Quotulatiousness

November 25, 2014

The rise of the Stepford Students

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:22

Brendan O’Neill is disturbed that the very people who should be most welcoming of intellectual challenge and alternative points of view are the very ones who are most militant about “safe spaces” and allowing no platform to dissenting views:

Have you met the Stepford students? They’re everywhere. On campuses across the land. Sitting stony-eyed in lecture halls or surreptitiously policing beer-fuelled banter in the uni bar. They look like students, dress like students, smell like students. But their student brains have been replaced by brains bereft of critical faculties and programmed to conform. To the untrained eye, they seem like your average book-devouring, ideas-discussing, H&M-adorned youth, but anyone who’s spent more than five minutes in their company will know that these students are far more interested in shutting debate down than opening it up.

[…]

If your go-to image of a student is someone who’s free-spirited and open-minded, who loves having a pop at orthodoxies, then you urgently need to update your mind’s picture bank. Students are now pretty much the opposite of that. It’s hard to think of any other section of society that has undergone as epic a transformation as students have. From freewheelin’ to ban-happy, from askers of awkward questions to suppressors of offensive speech, in the space of a generation. My showdown with the debate-banning Stepfords at Oxford and the pre-crime promoters at Cambridge echoed other recent run-ins I’ve had with the intolerant students of the 21st century. I’ve been jeered at by students at the University of Cork for criticising gay marriage; cornered and branded a ‘denier’ by students at University College London for suggesting industrial development in Africa should take precedence over combating climate change; lambasted by students at Cambridge (again) for saying it’s bad to boycott Israeli goods. In each case, it wasn’t the fact the students disagreed with me that I found alarming — disagreement is great! — it was that they were so plainly shocked that I could have uttered such things, that I had failed to conform to what they assume to be right, that I had sought to contaminate their campuses and their fragile grey matter with offensive ideas.

Where once students might have allowed their eyes and ears to be bombarded by everything from risqué political propaganda to raunchy rock, now they insulate themselves from anything that might dent their self-esteem and, crime of crimes, make them feel ‘uncomfortable’. Student groups insist that online articles should have ‘trigger warnings’ in case their subject matter might cause offence.

[…]

Stepford concerns are over-amplified on social media. No sooner is a contentious subject raised than a university ‘campaign’ group appears on Facebook, or a hashtag on Twitter, demanding that the debate is shut down. Technology means that it has never been easier to whip up a false sense of mass outrage — and target that synthetic anger at those in charge. The authorities on the receiving end feel so besieged that they succumb to the demands and threats.

Heaven help any student who doesn’t bow before the Stepford mentality. The students’ union at Edinburgh recently passed a motion to ‘End lad banter’ on campus. Laddish students are being forced to recant their bantering ways. Last month, the rugby club at the London School of Economics was disbanded for a year after its members handed out leaflets advising rugby lads to avoid ‘mingers’ (ugly girls) and ‘homosexual debauchery’. Under pressure from LSE bigwigs, the club publicly recanted its ‘inexcusably offensive’ behaviour and declared that its members have ‘a lot to learn about the pernicious effects of banter’. They’re being made to take part in equality and diversity training. At British unis in 2014, you don’t just get education — you also get re-education, Soviet style.

Shami Chakrabarti’s On Liberty fails to persuade

Filed under: Britain, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Tim Black thinks John Stuart Mill (were he still alive) would be within his rights to sue Chakrabarti for mis-appropriating the title of his famous book:

Given the eponymous nod to John Stuart Mill, Shami Chakrabarti’s On Liberty promises to be a tribute to individual freedom. It promises to be a stirring defence of liberty written by someone who, as the head of the 80-year-old civil-rights campaign group Liberty, has been knee-deep, holding back the tide of aggressive, illiberal legislation. It promises to be an unbowed affirmation of freedom at a time when it has rarely been more devalued.

But the reality of Chakrabarti’s On Liberty, an awkward amalgam of the semi-personal and the mainstream political, never even comes close to realising the promise. Instead, it turns out to be a desperately dull encomium to the human-rights industry, a verveless trudge down Good Cause lane, with every battle against New Labour anti-terror legislation, each scuffle with the ASBO-happy authorities, eventually turning into a victory for the indispensable European Court of Human Rights. Hooray for Strasbourg! If John Stuart Mill wasn’t so liberal (and dead), he’d be within his rights to sue Chakrabarti for calumny.

