Quotulatiousness

December 21, 2014

“Wicca is religion’s answer to the Liberal Democrats”

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

All the British newspapers have apparently decided that it’s worth column-inches devoted to the random Twitter comments of J.K. Rowling:

Of the various insights into the diversity of Hogwarts culture JK Rowling has been sharing on Twitter lately, one in particular caught my eye. It wasn’t the revelation, reported by the Guardian, that the school had Jewish wizards. (So what?) Nor was it that Hogwarts probably had a few poofs in it. (We knew that already, didn’t we?)

No: what tickled me was her remark that the only group she never envisaged in the achingly multi-culti Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was Wiccans, those faux-druidic attention-seekers and drop-outs obsessed with black candles, lesbianism and velvet gowns.

Wiccans and those oddballs who dress up in bizarro costumes, redolent of cheap seasonal medieval re-enactment camps, who believe in magic (or, as they hilariously insist on spelling it, “magick”) and the mystical forces of mother nature.

[…]

What most fans will have taken from that, I’m guessing, is: “Come off it, even by the standards of my totally invented fantasy-land full of mystical creatures, boy wizards and horcruxes, those people are off their trolleys.”

You can tell rather a lot about those respective newspapers by which details they chose to lead their reports with. The Guardian, with its creepy Jewish obsession, leapt on Rowling’s confirmation that Anthony Goldstein of Ravenclaw was semitic, while the Independent ran with her statement that “of course” Hogwarts would have been an LGBT-friendly place to learn how to magic up enchanted water.

What neither of them saw fit to give due prominence to, though, was the fact that Wiccans, hilariously, are the only group in the Harry Potter universe incapable of performing magic. You’d need a heart of stone not to laugh.

December 19, 2014

The Raid On Scarborough – A Failed Attempt at Intimidation I THE GREAT WAR Week 21

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:05

Published on 18 Dec 2014

German admiral Franz von Hipper reluctantly carries out his orders to bomb British coastal towns. And indeed, this attempt to intimidate British civilians only makes them more united. British propaganda gets another opportunity to portray Germans as bloodthirsty and brutal. Meanwhile, the French start a new offensive near Vimy on the Western Front.

December 18, 2014

The Tsar’s new clothes

Filed under: Europe, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

At Samizdata, Johnathan Pearce suspects that the folks at NATO headquarters are not getting as much sleep these days as they used to:

… it appears that the image of Putin as this ruthless, chess-playing genius wrongfooting silly old Cameron, Merkel, and the chap with the funny moonface from France is not quite standing up to scrutiny. Here’s a report by Bloomberg:

    “The foundations on which Vladimir Putin built his 15 years in charge of Russia are giving way. The meltdown of the ruble, which has plunged 18 percent against the dollar in the last two days alone, is endangering the mantra of stability around which Putin has based his rule. While his approval rating is near an all-time high on the back of his stance over Ukraine, the currency crisis risks eroding it and undermining his authority, Moscow-based analysts said.

    In a surprise move today, the Russian central bank raised interest rates by the most in 16 years, taking its benchmark to 17 percent. That failed to halt the rout in the ruble, which has plummeted to about 70 rubles a dollar from 34 as oil prices dived by almost half to below $60 a barrel. Russia relies on the energy industry for as much as a quarter of economic output, Moody’s Investors Service said in a Dec. 9 report.

Now might also be a good time to remind ourselves of the “curse of natural resources”.

It would be worth wondering what are the odds that Putin can last a lot longer in power. That said, a sobering thought is that when regimes are in deep trouble, they can do desperate, crazy things, as Argentina did in 1982 by invading the Falklands. If I were a planner for NATO right now, I’d be having a nervous Christmas and New Year ahead of me.

December 17, 2014

Ferdinand Foch I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:34

Published on 15 Dec 2014

Ferdinand Foch was one of the most famous Entente generals of World War 1. He already began his military career in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71. Until the end of WW1 he rose to the rank of Commander in Chief of the allied forces. War had always been central to Foch’s life, though neither he nor anyone else really foresaw the size, scope, and horrors of World War One. In this video we’re showing his impressive life.

Carrying The Load – London Midland & Scottish Railway Documentary

Filed under: Britain, History, Railways — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Published on 20 Apr 2012

London Midland & Scottish Railway educational film that explains the role played by the railways during World War Two.

