The Virtual Stoa

Nazi Scum: It's a few days old, but Dave Renton has some better-informed-than-most discussion of the recent acquittal of Nick Griffin and Mark Collett over here.

DSW, #17: "Red" Ellen Wilkinson, born 8 October 1891, died 6 February 1947.

DSW, #139: Pyotr Lavrov, Russian philosopher of narodnikism, born 14 June 1823, died 6 February 1890.

DSW, #40: Filemon Ka Popoy Lagman, Filipino revolutionary, born 17 March 1953, murdered 6 February 2001.

Really Rather Good: Google Earth is now available for Mac.

One of the reasons I didn't post much on the blog over the last few days is that what time I was spending with the computer was being spent admiring different bits of the surface of the earth, rather than wittering over here.

Someone needs to fly low over Oxford, though, and get some better snaps. It's a pity that I can see the back porch of the Cambridge, MA flat I used to live in, and can scrutinise Cambridge, UK, on a quad-by-quad basis, only to have Oxford in general and Jericho in particular appear as a bit of a blur.

(For Jericho-from-the-air, go here.)

DSW, #69: G. E. M. de ste Croix, author of The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World. Born 8 February 1910; died 5 February 2000.

TKB (Sunday edition): Here's Enkidu, reaching for the remote control:

(I'm experimenting with photographing kittens without flash, hence the general darkness and fuzziness of the image. I may get better at it one day.)

My Goodness: The Scots appear to have worked out how to play rugby again. That's probably a good thing, I suppose.

Dead Socialist Watch, #199: James Larkin, Irish trade unionist; born in Liverpool 21 January 1876; died 30th January, 1947, and buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

Dead Socialist Watch, #198: Kawakami Hajime, Communist, economist and translator of Capital into Japanese. Born 20 October 1879, died 30 January 1946.

Worshipping Vegetables: I know that I'm supposed to be a sort-of kind-of early modernist, and really ought to know the answer to this, but I'm stumped. Why did people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries think that the Egyptians worshipped vegetables in general and leeks in particular? (Perhaps they did?)

Here's Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan, ch.44:
For if it be enough to excuse it of idolatry to say it is no more bread, but God; why should not the same excuse serve the Egyptians, in case they had the faces to say the leeks and onions they worshipped were not very leeks and onions, but a divinity under their species or likeness?
Here's Blaise Pascal, in the Pensées (and I've quoted this passage before:
He alone [ = God] is our true good. From the time we have forsaken him, it is a curious thing that nothing in nature has been capable of taking his place: stars, sky, earth, elements, plants, cabbages, leeks, animals, insects, calves, snakes, fever, plague, war famine, vice, adultery, incest. From the time he lost his true good, man can see it everywhere, even in his own destruction, though it is so contrary to God, reason, and nature, all at once.
And here's David Hume, in the Natural History of Religion, §12:
How can you worship leeks and onions? we shall suppose a Sorbonnist to say to a priest of Sais. If we worship them, replies the latter; at least, we do not, at the same time, eat them. But what strange objects of adoration are cats and monkeys? says the learned doctor. They are at least as good as the relics or rotten bones of martyrs, answers his no less learned antagonist. Are you not mad, insists the Catholic, to cut one another's throat about the preference of a cabbage or a cucumber? Yes, says the pagan; I allow it, if you will confess, that those are still madder, who fight about the preference among volumes of sophistry, ten thousand of which are not equal in value to one cabbage or cucumber."
So where does this trope come from? And does anyone know of any other examples? (And let's hope this doesn't turn into another bout of furious beaver-blogging...)


UPDATE [12.20pm]: This page might provide a clue or two, and points us towards Numbers 11:5: "We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick." But nothing about worshipping.

There's also Malebranche, from The Search after Truth, with a reference to this bit of the Bible:
"It is true that reason does not tell us that we ought to worship, for example, leeks and onions as the sovereign divinity, because they cannot make us entirely happy when we have them, or entirely wretched when we do not. Thus the pagans never honoured them as much as the great Jupiter, on whom all their deities depended. Nor as much as the sun, which our senses represent to us [200] as the universal cause, which gives life and movement to everything, and which you could not help regarding as a divinity if you assumed (like the pagan philosophers) that it included in its being the genuine causes of what it seems to bring about, not only in our body and in our spirit, but also in all the beings around us.