But first, the prose. Whatever vital impulse there was behind writing this book must have expired long before it reached the page. There’s no life here, no spirit. It as if Chakrabarti has barely thought about the words she’s using. Even when she’s describing the frustrations of her ‘university-educated’ mum, held back ‘by a lack of affordable childcare’, she sounds as if she’s dashing off a policy document, not portraying a loved one. Admittedly, she does prove capable of a geekish whimsy at points — ‘You might say that I am a Jedi Knight who began on the dark side of the force’, she writes of her career beginnings at the UK Home Office. But On Liberty is mainly composed of dead phrases and, worse still, argument-averse legalese. ‘This type of administrative detention by the UK secretary of state’, she writes of the internment of foreign terror suspects at Belmarsh, ‘is not incompatible with the right to personal liberty and the right against arbitrary detention under Article 5 of the Human Rights Convention, as long as it is necessary to the stated purpose, provided for in legislation and subject to scrutiny and appeals in the appropriate courts and tribunals’. Magical stuff.

Replica WW1 tanks at the Tank Museum

Filed under: Britain, History, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

While they’re not true replica vehicles, the British Mark IV and the German A7V tanks can be seen at the Tank Museum in Bovington:

Uploaded on 11 Jan 2012

The Tank Museum has obtained the tank used in Steven Spielberg’s new World War One blockbuster Warhorse.

The fully operational replica of a British Mk IV tank is set to go on display when the film is released next week, and will also be used in the Dorset based Museum’s tank displays later in the year.

The full sized replica was based on the Museum’s own Mark IV, which was built in 1917. OSCAR award-wining special effects company Neil Corbould Special Effects LTD, whose credits include Saving Private Ryan and Gladiator, visited The Tank Museum in 2010 to take measurements from the vehicle and copy original documents related to the MK IV tank held in the Museum’s Archive.

Published on 30 Nov 2012

The Tank Museum has acquired a working replica of a German First World War tank. See it in action here, alongside our British First World War replica from the film War Horse. For more information, visit www.tankmuseum.org.

November 23, 2014

Margaret MacMillan: The Road to 1914

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Published on 11 Nov 2014

International historian Margaret MacMillan returns to The Agenda to discuss the events that led to the First World War, as chronicled in her book The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914. MacMillan tells Steve Paikin why Europe’s major powers made decisions that resulted in The Great War.

H/T to Mark Collins, who comments:

The author’s website. Two quibbles: she lets Serbia off far too lightly; and she does not mention the not-unjustified German fear that, if Russia was not defeated fairly soon, by around 1916 she would be unbeatable in combination with the French (see here: “German Fears about Russia“).

Based on my readings to put together my “Origins of WW1″ series, I rather agree with Mark on the measurement of Serbian culpability. Mark also posted a follow-up on the topic.

The odd names of Britain – now available as a wall map

Filed under: Britain, History, Randomness — Tags: — Nicholas @ 00:02

Like most denizens of North America, I’ve sometimes stumbled upon odd village names in Britain. There are some weird and daffy names still in use in the UK and you can now get a wall map highlighting a large number of them:

Weird British place names

H/T to Jessica Brisbane for the link.

November 22, 2014

What Thucydides can teach us about fighting ebola

Filed under: Africa, Europe, Health, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:43

In The Diplomat, James R. Holmes says that we can learn a lot about fighting infectious diseases like ebola by reading what Thucidides wrote about the plague that struck Athens during the opening stages of the Peloponnesian War:

Two panelists from our new partner institution, a pair of Africa hands, offered some striking reflections on the fight against Ebola.

Their presentations put in me in the mind of … classical Greece. Why? Mainly because of Thucydides. Thucydides’ history of the Peloponnesian War isn’t just a (partly) eyewitness account of a bloodletting from antiquity; it’s the Good Book of politics and strategy. Undergraduates at Georgia used to look skeptical when I told them they could learn ninety percent of what they needed to know about bareknuckles competition from Thucydides. The remainder? Technology, tactics, and other ephemera. Thucydides remains a go-to source on the human factor in diplomacy and warfare.

But I digress. Ancient Greece suffered its own Ebola outbreak, a mysterious plague that struck Athens oversea during the early stages of the conflict. And the malady struck, perchance, at precisely the worst moment for Athens, after “first citizen” Pericles had arranged for the entire populace of Attica, the Athenian hinterland, to withdraw within the city walls. The idea was to hold the fearsome Spartan infantry at bay with fixed fortifications while the Athenian navy raided around the perimeter of the Spartan alliance.

[…]

That’s where the parallel between then and now becomes poignant. Thucydides notes, for example, that doctors died “most thickly” from the plague. The Brown presenters noted that, likewise, public-health workers in Africa — doctors, nurses, stretcher-bearers — are among the few to deliberately make close contact with the stricken. Relief teams, consequently, take extravagant precautions to quarantine the disease within makeshift facilities while shielding themselves from contagion. Sometimes these measures fail.

