- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2009

Knee-jerking

“[Harold] Pinter often fumed about tyranny, but equally fumed about people who resisted it. During the Second World War, Pinter called the British Army uniform [excrement] … Just a few years later, Europe was being threatened to the East by a Stalinist tyranny that had already murdered 30 million people, and the Labour left - led by Nye Bevan - was (rightly) supporting the airlifts to occupied Berlin. But Pinter called this ‘ridiculous.’ When he was called up for army service, he became a conscientious objector, deriding the people backing free Berlin as ‘fools.’ …

“The tragedy of Pinter’s politics is that he took a desirable political value - hatred of war, or distrust for his own government - and absolutizes it. It is good to hate war, but to take this so far that you will not resist Hitler and Stalin is absurd. It is good to oppose the crimes of your own government - but to take this so far that you end up serving on the Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic is bizarre.

- Johann Hari, writing “Harold Pinter does not deserve the post mortem white-washing he is about to receive,” on Dec. 25 at the Huffington Post

Musical output

“Musical productivity - at least among the recording artists who have exploited the phonograph and its successors over the past hundred years or so - seems to match the course of an individuals reproductive life. In particular, Dr. Miller studied jazz musicians. He found that their output rises rapidly after puberty, reaches its peak during young-adulthood, and then declines with age and the demands of parenthood.

“As is often the case with this sort of observation, it sounds unremarkable; obvious, even. But uniquely human activities associated with survival - cooking, say - do not show this pattern. People continue to cook at about the same rate from the moment that they have mastered the art until the moment they die or are too decrepit to continue.

“Moreover, the anecdotal evidence linking music to sexual success is strong. Dr. Miller often cites the example of Jimi Hendrix, who had sex with hundreds of groupies during his brief life and, though he was legally unmarried, maintained two long-term liaisons. The words of Robert Plant, the lead singer of Led Zeppelin, are also pertinent: ‘I was always on my way to love. Always. Whatever road I took, the car was heading for one of the greatest sexual encounters Ive ever had.’”

- From the article “Why Music?” in the Dec. 18 issue of the Economist

Not so free

“Twenty years ago, most liberals defended [Salman] Rushdies right to publish ‘The Satanic Verses’ despite the offense it caused many Muslims. Today, many argue that whatever may appear to be right in principle, in practice one must appease religious and cultural sensibilities because such sensibilities are so deeply felt. The avoidance of ‘cultural pain’ is seen as more important than what is regarded as an abstract right to freedom of expression.

“But such a policy creates the very problems to which it is supposedly a response. Take the furor over ‘The Jewel of Medina.’ Not a single Muslim had objected before Random House pulled the book. It is quite possible that none would have had the publishers gone ahead as planned. But once Random House had made an issue of the books offensiveness, then it was inevitable that some Muslims at least would feel offended.

“After Random House had dropped ‘The Jewel of Medina,’ it was picked up in Britain by the small independent publisher Gibson Square, whose director Martin Rynja is a staunch advocate of free speech. On 26 September - exactly 20 years after the publication of ‘The Satanic Verses’ - Gibson Squares offices were firebombed. Martin Rynja is still in hiding.”

- Kenan Malik, writing on “Twenty Years On: Internalizing the Fatwa,” in the November issue of the Spiked Review of Books

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