Monthly Archives: May 2018

Angling for Pain


Photo by Kara Murphy

Am I alone in think that there is really something rather cruel about fishing?

Think of it from the fish’s point of view, There you are, quieting going about your business, enjoying a spot of lunch. Then suddenly – BAM! – something the size of a ship’s anchor and as sharp as a kitchen knife is embedded in your upper jaw. It is excruciatingly painful, of course, and it is barbed, so there is no escape.

This thing – the worst thing that has ever happened to you – is attached to a line, and the line gets pulled. It drives the barbed hook yet further into your jaw. You might fight, perhaps for as much as half-an-hour, but there is no escape. Relentlessly, you are pulled up and up until you hit a toxic environment where you cannot breathe.

Here is where luck cuts in. A few things might happen Continue reading


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Another Her

aphDid Romeo love his Juliet? I have come to doubt it: he hardly knew her. Much more likely is that he loved Aphrodite.

I am not a religious sort of person. And so I do not actually believe that Aphrodite was a real God, any more than the hundreds of other Gods that have been invented by people all around the world for a very long time. But Aphrodite is quite a good proxy for something. And that something is the elusive Aphrodite (or if you prefer, alter tu) that so many of us crave, indeed live for: it is the imaginary being that we love. Most of us, I suspect, fall in love with our own alter tu quite young. I was about 10, I think.  She arrived, in my imagination, by seaplane on a beach near Littlestone, in Kent, where my family sometimes holidayed with my grandmother. She stepped out of the small plane on the beach, wearing nothing but her swimming costume. She was beautiful, clever and funny, and we were friends for ever. At the time, I could have described her every feature. I adored her.

If we are really, really lucky, a passing flesh-and-blood approximation Continue reading

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What is Wrong with the World III

The cleverer someone is, the better the arguments they come up with to persuade themselves and others of things they want to believe in, however stupid those things are.

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A Wedding and 72 Funerals

Moore-BickNow bored by Brexit, the UK is apparently instead turning itself into a sort of nationalised Britain’s Got Talent.

We have had the Royal wedding. Rules for the guests – and the groom – were no swords and no mobile phones. But there were celebs galore – actors, footballers and ageing pop singers. And a star turn from an American bible-basher who evoked the image of Robert Mugabe being given a special guest slot on the Muppet Show. The people, it seems, loved it.

And now Grenfell Tower – The Story. Abandoning everything he knows about the admissibility or relevance of evidence as a judge, enquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick is playing the part of a beneficent Simon Cowell as relatives of the dead from Grenfell Tower get their moment in the spotlight of momentary fame on the public stage. Moore-Bick says their evidence is integral to his enquiry. He does not mean it, of course, in the traditional sense. Rather, he has understood that the public has a healthy appetite for amateurs doing turns at funereal addresses.  The result of the whole thing will probably tell us nothing very useful about the rather dull topic of building regulation. It is all about how people feel. Will you cast your vote for the aspiring immigrant who had given up all for a new start? Or the young person who had a glittering career cruelly snatched away?

Both events are, in their different ways, distraction strategies. And both have their dangers. The Royal family, in particular, is supping with Continue reading

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A Second Wife

Niel GowNiel Gow, the Scottish musician, was in his late seventies when his second wife Margaret died, in 1805.

He composed a lament for her, which people still play, not only on the fiddle (Gow’s instrument) but also on other instruments including the guitar, which seems to suit it.

I wonder if his sadness was eased by writing such a piece?

Here is Rory Russell playing it, in an arrangement by David Russell. The arrangement calls for a special Continue reading

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A traveller from an antique land

OzyPlainly, all empires collapse. The much more interesting and difficult questions are “Why?” and “When?”

As to the why, there is a fair bit be said for the explanation of Joseph Tainter, who in 1988 published The Collapse of Complex Societies. In short, he tested various popular explanations about why civilisations collapse against numerous case studies. The usual explanations of moral decay, disease, innovation et cetera do not stack up very well. Instead, it is when the ER0EI[1] – as applied to social complexity – falls off that an empire is ruined. In large measure, this social complexity manifests itself in the expansion of a class of information producers and analysts who are not involved in primary resource production. Bureaucrats, in other words.[2]

There is a thing called the Vanguard Myth. At the early stages of the development of an empire, there are benefits to be derived from increased levels of complex bureaucracy. But after a while, those benefits tail off, and then become negative. The bureaucrats, of course, do not see that; they see themselves as in the vanguard of development, and forge ahead doing more of what they have previously been doing. Eventually, a tipping point is reached. It is in this zone that the risk – which eventually becomes a certainty – arises of collapse.

What is the topicality of all of this? Well, it is to do with the “When” part of the question. Adapting an old syllogism:

  • All empires collapse,
  • The EU is an empire,[3]
  • The EU will collapse.[4]

But when? There is a detailed and interesting analysis of this by Gwythian Prins, which is to be found on the Briefings for Brexit website. Gwythian Prins is a bright chap. He taught history and politics at Cambridge for over 20 years, is Emeritus Research Professor at the LSE and since 2016 has been senior academic visiting fellow at the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr. For various detailed reasons, which he spells out, he thinks that the collapse of the EU might be coming sooner rather than later. He starts with the Tainter Continue reading

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