Now as in ancient Greece, furthermore, the prospect of disease and death deters some would-be healers altogether from succoring the afflicted. Selflessness has limits. Some understandably remain aloof — today as in Athens of yesteryear.

Teams assigned to bury the slain also find themselves in dire peril. Perversely, the dead from Ebola are more contagious than living hosts. That makes disposing of bodies in sanitary fashion a top priority. As the plague ravaged Athens, similarly, corpses piled up in the streets. No one would perform funeral rites — even in this deeply religious society. Classicist Victor Davis Hanson ascribes some of Athens’ barbarous practices late in the war — such as cutting off the hands of captured enemy seamen to keep them from returning to war — in part to the plague’s debasing impact on morals, ethics, and religion.

November 21, 2014

Paging Delos D. Harriman – come to the Kickstarter courtesy phone, please

Filed under: Britain, Space — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:33

This is a use of crowdfunding I didn’t expect to see:

A group of British scientists have taken to Kickstarter in order to get the first set of funds to attempt a landing on the Moon. All ex-teenage (very much ex-teenage, sadly) sci-fi addicts like myself will obviously be cheering them on (and recalling Heinlein’s The Man Who Sold The Moon no doubt) and possibly even subscribing. They’re looking for £ 600,000 or so for the planning phase and will need £ 3 billion to actually carry out the mission. That’s probably rather more, that second number, than they can raise at Kickstarter.

However, over and above the simple joy of seeing boffins doing their boffinry there’s a further joy in the manner in which such projects disintermediate around the political classes. That is, we’ve not got to wait for the politicians to think this is a good idea, we’ve not even got to try and convince any of them that it is. We can (and seemingly are) just getting on with doing it ourselves.

[…]

Here’s what they’re proposing:

    In arguably the most ambitious crowdfunded project ever attempted, a British team is planning to use public donations to fund a lunar landing.

    Within ten years, they believe they can raise enough money to design, build and launch a spacecraft capable of not only travelling to the Moon, but drilling deep into its surface.

    They also want to bury a time-capsule, containing digital details and DNA of those who have donated money to the venture as well alongside an archive of the history of Earth. Finally, the mission will assess the practicality of a permanent manned base at the lunar South Pole.

There’s no doubt at all that the Apollo and similar Russian space adventures had to be run by government. The technology of the time was such that only a government had the resources necessary to drive such a large project. But, obviously, the cost of rocket technology has come down over time.

The Enemy Within – The German Army’s Power Play I THE GREAT WAR Week 17

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:01

Published on 20 Nov 2014

The commanders of the German army blame each other for the missing victories. Falkenhayn and Hindenburg both believe that they have the only solution to the problems. The German emperor feels more and more excluded when it comes to military decisions. His soldiers become pieces on a chessboard and the war of the 20th century also takes it’s toll on some of the best commanders. The situation at the Western Front stays unaltered: the French and Germans fight each other between the trenches. On the contrary, at the Eastern Front the Russians and the Germans are battling in a heavy fight.

November 18, 2014

Finland’s Great(est) Depression

Filed under: Economics, Europe — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Lars Christensen explains why — economically speaking — Finland is suffering through an economic phenomena even worse than the Great Depression:

In my post from Friday — Italy’s Greater Depression — Eerie memories of the 1930s — I inspired by the recent political unrest in Italy compared the development in real GDP in Italy during the recent crisis with the development in the 1920s and 1930s.

The graph in that blog post showed two things. First, Italy’s real GDP lose in the recent crisis has been bigger than during 1930s and second that monetary easing (a 41% devaluation) brought Italy out of the crisis in 1936.

I have been asked if I could do a similar graph on Finland. I have done so — but I have also added the a third Finnish “Depression” and that is the crisis in the early 1990s related to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Nordic banking crisis. The graph below shows the three periods.

Three Finnish depressions

[…]

The most interesting story in the graph undoubtedly is the difference in the monetary response during the 1930s and during the present crisis.

In October 1931 the Finnish government decided to follow the example of the other Nordic countries and the UK and give up (or officially suspend) the gold standard.

The economic impact was significant and is very clearly illustrate in the graph (look at the blue line from year 2-3).

We have nearly imitate take off. I am not claiming the devaluation was the only driver of this economic recovery, but it surely looks like monetary easing played a very significant part in the Finnish economic recovery from 1931-32.

