Category Archives: Independent

A quick fisking

Two prefatory notes:
1. Each week-day morning I get three emails:

    • The Times is usually first out of the traps with Matt Chorley’s Red Box;
    • Paul Waugh shrewdly chips in with Waugh Zone, the political lead of HuffPo UK;
    • and, trailing the rear, because he has been mulling yet another excruciatingly-brilliant punning headline, comes the New Statesman‘s Stephen Bush.

2. Back in the days of yore, when social media were in their infancy, we took umbrage at the utterances of Robert Fisk. Because we were so much more intelligent than Fisk, we would “fisk” his columns, with counter arguments.

So, this grey Yorkshire morning, I’m fisking Paul Waugh.

REALITY BITES

Way back in 2010, David Cameron made the Liberal Democrats “a big, open and comprehensive offer” to join him in Government. Tomorrow, Theresa May will make what looks to Labour like a small, closed and limited offer to prop her up in power.

Without exception — and for once even the Torygraph is on board — the commentariat do not like the idea.

May’s relaunch speech has been well trailed overnight and includes a line that she will accept “the new reality” of her loss of a Parliamentary majority. But given her lifelong instinct of trusting only a tight-knit team around her, can May reach out to her own party, let alone Labour and others? May rightly wants to build consensus on areas like social care, but just ask Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham how open to cross-party working she has been in the past. On the Today programme, even the impeccably moderate Damian Green underlined the difficulties of any cross-party working, ridiculing Angela Rayner over the cost of wiping out all student debt. No wonder Labour’s Andrew Gwynne dismissed May’s olive branch, saying “they’re having to beg for policy proposals from Labour”.

We are not — heaven forfend! — to see this as a “relaunch”. Such lèse-majesté would deny the glory of Number 10.

The rest of that paragraph amount to a recital of so many current metropolitan political memes. Memes they may be; but they seem copper-bottomed. The jibe about student debt should not be over-looked: all sides are now coming around to recognising what a total disaster, educationally and financially — as well as electorally, the ConDem government inflicted by cranking up student fees and debt to the highest in the developed world. Predictably, the Tories continue, officially, to impale themselves while, behind the arras, scratching around for a way to climb-down.

If the UK were Germany, we might have seen some sort of ‘grand coalition’ in the wake of the snap election, driven by a sense of national mission to deliver a consensual Brexit (I remember Gisela Stuart floating the Tory-Labour coalition idea if the 2015 election had seen a hung Parliament). But we are not Germany and it takes world wars, rather than impending trade wars, to make our opposing parties work together on that level.

The essential differences between English and continental political practices derive from:

  • the shape of the Commons chamber, itself a distant legacy from the choir-stalls of St Stephen’s Chapel in the Palace of Westminster. Once there are two sides, each individual member of the Commons had to decide whether he (and it was always a “he”) was right of the Speaker (the Administration) or left (Opposition). Not for nothing are the two front benches traditionally two swords’ lengths apart.
  • over the centuries, the main supply of parliamentarians has been the Law, they are a contrarian, disputatious and forensic lot. Each argument has to be set against a counter-argument. Remember Swift’s satire of the Little-Endians versus the BigEndians.

Of course, Jeremy Corbyn’s success so far has been built on vigorously opposing the Tories, not working with them. And everyone in Parliament remembers just how badly burned the Lib Dems were by the Tories in coalition, never given credit for the good stuff, blamed for the bad stuff. May will say tomorrow that through cross-party working, “ideas can be clarified and improved and a better way forward found”. But in fact she’s admitting the reality that just 7 Tory MPs is all it takes to defeat the Government. And critics will say the only true way to get her to make concessions is to threaten rebellion after rebellion.

“Jeremy Corbyn’s success so far“: notice two presumptions there. “Success” in practice amounts to gaining 30 seats when all the indicators were for a possible loss of as many as sixty. However, in all truth, Labour opposition has been remarkably limited: in particular on the #Brexit thing. When 49 Labour MPs voted against the Government to keep the UK in the single market, they were abused and worse by Corbynite supporters.

One person who could more credibly make a genuinely big, bold offer to Labour is David Davis, precisely because he would be trusted by his own side not to sell out on the big principles, while being pragmatic enough on how to deliver them. I’ve said before that DD is the Martin McGuinness of the Brexit movement, capable of compromise without abandoning his supporters’ main strategic goal. And despite errors from key allies like Andrew Mitchell, he looks increasingly like the favourite in any Tory leadership race. Green this morning reiterated David Lidington’s line about “the warm Prosecco problem” of Tory MPs gossiping about the leadership. But Mitchell’s parties feature only the finest Champagne, and DD himself likes a pint of bitter. That’s the kind of cross-class, party consensus that May will need to worry about most.

