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Saturday, 10 March 2007

The Afghan Campaign .... 1897

Winston Churchill's first work of non-fiction, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, published in 1897, vividly details the slaughter made possible by British breach-loading arms against the hostile tribes still armed with muzzle loaders. Although the asymetry in 2007 is of air power and armour against the RPGs and Toyotas of the tribes, little else has changed in 110 years. Churchill comments
Mobilise, it is urged, a nice field force, and operate at leisure in the frontier valleys, until they are as safe and civilised as Hyde Park. Nor need this course necessarily involve the extermination of the inhabitants. Military rule is the rule best suited to the character and comprehension of the tribesmen. They will soon recognise the futility of resistance, and will gradually welcome the increase of wealth and comfort that will follow a stable government. Besides this, we shall obtain a definite frontier almost immediately. Only one real objection has been advanced against this plan. But it is a crushing one, and it constitutes the most serious argument against the whole "Forward Policy." It is this: we have neither the troops nor the money to carry it out.
On the question of a 'hearts and minds' strategy he says
From a general survey of the people and the country, it would seem that silver makes a better weapon than steel. A system of subsidies must tend to improve our relations with the tribes, enlist their interests on the side of law and order, and by increasing their wealth, lessen their barbarism. In the matter of the supply of arms the Government would find it cheaper to enter the market as a purchaser, and have agents to outbid the tribesmen, rather than to employ soldiers. As water finds its own level, so the laws of economics will infallibly bring commodities to the highest bidder. Doubtless there are many other lessons which the present war will have taught. These may lighten a task which, though long and heavy, is not beyond the powers or pluck of the British people.
So for arms, perhaps for poppies?

It was, after all, the enlightenment of British rule established early in the 20th century that founded an unprecedented period of stability in Afghanistan that lasted until 1973. As a nation, we're rather good at this sort of thing - in the words of the BBC advert, 'it's what we do'. Or as Churchill said

...the influence of that mysterious Power which, directing the progress of our species, and regulating the rise and fall of Empires, has afforded that opportunity to a people, of whom at least it may be said, that they have added to the happiness, the learning and the liberties of mankind.
Right, off to the boat.

Rotten Borough to be saved from the waves?

There is something quite magical about Dunwich; I defy anyone to stand on the low sand cliffs outside the walls of the mediaeval friary and not feel the breath of ages on their neck. Once one of England's most important cities, Dunwich now lies under the waves of the North Sea, a mute testament to the power of nature.

There is little left to see. The ruins of the Franciscan friary, the ruined chapel of a leper hospital that once stood outside the city walls, and a sunken track that was once a key mediaeval street thronged with carts and people give just a hint at this place's former scale. The massive dyke that surrounded the defences is now slumped and overgrown with sycamore and bramble, and a timber cafe sits at the abrupt end of the modern road at the shingle beach, with a few fishing boats drawn up nearby.

The city used to return two MPs to parliament, on a par with Oxford and Cambridge. This custom survived despite Dunwich having only a handful of electors, until the abolition of the rotten boroughs in 1832. The Church of England continues to appoint a Bishop of Dunwich; the town having had its own Bishop for 1,375 years is perhaps as good a reason as any not to discontinue the practice.

Holding its charter directly from the King in feudal days, the city was fiercely independent of the local Suffolk lords and barons, having even the right to grant 'citizenship' to any feudal vassal who managed to evade his lord within the city for one year and a day.

I used to spend long childhood summers here, camped with friends at the base of Leet Hill, the old town meeting place outside the walls, and came to know every secret of this supranatural place. In later years Roland Parker's superlative 'Men of Dunwich' has kept me good company during stormy London evenings when the pangs of homesickness bit.

The last remains of the old town have been eroding rapidy. A new locally funded scheme has placed shingle gabions along the shallows. As all efforts to halt the effects of waves, wind and tide in the past have failed, only time will tell whether these measures will be effective. However, this place will live in the minds of all who have shared the magic there long after every trace has vanished from the soil.

Friday, 9 March 2007

How to spend that City bonus

Not to everyone's taste, Andrew Winch Designs produces luxury interiors for megayachts and aircraft for the sort of clients who take their shoes off when coming on board. On Raedwald, in contrast, keeping your boots on while on board is pretty well expected. In their usual style, they've just launched a new 58m displacement boat that can take you around the world at 14 knots (not the one in the pics).