Excavating the trenches of Flanders, 100 years on

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

In the Telegraph, Tim Rowley reports from Ypres:

In Flanders fields, dozens of men are digging trenches. From dawn to sunset, they force their shovels through the soil, even when the temperature plunges below freezing. When it rains, their clothes cling to their bodies. They were told it would be over by Christmas; now, they are not so sure.

This is Belgium, 2014, and the men are archaeologists, not soldiers – but in one regard their experiences are not so far removed from those of their forebears a century ago. The foes of the Great War have long been reconciled, but the weather is as harsh as ever.

“The cold is not the problem, it’s the rain,” says Simon Verdegem, one of the 30 archaeologists excavating land touched by only a plough for decades. “By the end of the day, our shoes are full of mud and we can’t walk straight because we slip all the time. And, this time, nobody’s firing at us.”

Verdegem’s great uncle fought on these fields 100 years ago. Now the 31-year-old is learning a little of the conditions he had to endure. “The first thing I do when I get home is take a shower and hang my clothes up by the fire. But they didn’t have the chance. They had to stay in a water-filled trench. I know how we feel after a day out here in the rain – we’re just miserable – and I can’t imagine it.”

All these years later, Belgium’s war wounds have still to heal. In the years following the Armistice 96 years ago today, vast mounds of earth were shovelled into the trenches. In the great cemeteries of Belgium, the row upon row of Portland stone stood as testament to the sacrifice of the men; the authorities were less keen to remember the inglorious squalor to which each side subjected the other.

If only that were so easy. For decades now, Flanders farmers have turned up a deadly harvest of unexploded bombs, shells and grenades. They all know the bomb squad’s phone number, and some have reinforced their tractors against explosion.

Yet archaeologists rarely get the chance to mine this rich seam of history. Under European Union regulations, they can only excavate these fields when there is an external threat to the artefacts buried beneath, such as a housing development.

Which is why Verdegem is so excited by this latest dig, the largest-ever excavation of First World War battlefields. Next year, Fluxys, a Belgian energy company, will lay a new £120 million gas pipeline across the country, snaking through 18 miles of land that formed the frontline for four years, as both sides inched from Ypres to Passchendaele then back to Ypres – each time, shuffling just far enough to bury their dead.

November 16, 2014

Germany discovers new way to depress church membership

Filed under: Europe, Government, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:59

They really do things differently in Germany, as Megan McArdle reports:

The German Catholic Church is contemplating denying communion to Catholics who have … wait for it … declined to register as Catholics with the government. The reason? Those Catholics don’t want to pay their “church tax.” That’s right: Germany taxes registered religious believers of major denominations, distributing that money to the country’s churches, temples and the like. And it recently changed the rules for calculating the tax to include capital gains, prompting an exodus of presumably well-heeled Catholics from the official rolls. So the German church is threatening to cut them off. Lots of tax rules seem to be written on a pay-to-play basis, but I’ve never before heard of one that was “pay to pray.” I don’t recall Christ saying anything about an admission fee to hear him preach.

To American ears, this is positively shocking. The American Catholic Church certainly doesn’t want you to take communion if you haven’t been baptized by the church or confessed any mortal sins. But no one checks to see whether you made a deposit in the offering plate. What’s going on here?

What’s going on is a phenomenon that conservative-leaning analysts call “crowding out”: when government provision of a service destroys the voluntary institutions that used to do so. This phenomenon often gets exaggerated, but there’s no doubt that it’s real enough — and in the actions of Germany’s Catholic bishops, I think we are seeing an extreme example of where it can lead.

Without the need to support itself with voluntary offerings, the Catholic Church in Germany has become dependent on government support. And government support has some big drawbacks compared to voluntary contributions. To be sure, government money is nice and steady, but it’s also fixed at the amount of the tax.

QotD: James Brudenell, Earl of Cardigan

Filed under: Britain, History, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

The 11th Light Dragoons at this time were newly back from India, where they had been serving since before I was born. They were a fighting regiment, and — I say it without regimental pride, for I never had any, but as a plain matter of fact — probably the finest mounted troops in England, if not in the world. Yet they had been losing officers, since coming home, hand over fist. The reason was James Brudenell, Earl of Cardigan.

You have heard all about him, no doubt. The regimental scandals, the Charge of the Light Brigade, the vanity, stupidity, and extravagance of the man — these things are history. Like most history, they have a fair basis of fact. But I knew him, probably as few other officers knew him, and in turn I found him amusing, frightening, vindictive, charming, and downright dangerous. He was God’s own original fool, there’s no doubt of that — although he was not to blame for the fiasco at Balaclava; that was Raglan and Airey between them. And he was arrogant as no other man I’ve ever met, and as sure of his own unshakeable rightness as any man could be — even when his wrongheadedness was there for all to see. That was his great point, the key to his character: he could never be wrong.