For little obvious reason — but mainly, one has to suspect, for want of a better — David Davis has emerged as the Tory front-runner for a new leader (and, in the present dispensation, Prime Minister). I cannot help musing the Waugh over-eggs his pudding with the “trusted by his own side”. The ultras on the frothing right of the Tory Party trust no-one but themselves — which is why Theresa May keeps head-bangers and second-raters like Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom as household pets. As of now, Davis’s key strength is keeping in line. Were he to go rogue, he could easily bring down the whole shebang.

One final, dislocated thought:

John Rentoul (another commentator of value) is, but of course, cocking an ironic eye there. Irony on irony: that Paul Staines (by name and by nature) felt moved to protect “the establishment”.

On Saturday I was at the Big Meeting, the Durham Miners’ Gala. The Red Banners flew free. The Red Flag was sung, and — uniquely — the singers knew more than the first verse and chorus.  Tee-shirts proclaimed ¡No pasarán! and La lutte continue! I even heard a scratch band bash out The Internationale. I could have bought books, badges and posters celebrating Lenin, Trotsky, James Connolly.

It was all festive, and slightly tongue-in-cheek. For all the revolutionary ardor, these subversives were set on little more than getting down the next pint.

And yet, according to Guido Fawkes: they had already won! These north-easterners had voted #Brexit. They were successfully challenging the Establishment.

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Filed under Beer, Britain, British Left, Conservative Party policy., democracy, Europe, Guido Fawkes, International Brigade, John Rentoul, Labour Party, leftist politics., Paul Waugh, politics, socialism., Spanish Civil War, Theresa May, Times, Tories., Vince Cable

Another place with “too much history”

Yesterday to Durham and The Big Meeting (133rd iteration).

The Lady in my Life and myself are there, dead in front of the microphones, and about four rows back. The last time I went was mid-1960s, and the main speaker was Harold Wilson. There were still coal-mines working then. Durham’s very last was Monkwearmouth, where the last shift was worked on 10th December 1993. The site, today, is the Stadium of Light, Sunderland’s home ground.

In 1937 George Orwell was factually stating the importance of coal:

Practically everything we do, from eating an ice to crossing the Atlantic, and from baking a loaf to writing a novel, involves the use of coal, directly or indirectly. For all the arts of peace coal is needed; if war breaks out it is needed all the more. In time of revolution the miner must go on working or the revolution must stop, for revolution as much as reaction needs coal. Whatever may be happening on the surface, the hacking and shovelling have got to continue without a pause, or at any rate without pausing for more than a few weeks at the most. In order that Hitler may march the goose-step, that the Pope may denounce Bolshevism, that the cricket crowds may assemble at Lords, that the poets may scratch one another’s backs, coal has got to be forthcoming. But on the whole we are not aware of it; we all know that we ‘must have coal’, but we seldom or never remember what coal-getting involves. Here am I sitting writing in front of my comfortable coal fire. It is April but I still need a fire. Once a fortnight the coal cart drives up to the door and men in leather jerkins carry the coal indoors in stout sacks smelling of tar and shoot it clanking into the coal-hole under the stairs. It is only very rarely, when I make a definite mental-effort, that I connect this coal with that far-off labour in the mines. It is just ‘coal’ — something that I have got to have; black stuff that arrives mysteriously from nowhere in particular, like manna except that you have to pay for it. You could quite easily drive a car right across the north of England and never once remember that hundreds of feet below the road you are on the miners are hacking at the coal. Yet in a sense it is the miners who are driving your car forward. Their lamp-lit world down there is as necessary to the daylight world above as the root is to the flower.

It is not long since conditions in the mines were worse than they are now. There are still living a few very old women who in their youth have worked underground, with the harness round their waists, and a chain that passed between their legs, crawling on all fours and dragging tubs of coal. They used to go on doing this even when they were pregnant. And even now, if coal could not be produced without pregnant women dragging it to and fro, I fancy we should let them do it rather than deprive ourselves of coal.

Eighty years on, 21st April 2017, Britain went a day without coal, while the lights stayed on.