For sale by Camper & Nicholsons International. If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it.
So farewell, then, Jean Baudrillard ....

I didn't really understand what you were trying to say, and perhaps life is too short to try again. So I offer a rather affectionate Baudrillardist spoof:-

If one examines feminism, one is faced with a choice: either reject Sontagist camp or conclude that sexuality is capable of intentionality. A number of desublimations concerning the role of the writer as artist exist. Therefore, Scuglia suggests that we have to choose between precultural patriarchialist theory and semioticist narrative.

The main theme of the works of Fellini is the fatal flaw of predialectic society. An abundance of theories concerning feminism may be revealed. In a sense, Lyotard promotes the use of textual rationalism to modify and attack sexual identity.

“Consciousness is dead,” says Debord. The subject is interpolated into a cultural postcapitalist theory that includes sexuality as a reality. It could be said that Baudrillard suggests the use of subcapitalist discourse to deconstruct the status quo.

“Sexual identity is part of the stasis of reality,” says Debord; however, according to Scuglia , it is not so much sexual identity that is part of the stasis of reality, but rather the rubicon, and eventually the futility, of sexual identity. If precultural patriarchialist theory holds, the works of Gibson are not postmodern. But cultural postcapitalist theory implies that discourse is a product of communication, given that art is distinct from culture.

Von Ludwig states that we have to choose between feminism and precapitalist narrative. Thus, Debord promotes the use of the conceptualist paradigm of discourse to modify narrativity.

The subject is contextualised into a feminism that includes truth as a totality. However, if neodialectic discourse holds, we have to choose between cultural postcapitalist theory and Lyotardist narrative.

Baudrillard suggests the use of semantic dematerialism to attack hierarchy. In a sense, in Mona Lisa Overdrive, Gibson analyses feminism; in Pattern Recognition, although, he denies cultural postcapitalist theory.

The subject is interpolated into a subconceptualist discourse that includes language as a whole. But the characteristic theme of Brophy’s essay on feminism is the role of the observer as writer.

Sartre promotes the use of precultural patriarchialist theory to analyse and deconstruct society. Thus, the subject is contextualised into a feminism that includes sexuality as a totality.

Thanks to some talented Australian academics who programmed a computer to produce random meaningless post-modernist essays at The Post-Modernist Generator for this.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Patrick Mercer not sacked for racism but poor judgment

There's really nothing racist at all in the reported comments of Col. Patrick Mercer MP, and nothing that 99 out of 100 people of any colour in Britain would disagree with.

His mistake was to make to a reporter for the Times comments that any sensible person would reserve for private, or at least club, company.

Front benchers should know better. David Cameron had little choice.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

"To have one ship hijacked is unfortunate. To lose five is carelessness"

Mombassa-based Motaku Shipping is about the only shipping company that will charter vessels to the UN for food-aid deliveries to the Horn of Africa. To date, all five of the company's ships have been hijacked by Somali pirates. The latest to fall prey to the robbers is the MV Rosen, with a mixed Sri Lankan and Kenyan crew. The crew are so far reported safe, and the ship has been tracked to an anchorage off Eyl in Somalia, a settlement with a population of around 700.

In contrast, as Gypsy Moth IV makes passage on her latest leg from Djibouti to El Gouna, fears of piracy off the Yemen coast brought her an escort in the shape of HMS Cornwall and the RFA Fort Austin. Nice to see the lads looking out for the Red Duster.
Time to let the Chagos Islanders go home

This is the flag of the British Indian Ocean Territory, better known as the Chagos Islands. Between 1968 and 1973 the entire population was evicted by the British government and 'resettled' in the slums of Mauritius.

The Court of Appeal is now considering its verdict after two weeks of hearings in which the islanders sought to overturn a 2004 decision made by Labour ministers under sovereign prerogative that itself reversed a 2000 court decision allowing the islanders to return.

The government appears to have been driven by pressure from the US, keen to maintain the base it rents from the UK on Diego Garcia. The solution the late Robin Cook brokered was to allow a return to all the islands except the US -leased one; not one is closer than 100 miles.