QotD: The mark of a true-born nobleman

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

Now, no one in my life that I could remember had ever been so damned civil to me, except toad-eaters like Speedicut who didn’t count. I found myself liking his lordship, and did not realize that I was seeing him at his best. In this mood, he was a charming man enough, and looked well. He was taller than I, straight as a lance, and very slender, even to his hands. Although he was barely forty, he was already bald, with a bush of hair above either ear and magnificent whiskers. His nose was beaky and his eyes blue and prominent and unwinking — they looked out on the world with that serenity which marks the nobleman whose uttermost ancestor was born a nobleman, too. It is I the look that your parvenu would give half his fortune for, that unrufflable gaze of the spoiled child of fortune who knows with unshakeable certainty that he is right and that the world is exactly ordered for his satisfaction and pleasure. It is the look that makes underlings writhe and causes revolutions. I saw it then, and it remained changeless as long as I knew him, even through the roll-call beneath Causeway Heights when the grim silence as the names were shouted testified to the loss of five hundred of his command. ‘It was no fault of mine,’ he said then, and he didn’t just believe it; he knew it.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.

December 16, 2014

Anton Howes on what caused the industrial revolution

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

In the first post at his new blog, Anton Howes lays out one of the biggest questions about the 19th century:

What caused the Industrial Revolution?

By the term “Industrial Revolution”, the broadly accepted meaning is of (1) innovation-led, (2) sustained and (3) replicable economic growth.

Each of those adjectives are the source of some of the other important questions in the social sciences. Here are some brief summaries of the issues at hand, which I’ll maybe expand upon separately.

(1) Innovation-led

Innovation-led growth distinguishes itself hugely from what we might call ‘Ricardian’ or ‘Malthusian’ economic growth (it’s usually called ‘Smithian’, but that’s a topic for another time). Capital accumulation, population growth, conquest, and education, can all result in initial surges of economic growth. But this is soon brought to a standstill by the brutal reality of diminishing marginal returns, depreciation, and food shortages.

[…]

(2) Sustained

Innovation existed before the Industrial Revolution. Of course it did – you need look no further than the invention of agriculture, writing, bronze, crop rotations, horse collars, windmills, gunpowder, printing presses, paper, and bills of exchange to know that innovations have occurred throughout history before the IR.

The difference is that these were few and far between. Some of them, often grouped together, resulted in Golden Ages, or “Efflorescences” as Jack Goldstone likes to call them. The 1st Century early Roman Empire; the 8th Century Arab World; 12th Century Sung Dynasty China; the 15th Century northern Italian city-states; and 17th Century Dutch Republic are all good examples.

[…]

(3) Replicable

Perhaps most importantly, this miracle quickly spread. First to Belgium, across the Atlantic to the new-born USA, and then to the Dutch Republic still winding down from its own Golden Age, France, Northern Italy, and the multitude of German principalities.

In the last Century it spread to Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam and Eastern European countries escaping the shadow of Communism.

In this Century it appears to finally be taking root in various African countries. Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda in particular seem to be leading the way.

The more recent recipients of the IR are experiencing an unprecedented rate of growth, which in itself provides a further miracle in economic history. Britain’s sustained growth only initially manifested itself at less than 1% per year. It took about 100 years for Britain’s first doubling in GDP to occur.

More recent recipients can expect to grow at 7-10% every year, and sometimes even higher. To put that in perspective, growth at 7% per year would result in a doubling of the size of the economy in only 10 years. 10% a year in only 7 years.

December 15, 2014

UKIP’s changing demographics force changes to ideology

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

In sp!ked, Patrick West explains why as UKIP’s electoral chances have grown, they’ve been talking less and less like they used to:

This weird synthesis is a product of the global downturn, globalisation and UKIP’s reaction to these developments. In recent years, UKIP has started to pick up voters in the north of England and from traditional Labour constituencies. It’s a different beast to that which, during the 1990s, was supported mostly by middle-class, golf-club types and anti-EU monomaniacs.