There have been no active coal-mines, and no coal-miners in the County Palatine this quarter-century. But the Durham Miners’ Gala, the Big Meetin’, goes on, and this year was bigger and brassier than ever.

Durham has too much history for its own good. That’s an expression I have seen applied to Ireland, to the island of Cyprus and to Naples in recent times. It has degrees of truth in every case. In Durham, though, the history is close enough to touch:

… the miners who died in the many pit disasters of the Durham coalfields.

They number thousands, including 164 at Seaham in 1880 and 168 at Stanley in 1909, and are commemorated by a memorial in Durham Cathedral, a spectacular Romanesque landmark that this autumn celebrates the 25th anniversary of its designation as a Unesco World Heritage Site, along with the rest of the historic city. Next to the memorial to the victims of pit disasters is a book of remembrance that the Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, was at pains to point out to me. “Here’s one 15 years of age,” he said. “J E Scott. Died at Shotton [in 1953]. This is a really poignant place.”

The Dean talked of “the big meeting”, the annual miners’ gala in July when the former mining communities pour through the city behind their colliery banners and wind their way up to the cathedral for the miners’ service. “It’s a kind of echo of the Middle Ages when people would flock into this place and believe they were part of something bigger than they were,” said the Dean.

Any rail journey takes one past acres of rough scrub that not too long ago were coal-tips. Railway yards and sidings stretch far, far further than any conceivable modern need. Few villages lack what once was (and may still be marked as) the Miners’ Welfare hall. In the streets and pubs one brushes past ageing faces and limbs, marked with the blue of coal-dust tattooed under the skin.

Scott and Scot

Yesterday, then, to Durham’s Racecourse. The site stretches past the Wear river-bank, and to its other side the massive ridge (as above):

Well yet I love thy mix’d and massive piles,
Half church of God, half castle ’gainst the Scot …

For sixty-odd years that tag has come to my mind, and mouth, every time I have seen an image or the reality of Durham’s great, looming cathedral. I somehow knew it was Walter Scott. That may be because anything so romantic had to derive from the same source that gave us swash-and-buckle, the Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood and even Tony Curtis’s fictional “Yonda lies the castle of my fodder“. Precisely locating the reference isn’t quite that easy. To save others the sweat, it is found in Canto Third of Harold the Dauntless of 1817.

For contemporary tastes, Scott’s romantic world contains too much “hied me home” or

Wrinkled his brows grew, and hoary his hair

That’s unfair in this case, because the 1817 poem is prefaced by a more-cynical Scott. He deplores O tempora! O mores, as Cicero did Against Catiline: —

Ennui! — or, as our mothers call’d thee, Spleen!
To thee we owe full many a rare device;
Thine is the sheaf of painted cards, I ween,
The rolling billiard-ball, the rattling dice,
The turning-lathe for framing gimcrack nice;
The amateur’s blotch’d pallet thou mayst claim,
Retort, and air-pump, threatening frogs and mice,
(Murders disguised by philosophic name,)
And much of trifling grave, and much of buxom game.

At the moment, the imposing central tower of the Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham has scaffolding all round, and wears a square white cook’s bonnet.

The proceedings

When we finally came to the speechifying, even that have to be after a brass-band rendering of “The Miner’s Hymn”, Gresford:

The story behind that is told here:

Written by a former miner, Robert Saint, to commemorate the Gresford pit disaster in 1934 it has been played at mining events ever since; most notably at the famous Durham Miners’ Gala.

What is too easily forgotten is that, in the days of working pits, the attendees at the Gala would have held silence to that every year and recalled the death-toll.

My first teaching job was in a boys’ grammar school in the County Durham. Male teachers in an all-male (with one brave exception) staff-room constitute a cynical lot. So, morning break, 21st October 1966, was eerily quiet. The news was coming through of the Aberfan disaster and the immolation of Pantglas Primary school. By no coincidence, Alan Plater’s Close the Coalhouse Door (originally intended as a BBC radio play) went on stage in April 1968:

A few years back I was at the packed Richmond Theatre for Sam West’s revival (lightly trimmed by Lee Hall). The same evocative, eye-pricking power was there. All the way from Thomas Hepburn and Peter Lee.

It’s the same tradition as Abide With Me before the Cup Final. It’s very much the mood of “those no longer with us”. But for industrial workers, especially in the heaviest industries, it’s also “those taken from us because of managerial mistakes and incompetence”.

This year the Miner’s Hymn had added plangency:

Not just an Elf

There is a message here; and it’s the box that most of the speakers at the Big Meeting ticked.

