge expense, by a veritable army of police. (If I were a burglar, I would choose the afternoon of a local football match on which to pursue my profession.) Not long ago I attended a match on behalf of a newspaper for which I had acted as a kind of vulgarity correspondent - they sent me to many places where numbers of English gathered and behaved badly, which is to say almost everywhere where they gathered for purposes of leisure or entertainment - between two teams that were certainly not among the foremost in the country.

The coaches containing the supporters of the away team arrived, and the passengers were virtually frogmarched into the stadium between columns of policemen. This was a vision not so much of free-born Englishmen, as of Englishmen as natural slaves, or slaves of their own ungovernable passions. Unable or unwilling to control themselves, they had to be controlled by main force. I had an uncomfortable and genuinely unpleasant frisson of having observed in miniature the end result or product of freedom when conceived as licence: an almost militarised authoritarianism.

In the stadium, I sat among the home supporters. Next to me was a father and his eleven year-old boy. The father seemed to be a mild-mannered man, much concerned for the comfort and welfare of his son. Suddenly, in the middle of the match, and for reasons that I was unable to discern, he stood up and started to hurl the most vulgar and violent abuse at the section of the stadium into which the opposing supporters had been herded. Was this the example he wanted to give his son? Was this how he would want his don to remember him? Apparently it was.

For the duration of the match, there was little trouble, though of course bloodshed was prevented only by the presence of high wire fences and the presence of brigades of policemen. After the match was over, however, some of the away supporters managed to escape from the supervision of the police and caused havoc in the centre of the city, smashing shop windows (and no doubt helping themselves), and wrecking a few pubs. Their team had lost, and no doubt it was essential for their psychological health that they should vent their frustration on something external to themselves – for who knows what terrible consequences they might have suffered later in life if they hadn't?

And this is what a supporter of the English team, playing a "friendly" match in Rome, to which I had likewise been sent by the same newspaper, said to me when I asked him at half-time why he had come all this way to shout disgusting obscenities at the Italians for hours on end. "You have to let your hair down," he said to me, implying that there would be dire personal consequences if he, and everyone else, didn't.

There were about 10,000 English supporters present. Rome hadn't seen anything so barbaric since the arrival of Alaric. Once inside the stadium, the supporters shouted their vile insults in unison and made gestures that looked remarkably like the Fascist salute. Perhaps they didn't realise the connotations of what they were doing in a city that had once embraced and suffered from real Fascism, or maybe they did. Here, perhaps, we can see one of the perverse effects of multiculturalist pieties: multiculturalism may demand in theory that we understand and accept the behaviour of others, but in practice, more often than not, it demands that others understand and accept our behaviour, whatever it may be, including the menacing use en masse of something approaching the Fascist salute. "This is how we behave, this is how we are, this is us, so you just have to accept it," they say: exactly as burglars in the prison in which I used to work were inclined to say, "I'm a burglar, burgling is what I do," as if any disapproval were a vicious assault on their individuality and the integrity of their person.

This explains why, when the Italian police finally charged at them, the English supporters were outraged by the injustice of it. No such thing could happen at home. What had they done to deserve it? Nothing except having forced the Italians to prepare their capital city as for an armed invasion, having behaved in an intimidating manner for hours on end, having screamed obscenities in unison for almost as long, and having given the impression that they might be Fascists.

True, one or two of them, or nine or ten, or ninety-nine or a hundred, might have thrown bottles at cars and people, and smashed a few windows in their understandable state of excited exuberance (if the Italians didn't like it, why had they sold them the alcohol that inflamed them? - it was therefore the commercial greed of the Italians that was to blame if any excesses had been committed by the English supporters), but even 100 people is only 1 per cent of a crowd of 10,000, so it was completely unjust for the Italian police to have treated all 10,000 as if they were criminal hooligans. Never mind that, when I looked around me in the midst of the 10,000, I was the only one - my wife thinks I exaggerate, but I do not - the only one not to be shouting obscenities or raising my hand in the Fascist-like salute.

There was an aspect of the crowd in Rome that surprised me, but which I suppose I might have deduced from certain elementary considerations, had I thought about them. The members of the crowd were certainly not members of the much reviled underclass, the feckless, ignorant, hopeless proportion of the population that has not enjoyed the prolonged festival of Britain's mortgage-based prosperity. On the contrary, it was soon evident from taking to them – when they were not shouting that wittiest of all football refrains, Who the f... do you think you are? - that they were predominantly members of the middle class, with jobs such as computer programming or school-teaching. They were on holiday, it seems, from the need for good manners. The problem is that boorishness easily becomes a habit.

