Wednesday, January 31, 2007
I paddled in the shallow end for a long time before jumping in, so there wasn't much that surprised me about the tone of blogging. This isn't often a blog that entertains socking great comment threads and I haven't attracted much in the way of personal vitriol, not that I think it would bother me much if it had. On the contrary, the blogosphere has been pretty damn decent to me so far, even as the link-heaviness of my posts has diminished.
Anyway, a rather rambling way of saying thanks for the last year and looking forward to the next one!
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Monday, January 29, 2007
I challenge her to name one - even one small - contribution to science made by Christianity in its two thousand years; just one.
Well, setting aside the scientific discoveries made by religious men, such as Copernicus or Mendel, I can think of a few pretty bloody big contributions to science made by Christianity. Just for starters, what about the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge? Both foundations set up as places of learning, because educated clergy were considered better at their job than uneducated ones. What about the first public schools, explicitly set up as religious foundations, St Mary's College of Winchester for example?
So, apart from establishing the first organised educational establishments in Britain, what else did Christianity do for science? How about popularising public literacy through the printed version of the Bible (copies of which, and of Foxe's Book of Martyrs were often the only printed material in a household)? How about acting as a storehouse of classical knowledge and philosophy throughout the Dark Ages? How about providing employment and inspiration for a new generation of architects and engineers through cathedral building? That's just off the top of my head, and I don't hold an explicit brief for religion. What the hell was Grayling thinking?
John McCain, who was my ill-informed pick for the 2000 nomination, has the indefinable air of a busted flush about him - an impression that can be countered, but has the horrible habit of gaining momentum. His main problem is that his USP has long been that he is not of the Republican party base and can thus appeal to the independents, while his good history and basic innate fiscal conservatism could at least appease the base. Now, however, he has been so implicated with the politics of the Iraq surge (partly thanks to John Edwards) that his fate and Iraq's are largely intertwined. This is unfortunate for a man whose critique of too few troops, too late, has been consistent for three years. Nevertheless.
Mitt Romney, everyone's favourite Mormon, is still relatively low-profile. His religion is likely to count against him slightly, despite his fierce championing by Kathryn Lopez of the National Review. More to the point is the fact that he lacks glamour and glitz. The former governor of Massachusetts is obviously capable of getting bi-partisan support - but he looks more like a default 'none of the above' candidate at the moment.
There is, however, another potential Republican candidate, yet to announce his running, but not slow in fund-raising or flesh-pressing. The name is still familiar, mostly these days for one particular event, but also still resonant for a remarkable turn-around in the fortunes of New York City. He is, obviously, Rudy Giuliani. Younger than McCain, infinitely more interesting than Romney, and, importantly, more fiscally conservative than George W Bush, Giuliani has the potential to be a fantastic candidate. His reforms in New York were both successful and rooted in conservative thinking: lowering taxes to increase financial activity, leading to raised revenues; focusing on the enforcement of existing laws rather than the creation of new ones, leading to reduced crime. His social liberalism, which is, to me, part of the appeal, is something of a handicap in winning the Republican nomination, but have a look at this article before you write him off as not being a conservative.
He has one further advantage. Discounting Romney, of the five major contenders on either side, four are senators. The last time a senator won the presidency was 1960 - interesting times lie ahead.
As an ethical little so-and-so, the only diamond I have so far purchased was from Canada, and I saw the little laser I.D. mark as well. So I guess I ought to be all approving of the new Di Caprio film all about the iniquities of the trade. Hum. It's really unreasonable of me I know, but if a film is set in 1999, and stars Leonardo Di Caprio, who looks like 17 in most lights, and 30 at a stretch (he's actually 32) should his character really be identified as a Rhodesian mercenary? He'd only have been 10 years old at independence for God's sake - I know that country has a thing about ludicrously under-aged 'war veterans' but this is just getting silly.