Disasters like Gresford in 1934, Aberfan in 1966 and the Grenfell Tower this year are “accidents-waiting-to-happen”. They derive from decisions taken, or studiously ignored, by bureaucratic processes beyond the control of us ordinary folk. What we have to protect us, to some extent, are Health and Safety Regulations. That is, of course, if they are policed and enforced.

Even then there are arrogant twazzles who mock them:

“We could, if we wanted, accept emissions standards from India, America, and Europe. There’d be no contradiction with that,” Mr Rees-Mogg said.

“We could say, if it’s good enough in India, it’s good enough for here. There’s nothing to stop that.

“We could take it a very long way. American emission standards are fine – probably in some cases higher. 

“I accept that we’re not going to allow dangerous toys to come in from China, we don’t want to see those kind of risks. But there’s a very long way you can go.”

The MP’s comments came in the context of a discussion about trade deals with other countries following Brexit.

Said twazzle now fancies himself to chair the highly-important Treasury select committee, and stamp Asian labour practices, and US water standards on post-Brexit Britain.

Too much history? Or not enough yet?

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Filed under Britain, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., crime, culture, Daily Telegraph, economy, Guardian, Harold Wilson, health, History, Independent, leftist politics., leisure travel, Literature, Music, politics, poverty, Quotations, railways, schools, Theatre, Tories., Trade unions, travel, underclass, working class

The not-so-great and the not-so-good, revisited: an extended intro

A while back I attempted a succession of these: blog-efforts on rediscovered and overlooked characters, mainly from Irish history. Many of them were scions and by-products of the Ascendancy.

But first the prologue (the main event is the next post):

The Tory-people-friendly UK government press offices put out a couple of images of the Chancellor:

cx8rag4weaaauib-jpg-large cx8ze-pxaaa_mfd

Th estimable @JohnRentoul nailed one of the portraits:

William Pitt the Younger on the left, I think. Who’s on the right?

While I was rootling madly through the Government’s Art collection, the answer came from elsewhere:

Gordon, John Watson; Sir George Cornewall Lewis (1806-1863), 2nd Bt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Editor of the 'Edinburgh Review'; Government Art Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/sir-george-cornewall-lewis-18061863-2nd-bt-chancellor-of-the-exchequer-editor-of-the-edinburgh-review-28284

Gordon, John Watson; Sir George Cornewall Lewis (1806-1863), 2nd Bt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Editor of the ‘Edinburgh Review’.

Not a “well-known” name, but Lewis deserves a bit of a boost — around 1862 — stone-walling the ultras who wanted the UK to go for the Confederates in the American Civil War.

His origins were in the Welsh Marches, but his Irish connection was a worthy one.

As  a young, rising, and talented lawyer, freshly-minted by the Middle Temple, with an interest in the “public service”, in 1833 Lewis  became “an assistant commissioner of the inquiry into the condition of the poorer classes of Ireland”. He spent some time in 1834 researching the problems among the Irish diaspora across the developing industrial towns of England. Then he turned to the state of Irish education, which took him into heavy reading on the land question and on the Irish established church.

Out of that, in 1836, came a substantial document:  On Local Disturbances in Ireland; and on the Irish Church Question:

title-page

Don’t rush past that: note the dedication. Charles Sumner was in England in 1838, as part of a European tour. Sumner would go on to be a potent force in American politics, as an abolitionist, founding member of the Republican Party, and Radical during the Reconstruction.

Lewis’s book was seminal in looking to balance the ecclesiastical situation in Ireland, by ‘concurrent endowment’ (he invented the term), and in advocating ‘a legal provision for the poor’, which amounted to applying to Ireland the principles of the 1834 English poor law. It doesn’t need a genius to spot where that one would go adrift in the Great Famine, particularly as Lewis was also rejecting ‘the principle that it is the duty of the state to find employment for the people’.

Rapid promotion

lewisLewis became Chancellor of the Exchequer in a wholly mid-Victorian manner.

His father died in January 1855, and Lewis inherited the baronetcy and, on 8th February 1855, unopposed, the seat as MP for the Radnorshire boroughs. On 22nd February he became Gladstone’s successor at the Treasury, and on 28th February a Privy Councillor.

We might wonder at Phillip Hammond’s choice of such a figure, to look over his shoulder in the study of Number 11, Downing Street.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

First, am I wholly adrift in seeing some facial similarities between the image on the right, and Hammond, himself?

