Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Stange Bedfellows . . .

Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows. One of the difficulties with holding views that are not considered "mainstream" is that, at a superficial level, people will find various ways in which the views that you hold correspond or overlap with people who are widely vilified. If you are critical the State of Israel, for example, people will quickly attempt to align you with racists or anti-Semites in order to smear or marginalize you. If you hold any sorts of socialist beliefs you will quickly be painted with the brush of Stalinistic communism.

And of course, radicals of all stripes will take advantage of people's ignorance. It is easy to attack taxes or some abstract government waste to get a few people onside while also holding all sorts of distasteful views. The fact is that I think that the majority of people simply don't understand the important connection between modern government programs and the modern quality of life. Without massive public health programs, education programs, food regulations, labor laws, etc., we would simply not have the standard of living that we presently enjoy.

This is why I find politicians like Ron Paul particularly frustrating. Ron Paul is critical of Israel, and has been willing to criticize large aspects of US foreign policy, but for none of the same reasons that people on the left would do. Meanwhile he holds what he claims are Libertarian views which many ignorant schmucks mistake for so-called 'free-market' ideas. In reality, Paul's ideas, like many so-called Tea-Party types, will lead to greater concentrations of corporate power and eventually to social catastrophe in which people are once again at the mercy of employers as they have been, and still are, in the worst kinds of capitalist conditions.  Modern rightwingers from Friedman and Hayek onward have claimed to be concerned with the concentration of power which is why, they claim, they are critical of any kind of socialist effort. However, what they are always silent about is the fact that the modern corporations are the greatest single concentrations of power in history. And whether the rightwingers come with a flag of 'libertarianism' like Ron Paul, or a more centralizing ideology like many European rightwingers, or a strange combination of both like Stephen Harper, we must expose them for what they really are - peddlers of an age-old ideology of the rich getting richer, the poor getting screwed, and corporations doing pretty much anything they want.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Only the Courts can Stop the Harpercons' attempted Crime Spree. . . .

As I, and others have recently pointed out, with the existence of a de facto criminal cadre in Ottawa those who hope to protect human rights and limit the arbitrary power of government will have to depend upon the Supreme Court of Canada. The Harpercons routinely flout the law, disregard lower court decisions, bend or break the rules of the House, condemn the facts wherever those facts contradict their ideology, smear and marginalize opponents (particularly whistle-blowers), attack principles of democracy, and break elections laws.

Today the Harpercon fascists lost a major court battle over the creation of a national securities regulator. The Court's decision was clear and unanimous - the Harpercon's efforts were once again unlawful, and this time more than simply unlawful, but unconstitutional. I don't know where I stand on the issue of a national securities regulator in principle. I have never spent the time to attempt to understand the issue properly. But the SCoC was very clear in their decision that such an effort would violate the constitution. And, given this government's corporatist history, I find it difficult to imagine that anything that they advocated could possibly be good for anyone but their corporate friends. Remember, it is the Harpercons that opposed most of Martin's banking controls and spoke vociferously in favour of the banking mergers that were prevented by the previous government.

This is one in a line of court decisions that will come down in the next few years that will place the Harpercon's fascist government squarely in the light of what they are - a criminal organization that is attempting to subvert the laws and principles of the country in order to remake it into an American style corporatopoly. Years from now, if we managed to save this country from the downfall which the Harpercons are precipitating, people will look back and wonder how it happened that a Criminal sat in the PMO, much like many Americans still wonder how a man like Nixon gained the White House.

A Post-Script to this story emerged a couple hours after I posted this blog-entry. Helena Guergis filed a suit against the Prime Minster, the Conservative Party and several other individuals claiming that the engaged in a conspiracy to discredit her. I know how Woodward and Bernstein must have felt - after a while this story just seems to write itself!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Monty Hall Problem. . . . .

Ok, this blog requires two clarifications by way of introduction. One is that I grew up watching too much tv and one of the shows that I recall seeing many times was "Let's Make a Deal," with beloved Canadian MC Monty Hall, (who is still alive, by the way, and is 90 years old). That game show has recently be revived hosted my the charming and funny Wayne Brady. The other point of clarification is that, as my readers know, I have very little faith in any organized institutions in general, and of the so-called sciences in particular.