But there is more to it than that. At Rome airport, on the way home, I witnessed something that seemed to me emblematic of a deep, subterranean and unacknowledged movement in our society. A young woman in front of me in the queue to check in had an upper middle class bearing. When she spoke to the British Airways employee behind the counter, her speech was that of someone not unfamiliar with the streets around Sloane Square. She was polite, although obviously accustomed to receiving deference and service.

The next time I saw her was on the bus taking us from the terminal to the aircraft. The bus was full of England supporters, of whom, it turned out, she was one. Rejoining them, she at once started to speak in a completely different fashion from that she had used at the check-in counter: adopting the accent of people several rungs beneath her own in the social scale and using the vocabulary and syntax of the customers of an East End pub, she played at being one of the lads. (One of the consequences of the success of feminism is that everything deemed appropriate in male company is now deemed appropriate in female company.) Here was a modern equivalent of Marie Antoinette playing shepherdess.

This mass downward cultural aspiration, at least at selected moments, is something new in British society - a professed interest in football being a strong expression of it. (Economic aspiration is something altogether different: no one aspires to be downwardly mobile as far as their income is concerned. Economic and cultural aspiration, that used to go more or less in tandem, have now separated and gone in opposite directions.)

Some years ago, I read the obituary of a pop singer in the Daily Telegraph [Daily Telegraph, 28th March, 2000 - The singer was Ian Dury, who was in many ways an admirable and likeable man] - that there was an obituary of such a figure at all tells us something as well - in which it was mentioned that, having been irritated by what he considered the false gentility of his school, he decided to adopt, once and for all, the accent of South London as being altogether more authentic. In other words, in the name of authenticity, he decided to speak in a way that was not natural to him: though no doubt by repetition and practice, it eventually became natural to him.

Authenticity thus demands the adoption of a role, which is surely a most curious form of authenticity. I contrast this with my father, who was born in the East End, but adopted early in life the received pronunciation, from whose use he never afterwards deviated. He did this in the name not of authenticity, but of social, economic and cultural mobility. (Such a move today might damage rather than enhance a person's career prospects.)

In this regard, it is interesting to contrast the linguistic efforts of Mrs Thatcher and Mr Blair. Both have sought to obscure their social origins by means of the way they speak, Mrs Thatcher to obscure her origins as a petit bourgeois from one of the most provincial counties of England, and Mr Blair to obscure his origins - with, it must be confessed, much less consistency and therefore success than Mrs Thatcher - as a privileged scion of the upper-middle classes. And this in itself is indicative of a seismic shift in British sensibilities.

An interest in football has thus become a badge of political virtue: which is to say of democratic sentiment, almost the only virtuous sentiment there is. Curiously enough, a supposedly multicultural age is highly intolerant of social differences in tastes, interests and preoccupations, and thus there has been a compression of taste, so that no one may safely disavow an interest in pop music or – of course – football. To do so is to avow yourself an enemy of the people, and to suggest that their interests may not be among the highest or best interests that a man can have.

The sincerest form of flattery is imitation, which is why large numbers of middle-class people now behave in a vulgar and degraded fashion in public. What better evidence could there be of their solidarity with those less favourably-placed than themselves? And their view of the British proletariat is, in a rather perverse way, romantically golden-ageist.

Those who say that the English character was once rather more attractive than it is now, who believe that George Orwell [George Orwell, England Your England, in The Lion and the Unicorn, Secker and Warburg, London, 1941] was drawing attention to something real about England, as were the foreigners whom he cited, are accused of being sentimental and golden-ageist (never mind that, say, the crime statistics bear Orwell out, even if there is no category of human misconduct that has not always existed to some extent).

Well, the middle classes have an equal but opposite golden age to refer to: the age when the proletarian Englishman was uninhibitedly free, drunken, promiscuous, witty, violent, vulgar, aggressive, foulmouthed, insensitive and egotistical, a kind of Dionysius dressed in rags and living in slums, but really living, not merely existing. As an oppressed person, of course, the proletarian could do no wrong: grub first (and beer, sex and football), then morals.

