Monthly Archives: September 2014

The greasy mitts of Murdoch

Alternatively: isn’t “tradition” a wonderfully-elastic concept?

Page 3+36 of today’s Times:

Times, page 39The caption reads:

Fair maiden Germans in traditional costumes parade through Munich at the start of Oktoberfest, a giant funfair and beer festival that attracts six million people.

For reasons of decency and decorum — not to mention a problem with word-use — that image seems not to have made it to the web edition.


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Filed under Murdoch, sleaze., Times

The brick of aspiration

Saw this (H/T Twitter) , and had a memory:



The school was having an extension built.

The reinforced glazing (yes: it was that sort of area) [❉]  had been installed, but there were still loose bricks about the site.

One evening a passing youth wanted to show his enthusiasm for state-financed education. He took a sand-faced fletton, as thus —


and chucked it at one of the windows.

Sadly, the youth must have missed the class on “angle of incidence” equals “angle of reflection”.


Our hero was straight-on to his target.

The window promptly pinged the fletton straight back.

It laid him out.

The real laugh was when the youth’s aggrieved mother tried to sue.

I can’t help wondering if that’s not a parable for the whole “Free School” business.


[❉] This is a well-constructed narrative. And here we see an example of “fore-shadowing”.

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Filed under blogging, Conservative Party policy., education, human waste, schools, social class

Real auld acquaintance

Look what I’ve just found!

Simplex, cover

All the way from 1955. Still usable. Batteries not required.

Pity I don’t remember much of it.

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Filed under education, schools


I’ve always enjoyed the Ulsterman’s (and -woman’s) ability to find anything “desperate”. As far as I can pin down this all-purpose expression, it indicates the odd, out-of-the-ordinary, even wryly amusing.

Just once in a while, those attempted e-mail scams throw up such an object.

Is it really worthwhile to pose as Mrs Florence Au and solicit me to receive a cut of her late husband’s multi-millions, lodged in a foreign bank?

Or the expert who remotely diagnoses a security fault on my Windows PC, when the whole house is Mac-dependent?

Or the notification that my non-existent account with the Bank of Ireland, Paypal, Amazon or Ebay has been infringed?

But … whoa! … here comes a new one. 

Malcolm Redfellow, it seems, is being chased for not paying his dues to E-ZPass, the electronic toll-road collection system for the North-Eastern United States.

Since Malcom Redfellow does physically exist (at least beyond these mumblings), does not drive — and certainly not in the Tri-State area, does not and never has owned a vehicle or a driving licence, —

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

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Filed under Apple, blogging, crime, films

Who knows history, who only history knows?

I freely admit it: I’ve never taken to Niall Ferguson in bulk. And the one thing of which one needs no further proof is that anything by Ferguson comes in wholesale quantities. I’m with the Duke of Gloucester:

“Another demn’d thick, square book! Always, scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh! Mr. Gibbon?”

Here we have him, in brief, ornamenting the pages of the Daily Telegraph, with his view that:

Scottish referendum: Alone, Scotland will go back to being a failed state

A trifle harsh, d’ye think? Hmmm, perhaps. Certainly the Act of Union was a desperate throw by an entrenched aristocracy that needed to be bought, to pay off the debts accumulated by decades of overweening follies, which concluded (but did not start) with the Darien Scheme.

Oh, don’t come wibbling that the Darien Scheme was wrecked by the hostilities of the perfidious English! A settlement on the Mosquito Coast was doomed from the start!

Don’t get sucked in, either, by the Burns stuff:

What force or guile could not subdue, 
Thro’ many warlike ages, 
Is wrought now by a coward few, 
For hireling traitor’s wages. 
The English stell we could disdain, 
Secure in valour’s station; 
But English gold has been our bane- 
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

Daiches and Smout

Burns cobbled that together as late as 1791, and so it is irrelevant to negotiations over the 1707 Union — though not to the ever-present economic nonsenses of the Scottish oligarchy. [There you are, Professor Ferguson: a topic worthy of your Glaswegian canniness.]