These two introductory points bring us to the so-called Monty Hall Problem (or Monty Hall Paradox as some people call it.) The Monty Hall Problem was first explained in popular terms by Marilyn von Savant in Parade magazine in 1990. She explains it thus

Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1 [but the door is not opened], and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, "Do you want to pick door No. 2?" Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?

It turns out, despite the apparently counter-intuitive nature such a problem, it is indeed to your advantage to which door if you are given the choice. There are a number of ways to explain this claim which at first glance seems so patently false. But I am no mathematician and so I choose an easier way to explain it that makes sense to those of us who cannot do it with numbers and equations. The explanation is simple - in the initial choice you have a one in three change of winning the car. After one door has been opened, if you choose not to switch doors, you still have a one in three chance of winning the car. However, if you switch doors you have a fifty-fifty chance of winning the car. The initial problem is so counter-intuitive that I did the experiment myself. I tried the experiment two hundred times, one hundred of which I didn't change my door and one hundred of which I did. When I switched doors I won 14 more times than when I didn't change doors.

Besides the fascinating issue of the problem itself, what I find interesting about the Monty Hall Problem is that, as pointed out by von Savant in her book The Power of Logical Thinking, "even Nobel physicists systematically give the wrong answer, and they insist on it, and they are ready to berate in print those who propose the right answer."

I will let people draw their own conclusions concerning the implications of these interesting issues. One thing that I think von Savant's problem has demonstrated is that there is more to the work of Thomas Kuhn than many people might think.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fascism, a Liberal Party Legacy. . .

There is no question that the Harper government is a de facto fascist organization. I refer you to this excellent outline of what constitutes fascism in case you are so hopelessly naive or blindly partisan that you don't know what is going on. However, as bad as this government is, and it is worse than even most of its vociferous detractors suspect, the seeds for this fascism were planted by successive Liberal Governments who benefited from the undue power of the PMO and the various short-comings of our British Parliamentary system. The Liberals could, at any point, have embraced electoral and parliamentary reforms that would have ensured that our present fascist government could not systematically take control of every element of our nation and run roughshod over rights, ignore the law, and gerrymander the system to their advantage. For years the LPC didn't care about our lack of democracy, lack of transparency, or our lack of accountability, because they were the ones benefiting from it. There is no doubt that the present government is much worse in this regard than previous ones and that it is led by a group of men that is clearly mentally ill and models of dictatorship. But we are just seeing the result of decades of neglect on the part of the Liberal Party which, as long as it was in power, had no regard for our democratic short-comings.  When you neglect your democracy, that neglect comes back to haunt you. The Liberals were like abusive parents who have nurtured an abusive child and is now seeing the results. And it looks as though things will now get considerably worse as the present government is abusive of democracy to a whole new degree and its leaders are mentally disturbed, paranoid, insulated, whack-jobs who seem to be entirely out of control in their thirst for power.

And despite all of this, amid the LPC big hype for "renewal," they have entirely failed to own up to their terrible legacy of mistakes and power-hungry abuses. They still don't get it. They are out of power and because of their abuses of democracy there is a good chance we have lost our democracy permanently. But are they calling for real electoral and parliamentary reform? Not in the slightest. They still live under the delusion that they will return to power and be able to enjoy their traditional abuses of that power, and with the more corrupted system that the present fascist government leaves them they are hoping to rain down an unprecedented revenge on their opponents. And like the Liberals before them, the  present government is wholly ignoring the prospect that they will eventually become victims of the very abuse and hatred that they are now peddling. This points to something worse than a cycle of abuse, rather it points to a downward spiral that will end in the destruction of everything we hold dear.

So my message to the Liberals is - next time you go out of your way to criticize our present fascist government, remember, your laid the groundwork for this failure and you are showing no signs of changing the system of failure to which you gave birth. Our present government is twisted, immoral, fascist, and dangerous. But it is the child of the LPC and that parent company is still its old self with no signs of regret or reform.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Niqab and our Discourse. . . . .

