Archive for the 'History' Category

As it was in the beginning…

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

I’ve been looking back to the beginning of the Blair regime – that time of misplaced hope, ‘glad, confident morning’, etc. – and was struck by a number of things in the New Labour manifesto. This in particular now strikes a rather chilling note:

“New Labour is the political arm of none other than the British people as a whole.”

I mean WTF? Isn’t that the kind of thing totalitarian regimes say about themselves? At least we can’t pretend we weren’t told.

Then there’s already an indication of a desire to play fast and loose with the legal system:

“…fast-track punishment for persistent young offenders by halving the time from arrest to sentencing”

Note the missing stage of trial and actually needing to be found guilty. As ever it’s hard to believe so many of them are trained lawyers.

Some stuff, though is almost comic in the mismatch between what they said and what they actually did:

“…In health policy, we will safeguard the basic principles of the NHS, which we founded, but will not return to the top-down management of the 1970s. So we will keep the planning and provision of healthcare separate, but put planning on a longer-term, decentralised and more co-operative basis. The key is to root out unnecessary administrative cost, and to spend money on the right things – frontline care…”


“…Over-centralisation of government and lack of accountability was a problem in governments of both left and right. Labour is committed to the democratic renewal of our country through decentralisation and the elimination of excessive government secrecy…”

But best of all is the list of 10 pledges, of which this is number nine:

“We will clean up politics, decentralise political power throughout the United Kingdom and put the funding of political parties on a proper and accountable basis.”

Yeah, right. Maybe it was a typo and they meant ‘We will clean up in politics”.

Whilst shame keeps its watch, virtue is not wholly extinguished in the heart; nor will moderation be utterly exiled from the minds of tyrants.
Edmund Burke

Gerry built

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

Well, Christmas is a time for self-indulgence, so I’m not apologising. But that Captain Black, he really is a bad lot…

But why do the end credits for Stingray sound so much better (and almost not sucky at all) in French?

Pelutho – n. A South American ball game. The balls are whacked against a brick wall with a stout wooden bat until the prisoner confesses.

Be the Briton

Monday, November 13th, 2006

As the Government talks once again of defining (for its own purposes) that elusive concept, over at the Ministry of Truth, Unity is pondering the nature of Britishness

To become British, one simply needs to find one’s sense of Britishness within oneself and not conform to the values and expectations of others, a solution that is, in all respects, consistent with the traditions of liberal individualism that the present government are seeking to do away with.

Yes, my apprentice. It is not enough to merely study Britishness. To become British one must find the inner Briton. Britain as neither a monarchy nor a democracy, but rather a state of mind. I suspect you could apply similar reasoning to any nationality, really, but it does seem particularly apposite in the case of this country.

It’s hard to reduce ideas of identity to a simple list of attributes, something that is more associated with nationalistic dictatorships than anything I’d recognise as a liberal democracy. Indeed I wonder if that is the attraction – government extending its role even over our very concept of ourselves.

On the other hand, apparently there are always two things about any subject. So for me what are the two things about Britishness? What sums up that ‘liberal individualism’ that Unity correctly identifies as the core feature of being a Briton?

  1. Mind your own fucking business.
  2. I said, mind your own fucking business.

Yeah, that sounds about right.

One of the most important signs of the existence of a democracy is that when there is a knock at the door at 5 in the morning, one is completely certain that it is the milkman.
Winston Churchill

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

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

Bad Behavior has blocked 8 access attempts in the last 7 days.