Of the two golden ages, the first seems to me to be rather more - though not wholly - realistic from the historical point of view. The proponents of both golden ages can point to evidence in support of both: for example, the memories of working class people who were able to leave their doors open because their neighbours and strangers were so honest, set against memories, taken from precisely the same era, of theft and drunken violence; or the working-class desire for self-improvement, behavioural restraint and respectability [Jonathan Rose, The Intellectual Life of the English Working Classes, Yale University Press, London, 2001], set against ignorant indifference to education, utter self-abandonment and egotism. The question is not which of these things existed and still exist, it a question of which sets or set the tone, which is or was the aspiration, which the tendency. I think this question answers itself.

The middle-class followers of football want to believe that the history of the British proletariat is of nothing but oppression by circumstance and by factory owner, and of the most enjoyably degraded and degrading resultant behaviour possible, perhaps with a little radical political activity thrown in, like herbs in a stew. They are the kind of people who, if you mention the mass public drunkenness that is among the less attractive aspects of British life today, never fail to mention Gin Lane, as if nothing had happened in the intervening two hundred and fifty years to cast doubt on a genetic explanation for such British public drunkenness.

The two golden ages of the British proletariat – that of heroic self-restraint and self-improvement on the one hand, and that of Dionysian self-abandonment and self-indulgence on the other – have very obviously different moral connotations and practical consequences for those who wish to demonstrate their generosity of feeling and democratic principles by means of imitation. If the first golden age is the more accurate, then the imitators should be trying to learn German after a hard day's work in order to be able to read Goethe in the original; if the latter, they should be abusive, vulgar, drunken and with an inclination to gratuitous violence.

I need hardly point out that there is a limit to the democratic vocation. No one's solidarity with the downtrodden is so great that he will learn German after a day's work, even if it was only a moderately hard day's work. On the other hand, the attractions of vandalism and vulgarity considered as an expression of political virtue are considerable. This no doubt explains why, near the Chelsea football ground, it is possible on match days to see people urinating the streets where the houses cost well in excess of £1 million, and hear obscenities creamed from the windows of cars that are worth the lifetime earnings of a hundred African peasants.

The desire to appear a man of the people rather than an enemy of the people probably accounts for the increased seriousness with which football is taken by literati. For example, the poet and literary critic, Ian Hamilton, who among other things wrote a biography of the poet, literary critic, cultural and educational philosopher, Matthew Arnold, also wrote an essay of more than 100 pages about the English footballer, Paul Gascoigne, called Gazza Agonistes, which was published in Granta, the nearest that Britain comes to a general literary journal of substance [Ian Hamilton, Gazza Agonistes, Granta, Cambridge, 1993].

The essay does not just recount the story of this rather pathetic, almost tragic, Icarus figure, which is of some, though limited, interest from the psychological and sociological point of view: it takes football seriously as an art form, as something worthy in itself of intellectual consideration and discussion. This is now almost obligatory; and anyone who admitted that he thought anything else would be decried as elitist, snobbish and politically ultramontane.

The writer, Nick Hornby, invites us in a rather knowing way to admire him for having devoted so much of his time, effort, energy and money to football [Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch, Victor Gollancz, London, 1992]. How can such an intelligent person have chosen football as the focus of his existence? The game must be serious if someone like him is so obsessed by it. At the same time, he wants us to admire his cleverness in analysing his own stupidity. There is something almost gnostic in this. Just as the exhibition of great guilt can sometimes be an invitation to consider the guilty person as exceptionally virtuous (for, of course, only a really good person would be capable of so much guilt), so only a really intelligent person could, or would be willing to, lay claim to so much stupidity.

I once had as a patient a girl who had the terrible misfortune to be born intelligent and intellectually curious in an English slum, and who was taunted by other pupils in her school for her academic prowess. "They say I'm stupid," she told me, "because I'm clever." With Mr Hornby, it's the other way round: "I'm clever because I'm stupid." Perhaps shrewd would be a better word than clever.

Even a writer as brilliant, cultivated and scholarly as Tim Parks feels obliged to declare himself a fanatic of the game [Tim Parks, A Season with Verona, Secker and Warburg, London, 2002]. He wrote a book – a very good book – called A Season with Verona, recounting his experience of attending in a single season every match of his adopted hometown's team, Hellas Verona, in which he makes obeisance to the game itself.

