Quotulatiousness

July 28, 2014

Who is to blame for the outbreak of World War One?

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:47

It’s an easy question to ask, but a very hard one to answer. Traditionally, most people would answer “Germany”, with greater or lesser intensity as the years have passed (for example, here’s Boris Johnson making this particular case). More realistically, you might say Germany, Serbia, Austria, and Russia. Or just Serbia. Or just Russia. Or Britain (according to Niall Ferguson). Or France. Or the inflexible railway timetables for mobilization (Barbara Tuchman and others). Lots of candidates, none of whom can be clearly identified as the prime villain, because you can’t look at the situation in Europe in 1914 as anything other than complexity compounded.

Two recent works (both highly recommended) discuss the origins of the war in great detail and I’ve drawn on them for much of these posts:

The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark and The War That Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark and The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan

There have been so many books written about the origins of the First World War because the origins are many, diverse, interconnected, and hard to weigh against one another in any rational fashion. The assassinations in Sarajevo turned out to be the triggering event, but the war could easily have broken out at any of several other potential flash points in the preceding decade — and even then, war could still have been prevented from breaking out in the summer of 1914. In some ways, it’s surprising that the alternative history folks haven’t been more active in exploring that era: the possibilities are quite fascinating (on second thought, having put this post together, the degree of confusion may account for the novelists wisely avoiding the topic after all).

Europe, 1914 (base map by d-maps.com)

Europe, 1914 (base map by d-maps.com)

Although many authors refer to the various monarchs as active participants in the diplomatic and political spheres, this is not always an accurate way to consider their roles. The Tsar enjoyed the equivalent of a presidential veto and could start or stop government activity with a word … but most matters, even high-level military and diplomatic issues, would only come to his attention quite late in the process. This meant the Tsar might want to change his government’s course but because the situation was already well advanced, the costs to do so might well be insurmountable. Tsar Nicholas II was perhaps the worst-equipped of all the leaders of Europe for the task facing him, emotionally and intellectually (and he was aware of his weaknesses). Even Kaiser Wilhelm, who was well-known for his quixotic interference in military and diplomatic matters, was not the sole autocrat of German policy. The chancellor and the foreign secretary could (and did) overrule the Kaiser’s whims on many occasions. On the other hand, King George V was the least directly involved of all the rulers in the actions of his empire, but his public stance may have been somewhat at variance with his private communications with crown ministers (for example, this recent article in the Telegraph claims that the King pushed Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary, to “find a reason” to declare war on Germany).

A common misconception of the state of Europe in early 1914 was that the preceding century had been a golden age, peaceful and calm (think of all the discussions of the idyllic Edwardian era when contrasted with the chaos and disorder of 1914-1945 and beyond). Europe was only peaceful between 1815 and 1914 by contrast with previous centuries … there were many wars and the map of Europe was redrawn several times in that century. As Christopher Clark wrote:

Though the debate on this subject is now nearly a century old, there is no reason to believe that it has run its course.

But if the debate is old, the subject is still fresh — in fact it is fresher and more relevant now than it was twenty or thirty years ago. The changes in our own world have altered our perspective on the events of 1914. In the 1960s-80s, a kind of period charm accumulated in popular awareness around the events of 1914. It was easy to imagine the disaster of Europe’s ‘last summer’ as an Edwardian costume drama. The effete rituals and gaudy uniforms, the ‘ornamentalism’ of a world still largely organized around hereditary monarchy had a distancing effect on present-day recollection. They seemed to signal that the protagonists were people from another, vanished world. The presumption stealthily asserted itself that if the actors’ hats had gaudy green ostrich feathers on them, then their thoughts and motivations probably did too.

Margaret MacMillan shows how easily the calculations could go so wrong, so easily:

As we try to make sense of the events of the summer of 1914, we must put ourselves in the shoes of those who lived a century ago before we rush to lay blame. We cannot now ask the decision-makers what they were thinking about as they took those steps along that path to destruction, but we can get a pretty good idea from the records of that time and the memoirs written later. One thing that becomes clear is that those who made the choices had very much in mind previous crises and earlier moments when decisions were made or avoided.