Like many of us, I have thought a great deal about the issue of the niqab in public life. The recent banning of this garment in public in France set many people thinking and talking about the question and Minister Kenney's recent banning of the niqab in citizenship ceremonies has generated a certain amount of debate. After thinking about it a lot I have come to certain conclusions about the arguments that people have made.

I believe that the arguments that people like Jason Kenney have made are essentially shallow and empty. Appealing to questions of 'security' and the public nature of the citizenship ceremony is simply absurd. First of all, I became a citizen some twenty-five years ago and there were only a couple of people there. I am sure that there was no restricted access to the event, but that didn't mean it was a "public" event in the sense that that term is commonly used. Furthermore, an event can be "public" and restricted at the same time. We have all seem marches protesting violence against women in which men, understandably, do not take part. I have no problem with such events. One might argue that such exclusions are divisive, but in such matters I bow to those for whom it is most important and the organizers. A swearing-in ceremony that didn't include men would not be ideal, but I believe that it could still qualify as public for all intents and purposes. Furthermore, suggesting that someone's face being covered-up somehow robs the event of its "publicness" is patently absurd and purely conventional. We generally attend most public events with almost every part of our body covered, I don't see how there exists a huge conceptual distinction concerning the covering of the face. As for the question of "security," this is, I believe, a non-issue and part of the traditional scare-politics of the rightwing. No, Minister Kenney's arguments are hollow and specious and meant only to maintain a politics of fear. I don't think the issue is that Mr. Kenney hates Islamic women and wants us to fear and hate them also. Rather, like rightwingers have always done, they turn Islamic women who wear a niqab into simply a means to an end, an easy target that allows the right to a divided society in which we all fear compromise, difference, and perceived deviancy. The right has always depended on images of "normality" as well as division and fear to maintain power. This is what their crime bills are about. They know crime is at an all time low and that their efforts will do nothing to decrease crime or reform criminals. Rather, their efforts are about creating a brooding sense of doom among citizens in which we all imagine that there are criminals behind every corner and if we practice an open and forgiving lifestyle we will all go to hell in a hand-basket.

Now we have to address the question of religious symbolism. Many people have argued in public that the niqab is not, in fact, a religious symbol but only a cultural one. People like Kenney, of course, need to make this argument because if it is a religious symbol not only will the optics of prohibiting it be bad but eventually the SCoC will strike down any restrictions that Mr. Kenney seeks to make. The problem is, of course, that the SCoC has already rulled that what is important in such matters are not the technicalities of whether a particular symbol or action is or is not actually part of a religion, but whether there is a reasonable conviction among certain people that it is so. This was a necessary decision by the Supreme Court because it didn't want to put itself in the position becoming the ultimate arbiter of theological questions. Such a situation would have been deeply problematic and inevitably created all sorts of bad blood between people and groups. Based on these facts it is folly to make an argument about the non-religious status of the niqab and any such argument will eventually fail.

Now, having said all of that, I believe the only meaningful argument that one could present concerning restrictions of the niqab would be a kind of feminist one. Like many people, I admit to being troubled by the niqab. I can't imagine any religion or culture that really believed in gender equality in a meaningful way, advocating such garments which hide women from public eyes. Furthermore, I believe that the niqab and even the hijab do the exact opposite of what the advocates suggest that they do, and instead they sexualizes women by suggesting that simply seeing the head of a woman precipitates sexual feeling. The creation of a taboo often creates sexuality where none might otherwise exists. The problem is, however, that even if I have a certain amount of trouble with people's actions, it doesn't mean that I can justify restriction of those actions. One always has to weigh questions of freedom with questions of prohibition. And here we have a real problem - it can be very paternalistic for us to tell women who wear the niqab that they are victims of a rampant misogyny. These are adult women, most of whom would say that they are making their own decisions. And of course, there are not very women in Western nations who actually wear the niqab. I remember when France took steps to outlaw the public use of this garment it was estimated that their were only two thousand women in all of France that used the niqab. This small number of people makes restrictions on them seem like a serious over-reaction. When only a very small number of people choose to engage in what many perceive to be a strange or deviant behaviour, it is difficult to justify restrictions on that behaviour unless it is clearly and demonstrably harmful to others. I think one could make an argument that the niqab is harmful to women, but even in a strong argument that harm would be socially small and I think outlawing the niqab would simply create more problems than it would aim to solve. I mean, I would like to see the end of skinny, anorexic-like models, in magazines and on television, but legislating the weight of models would be an near-impossible issue.