UKIP has noticeably moved leftwards in accordance with its broadening appeal. A recent YouGov survey for the The Times showed that 56 per cent of the population wanted the state to take back ownership of utilities, and 59 per cent supported renationalising the railways. But the clamour for renationalisation was even higher among UKIP voters – 64 per cent for utilities and 67 per cent for the railways. UKIP now openly speaks of renationalising the railways, with its financial spokesman, Steven Woolfe, earlier this week saying he was open to the idea.

Indeed, today’s UKIP speaks of a ‘living minimum wage’, a tax on the super rich and protecting the NHS from the private sector. It now comes in for as much criticism from Tories and the libertarian right as from the metropolitan left (check out the hashtag #RedUKIP on Twitter, for instance). Why, asks the right-wing libertarian commentator James Delingpole, is UKIP now ‘flirting with the kind of wealth taxes and turnover taxes you’d more usually associate with the Greens or the Socialist Workers Party?’.

It’s no coincidence that free-market, pro-immigration publications such as The Economist and the Financial Times are as hostile to UKIP as the Guardian is. It’s often said that UKIP wants to ‘turn the clock back’, which is a fair accusation. But keep in mind that its supporters also increasingly want to turn the clock back to a pre-Thatcherite Britain.

December 14, 2014

Google to Spain: “Buh-bye!”

Filed under: Business, Europe, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Spanish legislation imposing a special tax on Google has resulted in Google erasing Spain from their Google News business plan altogether:

Back in October, we noted that Spain had passed a ridiculously bad Google News tax, in which it required any news aggregator to pay for snippets and actually went so far as to make it an “inalienable right” to be paid for snippets — meaning that no one could choose to let any aggregator post snippets for free. Publishers have to charge any aggregator. This is ridiculous and dangerous on many levels. As we noted, it would be deathly for digital commons projects or any sort of open access project, which thrive on making content reusable and encouraging the widespread sharing of such content.

Apparently, it’s also deathly for Google News in Spain. A few hours ago, Google announced that due to this law, it was shutting down Google News in Spain, and further that it would be removing all Spanish publications from the rest of Google News. In short, Google went for the nuclear option in the face of a ridiculously bad law:

    But sadly, as a result of a new Spanish law, we’ll shortly have to close Google News in Spain. Let me explain why. This new legislation requires every Spanish publication to charge services like Google News for showing even the smallest snippet from their publications, whether they want to or not. As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable. So it’s with real sadness that on 16 December (before the new law comes into effect in January) we’ll remove Spanish publishers from Google News, and close Google News in Spain.

Every time there have been attempts to get Google to cough up some money to publishers in this or that country, people (often in our comments) suggest that Google should just “turn off” Google News in those countries. Google has always resisted such calls. Even in the most extreme circumstances, it’s just done things like removing complaining publications from Google News, or posting the articles without snippets. In both cases, publishers quickly realized how useful Google News was in driving traffic and capitulated. In this case, though, it’s not up to the publishers. It’s entirely up to the law.

New BBC historical TV series as accurate as possible … except for the codpieces being “too small”

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

Apparently, the fear was that US TV audiences would be shocked by authentic sized boasting pieces:

They may have been the crowning glory for any right-thinking Tudor gentleman, but it appears the traditional codpiece may be a little too much for American television viewers.

The stars of Wolf Hall, the BBC’s new period drama based on the novels of Hilary Mantel, have disclosed they have been issued with “smaller”-than average codpieces, out of respect for viewers’ sensibilities.

Mark Rylance, who stars as Thomas Cromwell in the forthcoming BBC series, said programme-makers had decided on “very small codpieces” which had to be “tucked away”.

He suggested allowances had been made amid concerns about the taste of modern audiences, particularly in America, who “may not know exactly what’s going on down there”.

It is one of few concessions permitted by programme-makers, who have otherwise gone to remarkable lengths to ensure historical accuracy, including trips to Shakespeare’s Globe to learn sword-fighting, lessons in etiquette and bowing, and a comprehensive study on spoons.

Mantel has given her seal of approval to the production, issuing a statement of glowing praise for how it has been adapted on screen.

Saying she was pleased programme-makers had resisted the temptation to “patronise” the Tudors to make them “cute”, she said: “My expectations were high and have been exceeded.”

When asked about the costumes in a Q&A to launch the BBC show, alongside actors Damian Lewis and Claire Foy, Rylance said they “did take a while to put on” but praised the overall effect.