His accent sucks too. Mainly because no-one seems to appreciate that there's a difference between the South African accent (even the mild Cape Town one) and the white Zimbabwean one. Try comparing Duncan Fletcher (if you can ever get him to say anything) with Kevin Pieterson (if you can ever get him to shut up). How depressing - I'm reduced to moaning about realism in a Di Caprio film. I hate January sometimes...
UPDATE: Aaaargh! Di Caprio says he has to get involved because 'TIA' ie: This Is Africa. There are two of these acronyms that are used between 15-20 times a day in Zimbabwe by whites, and have been for fifty years: AWA, or Africa Wins Again, and TAB, or That's Africa Baby. No-one has ever said TIA, ever ever ever! Oh and he refers to black Africans as kaffirs. That's a much more South African word, in Rhodesia mostly they said munts or Afs. Petty petty petty.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Jim Webb - shurely shome mishtake?
"As I look at Iraq, I recall the words of former general and soon-to-be-President Dwight Eisenhower during the dark days of the Korean War, which had fallen into a bloody stalemate. 'When comes the end?' ... And as soon as he became president, he brought the Korean War to an end."
Well done him and all that, though you can't help wondering how cheery the North Koreans are about it, those not starving or executed that is. Except of course, that Eisenhower didn't end the Korean War - an armistice was declared but North and South are still at war. He didn't bring the troops home either - the US maintains a sizeable garrison in South Korea, six decades after Eisenhower 'brought the troops home'.
So, the Democrat model for the Iraw war would appear to be one that ignores any humanitarian consequences, doesn't end the war, and consists of a minimum sixty year troop presence. Oh and North Korea has nukes now as well. Hmmm. A star is born.
But, but, but. I don't know what Chris's view is on this, and would be extremely keen to find out, but I think there is an argument that managerialism is not a universal fallacy; that the personal skills of a leader are not always irrelevant, or even largely irrelevant, to the fortunes of the team. England's recurrent humiliation in Australia goes some way to prove, in my opinion and in the sporting arena at least, the importance of having the right leader. The only match in the entire winter when England competed properly with Australia, ought in fact to have beaten them, was when Michael Vaughan was captaining the side.
For his many and great talents as a player, Andrew Flintoff lacks the ability to lead. He is a great player, but a poor captain. As if to demonstrate our incapacity to learn from analogy, Ian Botham was a great player and a poor captain - not least because he was unable to get the best out of himself. When Vaughan is skipper, the side looks different, more focused, than when Freddie is. This is hardly a comprehensive attack on anti-managerialism, but is it possible to take lessons from the sports field and apply them to business?
Oh and by the way *gnnngh* happy Australia Day.
Marriage, feminism and the Blogdaddy
In any event, James Lileks, whose charming, rather inconsequential Daily Bleat has been a Reptile reading ground for a while now, wrote rather wistfully that this seemed a bit of a shame, and that late divorces so that the wife could 'find herself' were, somehow, not playing the game:
To my parent’s generation, divorce for no good reason was proof of moral failure. If someone cheated, that was a reason. If someone knocked you around, that was a reason. Decades of long nasty fights over things great and small, that was a reason. But splitting because the kids were out and it was time to have a room in which no hairy saggy-arsed ex-satyr would wad up his underwear and toss it in the corner? Not a reason.
Amanda Marcotte was scathing of this, to my mind not especially provocative, view, saying that it speaks volumes of the disrespect and loathing for women that is behind the nostalgia for the 50s exhibited by Lileks and his ilk. Up to a point Lord Copper. Marriage *is* a sacred contract, the words *do* mean something, and if it is treated as a point of convenience only, then that contract is devalued. Ms Marcotte dislikes the patriarchal elements of marriage, and sees it in terms akin to how a Euro-sceptic views the EU - any reduction in personal/national sovereignty is a bad thing: a diminishing of self.
I'm getting married in the summer, and although of course marriage is partly about the subsumation of elements of the individual within the marital whole (not to self - doublecheck spelling on this), it is also about that whole being greater than the sum of its parts. What Lileks was mourning was the existence of 'can't be bothered' divorces - a divorce for no real reason. If you believe that a marriage is no more than a relationship with a party at the start, there's no reason why this shouldn't be par for the course - if you believe, as Lileks does, and as I do, that it's more than that, then it is fair, and not misogyny, to feel a little saddened by it.