Thus, even though I could see that one could make an argument against the public use of the niqab, I ultimately believe that such arguments are simply not strong enough to justify the outlawing of this garment, and as long as we have not outlawed it, restricting its use in public (whether at a citizenship ceremony or elsewhere) is deeply problematic.

I have no doubt that Mr. Kenney, or any rightwinger, will be swayed by my arguments here. They are generally not interested in the actual arguments (pro and con) for an issue, they have goals that transcends the actual issue, and these goals are usually about fear, division, control, and power. Jason Kenney has as little interest in the rights of women as he does about democracy, or justice; these things only mean something to him in as much as they can lead to his power and control. But I have a real hope that the Harpercons will eventually be hounded from power by a public that realizes just how evil and anti-democratic they are, and when that time comes I hope that reasonable discourse actually means something.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Our Little Children in Government. . . .

I think most people would agree that a person's inability to think long-term is a sign of a kind of immaturity.  Kids, for example, suffere from this notion of immediacy, they have trouble thinking about what might happen tomorrow, or even later the same day. I know if my daughter is too hot to wear her big, winter coat, she is almost incapable of conceiving that she might need it later when she will be cold. And I have read research that suggests that before a certain age, kids are not nearly as able to learn from experience as we would like them to be. So when they are really young we see them making the same mistakes over and over when those mistakes involve complex predictions about future states.

Now, has anyone noticed the degree to which our present government suffers from this syndrome of immaturity? They seem congenitally incapable of conceiving of how their decisions today may effect them tomorrow. Many governments have been plagued by various scandals; events in which some rogue MP or Minister makes some bad decisions which reflect poorly on the reigning government and on the office of government more generally. Our current government is certainly no exception to this tendency. We have had MP make racist comments, Ministers lie to the House or leave sensitive documents where they shouldn't be. This is par for the course. But since we can be certain that every government will be subject to these difficulties, it is not the difficulties themselves that are the problem (unless they get completely out of hand), rather, it is the way that a government reacts to these scandals which is one of the true tests of a government's maturity. Can they own their shortcomings, face them head on, deal with them and move on? In our current case, I think we all know the answer - no matter how deep or remarkable the scandal, this government simply ignores them. It makes one wonder how profound a scandal would have to be for Harper and his cronies before they would face it and not simply ride out the news cycle. Given their recent history I can't imagine how bad things would have to be before Harper would be willing to own up to a mistake.

However, all this being said, it doesn't speak directly to my first point which is the ability to guide one's behaviour according to certain future implications. They are so bent on controlling everything they just can't use their imaginations to look into the future. Take something which seems relatively small such as their tendency to exclude opposition members from being included in various foreign events or conferences. Traditionally, even bad governments have allowed opposition members to attend such conferences because, after all, we are supposed to see the other party as the "loyal opposition" - in other words, people who have a central role in the process of democracy and how government works. The Harpercons exclude someone like Megan Leslie from the recent Durban Conference because they don't care about the idea of a "loyal opposition;" they care about the message and the news cycle. They simply imagine that if they can control the message effectively enough, they can maintain their power. Here is where their immaturity is so evident. Someday, the Conservative Party will no longer be in power. No matter how hard they attempt to control the message, alienate voters, discredit or smear those who oppose them, eventually the CPC will be ousted from power one way or another. This is an absolute, irrefutable fact. The only constant is change and eventually the CPC will succumb to this basic law of motion. And when that time comes and the CPC find themselves in the political wilderness their actions and the precedents that they have set will become the standards by which their successors will act. And the more ruthlessly that this government acts, the more angry and vindictive the next government will be toward them. The next government will prorogue parliament, shut down committees, cut short debate, fire and discredit whistle-blowers, exclude opposition members from every process of government, use constant advertising and dishonest methods to maintain power, etc, etc. And like little children who were unable to predict the implications of their acts, they will cry and carry-on about the injustice of it all. Anyone who has supported this government up until this point really needs to be mature and think about our collective future and what kind of country their children will inherit. Will it be one in which the government supports certain principles of accountability, honesty, and democratic rights, or will it act like this one?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Kill the Messenger, Then Cut Him UP, Drag Him Through the Mud, and Feed him to the Dogs.

