Archive for September, 2006

Crying Wolfgang

Monday, September 25th, 2006

I know it’s always tempting to find conspiracy and outrage in everything that the Labour Party does, but surely the fact that a non-delegate, non-member of the NEC (as yet) only has a visitor pass to the conference is really a non-story?

Among a people generally corrupt liberty cannot long exist.

Book him, Dano

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

Via normblog I find this – the head of a publishing company whining that library book purchase funds have declined. I don’t want to go all Mandy Rice-Davies on you, but… well, he would, wouldn’t he?

The article is a plea for libraries to return to their core business of lending books and stop trying to be “community centres, outreach posts, and IT training camps”. It’s a fair point, and I do wonder at what point libraries would stop being actually libraries. But it’s also fair to point out that libraries’ core business has been declining for decades, despite (or because of) the fact that book buying by the public has been steadily growing. I suspect the reason for this decline has been the steady decline in the relative price of books, so that people are increasingly inclined to buy books (perhaps while shopping at the supermarket) and treat them as disposable items*; coupled with the rise of other ways of accessing information (TV, internet, etc). I honestly don’t expect to see this trend of long-term decline reversed. Whereas museums – so often the poor relation of libraries within a local authority (their traditional status being under-funded, under-resourced, under-staffed and under a librarian) – which are a discretionary, not a statutory service, have experienced the exact opposite. Usage has been steadily climbing, despite competition from a range of ‘ heritage experiences’. Their unique selling point has always been access to the real things, rather than what are at best the second-hand experiences of video, the internet and books.

Perhaps instead it’s time to utter the heretical thought that maybe libraries should no longer be a statutory service, and that local authorities should no longer be legally obliged (though still permitted) to operate public libraries.

* Apart from me. I can’t throw books away, it would be as bad as burning them.

It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.
Edmund Burke

But don’t hold your breath

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

Another big Labour lender arrested. Disappointingly, it turns out to be a different Chris Evans. I still think that it will be hard to prove anything, despite whatever compelling inferences might be drawn from the order of events, unless someone turns Queen’s evidence. It certainly stinks, and is part of the reason Labour has haemorraged members in recent years. I’m sure it fills most of the remaining membership with shame – but I don’t expect them to anything about it. Why change the habits of a lifetime?

Meanwhile I noticed this contribution on the (hardly busy) Party Funding Review forum:

If political parties are to be beholden to the people then it would make sense for the people to provide funding via the state.

…which is dumb on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start. But since political parties aren’t “beholden to the people”, I guess we can dismiss the rest. Even if they were, it’s hard to see how the conclusion follows. You could equally well say “If political parties are to be beholden to the people then it would make sense for the people to provide funding via individual contributions”. Hang on, isn’t that what we do now?

The altnerative is for wealthy men representing powerful interests to provide the funding for the parties who will therefore be, just ever so slightly, beholden to the powerful interests and therefore not the people.

…or for the parties to rely on individual contributions from a mass membership base. But to build that, they’d have to convince us that they have at least a slight intention of paying attention to what we want. Note the false dichotomy – the only alternatives are state funding or funding by the rich. Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb. There are other options.

State funding should tighten a link between the people and the parties and loosen the smiling bear hug of corporate interests.

Just like it has in those countries that have state funding for parties. Oh, errr, never mind. Lord, since the bastards can’t persuade us to pay for their dubious services, they want instead to force us to pay. What planet are they on?

Those who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though but for one year, never can willingly abandon it. They may be distressed in the midst of all their power; but they will never look to anything but power for their relief.
Edmund Burke

Doggerel Dave elsewhere

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

My alter ego, Doggerel Dave, has been active in the comments to Rachel’s rhythmic, rhyming rant. I can’t help myself – I just find it too easy and tempting, and my brain just works that way. Come and have a go yourself – let’s face it, there’s plenty of source material.

Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.
Edmund Burke

I’ve got a little list

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

Well, a little late, I know, but it still surprises me that I appeared as no.78 in the top 100 non-aligned blogs in Iain Dale’s Guide to Political Blogging. Not that I expected to be higher, you understand – I was surprised to be there at all. I mean, just one place behind Europhobia.

Iain Dale Guide to Blogging

…or more accurately, I am a blogger on a list.

Quite what the point of it all is, I’m not sure. It was somewhat surprising to see there are 100 non-aligned blogs. There’s been a certain amount of hand-wringing and moaning (see the comments) about all this, as well as more reasoned comment, but Iain did make it clear it was a personal list, not an objective one, even if he did use a number of criteria to order his lists. It was just a bit of fun*.

Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle which fits them all.
Edmund Burke

*© Peter Snow – btw the top Google result for “just a bit of fun” and “peter snow” right now is this.

It’s just ancient history

Friday, September 15th, 2006

Note: this began life as a comment, but it just grew too long.

I realise that this was something of a rant, but really it is so full of inaccuracies and non-sequiturs I can’t let it pass.

3,500 years ago, the strength of the Hittites (the people of Hatti, now Turkey, roughly… well, Anatolia) lay in their possession of iron-ore and trees. The Ancient Egyptians lacked both, the primary cause of their eventual decline, but they had gold, and the Hittites wanted it.

Prodicus is mistaken that Egypt lacked trees. It did not. Particularly since at the time of the wars with the Hittites, Egypt controlled what is now Israel and Lebanon. It is true that the Hittites do seem to have been early adopters of iron-working, but so what? They engaged in trade with the Egyptians (Egypt having access to abundant gold supplies from Nubia and the eastern desert).