Tim, unfortunately, compared a woman wanting to divorce her husband because she's tired of clearing up after him, to a man wanting to divorce his wife so he can shag younger women - and Amanda picked him up on it - though I'm not entirely convinced that this displays Tim's inherent sexism. But Amanda extrapolated a touch from what Lileks said as well. Her version of the reverse situation was a man who was being used by his wife as a nanny and a housekeeper and emotional support system, and when he complained, she said, “Hey, I have a job,” even though he also has a job.
She counsels that man to divorce his wife. I'm just not convinced that running away from a problem is always the best way to solve it. It also strikes me as a touch odd to accuse James of being a primeval woman-subjugating dinosaur, when he's their kid's primary carer and a freelance-ish journalist while his wife's an uber-corporate lawyer. But then, what do I know, I'm just a man.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Death of a Statesman
Attention span of a...
One second it's all tears and frustration, the next? Oooh it's snowing! I hope he remembered his mittens...
There's a new, but slightly similar, little fight going on between Tim Ireland, of Bloggerheads and Guido. Tim has called for Guido to be sent to www.coventry.blogspot.com for various high crimes and misdemeanours such as:
1. Guido, through a number of deceits, renders any meaningful interaction with his weblog inert... above all, he's a comment cheat and a disgrace to blogging.
2. Guido is practically inviting politicians to avoid blogging or work to restrict the activity. It is honest bloggers who will pay the price.
3. Most of Guido's 'scoops' are nothing of the sort
4. Guido is a shameless opportunist and he's using your own frustration(s) against you.
5. Guido is lower than tabloid scum... and that's saying something.
6. Watch out for the switch, when Guido secretly starts (or continues) batting for those in power that he favours.
7. Guido is a stat-whore.. and a figure-fiddling one at that.
8. Guido insists on knowing where the funds come from for politicians/interest-groups, but he's awfully secretive about what funds his activities.
9. Guido is nothing but a smart-arse arsonist... and that's only if we take his word for it.
10. Guido may not realise it, but he's a bit of a homophobe... and (surprise, surprise) like attracts like.
11. Guido betrays his readers and his informants.
The prime accusation, beyond the political ones, is that Guido manipulates and deletes the comments his posts attracts, and that his style of blogging, being gossipy, bitchy and personal, is an assault on the true calling of blogging, which should be serious, high-minded and important. I'm more with Tim on this one, believing that an Englishman's blog is his castle and all that, and that since Guido goes out of his way to stress that he will delete or amend comments he finds tedious, you can't really complain.
The only reason I don't have Bloggerheads on my blog-roll is pure administrative laziness - I still have the Pedant General up there for God's sake - although I do remember that I was accused by him of hypocrisy, or callousness or some such thing when I compared Guantanamo Bay to the Laogai and other non-newsworthy prisons. But honestly, this seems to be a combination of inflated self-importance (Guido might get a law specfically against bloggers enacted!) and humourless conformity (I think everyone should post this way). I might eventually stir myself out of my apathy and updat my blogroll, but Guido will definitely be staying put.
Celebrity Big Deal
So the fuss that Jade Goody and her mother disliked a pretty, educated Indian actress and consequently 'bullied' her using potentially racist remarks has seemed peculiarly irrelevant. Headlines of 'Stupid graceless person acts with graceless stupidity' are not Pulitzer-worthy stuff. There is a slightly more interesting angle from the class perspective - but the people writing the Shilpa-victim pieces are also those who, presumably, would espouse Jade as their class-victim.
So can we all agree that what Jade Goody may or may not think is of no more significance to the culture of Britain than what I think is. And for God's sake talk about something else...
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Slavery - again
The personal and public wealth of Britain created by slave labour was a crucial element in the accumulation of capital that made the industrial revolution possible.