Most people are familiar with this scenario - there is someone you know who, whenever they do something wrong, instead of simply apologizing and being contrite about it, they get really pissed off at whoever points out the error. I have known several people (who will remain nameless) who have adopted this rather aggravating and offensive personality trait. These people make a mistake or act in an entirely inappropriate manner (as we all do sometimes) and then get angry when people call them on it. It seems like kids are particularly prone to this kind of difficult response. They knock over some valued or treasured item and break it and when you get upset that the item is broken you hear that classic "un-apology" which goes up at the end - "SORR-REE."

I don't know if this tendency is a sign of immaturity or a lack of empathy but it is certainly aggravating. It seems that people like this are simply incapable of offering a heart-felt apology even for the most mild of offences.

It seems that we now have a government which is entirely populated by people with this offensive character trait. During their time in office they have broken many laws, been guilty of many acts of corruption, and many of their MPs have lied as well as made offensive gestures or said offensive things in and out of the House of Commons. But instead of apologizing for these offenses, in almost every case they have blamed others. The PMO as well as the Government's ministers simply fire some underling and then ignores the problem. In the case of whistle-blowers the Government goes on a concerted endeavour to smear and discredit the person. It is classic 'blame the messenger' strategy of people who cannot own their own failings.

The lastest example is to be found in Tory MP Jim Hillyer's deeply offensive, glib, smug, gesture of shooting imaginary guns at the opposition during a vote to eliminate the long-gun registry. Instead of apologizing for the gesture, Mr. Hillyer blames the people who posted the event on Youtube. Mr. Hillyer, instead of being sorry that he would make such a gesture, is angry that someone posted in such a way and on such a date that would lead people to think that he maid the gesture on  Dec. 6th, the anniversary of the Montreal massacre. But this gesture was offensive no matter when it was made and this is what Mr. Hillyer refuses to acknowledge. Instead he blames the messenger. "Those damn, pesky Youtubers shouldn't be demonstrating that my behaviour is offensive." One is almost surprised that Mr. Hillyer didn't say "SORR-REE" and then stomp off in anger.

It reminds me a great deal of the Harris government in Ontario which was so populated by mean-spirited, angry white men in suits who couldn't, under any circumstances, imagine that they could be wrong about anything. During the process of energy privatization in Ontario, the government was compelled by the courts to hold public hearings into the process. This really angered the government and this anger really showed in the actions of the short-lived Environment and Energy Minister, Chris Stockwell who held sham hearings and stormed out of the hearings on several occasions, yelling at people who had the gall to come and speak against the process of privatization. It was amazing to see a Minister of the Provincial government yell at members of the public and then storm out of the meetings like a little child.

All governments make mistakes and all governments endure instances of corruption or inappropriate actions by some of their members. But to smear whistle-blowers, to blame the messengers, or by failing to simply own their errors, a government demonstrates its lack of suitability for office. We have a government that has never demonstrate the moral authority to govern. Yesterday, when a federal court judge in Winnipeg determined that Bill C-18 is illegal, the always offensive Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said point-blank that they will continue with the legislation. Thus we have a government which blithely admits that it is disobeying the law. (Incidentally, Gerry Ritz also said he was going to file an appeal in the case. However, exactly why they have to appeal a decision that they admit they will ignore, I can't understand) The Government creates laws, but the courts are our society's messenger that confirms the legality, consistency, appropriateness, and constitutionality of laws. Without an independent judiciary, a country is a de facto dictatorship. But again, this government closes its ears to all messages except those that confirm their ideological blindness.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Attawapiskat. . . racism and tragedy. . . .

