Category Archives: History
And I can take or leave it if I please
My great etc uncle Colonel George Fenwick was not only a soldier, but a member of the bar, and he was invited to sit on the bench which tried Charles I and condemned him to death. There were a few misgivings about the wisdom of regicide at the time, and Uncle George was not stupid. He declined to sit.
That was indeed wise. Come the Restoration, those members of the regicide bench who were still alive were hung, drawn and quartered. If my memory serves me well, the royalists even dug up one or two members of the bench who were by then dead, and hung, drew and quartered them!
A new sort of regicide has developed recently in Australian politics. It is quite a while since a sitting prime minister has finished his term in office without being deposed by internal revolt, and the present incumbent (just) Malcolm Turnbull looks as if he is just about to go the same way. Interestingly, he has required the regicides to sign their names to a piece of paper before he walks to his political scaffold. As I write this, it seems that Continue reading
Plainly, 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 – 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.
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:
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
There has been some interesting archaeology coming out of Orkney, and particularly the Ness of Brodgar, recently. And some evidence that Orkney might have been at the cultural centre of Britain a few thousand years ago. Developing the technology that led to Stonehenge.
But why? It’s frigging freezing there!
But here’s the thing. In those days it was quite a bit warmer. Much warmer than today. So quite pleasant. Despite what the bat-shit crazy neo-religious scare mongers are trying to tell you, the ice core data from Greenland (quite a good proxy for the Orkneys) tell us that the Medieval Warm period (when mankind flourished) was warmer today. And the Roman period (when mankind flourished) was even warmer than that. And the Minoan period Continue reading
I am no believer in the notion that Jack is always as good as his master. Just occasionally, he might be. But far more often, the captains of industry are smarter, have trained more and now work harder than most. I have no problem with them earning, say, 20 times what the person sweeping the floor in their business earns. Or even 20 times what their average employee earns. As my old friend Will Hopper noted in his excellent book The Puritan Gift, that was pretty normal among the great companies of the Western World as they were becoming great.
But 200 times? No. That is obscene. No one needs 200 times. Not only is it grossly unjust, but it is bad for business. But it is happening, in the USA, and also in the UK. The Spectator Continue reading
I had some business in London, and decided I might as well fly home via New York and then Houston.
My own past experience of New York is that it is a hard place to like. For my money, it is too noisy, too ugly, the people (or at least some of them) are too graceless and I do not cope well with the smell of urine and vomit in the streets being never far away. But this time, surprisingly, I enjoyed myself.
Partly, of course, this was because it was such a pleasure to spend some time with my son Charlie, and to see how happy he is with his beloved. And partly it was because the Penn Club, where I stayed, was very civilised, with a decent library.
But there are things I do not understand about New York. For example, why do the immigration officials need to be so gratuitously unpleasant. Unlike Heathrow, where one is met with a smile and a, “Good morning. May I see you passport, sir?” the reception at JFK is as though one is a felon being processed for a period of incarceration. Not all New Yorkers are like this, of course. The servers in restaurants are typically helpful and charming. Then again, the servers in NY restaurants rely on tips. Perhaps they should stop paying the US immigration officials, and make them rely on tips?
It was 4th July, so we planned to go to Charlie’s girlfriend’s roof terrace to watch the fireworks. But it was raining. So we didn’t. Being 4th July – Independence Day – the New York Times back page reproduced the whole of the Declaration of Independence of 1776. Including Continue reading
The Guardian has put up a skit in which, they say, “Patrick Stewart, Adrian Scarborough and Sarah Solemani expose the problems in the Conservative plan for a UK bill of rights.”
Well, no, actually.
The Guardian is the newspaper of choice for the Watermelons, and famous for its inability to spell. It is not famous for being funny. Except inasmuch as it is the butt of long-running jokes in Private Eye.
Human rights is one of those topics like UFOs, fairies and homoeopathy – it tends (with some noble exceptions) to be those people with the greatest interest in it that are the most misguided. It sounds good, of course. But when it comes to the details, what one sees time and time again is that the protections of something like the European Convention on Human Rights are protections that are already present in a well-developed legal system like English law. And so, in the various “What has the ECHR done for us?” questions posed in the skit, it turns out that the answer is “Nothing useful at all”. The gloss that it adds to the rights that were there all along is pretty much all bad news, harming the lives of citizens, not protecting them.
In short, the ECHR does a very poor job in areas where the English law had already done rather better. The skit is wrong on every Continue reading
Donald Trump is obviously a bigot. He has earned a pile of scorn for saying that most Syrian refugees are men. He reportedly said:
When I looked at the migration, when I looked at the line … where are the women?… There look like very few women. Very few children. Strong, powerful men. Young. And people are looking at that and saying, ‘What’s going on?’
In reality, it appears that about half of the refugees are roughly equally divided between men and women. The men seem to be rather more at the front of queue, but we need to look at the whole queue. So, as usual, Trump is over-egging the pudding.
But, but, but, he is probably right about the demographic of all those refugees who participated in mass sexual molestation in Germany on New Year’s Eve. And the lefties have a fair point when they say, “Would you not prefer to run away to live in Europe rather than stay and fight for your country”. And they are also right that the refugee men are not properly equipped to fight. But there remain a couple of residual problems with that Continue reading
So, there is an agreement, of sorts, which has come out of COP21. I thought I would have a quick look to see what it says (see below for the text).
Unsurprisingly, it is away with the fairies. For example, we get this on the first page:
Recognizing that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet…
Now there are a number of problems here, not least Continue reading