Second, Lewis came to the Chancellorship in a moment of financial crisis — how to pay for the Crimean War. Hammond has even greater problems, in the aftermath of the #Brexit vote.

Allow me to filch from the Dictionary of National Biography:

Lewis remained chancellor until the government was defeated in February 1858. Gladstone at first was helpfulness incarnate to his successor, but Lewis deviated from Gladstone’s canons of financial rectitude, especially with respect to the question of whether to finance the Crimean War by taxation or by loans. Lewis faced a severe crisis in the nation’s finances, brought on by a war more prolonged and expensive than anyone had expected. His first budget, on 20 April 1855, had to meet a deficit of £23 million. Lewis raised £16 million by a loan, £3 million by exchequer bills (later increased to £7 million), and the remaining £4 million by raising income tax from the already high 14d. to 16d. in the pound and by raising indirect taxes. The £68 million thus raised was easily the largest sum raised up to this time by a British government. Lewis’s budget set aside the Gladstonian view that war abroad should be met by corresponding taxation-pain at home but, in terms of practical politics, financing by loans (to which Lewis resorted again in his second budget of 19 May 1856) was probably unavoidable if Palmerston’s government was to survive. In 1855 Lewis carried through the Commons the Newspaper Stamp Duties Bill, an inheritance from Gladstone and an important step in repealing the ‘taxes on knowledge’ (as the duties on newspapers and paper were called). Lewis’s policy of loans meant excellent commissions and profits for the City of London, which greatly preferred him to Gladstone.

Such parallel: almost uncanny.

 

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Filed under Britain, Conservative Party policy., EU referendum, History, Ireland, John Rentoul, Tories., United States

Skeuomorphs?

RENTOUL1

I am collecting nominations for future Top 10s, my feature in The New Review, the Independent on Sunday magazine. Andrew Denny suggested anachronistic skeuomorphs, symbols such as the floppy disk to mean “save” and a bellows camera as a speed camera sign. I am also compiling a Top 10 People Who Would Have Been Good On Twitter, with Twitter name and a sample tweet. Best so far from Rob Warm: @Schrödinger: “wow! check out this possibly cute cat pic”

There’s a covert reminder in there: Rentoul is not just a son-of-the-manse, but a King’s, Cambridge, English-graduate.

NotesAnd I’m not going to pretend I’d ever personally met a “skeuomorph” until that moment. I think with the information so far, I’d be calling it a “pictogram” or an “icon”.

Indeed, on this evidence, I’m not convinced “skeuomorph” is the proper term here.

As I understand “skeuomorph”, it implies “visual metaphor”. As used by Rentoul, it’s a metaphor of a metaphor: the term (see below) seems to originate in archaeology. The Greek roots suggest: “implement”+””shape”. So, when — in the old pre-MacOs7 dispensation,  — I opened Notes, and got something that looked like an American yellow legal pad, that was a skeuomorph (as right).

My doubts increase when I refer to the OED:

skeuomorph

Even though I note the side-bar admonition, in red — This entry has not yet been fully updated (first published 1933) — there’s absolutely nothing there to suggest why we should prefer “skeuomorph” to the generally-accepted, and simpler “icon”.

kettles

As I now understand the term, a “skeuomorph” is brought about when a new product (say an electric kettle) mimics the form of its predecessor, with disregard to the change of function. There is no functional reason why the electric kettle should mimic the form of the stick-it-on-the-hob job, except (a) innate conservatism, (b) customer familiarity. There actually are good reasons why not: stick the electric job on the hob, and you’ve possibly buggered it. Yet pretty well every technological innovation begins the same way: early railway carriages retained the format of horse-drawn coaches. It takes the designer some time for form to follow function.

If we refer to the wikipedia entry, which seems — at least to me — severely disconnected,  the confusion becomes greater, and Apple-specific:

Apple Inc., while under the direction of Steve Jobs, was known for its wide usage of skeuomorphic designs in various applications. The debate over the merits of Apple’s extensive use of skeuomorphism became the subject of substantial media attention in October 2012, a year after Jobs’ death, largely as the result of the reported resignation of Scott Forstall, described as “the most vocal and high-ranking proponent of the visual design style favored by Mr. Jobs”. Apple designer Jonathan Ive, who took over some of Forstall’s responsibilities and had “made his distaste for the visual ornamentation in Apple’s mobile software known within the company”, was expected to move the company toward a less skeuomorphic aesthetic. With the announcement of iOS 7 at WWDC, Apple officially shifted from skeuomorphism to a more simplified design, thus beginning the so-called “death of skeuomorphism.”