Russia’s leaders, for example, had never forgotten or forgiven Austria-Hungary’s annexations of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908. Moreover, Russia had failed to back its protégé Serbia when it confronted Austria-Hungary then and again in the Balkan wars in 1912-13. Now Austria-Hungary was threatening to destroy Serbia. What would it mean for Russia and its prestige if it stood by yet again and did nothing? Germany had not fully backed its ally Austria-Hungary in those earlier confrontations; if it did nothing this time, would it lose its only sure ally? The fact that earlier and quite serious crises among the powers, over colonies or in the Balkans, had been settled peacefully added another factor to the calculations of 1914. The threat of war had been used but in the end pressures had been brought to bear by third parties, concessions had been made, and conferences had been summoned, with success, to sort out dangerous issues. Brinksmanship had paid off.

Part one of a series of posts (I’m still digging deeper, so I’m not sure how many parts there will be…)

Britain’s “Trojan Horse” schools

Filed under: Britain, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:26

In The Spectator, Douglas Murray wonders when the moderate Muslims are going to speak out over the “Trojan Horse” scandal:

The Trojan Horse reports are in, and they make for damning reading. ‘An aggressive Islamist agenda… a coordinated, deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos’. Teachers who claimed that the Boston marathon bombing and the murder of Lee Rigby were in fact hoaxes and an ‘Attack on Islam’. And so on. The grim details are out. But there is a story behind this story which has not been thought about, though it ought to be. That is the response of Britain’s Muslim communities to these awful revelations.

Ever since 9/11 a considerable appeal from the non-Muslim majority in the West has been ‘where are the moderates? Where are the moderate voices who are willing not just to excuse or remain silent in the face of their religion’s extremists, but to actually stand up and say ‘these people are bringing our faith into disrepute, we recognise it, we hate it, and we are going to actually push them out of the faith.’ The unwillingness of more than a tiny number of Muslims to actually stand up and speak out as well as push out the extremists is very noticeable to non-Muslims. Indeed, I would suggest that it is one of the largest contributing factors to the hardening of attitudes across Europe towards Islam in general (see here for some interesting polling on this).

So when the story of Birmingham schools emerged – with stories of the most appalling racism against white people and disgusting bigotry against Christians, gay people and others – it should have provided a fine opportunity for what is generally termed the ‘moderate majority’ to make their voices heard. Granted, the ‘Trojan Horse’ story started strangely and plenty of us were uncomfortable about writing or speaking about it until we knew what the facts were behind the allegations in the original document. But, once the press and then the official investigations got underway, it became clear that, whatever the origin of the document, what it alleged was true. It has now been repeatedly found to be true.

Yet the response of Muslim communities has not been to accept this and to do something about tackling it. Far from it. The official responses have almost to a man and woman been denial, evasion and a fall-back onto claims of ‘Islamophobia’ and racism.

July 27, 2014

Al Stewart (finally) goes back to Bournemouth

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

A long time ago, in an English town most of you have never heard of…

He has achieved huge success as a singer-songwriter and has – by his own reckoning – made and lost a million dollars three times.

But although he long ago moved to California, Al Stewart remembers in vivid detail his life as a pop-obsessed teenager in Wimborne.

He will be back in the town on Friday, August 1, for a sold-out concert at the Tivoli – and to visit his old home at Canford Bottom.

“I got a very nice message from the person who now lives in the house I grew up in,” he told the Daily Echo from California.

“This lady invited me to look at my old bedroom.

[...]

After leaving school, Stewart went to work at Beales in Bournemouth – not in the record department, but in the linen department.

He also played guitar with The Tappers, who later backed a young Tony Blackburn as he attempted to become a pop star.