"But even if you should not render sovereign honour to leeks and onions, you could still offer them some sort of restricted worship — I mean think about them, and love them in a certain way. If it is true that they can give us a certain sort of happiness, then we should honour them in proportion to the good they can do. And it is certainly the case that people who accept the evidence of their senses think that these vegetables are capable of doing them good. For example, the Israelites would not have missed them so deeply in the desert, and they would not have considered themselves wretched for lack of them, if they had not imagined that they would in some way be made happy by having them."
And here's John Wesley, in Sermon 102, which really doesn't make me warm to the man:
But that the generality of men were not one jot wiser in ancient times than they are at the present time we may easily gather from the most authentic records. One of the most ancient nations concerning whom we have any certain account is the Egyptian. And what conception can we have of their understanding and learning when we reflect upon the objects of their worship? These were not only the vilest of animals, as dogs and cats, but the leeks and onions that grew in their own gardens. Indeed, I knew a great man (whose manner was to treat with the foulest abuse all that dared to differ from him: I do not mean Dr. Johnson -- he was a mere courtier compared to Mr. Hutchinson) who scurrilously abused all those who are so void of common sense as to believe any such thing concerning them. He peremptorily affirms, (but without condescending to give us any proof) that the ancient inhabitants of Egypt had a deep hidden meaning in all this. Let him believe it who can. I cannot believe it on any man bare assertion. I believe they had no deeper meaning in worshipping cats than our schoolboys have in baiting them. And I apprehend, the common Egyptians were just as wise three thousand years ago as the common ploughmen in England and Wales are at this day. I suppose their natural understanding like their stature, was on a level with ours, and their learning, their acquired knowledge, many degrees inferior to that of persons of the same rank either in France, Holland, or Germany.
Oh dear, it's beaver-blogging all over again. Must. Stop. This. Now.

Dead Socialist Watch, #197: Franz Mehring, biographer of Karl Marx and Spartacist, born in Schlawe, 27 February 1846, died in Berlin, 29 January 1919 in Berlin.

TKB (Saturday edition): Here's Andromache, taking a short break from her laptop in order to pose with a new friend, who apparently goes by the name of Sammy the Lamby:

Life Imitates Morse: Twice now in the space of a week I've read stories on the Oxfordshire bit of the BBC website that make me think that this is clearly the start of an episode of Inspector Morse, here and here.

UPDATE [28.1.2006]: The second case is very nasty indeed. So it's time to stop being frivolous about it.

DSW, #138: Raymond Williams, theorist and historian of culture, born 31 August 1921, died 26 January 1988.

Vox Populi Vox Dei: "The responses from 648 students found many thought academics were 'snooty' and had 'objectionable facial hair'." More of this kind of thing over here.

The Other Virtual Stoa: It's over at, though it doesn't seem to be flourishing especially well.

Galloway Judgment: The Court Service website is being extremely efficient: the Galloway vs Telegraph judgment from the Court of Appeal is already up.

UPDATE [2.30pm]: The Reynolds judgment is here.

DSW, #67: Eric Arthur Blair, better known to the world as George Orwell, critic of Soviet communism, born Motihari, India, 25 June 1903; died London, England, 21 January 1950.

DSW, #66: Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov, better known to the world as Lenin, founder of Soviet communism, born 22 April 1870 in Simbirsk, died 21 January 1924 in Moscow.

Dead Socialist Watch, #196: John Ruskin, English critic, born 8 February 1819, died 20 January 1900.

The News That Matters: Here's Le Monde on the obesity crisis au pays des "fish and chips":
"C'est la faute de Jamie Oliver", déclarait récemment Paul Ainsworth, directeur général de Canterbury Food, pour expliquer la faillite de cette entreprise de restauration collective. Le jeune chef cuisinier anglais s'est mis dans la tête d'améliorer les repas dans les écoles britanniques. Dans son programme de télé-réalité, "Jamie's School Dinners", filmé dans une école du sud de Londres, il a stigmatisé les turkey twizzlers, ces beignets de dinde servis lors du déjeuner qui était le produit phare de la Canterbury Food. Quelques jours auparavant, la société Kipling, célèbre pour ses gâteaux et ses cakes, annonçait, de son côté, des résultats médiocres pour l'exercice 2004-2005.

Ces deux sociétés, symboles des vertus traditionnelles de l'alimentation britannique, sont les victimes de la lutte contre l'obésité, devenue la grande priorité du gouvernement de Tony Blair en matière de santé publique.