Of course, he recognises that football fills a vacuum left by the absence of religion, political idealism, high culture or aesthetic achievement: but he leaves the overall impression that this doesn't matter very much, because the intellectual and spiritual thin gruel of entertainment by football is sufficient to sustain a life, and in the face of the life's and the universe's meaninglessness, one obsession is as good as another.

And when he implies that he is himself bereft during football's brief absences from the national scene ("we sense a sudden emptiness," as he puts it), he is either admitting the pernicious influence of the sport on his very considerable intellect, or saying something that isn't strictly true, whose meaning is more or less this: yes, I am a man of the greatest talent and erudition, but I tell you that I haven't lost the common touch and thereby become an elitist, because I too shout obscenities from the terrace and am devastated by a goal scored against Hellas Verona.

The fact that football is so popular is probably the reason why the sub-culture it has engendered, at least in England, is the object of such muted criticism. Of course, there has been much adverse comment on the behaviour of violent hooligans, but their behaviour has been thought peripheral to "the beautiful game" (I don't know when the expression first came into general use, but it would now take a brave man to dispute its accuracy, and to point out that the phenomenon of the sport as a whole is not beautiful but ugly). But if any other leisure activity had given rise to a mere fraction of what football regularly gives rise to, there would long have been calls for its outlawry.

In 1991, the editor of Granta, Bill Buford, an American resident in England, published a startling book called Among the Thugs [Bill Buford, Among the Thugs, Secker and Warburg, London, 1991]. He was intrigued by the culture of antisocial behaviour and violence that surrounded football, a sport of which he was ignorant and to whose excitements he proved only moderately susceptible. He insinuated himself into the company of football hooligans – by no means people in desperate economic straits, quite the contrary, so poverty is not the key to their behaviour - and subsequently described their horrible exploits.

When he first met these football fans, Mr Buford thought their laddish behaviour only mildly transgressive, and sometimes even amusing, a kind of satire on propriety. But he soon realised that there were boundaries that, if crossed, led to unbridled violence of a deeply repellent nature, and that the laddish behaviour made the crossing of these boundaries very much more likely. He did not prescribe to the cathartic effect of bad behaviour: bad behaviour leads to worse behaviour. Here is his description of one incident, by no means the worst he witnessed, when Manchester United played Juventus in Turin:

Directly in front of me... a young Italian, a boy really, had been knocked down. As he was getting up, an English supporter pushed the boy down again, ramming his flat hand against the boy's face. He fell back and his head hit the pavement, the back of it bouncing slightly.

Two other Manchester United supporters appeared. One kicked the boy in the ribs. It was a soft sound, which surprised me... He was kicked again - this time very hard - and the sound was still soft, muted. The boy reached down to protect himself, and the other English supporter then kicked him in the face... It sounded gritty. The boy tried to get up and he was pushed back down... Another Manchester United supporter appeared and then a third. There were now six, and they all started kicking the boy on the ground... I could tell, from the sound, when someone's shoe missed or when it struck the fingers and not the forehead or the nose...

Two more Manchester United supporters appeared - there must have been eight by now. It was getting crowded and difficult to get at the boy: they were bumping each other and tussling slightly...

The thought of it: eight people kicking the boy at once. At what point is the job completed.

It went on.

... His face was now covered with blood, which came from his nose and mouth, and his hair was matted and wet. The kicking went on. On and on and on, that terrible soft sound, with the boy saying nothing, only wriggling on the ground.

What would be appropriate punishment for these eight cowards who ran away at the sight of one policeman? I confess that, as I read, I thought of the title of that famous, or notorious, early eighteenth century pamphlet, Hanging Not Punishment Enough. And then I thought, these hooligans are drawing me down into a spiral of brutality myself.

It would be nice to suppose that this was an isolated incident, perpetrated by a handful of misfits, but this would be quite wrong. Mr Buford saw thousands of people behave in an appalling way, destroying property, terrifying young and old, and willing to commit thoughtless murder or maim people for life. It is true that since he wrote, the violence associated with football matches has declined, but this is in large part because of the superior organisation of the police. Take the police away, fail to deploy them en masse, and what would happen? This is not an experiment anyone would now be willing to try, for obvious reasons. The underlying characteristics of the football subculture remain.