I have felt angry and helpless since I was very young and discovered just how much evil has been directed at First Nations People by the white men in suits who run our governments. These feelings of frustration have been elevated in recent days by the disgusting actions of the Federal Government regarding the people at Attawapiskat. It is not that I have been surprised by the conditions on James Bay. Anyone who pays attention knows that conditions in many Northern Communities has been terrible for as long as anyone can remember. It is surprising that these conditions have made headlines, of course. But what is really upsetting is that when the Federal Government is finally forced to face this issue with the public because of media attention, the Harpercons simply attempt to divert attention away from the real crisis and once again attempt to blame the victim by unilaterally imposing "third-party administration" of the community's financing. People are suffering, as they have been for generations, and the response is always the same - blame the victim and impose some paternalistic administrative response. We need to be absolutely clear - the roots of this problem is racism. If there were some community of white folks on the coast of, say, Newfoundland, that was suffering the same kind of conditions, army would be called in immediately to save the people. Just as the Bush administration ignored the real dangers of Hurricane Katrina because the vast majority of victims were black, the government of Canada couldn't care less about the people of Attawapiskat because they are First Nations People.

I stand with Chief Theresa Spence and Grand Chief Stan Louttit and against Minister John Duncan. I condemn the degraded human filth that is the Harper Government.

Conservative MPs are Pedophiles (It is just a Rumour) . . .

I am sort of tired of commenting on daily political stuff nowadays. I feel like Marx must have felt after the failure of the 1848 revolutions when he began to think that it would be quite a while before the forces of opposition would once again muster the ability to create an organized effort so he locked himself in the British Museum and spent years writing. But research has demonstrated that blogging can be an effective therapeutic technique, and since I have been having a hard time with the Christmas season this year and really missing my father, it seems that I am often drawn to write something about some daily political frustration as a method of venting my feelings of anger.

And this story is just too rich to pass up. The Conservative have long believed that lying is a 'normal' part of political discourse. The Harpercons have demonstrated time and again that they are pathological liars and criminals for whom "normal" politics is nothing short of a criminal effort to stay in power. With their recent admission that they were behind calls in which they intentionally misrepresented the facts to voters, they have finally admitted point-blank that they think lying is not only 'ok' but is just par for the course.

Well this is my advice to the NDP and Liberal caucuses - find some government minister around whom some rumours have swirled for a while and start calling conservative constituents and ask them this question - "If the rumours are true and your Conservative Party MP is soon going to be convicted of Child-abuse, can we count on your support?"

Will John Baird stand up in the House and claim that such practices are a normal part of political discourse? Because, after all, there is no lying involved in such a call. You are just saying that there are rumours. In the case of the Conservative calls, they blatantly lied about a by-election that wasn't happening.

No, of couse, it just wouldn't do, would it. Well, I say shame on every CPC MP and everyone that supports them. If lying is a normal part of political discourse, you should be in prison not in the House of Commons.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Some Thoughts on Romanticism. . . .

I am always on the lookout for early uses of the term Romanticism in English. The term Romantic as applied to literature was commonplace even in the 18th century but it usually referred things such as gothic novels or overtly pastoral material, and was often used in the pejorative sense.  Romanticism identified as a literary movement associated with the work of such poets as Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron, and others did not come into general until later in the 19th century. This is not to say that it then had, or even has today, a clear and straightforward connotation. Today, Romanticism as a literary term has basically lost credibility from an academic point of view. There are far too many conflicting interests and ideas within the work of those authors normally deemed to be leading Romanticists for it to be a rigorously useful notion. But then most terms in Art and Literary history are really just terms of convenience which we should only use loosely for the sake of historical and biographical ease. Thus, if I were teaching a group of highschool or young university students I would use the term Romanticism for the sake of creating a useful picture of historical movement, all the while making sure to stress that such terms are historically convenient rather than philosophically rigorous. I think what is important for young students to understand is that there were major social and economic changes taking place toward the end of the 18th century and that these changes had a significant correlate in the arts.