Hatti and Egypt, like almost the entire ancient Middle East, worshipped analogues of the powerful deity Seth, also known as Teshub and Baal, the god of – among other things – war and chaos. The Egyptians honoured him fearfully, placating him so that war could be avoided as far as possible. The Hittites thought he wanted his followers to honour him by making war, so they did, constantly.

The Egyptians may have identified Seth with Teshub, but the two are not connected in origin and there are significant differences – Seth, for example, is not symbolised by a bull; he isn’t depicted as a man with a beard; and he isn’t the father of the sun god. Teshub didn’t kill his brother; didn’t have his balls ripped off; and he isn’t the embodiment of evil. The characterisation of the Egyptians as ‘placating [Seth] so that war could be avoided as far as possible’ is just … wrong. For goodness sake, the conflicts, such as they were, between Egypt and the Hittite empire took place in Israel / Lebanon / Syria – that is in areas subjugated by the Egyptians or the Hittites. How did the Egyptians acquired their empire? It is after all notable that one of the commonest depictions of an Egyptian king shows him smashing in the head of a (bound) foreign prisoner. The Egyptians were by no means averse to war and conquest. It is also not accurate to characterise the Hittites as ‘making war constantly’.

They broke treaty after treaty with the Egyptians. Treaties were for cissies, and against Seth’s will. (Remind you of anything?) After centuries of fighting, the Hittites after Egypt’s (Nubian) gold and the Egyptians because the bloody Hittites wouldn’t go away, the two reached an uneasy stand-off.

I don’t understand where he got the idea that the Hittites ‘broke treaty after treaty with the Egyptians’? As far as I am aware there exists only one treaty from that time which records the end of a war in the time of Ramses II (we have both the Egyptian and the Hittite copy). But while there was fighting over the course of a couple of centuries, that is not the same as ‘centuries of fighting’. And the Hittites did ‘go away’ as their empire disintegrated into civil war and split apart.

That ended with the subjugation of both by the vast, murderous hordes of the ‘religion of peace’ who terrified them into, er, submission, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Finally, it is just plain wrong to say that this conflict ‘ended with the subjugation of both of them by the vast, murderous hordes of the “religion of peace”‘, unless he is talking about the Assyrians, which I’m fairly certain he isn’t. The Hittites had disappeared from history more than 1500 years before the Arab invasion.

He is smiliarly mistaken in what he says here. ‘Turkey’ has not ‘been a threat to its neighbours for 3,500 years – at least no more than any ancient state was a threat to adjoining states. After all, ‘Turkey’, of course, didn’t exist for 3,000 of those 3,500 years. You simply can’t conflate the Hittites (a mere two centuries of expansion then collapse and extinction) – who were Indo-European speakers, with the Arabs and the Turks. Three different peoples, I’m afraid. Perhaps he believes in some form of geographical determinism? I want to know where the Lydians, Phrygians, Luwians, Hurrians, and, yes, Greeks fit into this thesis.

He is also mistaken in the assumption that classical learning only passed to the west from Byzantium, seeming to have completely forgotten Spain, but also to underestimate the Ottoman Empire in its glory days (you know, when we were burning witches and heretics).

This is not to say that modern Turkey should be waved on into the EU – it shouldn’t. It’s just that it’s nonsense to adduce evidence from ancient history to back up a case, and even worse when that evidence is utterly wrong.

“The corrupt influence of the crown, by having all places in its disposal, hath so effectually swallowed up the power, and eaten out the virtue of the house of commons.”
Tom Paine Common Sense

…the second time as farce

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

There’s been quite a lot of talk comparing these last days of Blair’s premiership with the end of Thatcher’s reign in Downing Street. Blair of course in many ways modelled himself on Thatcher, and adopted much of her legacy in defiance of the party he led. And indeed there are striking parallels – the long-serving party leader, winner of three successive elections now looking but now looking increasingly like an electoral liability; the scheming colleagues manoeuvering for advantage under whatever new dispensation succeeds to the post; the back-stabbing briefings; the resignations; the assassin-in-chief and would-be successor who fails at the last; and the seemingly delusional attitude of those in the bunker [insert Berlin 1945 metaphor of choice here].

But yet, but yet, the difference decade and a half makes. While the fall of Thatcher still looks in retrospect like a tragedy (in the theatrical sense), with its combination of hubris and conspiracy, the end of Blair is being played out in a petulant atmosphere more reminiscent of the school playground (“I was going to sack him anyway, so there!”). It’s hard to imagine Thatcher planning a farewell tour including appearances on Blue Peter and Songs of Praise (perhaps an appearance on the JY prog on Radio Two, though). Thatcher at least recognized (eventually) that the end had come and that she had to go – Blair just looks like someone desperate to cling on to position (if not power) as long as he possibly can, to squeeze every last drop of personal – and financial – advantage from his post. He seems the opposite of dignified. The Old Pretender, meanwhile, looks increasingly like he’s just chicken (perhaps remembering Hezza’s fate). It’s all very well to play a long game, but as Keynes noted, “in the long run, we’re all dead.”

But who knows, maybe Yates of the Yard will give us a new meaning for the phrase ‘conviction politician’.

“You have sat here too long for the good you do. In the name of God, go!”
Cromwell, dismissing the Rump Parliament in 1653.

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