Someone must be to blame, and I finger Professor Dan O’Hara.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I reckon Rentoul’s borrowing of “skeuomorph” is precisely the kind of inflated language he would deplore in others.

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Only a question-mark protects the guilty?

The essential difference between the outer fringes of cat-litter sensationalism (e.g. The National Enquirer) and the likes of the Daily Mail is the query [?] replacing the screamer [!]:

Compound

MAil

Uncanny, huh?

51x93lkZ6-L._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_That ornament to The Independent, John Rentoul, has dined out on that appended punctuation for years for years. He reduces it to an acronym, QTWTAIN, and — at the last count — had collected a thousand. At which, he wisely gave up and left it to others. On occasions even its onlie true begetter seems to regret the passing of this constant in the media.

I think this must be the last, or at least one of the last, of the QTWTAIN:

iPad

QTWTAINs are easy to spot, and easy to mock. In most cases, were the notion presented as  direct positive statement, rather than a mind-worm, it would be derided as infantile, gross fallacy, or trite nonsense. Only the question-mark gives it any kind of validity. For the briefest moment of time, before logic and sanity cut in, we may be beguiled — rather as if struck by a truly clever pun or punch-line.

And then there’s the occasional thing like this:

Tweet

To which  the only slightly-stunned response has to be “Err …? What? Why? How?”

When we hunt that link we find something very different. The heading becomes:

How to finance an Emperor’s Election

The piece kicks off:

The outsider candidate in the Imperial election of 1519, which was meant to choose a Holy Roman Emperor, was Henry VIII of England. He had no particular dynastic claim to the title, and, though he had one of his representatives spread the word that he had some command of the “German tongue,” he did not have much of a connection to the people he would rule. He mostly got in the race because, then as now, both of the main candidates, despite their inherited positions and elaborate claims, seemed vulnerable, if not implausible. And people, including the Pope—this was when Henry was young, before the divorces and beheadings—kept telling him that what the field needed was an energetic, competent monarch like him. Who could resist?

The last sentence there itself has some of the smack of a QTWTAIN.

Even this far in, and that’s the first of just six compact paragraphs, were it not for the accompanying image, we would be wholly mystified where we are being taken. The image, though, is:

FuggerThe caption below it is:

Jacob Fugger, pictured here in a 1518 portrait by Albrecht Dürer, was the moneyman behind the 1519 election of a new Holy Roman Emperor.

The painting is in the Bavarian State collection at the Staatsgalarie in Augsburg. It is more usually entitled: Jakob Fugger der Reiche. “The Rich”: forsooth. Now the pfennig drops: this is a brief nod, hardly a review, of a recently-published book by Greg Steinmetz, The Richest Man Who Ever Lived: The Life and Times of Jacob Fugger.

I first encountered Fugger via the Fuggerei in the heart of old Augsburg. This is an expansive cottage-estate development, claimed as the first social housing scheme in the world, founded in 1521. What we see is the post-World War II rebuild:

On the day after the bombing [24 February 1944], three prominent Fugger descendants signed a pledge to rebuild the Fuggerei out of their own funds. They worried that if they didn’t, their name would be forgotten. These Fuggers, seventeen generations after Jacob Fugger, were nowhere near as rich as their ancestors, but they still enjoyed income on land Jacob acquired centuries earlier. In rebuilding the complex, they got materials from the American occupying forces and followed the original plans except with better plumbing. They increased the number of units from 106 to 140. [Steinmetz, Epilogue]

Like everything else to do with Fugger (compare David Dale’s New Lanark, Titus Salt’s Saltaire, George Cadbury’s Bourneville, William Lever’s Port Sunlight) the Fuggerie was not entirely altruistic: it located the workforce conveniently close to the manufactory. The Fuggerei was, actually, cottage industries.