Anyway, getting back to my point about the use of the word Romanticism, I found an early use of the term yesterday in a 1829 edition of the London Magazine. It is found in an article entitled "Modern French Poetry" which is particularly concerned with the work of Victor Hugo who was still a young man and had not produced his important work. The passage also contains an interesting use of the word "ultraism" now usually associated with a Spanish literary movement of the early 20th century. The sentence in which the word is used is as follows - "For, in France, romanticism and ultraism (strange as the supposed union may appear) are considered, in a writer, consequent on, and inseparable from, each other; - whilst an undeviating, scrupulous attachment to the authors of the age of Louis XIV, (for, after all, the French idea of classic is nearly confined to them,) - a supercilious contempt for literature of other countries - a dread of change or innovation, in language, rhythm, or general costume - classicism, in short, as it is understood, is considered as equivalent to liberalism, though it is, in fact ultrasim in literature."

Now, I have a fair degree of knowledge of this subject and over twenty years of experience and I cannot honestly say that this sentence makes complete sense to me. The author (who, by the way remains anonymous) seems to be contradicting himself, saying that both romanticism and classicism are forms of ultraism. It also seems to strangely suggest that classicism is associated with liberalism - an idea that seems in direct contradiction to the conventional wisdom. I welcome comments by any of my five or six readers on how they read this sentence.

Despite the turgid obscurity of this sentence, it is an early use of the term Romanticism, and is therefore interesting. However, what is arguably more interesting is the paragraph that follows this passage and, by certain interpretations, it could be seen as shedding light on the previous sentence.

"These unions between parties in politics, and parties in poetry, really exist in France, as we have described them. The fact presents an evident anomaly, and not one of the least curious of our days. For, according to our general notion of things, the parties certainly should be differently assorted. The romantic, or the bold, the innovating, the irregular, in poetry, would ally itself with the speculative, the reforming, the experimental, in politics. On the other side, a scrupulous observance of ancient ordonnances in belles lettres, an exclusive reverence for the works of the great monarchy, for set forms, for the unities, for the dictionary of the Academy, (who determined, in their wisdom, some century and a half ago, that they had fixed the language of their country, which was thenceforth to know neither change nor augmentation) - in short, a devotion to every thing settled, regular, and legitimate, and an abhorrence of novelties and exotics - classicism, in a word, would take refuge in the faubourg St. Germain, the head-quarters of ultraism."

(The Faubourg Saint-Germain, for those who don't know, was the richest, most aristocratic district in Paris)

This sentence does two things. First, it eliminates once an for all the notion that obfuscating prose is a product only of the "post-modern" philosophical mind. Second, it clears up somewhat the previous sentence. The writer is suggesting that while one would expect the Romantics to be associated with radical politics and Classicists to be associated with more conservative political efforts, this is not what in fact prevails in France in the early part of the 19th century. Now, 19th century French literature is certainly not my area of expertise and I am not sure that I am qualified to make a properly informed decision on this issue. (By the way, the editor of the magazine (which at this particular point may have been either John Taylor or Thomas Hood) puts a footnote at this point in the text to suggest that he, in fact, disagrees with the writer). I suspect that this may be a misinterpretation of the events by the writer, but I will leave it to my own readers to decide for themselves.

What I do know is that in England, the ideas of Romanticism are clearly more associated (at least in peoples' minds) with radical politics. The first generation of Romantic authors began as serious radicals and reformers. And as they grew more conservative in outlook, it is almost universally acknowledged that their work declined significantly in quality and interest. The younger generation of Romantics, such as Shelley and Byron, were outspoken political radicals. Other, lesser known writers who bridged the generations and some of whom lived well into the Victorian age such as Leigh Hunt, Thomas Hood, Charles Lamb, Mary Mitford, John Hamilton Reynolds, Allan Cunningham,  were all committed reformers.

Again, since Romanticism is not a very rigorous concept, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to make a consistent argument that the values of Romanticism are necessarily radical in any political sense. However, I do know one thing for certain. Almost all of the writers that I really love are political radicals, and that is how I think it should be. Art, by its nature, should look toward the ideal, toward utopia, and it should believe, at some basic level, that the ideal is worth striving for. If an artist cannot strive toward utopia in the 'real' world, then she will not know how to strive for it in the aesthetic one.