Two questions: what kind of people need to be treated in this way in order to prevent them from becoming brutes? And what kind of activity is it that so regularly promotes such behaviour? If there is nothing wrong in principle with football as a sport, with two teams of eleven people trying to kick a ball into their opponents' goal, there is obviously something very wrong with it in its current practice. There is nothing inevitable in this: Americans and Australians, after all, are just as enthusiastic about such sports as American football, baseball, and Australian rules football, as the British are about football, and gather in crowds at least as large as those to be found at British football matches, but they hardly need policing, let alone dragooning as if they were prisoners of war.

Why is there so little commentary on this fact? Because it would suggest that there is something deeply unattractive about thousands, perhaps millions, of ordinary people. And in a democratic, not to say demotic, age, it is impermissible to argue that anyone who is not in authority can do wrong. Their tastes, their behaviour, must be good. In other words, forty million English can't be wrong. Truth is not the first casualty of war alone: it is the first casualty of populism.

That populism also explains why a disgracefully regressive tax should have passed unnoticed and unprotested at a time when "social justice" is the clamour of almost ever intellectual. The BBC pays the Football Association approximately £500 million per year for the right to televise its matches: which is to say that it pays a £500 million subsidy from public funds, much of it gathered from people who are not well off, to very rich people who would still be very rich even without it. The only justification of such a public subsidy would be if an activity, deemed worthwhile in itself, ceased to be possible without it. Football does not fit the bill by a wide margin, and yet no one complains.

I was once asked on to a BBC programme to discuss the proposition that fox hunting, being brutal and primitive, had a bad effect on the character and behaviour of those who practised it, and that this bad effect justified outlawing it. I pointed out that any such effect, if it existed, which given the elaborate rules and ritual governing fox hunting was most unlikely, was of tiny social significance compared with the bad effect that football exerted on both its practitioners and its audience. There was a stunned silence in the studio. It was as if I had gone to Mecca and said there was no God. Surely I could not be suggesting that football be banned?

I meant no such thing, of course. What I did mean was that, so long as our footballing subculture is so deeply impregnated with stupidity, vulgarity and violence, it is the inescapable duty of every decent citizen to express no interest in or enthusiasm for it in public whatsoever, even if by doing so those who seek election might gain a few extra votes for being, or pretending to be, one of the lads. A Prime Minister - and a Leader of the Opposition - who says that he's interested in football is telling the population that it's all right to express its inner hooligan.

Theodore Dalrymple is a writer and recently retired as an inner city and prison doctor.

Probably too immersed in (philosophical) liberalism, but The Social Affairs Unit blog.

Father Cantalamessa on Charismatic Renewal

Code: ZE06061420

Date: 2006-06-14

Father Cantalamessa on Charismatic Renewal

Pontifical Household Preacher Recounts Personal Experience

ROME, JUNE 14, 2006 ( The Catholic Charismatic Renewal is "a joyful experience of God's grace," said Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Pontifical Household.

Father Cantalamessa expressed this conviction on Pentecost at a gathering of more than 7,000 members of the CCR attending a meeting entitled "My Soul Magnifies the Lord."

Interviewed by ZENIT during the meeting, Father Cantalamessa recounted his personal experience in the CCR.

Q: In John's Gospel, Jesus answers Nicodemus' question affirming that the Spirit "blows where it wills." In your judgment, is it possible to interpret in what direction the Holy Spirit is blowing in his continuous irruption in history?

Father Cantalamessa: In the homily of the vigil of Pentecost, the Pope said something very beautiful when commenting on these words of John's Gospel. He did say that the Spirit "blows where he wills," but he clarified that he never blows in a disordered, contradictory way.

Therefore, we have behind us the whole tradition of the Church, the doctrine of the doctors, the teaching of the Church to discern which charisms are valid and which are not.

It might be that at the beginning some charisms make much noise, attract more attention, but that later, over time, reveal themselves instead to be unfounded.

The Church is like water: It receives all bodies, but the true, solid ones it engulfs, whereas it leaves the others on the surface. Empty charisms, which have only exterior manifestation, remain outside the Church.

Q: In the present context, do you believe that the ecclesial movements are called to a renewed evangelizing impulse, to be in the vanguard of the ecumenical dialogue, or to combat secularization or the crisis of families? What contribution can they make to the Church?