David Daiches put the bribery argument to rest, forty years ago (though it is still rehearsed by nationalists and the ignorant):


Was it all a matter of jobbery and bribery, as has been so often maintained? Why did the Squadrone Volante, who had originally prided themselves on their independence, in the end vote solidly for the Union? That they were, in the modern phrase, ‘leaned on’ in one way or another seems pretty certain. But it is unlikely that there was outright bribery: political pressure, promise of office, indirect financial inducements there undoubtedly were. There was even in one respect at least a direct financial inducement, since in August 1706 a royal warrant was issued putting a loan of £20,000 at the disposal of the Government in Scotland, on the ground that debts and current expenses could not otherwise be met. The sum was paid in two instalments in October and November; over half went to defray the expenses of the Commissioner and his staff; the rest was said to have gone in paying arrears of salary that the Government had promised its friends and potential friends. Lockhart of Carnwath maintained that some people to whom no arrears were due received payment from this sum, but he is a prejudiced witness. There seems however to have been no direct naked payments to people for voting for the Government, and in at least one case—that of the Duke of Atholl, who is said to have received £1,000—money was apparently received by someone who voted against the Union.

On the contrary, as Daiches then continues, it was English concessions to Scottish commercial interests, and a long-term view of economic self-interest that brought the Union about:

The international position of Scotland in the early eighteenth century was too isolated, her internal weaknesses and divisions too acute and wide-ranging, and the determination of England to protect herself from these weaknesses by absorbing her neighbour too strong, to offer much rational hope north of the Border that Scotland’s cherished independence could be long preserved.

That’s T. C .(Christopher) Smout, originally 1969, but every word as valid today as then.

Back to Ferguson

Like many others, I have never been quite sure what kind of historian Ferguson wants to be. He certainly tends to the broad-brush approach, scorning detail which does not comfortably fit his grand epic, while comfortable with generalisations that fit blurbs and sell books. Even his admirers fence him in as an “economic historian”.

Here we see that scattergun tendency in his Daily Telegraph piece.


There is the scorn for trivial detail:

I wish I had a fiver – yes, a Bank of England one please – for every rude name I have been called since I re-entered this fray. (Most are unprintable, but “weegie bampot” gives you a flavour. A “weegie” is a Glaswegian. I have never been sure what a “bampot” is, but it’s a great insult.)

Well, I’ve seen a real ba(l)mpot: my Aunt Min had one.

It worked like this: once a fortnight the door-to-door pedlar brought live yeast. The yeast was put into the ba(l)mpot, put near — but not too close — to the cast-iron kitchen range, and fed on sugary water.

Appropriate quantities would be taken on a daily basis for baking or whatever. Beware that home-made ginger-beer!

The ba(l)mpot tended to froth — hence the metaphor of a head a bit too dizzy, a bit too frothy. Quite an appropriate term to lob at Ferguson, I muse.

Shome mishtake, shurely

Then we arrive at this bit of Fergusonian explication:

Scottish history offers proof that even the most failed state can be fixed – by uniting with a richer and more tranquil neighbour. For most of the early modern period, the Scots kingdom was Europe’s Afghanistan. In the Highlands and the Hebrides, feudal warlords ruled over an utterly impoverished populace in conditions of lawlessness and internecine clan conflict. In the Lowlands, religious zealots who fantasised about a Calvinist theocracy – government by the godly Elect – prohibited dancing, drinking and drama. John Knox and his ilk were the Taliban of the Reformation. Witches were burnt in large numbers in Scotland, not in England.

Being the Scottish monarch was one of Europe’s most dangerous jobs. James I was murdered. James II died besieging Roxburgh Castle. James III also died in battle. So did James IV, at Flodden in 1513. James V died after yet another defeat at the hands of the English at Solway Moss. Mary I – Mary Queen of Scots – was actually imprisoned and executed by the English. James VI’s reaction on hearing that he had succeeded the woman who had condemned his mother to death was not one of repugnance but relief. As King James I of England, he could not wait to relocate south.

I’d quibble with several of those factoids.