“I think the codpieces are too small,” he added. “I think it was a direction from our American producers PBS [the US public service broadcaster] – they like very small codpieces which always seemed to be tucked away.”

When asked to clarify, he said: “I wasn’t personally disappointed by the codpieces: I’m a little more used to them than other people from being at the Globe for ten years.

“But I can see for modern audiences, perhaps more in America, they may not know exactly what’s going on down there.”

H/T to David Stamper for the link(s).

QotD: The voyage of the Rogue

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

Years ago, when I was young and inexperienced, I hired a yacht myself. Three things had combined to lead me into this foolishness: I had had a stroke of unexpected luck; Ethelbertha had expressed a yearning for sea air; and the very next morning, in taking up casually at the club a copy of the Sportsman, I had come across the following advertisement:

    TO YACHTSMEN. Unique Opportunity. Rogue, 28-ton Yawl. Owner, called away suddenly on business, is willing to let this superbly-fitted “greyhound of the sea” for any period short or long. Two cabins and saloon; pianette, by Woffenkoff; new copper. Terms, 10 guineas a week. Apply Pertwee and Co., 3A Bucklersbury.

It had seemed to me like the answer to a prayer. “The new copper” did not interest me; what little washing we might want could wait, I thought. But the “pianette by Woffenkoff” sounded alluring. I pictured Ethelbertha playing in the evening — something with a chorus, in which, perhaps, the crew, with a little training, might join — while our moving home bounded, “greyhound-like,” over the silvery billows.

I took a cab and drove direct to 3A Bucklersbury. Mr. Pertwee was an unpretentious-looking gentleman, who had an unostentatious office on the third floor. He showed me a picture in water-colours of the Rogue flying before the wind. The deck was at an angle of 95 to the ocean. In the picture no human beings were represented on the deck; I suppose they had slipped off. Indeed, I do not see how anyone could have kept on, unless nailed. I pointed out this disadvantage to the agent, who, however, explained to me that the picture represented the Rogue doubling something or other on the well-known occasion of her winning the Medway Challenge Shield. Mr. Pertwee assumed that I knew all about the event, so that I did not like to ask any questions. Two specks near the frame of the picture, which at first I had taken for moths, represented, it appeared, the second and third winners in this celebrated race. A photograph of the yacht at anchor off Gravesend was less impressive, but suggested more stability. All answers to my inquiries being satisfactory, I took the thing for a fortnight. Mr. Pertwee said it was fortunate I wanted it only for a fortnight — later on I came to agree with him — the time fitting in exactly with another hiring. Had I required it for three weeks he would have been compelled to refuse me.

The letting being thus arranged, Mr. Pertwee asked me if I had a skipper in my eye. That I had not was also fortunate — things seemed to be turning out luckily for me all round — because Mr. Pertwee felt sure I could not do better than keep on Mr. Goyles, at present in charge — an excellent skipper, so Mr. Pertwee assured me, a man who knew the sea as a man knows his own wife, and who had never lost a life.
(more…)

December 12, 2014

The British pantomime tradition

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

Tracy Morgan looks at a British holiday tradition that didn’t seem to travel to the rest of the empire:

An actor in drag endowed with enormous boobs stands alongside an actress in male britches. Every year they tell the same jokes, flirtatiously sing silly tunes, bring a good-over-evil narrative to life and comment on everything — except much about Christmas. Yet theatergoers consider it a great holiday tradition, because nothing says Christmas to Brits quite like cross-dressing slapstick, screaming children and sexual innuendo.

British pantomimes run from late November through mid-January, and the question is not are you going, but which panto are you seeing? “For many people, a trip to the theater to see the pantomime is as big a part of Christmas as roast turkey dinner,” says Simon Sladen, assistant curator of modern and contemporary performance at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. ’Tis the season for the goodies to take the stage to cheers while baddies slink into view amid boos. A man plays the leading dame, and a woman often plays the starring male role, retelling classic fairy tales like Cinderella or Jack and the Beanstalk with a comedic twist. Chants from ticket holders include “Oh, yes it is” to “Oh, no it isn’t,” or the classic “It’s behind you!” to warn those on stage of imminent danger.