What made Fugger rich was:

  • lowliness is young ambition’s ladder: a comfortable family origin in the cloth trade (just when cloth was no longer the one industry in town), but being at that historical moment when “new men”, with a lick of education and numeracy, were breaking through the strict medieval class hierarchy;
  • the location of Augsburg, as a centre of European affairs:

In Renaissance Germany, few cities matched the energy and excitement of Augsburg. Markets overflowed with everything from ostrich eggs to the skulls of saints. Ladies brought falcons to church. Hungarian cowboys drove cattle through the streets. If the emperor came to town, knights jousted in the squares. If a murderer was caught in the morning, a hanging followed in the afternoon for all to see. Augsburg had a high tolerance for sin. Beer flowed in the bathhouses as freely as in the taverns. The city not only allowed prostitution but maintained the brothel.J,

Jacob Fugger was born here in 1459. Augsburg was a textile town and Fugger’s family had grown rich buying cloth made by local weavers and selling it at fairs in Frankfurt, Cologne and over the Alps, in Venice. Fugger was youngest of seven boys. His father died when he was ten and his mother took over the business. She had enough sons to work the fairs, bribe highway robbers, and inspect cloth in the bleaching fields, so she decided to take him away from the jousts and bathhouses and put him on a different course. She decided he should be a priest.  [Steinmetz, Chapter 1]

  • information systems: he built a network of “branches”, which provided economic intelligence, and he connected himself to them and controlled the flow of information by inventing a postal system;
  • accountancy — Fugger served an apprenticeship in Venice, that free-booting Italian Business School at the European end of the Spice Road:

he was among the first businessmen north of the Alps to use double-entry bookkeeping and the first anywhere to consolidate the results of multiple operations in a single financial statement [Steinmetz, Introduction]

  • bribery, and its deployment for political control at the highest levels (which is the essential point of that New Yorker piece);
  • his control of several industries crucial to proto-capitalism, and a ruthless approach to making money:

Fugger made his fortune in mining and banking, but he also sold textiles, spices, jewels and holy relics such as bones of martyrs and splinters of the cross. For a time, he held a monopoly on guaiacum, a Brazilian tree bark believed to cure syphilis. He minted papal coins and funded the first regiment of Swiss papal guards.  [Steinmetz, Introduction]

  • above all, exploiting the moment when Northern Europe was going soft on usury:

Venetians lived by the motto of “First Venetians, then Christians.” They preferred making money to pleasing God. They ignored the ban and invented bank deposits. Venetian investors could leave their money with a bank, return a year later and get more back than they put in. Deposits gave banks a new way to grow and gave their customers an easy way to put their money to work. Everyone was happy except the church. The rest of Italy recognized the brilliance of savings accounts and offered their own. Germans respected canon law more than the Italians and observed the usury ban more faithfully but they, too, eventually came around. [Steinmetz, Chapter 4]

Fugger adopted the “Augsburg Contract”, which promised his investors a 5% p.a. return. This was risking his all on the turn of a Papal card — but it was already a marked card:

Fugger was taking a risk. The Augsburg Contract may or may not have been legal under church law. But it was in wide use and Fugger needed it to raise money. If Eck lost the debate and the judges declared the contract usurious, Fugger’s depositors would refuse to give him money. This would be lethal. It was one thing to operate in a gray area. It was another to engage in a practice specifically ruled heretical. Fugger must have felt extremely confident because he sought nothing short of a Scopes trial, a winner-take-all smackdown pitting dogma against modernity, but with money instead of monkeys at the center. He had at least one precedent on his side. After theologians squared off over the subject of annuities—the interest-earning pension schemes that cities sold to raise money—the pope had sanctioned them. Maybe Pope Leo, who had replaced the “Warrior Pope” Julius II earlier that year, would do the same with the Augsburg Contract. There was also the fact that Leo was a member of the Medici banking family. Legalization would serve his personal interests. Even better was that Leo himself was a borrower of Fugger’s. It goes without saying that Leo would be favorably inclined towards someone who gave him money. [Steinmetz, Chapter 6]

No doubt about it, Steinmetz is highly readable. My QTWTAIN: does that New Yorker piece, by Amy Davidson, do the book justice?

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Filed under History, Independent, John Rentoul, New Yorker, reading

Numbers

Three “experiments” (none really worthy of the term) come to mind.

One was a primary-school headteacher who attempted to illustrate size by painting a million dots on the playground tarmac. It had to be done by putting tens into blocks of hundreds, hundreds into thousands … The result was a surface suffering from acute, multi-coloured chickenpox, and achieving total incomprehensibility.

At the other end (and here I’m dredging my memory, so E&OE), Konrad Lorenz did a thing with ducks. He successively removed ducklings from the mother duck. The mother became distressed only when the last-but-two duckling was offed. Lorenz concluded that ducks count “One, two, many …”

The third was my own attempt to get students to appreciate the limits of their imaginations.