Father Cantalamessa: I am convinced, as the Pope has said he is convinced, that the movements are a grace for the Church of today. An appropriate answer to today's world, to the secularized world and to a world that priests and the hierarchy can no longer reach and which, consequently, needs the laity.

These lay movements are integrated in society; they live with others. I think, therefore, that they have an extraordinary task that, thank God, is not a utopia for the future, but something we are experiencing before our eyes.

The ecclesial movements are in the vanguard of evangelization, in the works of charity, in addition to animating a wide range of activities.

These movements give Christians a new motivation and enable them to rediscover the beauty of Christian life and, consequently, dispose them to take on tasks of evangelization, of pastoral animation of the Church.

Q: Briefly, how did you come to the Renewal?

Father Cantalamessa: I did not come to it. Someone took me to it. When I prayed with the psalms, they seemed written for me from before. Then, when from Convent Station in New Jersey, I went to the monastery of the Capuchins in Washington, I felt attracted to the Church as by a magnet and this was a discovery of prayer -- and it was a Trinitarian prayer.

The Father seemed impatient to speak to me of Jesus and Jesus wanted to reveal the Father to me. I think the Lord made me accept, after much resistance, the effusion, the baptism in the Spirit, and then many things happened over time.

Q: Given the many and diverse ecclesial movements, what is the special contribution that Catholic Charismatic Renewal can make to the Church?

Father Cantalamessa: In a certain sense, they are very humble and discreet. We have no power, or great structures or founders, but Catholic Charismatic Renewal is the movement that, for example, among all the ecclesial movements, is the most interested in theology. In Charismatic Renewal there is, in fact, a question on the Holy Spirit.

In fact, all the important treatises of theologians on the Holy Spirit speak of the Renewal because it is not simply one more spirituality among others, but it is a new rising of an original Christianity which was that of the apostles.

And I think that its objective is not so much to relate to a particular sector as it to animate the Church. The Renewal should not lead to the establishment of groups, churches. How terrible it would be if it was so! It should be, as Cardinal Leo Jozef Suenens said, a current of grace that is lost in the mass of the Church.

Well, that's the opinion of Fr. Cantalamessa on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. But I think I'll stick to traditional Catholic spirituality.

Robert P. George: I was wrong about Peter Singer

From First Things.

June 12, 2006

Robert P. George writes:

I Was Wrong About Peter Singer

I have long been a defender of Peter Singer.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not defend Singer on infanticide. Like most people—liberals and conservatives alike—I reject Singer’s proposition that it can be morally right to kill newborns who happen to be afflicted by retardation, hemophilia, or even cleft palates. And I’m appalled by his claim that there would be nothing morally wrong with a society that chose to breed large numbers of children to be killed in infancy (painlessly, of course) in order to harvest organs for transplantation. Nor do I defend Singer on sexual morality. I reject his claims that there is nothing morally objectionable about people having sex with multiple partners, with animals (so long as the animals are not harmed or made to suffer in the process), and even with corpses.

So on what have I defended Singer?

Despite his views, I have insisted that he is a person of intellectual honesty and integrity. As I go around the country, people frequently ask me what it is like to be his colleague at Princeton. Many people assume that because of his views, he must be a monster. Not so. Despite his repugnant moral opinions, he is to be commended, I have said, for his willingness honestly to face up to the implications of his principles. He knows that his views on infanticide will cause many people to regard him as an ogre or dismiss him as a crank, but he does not shrink from stating them. Nor does he sugarcoat them by suggesting, as some of his defenders do, that his belief in the moral acceptability of infanticide applies only in “extreme” cases of severely damaged infants who are suffering intolerable pain. Nor does he pretend that a principled moral distinction can be drawn between abortion and infanticide. Nor does he hold back from stating the implications of his views about sexual morality, even when the subject is bestiality or necrophilia, Moreover, I have always said, Singer argues in a fair-minded way. He does not resort to smearing his opponents or distorting their views. He tells the truth as he sees it. He does not trade in evasions or half-truths. He possesses the virtue of intellectual honesty.

Or so I thought.

But now I see that Professor Singer has brought shame on himself precisely by an act of intellectual dishonesty. He has written a letter to the editor of The Nation magazine that by deliberately hiding from his readers a crucial fact is designed to lead them into believing something that is not true. As it happens, the letter concerns me. I know the facts and, happily, can document them with email messages between us that I have preserved. Here is the story.