They say that at least he was brave. He was not. He was just stupid, too stupid ever to be afraid. Fear is an emotion, and his emotions were all between his knees and his breastbone; they never touched his reason, and he had little enough of that.

For all that, he could never be called a bad soldier. Some human faults are military virtues, like stupidity, and arrogance, and narrow-mindedness. Cardigan blended all three with a passion for detail and accuracy; he was a perfectionist, and the manual of cavalry drill was his Bible. Whatever rested between the covers of that book he could perform, or cause to be performed, with marvellous efficiency, and God help anyone who marred that performance. He would have made a first-class drill sergeant — only a man with a mind capable of such depths of folly could have led six regiments into the Valley at Balaclava.

However, I devote some space to him because he played a not unimportant part in the career of Harry Flashman, and since it is my purpose to show how the Flashman of Tom Brown became the glorious Flashman with four inches in Who’s Who and grew markedly worse in the process, I must say that he was a good friend to me. He never understood me, of course, which is not surprising. I took good care not to let him.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.

November 15, 2014

Pat Condell makes a public apology

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:08

The very late adoption of some Jewish surnames

Filed under: Europe, History, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Kathy Shaidle linked to this post at Business Insider from back in January:

Ashkenazic Jews were among the last Europeans to take family names. Some German-speaking Jews took last names as early as the 17th century, but the overwhelming majority of Jews lived in Eastern Europe and did not take last names until compelled to do so. The process began in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1787 and ended in Czarist Russia in 1844.

In attempting to build modern nation-states, the authorities insisted that Jews take last names so that they could be taxed, drafted, and educated (in that order of importance). For centuries, Jewish communal leaders were responsible for collecting taxes from the Jewish population on behalf of the government, and in some cases were responsible for filling draft quotas. Education was traditionally an internal Jewish affair.

Until this period, Jewish names generally changed with every generation. For example, if Moses son of Mendel (Moyshe ben Mendel) married Sarah daughter of Rebecca (Sara bat rivka), and they had a boy and named it Samuel (Shmuel), the child would be called Shmuel ben Moyshe. If they had a girl and named her Feygele, she would be called Feygele bas Sora.

Jews distrusted the authorities and resisted the new requirement. Although they were forced to take last names, at first they were used only for official purposes. Among themselves, they kept their traditional names. Over time, Jews accepted the new last names, which were essential as Jews sought to advance within the broader society and as the shtetles were transformed or Jews left them for big cities.

Another hidden ecological disaster from the Cold War

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

I’d heard that the Soviet navy had dumped some potentially hazardous nuclear wastes in the Arctic, but I didn’t realize just how much they’d dumped:

While Russia’s nuclear bombers have recently set the West abuzz by probing NATO’s air defenses, a far more certain danger currently lurks beneath the frigid Arctic waters off Russia’s northern coast — a toxic boneyard for Soviet nuclear ships and reactors whose containment systems are gradually wearing out.

Left to decay at the bottom of the ocean, the world is facing a worst case scenario described as “an Arctic underwater Chernobyl, played out in slow motion,” according to Thomas Nilsen, an editor at the Barents Observer newspaper and a member of a Norwegian watchdog group that monitors the situation.

According to a joint Russian-Norwegian report issued in 2012, there are 17,000 containers of nuclear waste, 19 rusting Soviet nuclear ships and 14 nuclear reactors cut out of atomic vessels at the bottom of the Kara Sea.

Soviet nuclear waste in the Arctic

The K-159 went down in 2003 while it was being towed to the town of Polyarny — home of Russia’s primary shipyard used for servicing and decommissioning nuclear powered vessels — for dismantling. Nine sailors died trying to keep it afloat when a storm hit, ripping off makeshift pontoons welded to the side to ensure the porous rusting hull didn’t sink en route. Estimates place around 800 kilograms of spent uranium fuel aboard the K-159, according to Bellona.

Soviet nuclear submarine K-159 before she sank

“Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there are currently no concrete plans to raise [radioactive] objects, and potentially raising the submarine is a Russian responsibility,” said Ingar Amundsen, head of the section for international nuclear issues at the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority (NRPA), a governmental body tasked with keeping watch over the nuclear threats in the Arctic.

Older Posts »
« « Men’s unwillingness to ask for directions … may be an evolutionary advantage| The very late adoption of some Jewish surnames » »

Powered by WordPress