There comes a time when it is more important to do our duty to our fellow subjects in fairness and equity than to seek international advantage. The treatment of these people shames this government and its ministers as arrant hypocrites, keen to condemn the Palestinian camps and ethnic cleansing in Darfur, but unwilling to right this dishonourable wrong. Let us hope that our courts will once again show this corrupt administration its duty.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Devil's Kitchen does Kinnock

I have always found Kinnock a most unattractive person; generously endowed with narcissism but sadly without a countervailing scruple of talent or charisma, his has been a career of undignified striving and failing.

When he lost the leadership of both the Labour party and the opposition, and the salary and allowances that went with it, I recall the hideous embarrassment of his fee-greed appearance on a SKY daytime TV quiz show that sank without trace. Getting him out of the country quickly saved us all a degree of further discomfort.

He took his particular brand of incompetence to Brussels, where it would be less noticed, if at all. One hoped that with age would have come the generosity of spirit that always eluded him during his career. The Devil's Kitchen demonstrates powerfully that this virtue continues to elude him. Along with others such as veracity and probity.
New cash for mens' health?

Provisions of the 2006 Equality Act come into force on 6th April that will force councils and health authorities to undertake specific actions that will reduce the inequality in service provision. Before all the usual groups start dancing with glee, one of the greatest inequalities is .... mens' health.

Mortality rates are higher for men for all the major causes of death. Men are twice as likely as women to develop and die from the ten most common cancers. Mens' health care must reflect that mens' health needs are different from womens'. Life expectancy among the least affluent cohort of women still exceeds that of the most affluent cohort of men.

As Patricia Hewitt today announced oodles of extra cash being dished out to deal with health inequalities, no doubt the relevant authorities will be considering measures such as

  • Sky Sports in NHS waiting rooms
  • Men-Only days at the local swimming pool
  • Mens' support groups at local pubs
  • Stress relief activities for Men funded by the NHS
  • Better magazines for men at the local surgery
  • The option of dealing only with male receptionists, nurses and medical staff
  • Flexible work practices to accommodate mens' lifestyles

I'm sure you can all think of more .....
Tragedy that created MAIB

Twenty years ago today the Herald of Free Enterprise sank with the loss of 193 lives. The scale of the investigation gave rise to a specialist agency, the Marine Accidents Investigation Branch, within the Department of Transport, in 1989. Staffed by expert mariners, MAIB is respected the world over in doing what it does best - inquiring into large ship accidents of all kinds, and accidents to leisure craft involving fatalities. The head of MAIB, Mr Steven Mayer, would do well to stick with this remit. Previous posts here and here detail efforts by Mr Mayer to move into areas that smack more of empire building than sound practice.

Safety changes to ferries brought in after the investigation do not alter the fundamental vulnerability of these vessels; a single open vehicle deck undivided by bulkheads remains liable to the free surface effect if flooded. The introduction of freeing ports to the vehicle deck would only be effective in the case of down flooding. The RAND Corporation has identified the risks from terrorist action on these vessels. They remain particularly vulnerable to vehicle IEDs. Lifeboats are little more than ornamental accessories.

David Cameron has rightly identified priorities for a new Border Security Force and the safety of our cross channel ferries is one. In both France and the UK, we can never be complacent about this risk.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Do cocoa beans float or sink in the sea?

That was the question facing French scientists when the Rokia Delmas grounded off the Île de Ré near La Rochelle. When she went aground in October of last year, she was carrying 300 containers of cocoa beans. If you're interested, after 40 hours nearly all the beans tested were still floating. Full test results here.

She had a gash in her hull that meant she would never float again. Her insurers wrote her off. Now she will be cut up and removed in pieces. The world is safe from beaches thick with cocoa beans and somehow just a tiny bit better.
An Englishman's Home

Just watching Henry Bellingham MP, who seems a reasonably decent egg, responding to a government bill that would extend the power of bailiffs to break into homes to seize property in settlement of congestion charge fines &c. He is quite rightly nervous of such an affront to liberty and framed it as the breach of a fundamental constitutional right. He quoted Pitt the elder - a quote I must admit that has been out of my mind for a score of years, but which came crashing back like a massive wave. So perfect.