Recently, The Nation magazine published a cover story entitled “Princeton Tilts Right.” Its author tried to make the case that the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton that I founded and have the honor to direct represents an incursion by powerful conservative interests on academic freedom and other important values. (People can read the article and decide for themselves whether it has any plausibility.) In a subsequent issue of the magazine, Singer’s letter is published together with others reacting to the article. Here is Singer’s letter in full:

Great universities thrive on the contest between deeply opposed positions, so I welcome the presence of conservatives like Robert George on the Princeton campus. For Princeton’s undergraduates, a debate between someone like myself and George on whether human life is sacrosanct would be a stimulating educational experience. What a pity it is, therefore, that it has never happened. On several occasions over the past years, student organizations have tried to set up a debate between George and me. I have always accepted. George has always refused. Which of course makes me wonder: If George thinks it is so important to challenge the liberal hegemony at universities, why won’t he do it in the time-honored arena of a public exchange of ideas before the university community.

Now, that makes me sound pretty bad, doesn’t it? The reader is invited to conclude that I am unwilling to engage Singer in intellectual debate. He always accepts; I always refuse. The reader must be asking, “Why?” A reader might draw the inference that it’s because I’m afraid to engage in a serious intellectual exchange with Professor Singer, perhaps because I lack confidence in my own views or because I fear his formidable skills as a debater. That would be the charitable reading. A less charitable reader might suppose, as Singer’s letter slyly (as we shall see) insinuates, that I don’t really believe in the ideal of intellectual engagement “between people holding deeply opposed views,” by which, as Singer says, “great universities thrive.”

But here is where knowledge of the crucial fact deliberately omitted from the story by Professor Singer has its force. The question was never whether I would engage Singer in serious intellectual exchanges about the profound matters on which we disagree. The question was how our exchanges would be structured to ensure that they were truly academic enterprises, and not entertainments, exhibitions of rhetorical skill, or partisan contests.

On November 3, 2003, Professor Singer and I met for lunch at the Princeton faculty club for the express purpose of discussing how we could best engage our differences in the setting of the university. I explained that given the depth of our differences and the gravity of issues such as killing newborn babies, I did not think much was to be gained by a one-shot gladiatorial debate of the sort that had been proposed by student groups. I proposed what I regarded as a far superior approach, namely, that we teach a seminar together, preferably a graduate seminar (though undergraduates are permitted to enroll in graduate seminars at Princeton—I had a dozen or so in the graduate seminar I just finished teaching this past semester). This would give us the opportunity to engage each other in intense discussion every week for the twelve weeks of the semester, as students pressed us and probed the foundations of our arguments. Each of us would be able to assign works that would help the other (and our students) to understand more fully the intellectual bases of the arguments we were advancing on, say, the nature of human dignity and the moral norms pertaining to the taking of human life. Each of us would also, I suggested, assign some of our own writings so that our arguments (stated as reflectively and carefully as possible) could be subjected to critical scrutiny.

Professor Singer agreed to co-teach a seminar of this type as soon as we could find a semester in which we could fit it in with our established teaching obligations. I was delighted. On Thursday, September 15, 2005, Singer sent me the following email message:

Dear Robbie:

I trust this finds you well. You may recall that when we lunched together at Prospect some time ago you indicated that you would be interested in teaching a graduate seminar with me. This would, you thought, be a more fruitful form of exchange than a single debate of the kind that various student groups have tried to set up between us from time to time. At the time, we both had various teaching commitments stretching some time ahead, so this idea of a joint graduate seminar was a distant prospect. But at least for me, the possibility is now coming closer—I think we talked about doing it in the fall 06, and that would work for me. Are you still interested? Is that still possible for you?

Best wishes,
Peter Singer

I promptly replied:

Dear Peter:

Thanks for your kind message. Yes, let’s go forward with the seminar. I think it’s a great idea. 06-07 won’t work for me, though, as I’ve agreed to do a seminar with Cornel West on top of my other courses. Could you and I do a seminar together in 07-08? I’d be happy to propose this to my department to be cross listed with the UCHV [that is, the University Center for Human Values, the institute in which Professor Singer holds an appointment at Princeton]. Spring is better for me than fall because I teach Constitutional Interpretation in the fall and it is a large and all-consuming course. [I then go on to discuss some further details about what we might include in the seminar we would teach together.]