Au hit-parade de l'obésité au sein de l'Union européenne, les Britanniques se classent désormais au deuxième rang, derrière les Grecs mais devant les Allemands...
Is Canterbury Food generally reckoned to have anything to do with "les vertus traditionelles de l'alimentation britannique"? Or are turkey twizzlers a fine example of invented tradition? I don't think I've ever eaten a turkey twizzler. And I do like this idea of an hit-parade de l'obésité.

Words of Wisdom: "Don't be disgraced like the young Romans, who lost the Empire of their forefathers by being wishy-washy slackers without any go or patriotism in them." - Robert Baden-Powell, Scouting for Boys (1908, 2004 OUP ed., p.278).

DSW, #137: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, French anarchist socialist, born 15 January 1809, died 19 January 1865. Good for sharp sound-bites ("Property is theft", "Universal suffrage is counter-revolution", and so on), though he never really did manage to get on with Karl Marx.


The Magnificent Pollard: On 15 January right-wing hack Stephen Pollard posted on Interpal, the charity which Mr Galloway's appearance on Celebrity Big Brother is intended to benefit. "The real villain of the piece is not the odious Galloway, whose penchant for licking the backsides of terrorist sponsors we all know about", he harrumphed. "It is Channel Four, which is knowingly allowing such an organisation to benefit from its airwaves." He concluded with these words: "This is an altogether more serious matter than Galloway's humiliation. I hope to return to it soon."

Pollard's hopes were gratified, and he did indeed return to the matter soon with a new post on the matter today, which reads in full:
"You might notice that a posting from yesterday on Interpal is no longer up. I removed it after a few minutes (although I understand that it remained visible for a little while afterwards). It concerned its nomination by George Galloway in the Big Brother programme.

I want to make clear that the charity operates as an entirely legitimate organisation and no evidence has ever been produced to suggest otherwise."
So, there we are. Some people might think an apology was in order, but not, apparently, Pollard. So, no apology.

But it's always fun when Pollard posts-and-retracts.

On 1 November 2004, a post modestly titled "Pollard Speaks, YouGov Quakes" was followed up by a new post which said that "for reasons which I can't go in to, I have had to pull it" (i.e., the earlier post). This was doubly puzzling, because not only was the earlier post never in fact pulled - you can read it by following the earlier link, and don't forget to read Mr Shakespeare's comment while you're at it - but also because the retraction ended by declaring "Game, set and match" to Pollard himself, which in the circumstances seemed, well, peculiar.

Pollard's relationship to truth is complicated, as long-time Stoa readers know. He's been known to post straightforward falsehoods: the Tour de France, one of the most complex team events of the sporting calendar, is dull "because the team element is missing". Sometimes he just makes up figures to support his arguments. And he's also been known to cite his own work - the same work that contains the made-up figures - without mentioning that it is his own work, thus creating the impression that there's something more than made-up figures behind his arguments. He's a funny chap.

Morals: don't believe what you read in the Daily Telegraph. Don't believe what US government officials say. A third moral would be, "Don't believe what you read on Stephen Pollard's blog", but I can't believe anyone's really that stupid.

UPDATE [9.15pm]: Surprise, surprise -- there's falsehood even in Pollard's retraction. Who'd have thunk it? The post he "removed... after a few minutes" and which "remained visible for a little while afterwards" is not only still available in the Google cache, which is indeed outside of Pollard's control. It's also available on at least one other blog that quotes the post admiringly. And, as happened in the case of "Pollard Speaks, YouGov Quakes", it is also, incredibly, still available on Pollard's own site, so that nothing at all seems to have been removed, except perhaps the post's appearance on the front page of his own blog. What an absurd creature he is.

UPDATE [9.30pm]: It seems that Pollard "cannot recommend Anthony Browne's new book, 'The Retreat of Reason'... too highly". Ho hum.

UPDATE [9.50pm]: Since my original post, I see that Pollard's retraction has acquired a slightly different form of words. I wonder what's behind that little edit? It now reads: "I want to make clear that the charity operates as an entirely legitimate organisation for the relief of suffering and no evidence has ever been produced to suggest otherwise" (emphasis added).

But Where's Traktorina? Stephen Marks forwards me a link to this very handy list of Russian Revolutionary Names.

Dead Socialist Watch, #195: Sylvain Maréchal, author of the Dictionnaire des Athées, Babouvist and sort-of socialist, if that's not too anachronistic, born 15 August 1750, died 18 January 1803.

Dead Socialist Watch, #194: Hugh Gaitskell, leader of the Labour Party, born 9 April 1906, died 18 January 1963.

Dead Socialist Watch, #193: Zhao Zhiyang, Chinese communist; born 17 October 1919, died 17 January 2005.


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