This is simply not the case according to most recent economic historians of empire. John Darwin (who taught me incidentally, and supervised my doctorate) has estimated that the role of slavery in British capital accumulation was in the very low single figure percentages of total capital creation. When I taught history in Zimbabwe the text book contained the phrase: 'according to one historian the buildings of Liverpool were mortared with African blood.' I often wondered who the hell that 'historian' was - but he was talking emotionally rather than historically. The truth is that, though the slave trade was profitable to those involved in it, it was not a particularly significant factor in British industrialisation.
Then there is the rather unstructured call for financial reparation to be given to the descendants of slavery:
Black people whose forebears were slaves, victims of that other Holocaust, are simply asking for the stolen fruits of their ancestors' labour power to be given back to their rightful heirs.
This is bizarre in the extreme - if one of my forebears was exploited in the eighteenth century, should I get the right to compensation now? What if one of my ancestors was a slave? How much compensation should I get - an amount in proportion to the 'slave' blood in me?
More historical inanity is on the way.
Third, in considering the British achievement of 1807, we should remember that other countries got there first. Again, it is customary to record the decision of the French convention to abolish slavery itself, on February 4 1794.
It is also customary, if one is not to be accused of misrepresenting history, to state that this decision lasted less than 10 years, with Napoleon rescinding it in 1801. Slavery was only officially abolished in France in 1848. But wait! there's more.
The vote did not put an end to the international trade by other nations, nor did it terminate slavery.
While Gott is certainly correct that other nations did not recognise the ban on the trade, he is wrong to suggest that the ban did not put an end to the international trade. The Royal Navy unilaterally supervised the ban, ignoring international conventions by boarding ships from other nations if they were suspected to be slavers. The Royal Navy policed West Africa and the South Atlantic trade routes for many decades after the ban was imposed, and the trade was enormously diminished.
The strangest thing of all, and one that Gott might not have had control over, is the title of the piece: Britain's vote to end its slave trade was a precursor to today's liberal imperialism. Does he mean that it was a bad thing that Britain abolished the slave trade? Or that today's liberal imperialism is a good thing and should be praised? I would tend towards the latter, but I doubt Gott is as much of a fan of Niall Ferguson as I am.
One point that was raised in the comments to the piece made me smile, however.
Speaking of context, Richard Gott's former employers were practicing slavery up until 1960 in the form of the gulag system. As a beneficiary of their slave labour perhaps he should be named as a co-litigant in their compensation claim, or at the very least apologise to them.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
The phrase "horrorism", which you invented to describe 9/11, is unintentionally hilarious. Have you got any more? JONATHAN BROOKS, by email
Yes, I have. Here's a good one (though I can hardly claim it as my own): the phrase is "fuck off".
Such talent expressed in so few words!
UPDATE: He's a snarky little so and so...
Whats the worst thing that's ever happened to you? NESA GARDEZI, by email
One day I returned home from a book tour in the US, and I noticed that the leading edge of the toilet roll in the bathroom wasn't folded into an inviting V - as it was in all those American hotels.
Not only that. I then had a tedious five minutes issuing instructions about the new arrangement to my wife.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
The Constitution was rejected by both France and the Netherlands at the last attempt. Both the prospective Presidents of France, Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy, are less enthusiastic about the European project than was Chirac. Equally, both would be extremely reluctant to be seen to be railroading through the Constitution without a further referendum. In its current form, and nothing has been suggested that would alter it, the Consitution is un-electable. From the left it looks like a facilitator of Turkish entry and even (somehow) a paean to liberal economics. To the right it looks like further enlargement of the role of the supra-national bodies, with a commensurate reduction in national sovereignty.
Referenda will have to be held in France and the Netherlands through sheer political expediency; in Denmark because that's how they always manage things like this; and in the UK because Blair promised one and Brown is unlikely to have the muscle or the balls to avoid one. It seems at least probable that the referendum result will be negative in at least three of these cases.