Best wishes,

In his letter to The Nation, Singer failed to disclose any of this to his readers. Now, he was careful to avoid saying anything that was literally untrue. Yet by a selective presentation that omitted the most important fact of all, he sought to produce in the minds of his readers an impression that was false. Under that impression, I would likely be regarded as someone who was unwilling to engage in serious intellectual exchanges with people with whom I disagree. Yet, as Singer knew, this is the very reverse of the truth. I am the one who proposed to him that instead of a single debate, we teach a seminar in which we could explore our differences in a context conducive to the most intense and serious scrutiny of each other’s ideas. Indeed, he knew that I was willing to do this not only with him but also with Cornel West. (Professor West will attest that it was I who initiated with him the idea of an exchange of any type, and it was I who invited him to teach a seminar with me. So much for Singer’s sly insinuation that I am someone who is unwilling to engage in serious intellectual exchanges with scholars with whom I disagree.)

Readers may be wondering where the matter of jointly teaching a seminar was left between Singer and myself. On November 17, 2005, Singer replied to my message, saying that he was glad I was still interested in co-teaching the seminar, “but it may not be easy to get the timing right.” He explained that he is currently in Princeton only for the fall semesters and that he spends the spring semesters in Australia. “I’m eager to get the university to extend the existing arrangement. Since we are talking some time ahead, we can wait and see if that happens.”

I’ve been waiting. I have heard nothing further from Professor Singer, but in the meantime the readers of The Nation heard from him. The trouble is that what he chose to tell them was a half-truth evidently designed to make them believe something false. Of course, Singer knew that he could count on some readers of The Nation to be prepared to think the worst of any conservative, including me. Such persons would read his letter and not ask questions. They would draw the inferences that his half-truth invited them to draw, and that would be that. And for those who might ask questions, he could always fall back on the fact that he hadn’t said anything that was literally false. He was even shrewd enough to weave into his letter the claim that it would be undergraduates in particular who could benefit from an exchange between us. That is obviously meant to give him a bit of cover with those who come into possession of the whole truth. He can say, “Well, the seminar that George and I were planning would be a graduate seminar. I didn’t mention it because it is irrelevant to my deep concern for undergraduates. That’s what my letter was about.” I’m content to let readers themselves decide whether this excuses Singer’s deliberate failure to disclose the central truth to his readers.

I agree with Singer that great universities thrive on the contest of ideas. That is why I proposed teaching a seminar with him. That is why I am teaching a seminar with Cornel West. That is why I have frequently appeared in classes and seminars taught by liberal and left-wing colleagues such as Paul Sigmund and Maurizio Viroli to present views that differ from theirs and engage them and their students in serious arguments. That is why I have served on panels at academic meetings and forums around the country with people who reject my positions on the great questions of law and morality of our day but share my belief in the free and open exchange of ideas as the best path to truth. That is why I have sponsored such panels at Princeton under the auspices of the James Madison Program and invited the participation of distinguished scholars and jurists from across the political spectrum. (Our latest guest was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.) That is why I have always sought to structure such exchanges to ensure that they are true academic enterprises, not entertainments or point-scoring contests. But a precondition of the fruitful engagement of ideas in any context is intellectual honesty and fairness. Without it, there is no bond uniting scholars who otherwise fundamentally disagree. Every scholar must tell the truth as he sees it and never fail to disclose crucial facts in order to mislead listeners or readers. When someone omits part of the truth in order to induce his listeners or readers to draw a conclusion that he knows to be false, he breaks the bond and alienates himself from the enterprise of truth seeking that is the defining mission of scholars. This is what Peter Singer has done. I’m afraid there is nothing left on which to defend him.

(Click here to email the author about this item. Robert P. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and a member of the First Things editorial board.)

Latin Links

Hrm, I thought I had saved a draft of this, but I can't seem to find it... unless it's over at depositum-fidei (it probably is).

Latinitas Foundation
Some more Latin links:
(I should definitely check out: Johannes Ludovicus Vives (1492-1540), Exercitatio Linguae Latinae)

Francis Collins, geneticist, becomes a theist

The Sunday Times June 11, 2006

I’ve found God, says man who cracked the genome