I’d always wondered where those phrases came from…

Unlike its silent namesake, these colorful productions — aka pantos — are a mishmash of very verbal theatrical genres, from Italian commedia dell’arte’s slapstick to the medieval mystery plays and the Everyman play’s morality. Pantomime, which originally meant “imitator of all,” is “reflective of the world around it,” says Sladen, referring to how it incorporates contemporary political and cultural jokes, modern music and fashion. Members of the audience are meant to see aspects of themselves in the characters and identify with their struggles and successes.

Britain in the 50s

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

Published on 10 Aug 2013

Through the eyes of newsreel cameras and advertising of the time, we present an affectionate look at the way we were in the 1950’s: the way we dressed, the way we laughed (and cried) – even the way we holidayed. In 1950, Britain was working hard to recover from the Second World War. Yet, as the decade went on and the economic conditions improved – prompting PM MacMillan to tell people of Britain “You never had it so good” – a cascade of wonderful gadgets found their way into British homes, and families began holidaying on the beaches and promenades.

By the end of the decade booming Britain was in overdrive with 5.5 million cars on the road, the opening of the M1 and the arrival of the first Mini. The teenager had also come of age with new dance crazes and flamboyant fashions interspersed with bizzare hairstyles – anything to make them stand out in the crowd!

This programme also focuses on the events that shook the world during the decade; the death of George VI in 1952 heralding a new Queen, Elizabeth II, and her Coronation in 1953; the conquering of Everest: the first four minute mile; the last woman to be hanged in Britain; and the tragic Munich air disaster.

December 11, 2014

London’s Transport System During World War Two – 1941

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

Published on 31 Mar 2013

Filmed after the start of the Blitz, ‘City Bound’ is an exploration of the daily commute into London from the suburbs in 1941.

‘Between half past five and ten o’clock each morning five million people are moved from home to work by London’s transport system. Before this can be done, underground and overground transport must be cleaned and refuelled. Then from the outer ring of London, past green fields and suburban gardens, the move into London begins. Trains, motor omnibuses, and electric trams bring hundreds of thousands into the centre of the city, to work in the shops, offices, and factories of the largest city in the world.’
(Films of Britain – British Council Film Department Catalogue – 1941)

QotD: Favourite expressions of the Emperor Augustus

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

“What about Apollo?” interrupted Vinicianus. “I never heard that Apollo was married. That seems to me a very lame argument.” The Consul called Vinicianus to order. It was clear that the word “lame” was intended offensively. But I was accustomed to insults and answered quietly: “I have always understood that the god Apollo remains a bachelor either because he is unable to choose between the Nine Muses, or because he cannot afford to offend eight of them by choosing the other as his bride. And he is immortally young, and so are they, and it is quite safe for him to postpone his choice indefinitely; for they are all in love with him, as the poet What’s-his-name says. But perhaps Augustus will naturally persuade him to do his duty by Olympus, by taking one of the Nine in honourable wedlock, and raising a large family — ‘as quick as boiled asparagus’.”

Vinicianus was silenced in the burst of laughter that followed, ‘quick as boiled asparagus’ was one of Augustus’s favourite expressions. He had several others: ‘As easily as a dog squats’ and ‘There are more ways than one of killing a cat’ and ‘You mind your own business, I’ll mind mine’ and ‘I’ll see that it gets done on the Greek Kalends’ (which, of course, means never) and ‘The knee is nearer than the shin’ (which means that one’s first concern is with matters that affect one personally). And if anyone tried to contradict him on a point of literary scholarship, he used to say: ‘A radish may know no Greek, but I do’. And whenever he was encouraging anyone to bear an unpleasant condition patiently he always used to say: ‘Let us content ourselves with this Cato’. From what I have told you about Cato, that virtuous man, you will easily understand what he meant. I now found myself often using these phrases of Augustus’s: I suppose that this was because I had consented to adopt his name and position. The handiest was the one he used when he was making a speech and had lost his way in a sentence — a thing that constantly happens to me, because I am inclined, when I make an extempore speech, and in historical writing too when I am not watching myself, to get involved in long, ambitious sentences — and now I am doing it again, you notice. However, the point is that Augustus, whenever he got into a tangle, used to cut the Gordian knot, like Alexander, saying ‘Words fail me, my Lords. Nothing that I might utter could possibly match the depth of my feelings in this matter.”

Robert Graves, Claudius the God, 1935.

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