Completely ignoring the political/diplomatic reasons why the Constitution should never be accepted by the European Union; there is a cast-iron electoral reason why it cannot be. Calls for its re-introduction are fantasy.
Interesting use of words...
Purloined: v. pur·loined, pur·loin·ing, pur·loins
To steal, often in a violation of trust.
To commit theft.
If it's legal, it isn't theft. Legal purloining is like consensual rape - a definitional impossibility. So it might be best if she only used words she understood in future.
Monday, January 15, 2007
Wigs and Gowns
Marcel Berlins disapproves of them in any court, and believes they should go altogether. The most common practical point cited in their favour is, as he says:
The judge sentences a young thug to prison. The accused's friends vociferously demonstrate their displeasure. Later, the judge is on his way home, on the same bus as the thug's burly friends. Shorn of his wig, he escapes unnoticed. Result: he does not risk a beating.
Berlins rather sniffily observes that there is no evidence at all that the lack of a judicial wig would endanger their safety. The fact that it can be hard to find evidence for assaults that haven't taken place appears to have slipped his mind. Then comes his conclusive paragraph:
It is also argued that the wigs give judges and trials dignity and gravity. And a survey finds the public wants them in criminal cases, by a majority of two to one. Those are not good reasons for keeping a tradition that no longer has any practical or symbolic validity.
So. A centuries old tradition that those who administer justice want to keep in place for reasons both sentimental/symbolic and also practical; and one that the overwhelming majority want to keep also. So what would be a good reason to keep it? If everyone wanted to and wigs were an anti-carcinogen? It should really be up to those wanting to effect to change to demonstrate why the change should be made, not the other way round. Careless vandalism of tradition and custom has led to the awful, botched House of Lords Reform, to Cash for Peerages and to the destruction of the constitution and the civil service. It would be nice to think someone might have figured out the connection.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
Ballerinas and the BNP
Thursday, January 11, 2007
I went over to Zimbabwe on my Gap Year and taught in a really very remote little Mission School in the middle of the bush. None of you will ever have heard of it...or at least now you might have, because, slap in the middle of the dusty, parched and, above all, uninteresting and quiet little region diamonds have been discovered.
To be honest you could have knocked me down with a feather when I saw this. Admittedly the only reason it was newsworthy was that Mugabe was appropriating the mine without compensation, but still... But I was really quite tickled by this story that emerged recently. Some poor Belgian has been picked up with illegally acquired diamonds in Mutare (a once-lovely city).
Fortunately for Ibrahim [the Belgian], the State will not be able to produce the exhibit because the diamonds disappeared in the hands of a police sergeant. The sergeant will soon be arrested in connection with the theft, police sources said yesterday.
I love Africa...
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Getting the hump with the Horn
The second is that the Ethiopian intervention was entirely without justification. Given that the UIC was calling for the re-unification of all 'ethnic Somalis' into a 'Greater Somalia' the threat to Ethiopia, which has had a significant 'Somalian' population for centuries is clear - it's akin to Hitler's call for a Greater Germany in the 1930s.
The third is that Ethiopia's response has been an illegal invasion. Wrong on both counts in my opinion. The Ethiopian army is in Somalia at the invitation of the legally-constituted, internationally recognised Provisional Government. It's no more an invasion than the American airbases in the UK are.
Given the tacit US support for the toppling of a potentially very nasty regime in Somalia, it is obvious where most of the new support for the UIC comes from of course. In determining whether or not a regime is for supporting or opposing, chaps like this simply determine the attitude of the US and then kick against it.
Leading with the head
The story of the year so far...
Before the event I was broadly of the position that, although personally opposed to the death penalty, the execution of Saddam Hussein was the only practical solution to a difficult problem: partly at least the king-in-exile problem. Ask yourself, I remember thinking, which makes a more potent slogan, 'Free Nelson Mandela' or 'Remember Steve Biko'. This is still true up to a point, but sadly the execution of Hussein, and especially the circulated video of it, risk a scenario closer to Our Blessed Martyr King Charles I.
I think I'm back though - we'll see.