The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail — its roof may shake — the wind may blow through it — the storm may enter — the rain may enter — but the King of England cannot enter — all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!
Information Commissioner expected to defend public rights

Tomorrow Information Commissioner Richard Thomas will appear before the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee together with his two deputies and Rob Evans of the Guardian. It's not only the government that are hostile to the FOI Act - MPs on both sides of the house hate it. After years of having their snouts deep in the parliamentary trough with no external scrutiny, the Act has allowed details of their mind-boggling expenses, claims and allowances to be made public.

On the day in January that the news was filled with the arrest of Blair lickspittle Ruth Turner, former Tory whip David Maclean introduced a Bill to exempt Parliament from all FOI requests. It seems the sole dissenting voice was Libdem MP Norman Baker, who has been instrumental in forcing through disclosure of our MPs' cash-grasp. Government whips quietly allowed Maclean's Bill through, in a departure from normal practice for opposition private members' bills.

An unholy alliance of incompetent civil servants, larcenous MPs and a government sensitive about FOI revelations such as Blair's spend of public funds on cosmetics will undoubtedly curtail our brief Spring of official openness.

This is not the only area in which we have much to learn from the cousins across the ditch; a licence to cover-up has never been the American way.

The select committee hearing was cancelled today (6th March) as MPs felt that attending the debate on House of Lords reform was more important.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Inquest into the death of Diana Princess of Wales

The full judgment of JJ Smith, Collins and Silber on an application for judicial review on the inquest procedure is now online. Another curious old piece of English law.

The office of Royal Coroner was established by an Act of 1541 during the reign of Henry VIII. It survived through consolidating Acts of 1887, 1926 and 1988. The office would therefore have been in place in time for the beheading of Catherine Howard at the Tower in 1542.

The findings of the judgment are tricky. The facts are that Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss could sit either as Royal Coroner or as civil deputy Surrey Coroner. She chose to sit as Royal Coroner because that would enable her to hold the inquest in the Royal Courts on the Strand - London's main court complex. Surrey has no suitable courthouse for a large hearing. As Royal Coroner, if she chose to sit with a jury, that jury would have to be chosen from officers of the Royal Court rather than members of the public. She rejected that option.

The court found that a jury should be present for the hearing. Therefore Dame Elizabeth could not hear the case as Royal Coroner. It accepted her reasoning about the venue, and suggested that she now also be appointed as deputy Westminster Coroner which would enable her to hear the inquest in the Royal Courts with an ordinary jury.

Quite a reasonable conclusion, I think.
Fake 'Designer' goods hit London .... in 1327

As modern London Trading Standards officers haul yet another market trader off to court for selling counterfeit designer goods, it's salutory to remember there's nothing new about the problem. In a case heard before the Court of Common Pleas in London on 17th March 1327 is recorded:

At this Court came good men of the mistery of Pouchmakers with certain articles designed to prevent deception and false work in their trade and prayed that they might be confirmed . They complained that foreigners, by conspiracy with false workers of the City, were selling sheepleather scraped on the back in counterfeit of roe-leather (quir de Roo), and that such false leather, when used on plate-armour or on plate-gauntlets, would not last two days if it was wetted. They prayed that no leather-dyer should be allowed to dye such work, and that it should be confiscated and burnt. Foreigners also were accustomed to sell to other foreigners by night pouches, laces (layners) and breechgirdles (braels) stuffed with old linings (escauberks), hog's hair and flocks, which goods were spread throughout the country as being of London manufacture, to the great scandal of the City. The said foreigners likewise haunted brew-houses by night and seduced apprentices and servants to hand over to them the goods of City pouchmakers. The pouchmakers prayed that foreigners imprisoned for such offences should not be delivered until they had made restitution, and that they should not be allowed to sit at their stalls on Sundays and Feast days, or peddle their goods through the City. The above articles were accepted and confirmed by the Court. Certain dyers of leather-goods appeared in court and agreed to observe them in all points, after which Ralph Gandre, Walter atte More, Robert de Flete, and Pagan le Purser were elected and sworn, on behalf of the mistery, to ensure that the articles be observed and that offenders be presented before the Mayor and Aldermen.
For good measure, there's nothing new about London's Pigeon problem either; on 31st October 1327 the Mayor of London published
Proclamation against shooting pigeons and other birds, perched on St Paul's or on the houses of citizens, with stonebows and arbalests, because the missiles frequently broke the windows and wounded passers-by.
Both of the above from the Calender of Pleas and Memoranda Rolls of the City of London 1323 - 1364