Take that assertion, Witches were burnt in large numbers in Scotland. We can quantify that,  thanks to the University of Edinburgh:

We have identified a total number of 3,837 people who were accused of witchcraft in Scotland. 3,212 of these are named and there are a further 625 unnamed people or groups included in our database…

Of the 3,212 named individuals, we know the sentence of a trial in only 305 cases. 205 of these were to be executed, 52 were acquitted, 27 were banished, 11 were declared fugitive, 6 were excommunicated, 2 were put to the horn (outlawed), 1 person was to be kept in prison and 1 person was to be publicly humiliated. In addition, a further 98 were recorded as having fled from prosecution. This seems to suggest that 67%, two-thirds, were executed.

Horrible, indeed — but, to stick to the facts: 205 certified deaths, and most by strangulation before burning. Ferguson should be challenged to show how that number was less than what went on in England — particularly when charges of treason and witchcraft seem frequently to overlap. At a casual glance, the facts do not seem on Ferguson’s side.

The dangers of kingship

Being the Scottish monarch was one of Europe’s most dangerous jobs.

Really? The life-expectancy of monarchs seems to be somewhat greater than what we can deduce for the common populace.

Then he aggregates the monarchs of Scotland from the death of James I (1437) to the execution of Mary Stuart (1587), and lists five exemplars. Now, do the same calculation for England : Edward VI (murdered, 1471), Edward V (one of the Princes in the Tower, presumably done to death, 1483), Richard III (Bosworth, 1485) , — let’s pass over the fates of Henry VIII’s wives — Jane Seymour (1553). I make that a close-run 5-4 home win, but had I been allowed the fourteenth century, I could have added the murders of Richard II and Edward II.

… a richer and more tranquil neighbour

Now, come on! That’s really pushing your luck, Ferguson!

The tranquil England, with which Scotland unified, had suffered a catastrophic previous century:

  • the famine of 1623-24;
  • a most devastating Civil War (casualties: perhaps an eighth of the whole population), when the King of England declared war on his own subjects;
  • that King’s trial and execution;
  • the continuing constitutional crisis until the Restoration;
  • several attempts at royal assassination (the Gunpowder Plot, the Rye House Plot);
  • two major invasions (Monmouth unsuccessfully in 1685, Willem III van Oranje in 1689.
  • We might add in the Great Plague (“Great” because it was a degree more severe than several others) of 1664-65.

If Ferguson is content to be a “gadfly …  to stir up ideas and stir up debate” (Anthony Beevor’s benign put-down), he succeeds here. He shows a loose grasp of the details of political history, though.


Filed under Antony Beevor, Britain, Daily Telegraph, History, Niall Ferguson, Scotland

Learning something new everyday

marlowe-dr-faustus-1663Those of a certain generation (i.e. before day-time TV, the British Army of the Rhine, and when Sunday lunch was a family affair) have a distant memory of peeling spuds to the BBC Light Programme, and Two-Way Family Favourites.

Which is why I was reading Doctor Faustus, but my ear-worm chimed in with this:

For my eye had just scanned:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there’s no truth in us. Why, then, belike we must sin, and so cosequently die:
Ay, we must die an everlasting death.
What doctrine call you this, Che sera, sera,
What will be, shall be?

Man Who Knew Too MuchBefore anyone gets too excited, that’s perfectly OK in a sixteenth century effort, and at least until spelling became formalised.

It took Jay Livingston and Ray Evans to clean it up for the 1956 remake of Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.

However, there are times when I feel my mind makes too many unnecessary connections.

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Filed under films, Literature

Antrim? Not baffled one wee bit.

Nick Robinson, thee BBC Political Editor, offers “last minute” thoughts:

If you live in Accrington or Aberystwyth or Antrim, wherever you are in England or Wales, or Northern Ireland, I can see why it might be a little bit baffling. Forgive me, it may even be a bit boring at times.

OK: the alliteration is a nice touch.

However, I could assure Mr Robinson that the folk in Antrim are not baffled one tiny bit. In Antrim — as in Down, Armagh and points adjacent — they know precisely which foot they dig with.

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Filed under BBC, Nick Robinson, Northern Irish politics