It being the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz, I fancied a read of Primo Levi, so I dug out a copy of The Drowned and The Saved. It’s his last book (before his odd suicide), and it feels more like a series of polemics and essays than his other books.

“Anyone who has been tortured remains tortured. Anyone who has suffered torture never again will be at ease in the world…faith in humanity, already cracked by the first slap in the face, then demolished by torture is, never acquired again.” Levi quotes Amery, who was also in the camps and who, as an anti-nazi intellectual, was tortured. Amery killed himself in 1978, ten years before Levi. The Guantanemo bay detainees, also claim to have been tortured, which renders all the testimony elicted from them by the US inadmissible in UK courts. Nice one, Uncle Sam. (Incidentally, the USA funds torture through the SOA – the School of the Americas, regularly pastiched as the School of Assassins. Originally based in Panama, this has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in “counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics.” In 2001 it was renamed the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,” and relocated to Fort Benning, Georgia, US.)

Many Jews, fleeing persecution in Germany in the 1930s, were turned back from western countries. Hence we signed into international law after the war the convention on refugees, which obliged us to take a proportion of the fleeing, no matter what. Michael Howard, a descendant of these refugees, wants to put limits on Asylum Seekers (a word the right-wing press has managed to convert from something that should elicit sympathy to something pejorative). Not economic immigrants; asylum seekers; people who claim to be fleeing persecution. He wants us to pull out of this convention, and I’m with the Prime Minister here in calling this ‘not-racist’, but just, just… I just don’t have the words to express the rage that a man could put quotas on human lives. Even rejecting economic migrants is putting a value on the quality of human lives, something we are simply not justified in making; I will not have an aristocracy introduced by the back door of oligarchy. We’ll have birth control for the poor next.

Certain people say we’re being ‘swamped’, and I’ll admit I’ve not had first-hand experience of the areas of the UK that are suffering (which seems, unfairly, to be mainly poor, urban hellholes; what sort of introduction is that to Britain’s society for incomers?) In amoral economic terms, we should always take as many migrants on board as possible, as their cheap labour drives down prices and fills jobs no-one else will take (perhaps because we’ve been over-educated.) In social terms, valid asylum seekers have to be accepted one and all. Yet there’s an increasing propensity, even amongst the most tolerant societies, that integration is failing. I was listening to Broadcasting House on Radio 4 this morning, and they were reporting on liberal Holland’s worries that tolerance has failed for them, with the murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo Van Gogh. Can we tolerate those who are intolerant themselves? Is integration really necessary for a successful economy/country? What is the problem with a state within a state? Are not the symptoms that provoke a failure of tolerance (physicial and moral squalor of city areas, violent crime) ones symptomatic of poverty rather religious extremism?

My answer, and I’m sure I’ve not thought it through, is that we take the tolerant, we take the economic migrants (cos, hey, we were lucky to be born here – they’ve worked to get here – who deserves it more?), but we do not accept those who preach intolerance; whether they be young Islamic extremists or old leaders of the conservative party. Can we revoke citizenship? We have to go down the inclusive route, as otherwise we could be the next to be evicted from the UK. It’s John Rawls ‘veil of ignorance‘ at work. (see halfway down that post for Tom Paine’s quick summary of the veil of ignorance argument.

Addendum: I agree completely with Frederick Forsyth in what he says here; a little polemical, but accurate.

Viceland – The Vice A to Z of Design: “Truly a marvel of ergonomic design, the modern zipper was invented by about 80 guys and nobody was sure what to make of it until 1937 when it beat out buttons in Esquire magazine’s ‘Battle of the Fly.’ Thousands of miles of zip are produced daily and it remains one of the few truly glorious examples of cheap, simple, and easy design that makes everyone’s lives a whole lot better. Those were the days.”

I will now coin the word Fegels to describe the fake bagels they seem to sell everywhere. A proper bagel should be part-boiled before baking and contain egg, which means you can’t leave it on the shelves for any period of time, and be coated in sesame or poppy seeds. Personally, when I go back home to visit my pleasurably independent, liberal and intelligent (remaining) grandmother I stop in at the shopping centre in nearby Hale Barns, which seems to be a hub of the Jewish community on a Sunday morning and buy them out of bagels, especially the sweet, tiny, chewy mini-bagels (bageleh?) they sell.

That said, what I’ve read of bagels elsewhere indicates that my bagel-facism is entirely parochial. When you compare the enormous bready New York bagels with the great hooped, sesame-encrusted Arab baygelah and the tight Eastern European knots, there’s very little similarity. I read the very Jewish Hillel Cooperman’s recipe with trepidation. He’s obviously researched bagels a lot more than I have, so I guess I’d better bow to his superior wisdom and recommend his superior recipe. Like you’re going to make it anyway…

I get the same culinary irritation from the fake Moussaka you saw everywhere about five years ago, before the Greek community pointed out that Moussaka was not vegetarian Lasagne, as the liberati assumed, but in fact a dish involving those tricksy vegetables Aubergines, which so many veggy liberati seem to loathe. What it comes down to is an irrational desire for clear communication, especially in important fields like politics, philosophy and hedonism (specifically the gourmand subsection.) Anyway, it’s just my hobby horse and “I need not tell the reader, if he keeps a H O B B Y – H 0 R S E that a man’s HOBBY-HORSE is as tender a part as he has about him…”

Informed Comment: ”

Let us consider the durable vision of our Constitution and the commitments that unite us as Americans, viz., the Bill of Rights. And let us ask whether Bush’s first term left it intact:”

Oh, my. A step-by-step reflection of the American Constitution in light of President Bush’s Inaugural Speech and his actions over the past five years.