  • “Close your eyes. Imagine — say a milk-bottle on the doorstep.” [Gosh! That dates me. When did one last see that domestic detail?]
  • “Now put a second bottle down beside it. OK: everyone got a mental image?” Nods all round.
  • “And a third. And a fourth …”

My own conceptualising ran out at seven. Then I had to “see” two rows of four … Either my persuasion was so good, or that’s about the natural limits. Very few students claimed to be able to produce a clear picture of more than seven.

Holocaust

Here’s another example of our intellect being betrayed by number.

The Greek word means “consumed by fire”. At some point it was transformed into mass-sacrifice, and therefore into its modern usage. That may date from Tyndale’s Bible of 1526:

… to love a mans neghbour as him silfe ys a greater thynge then all holocaustes and sacrifises. [Mark’s Gospel, 12.33]

Numbering the dead

I had a look back to President Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor speech. I wasn’t too surprised to notice the vagueness over the casualties (which hadn’t yet been properly assessed, of course):

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

That is about the sum of it.

Similarly, President Bush on the evening of 9/11, is far from crystal clear:

Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes or in their offices: secretaries, business men and women, military and federal workers, moms and dads, friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror.

“Thousands of lives”: at Pearl Harbor the count made later was:

The Navy and Marine Corps suffered a total of 2,896 casualties of which 2,117 were deaths (Navy 2,008, Marines 109) and 779 wounded (Navy 710, Marines 69). The Army (as of midnight, 10 December) lost 228 killed or died of wounds, 113 seriously wounded and 346 slightly wounded. In addition, at least 57 civilians were killed and nearly as many seriously injured.

And

The September 11 attacks resulted in 2,996 immediate (attack time) deaths: 2,977 victims and the 19 hijackers. A total of 372 people with non-U.S. citizenship (excluding the 19 perpetrators) perished in the attacks, representing just over 12% of the total. The immediate deaths include 246 victims on the four planes (from which there were no survivors), 2,606 in New York City in the World Trade Center and on the ground, and 125 at the Pentagon. About 292 people were killed at street level by burning debris and falling bodies of those who had jumped or fallen from the World Trade Center’s windows. All the deaths in the attacks were civilians except for 55 military personnel killed at the Pentagon. Some immediate victims were not added to the list until years later.

I seriously doubt that many of us carry cold statistics, like those, in our heads. We round the numbers at best, or focus on the odd one or two victims known to us.

So those 888,246 ceramic poppies I saw planted in the Tower of London moat come down to a single grave, my grandfather’s, at Doullens Communal Cemetery Ext No 2. The toll of the Second World War subjectively amounts to cousin Jean Chapman, among the other ATS girls of 121 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, taken out by a sneak bomber at the Imperial Hotel, Great Yarmouth, in 1943.

Je suis Charlie

What I’m attempting to do here is comprehend the upsurge of popular emotion over the Rue Nicolas Appert murders.

I do not believe it is for some abstract: the “Freedom” featured by the Times, the Telegraph and Daily Mail headline screamers:

Freedom

Nor the even-more bizarre metaphor in The New York Times

Charlie Hebdo Carries Torch of Political Provocation

By comparison, and by far, the most effective, human, front page today was that “Up yours!” of the Independent:

timthumb-3.php

It may also be the very name of the magazine: again, not an abstraction but a comfortable prénom.

Twelve, the number of the dead, is one of those iconic numbers, enough for a small circle of acquaintance. It is the complement of the minibus on the way to the football, the population of a typical office, the moment when an empty bar or café starts to feel it is filling up, when we look around and feel we may have chosen the right restaurant after all. It is an understandable, embraceable, personifiable group.

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Filed under Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, History, Independent, New York Times, Quotations, reading, Religious division, Times

Time’s wingèd chariot, etc

middlemarch-160lThank you so much, John Rentoul, I really needed this cold drench of mortality:

I was jolted by one a few years back when someone pointed out that the Sex Pistols were closer to the Second World War than the present day. Last year, the same became true of Margaret Thatcher’s election as Prime Minister, the first election in which I could vote (I voted for Sunny Jim Callaghan). And when the Rolling Stones played Glastonbury in 2013, someone pointed out to the young people rushing to see them that it was as if young people in 1964, when the Stones had their first UK hit, had clamoured to see a band that was first big in 1915.

By that token, I was born closer to the publication of Middlemarch than to that of The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.

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Filed under Independent, John Rentoul, Literature