When Stewart joined Dave La Kaz and the G-Men, Jon presented the band to the Echo, claiming hyperbolically that the guitarist had written 40-50 songs.

Bournemouth’s music scene was thriving at the time.

Manfred Mann were a weekly attraction throughout 1963.

Stewart knew Andy Summers, later of the Police, and remembers sitting in Fortes coffee shop off Bournemouth Square with star-to-be Greg Lake and Lee Kerslake, who would later become drummer with Uriah Heep.

He took 10 guitar lessons from Robert Fripp.

But the biggest star of the local scene, he recalls, was Zoot Money, whose walk he would mimic behind the singer’s back.

In August 1963, The Beatles played six nights at the Gaumont cinema in Westover Road.

Not only were Al Stewart and Jon Kremer there on the first night, but afterwards, they contrived a ruse to meet the band. Stewart tells the story on stage, while Jon Kremer set it down in his memoir Bournemouth A Go! Go!

Wearing suits, the pair managed to get backstage by telling the manager that they were from the Rickenbacker guitar company.

Before long, they found themselves outside the band’s dressing room.

Having dropped the Rickenbacker pretence, they spent a few minutes chatting with John Lennon and trying his guitar.

“People tend to forget that we weren’t living in an age of mega-security,” Stewart recalled.

“You can’t just walk backstage and talk to Justin Timberlake. In those days it was very lax.”

Not directly related to the story, but one of my favourite arrangements of “Year of the Cat”, in a live performance from 1979:

Floating HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Three hours of careful work compressed into a short video:

July 26, 2014

Royal Navy commander may have had affair with crew member

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:04

From the Guardian, a report on a current investigation into a Royal Navy officer who may have had an affair with a subordinate:

The first female commander of a major Royal Navy warship has left her vessel after claims she had an affair with a shipmate.

Commander Sarah West, 42, took charge of Type 23 frigate HMS Portland in May 2012.

It is understood she has left the ship while the navy investigates the claims. Her second-in-command has taken over the running of the vessel, but West is still the commanding officer.

The navy inquiry will consider whether West breached the armed forces’ code of social conduct, which governs personal relationships within the military. Possible punishments for a breach include a formal warning, reassignment and even termination of service.

A Royal Navy spokesman said: “We are aware of an allegation of a breach of the code of social conduct on board HMS Portland, which we are treating seriously.

“Anyone who is found to fall short of the Royal Navy’s high standards can expect to face appropriate action. It would be inappropriate to comment further.”

West made headlines when she became the first female commander of a frontline warship in the 500-year history of the service.

But earlier this year she explained how work commitments made it difficult to have a relationship.

July 15, 2014

QotD: King George III’s minor fit of barking

Filed under: Britain, Government, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

It is a painful thing to confront someone whom one is accustomed to respecting, and to tell that person they are barking mad. Usually one avoids it, or dismisses the other’s strange behavior as “a difference of opinion,” and speaks platitudes about “the importance of diversity,” however when a person is going, “Arf! Arf!” right in your face, there is no way around it. This includes governments, when they become barking mad.

Thomas Jefferson knew this, when he quilled the Declaration of Independence, listing King George’s barking mad behaviors, however there has been a recent, revisionist effort to show that King George the Third wasn’t all that bad, and his blue urine wasn’t due to porphuria, and his spells of foaming at the mouth were but minor episodes, especially when he was young and was busily losing the American colonies. (I think this may in part be due to the fact that porphuria is hereditary, and certain people don’t want the rabble giving Prince Charles appraising looks.)

The argument states that, if you could get an audience at his glittering palace, King George was quite lucid, and even charming, and that the points he raised, about the government’s right to tax, are valid to this day. There is even some reproach towards America and Jefferson for failing to understand King George’s points.

However taxation was not the issue. Taxation without representation was the issue. When one looks back with twenty-twenty hindsight, the solution to the problem seems simple: Simply give the thirteen colony’s thirteen elected representatives in Parliament. It seems like such an obvious thing, to give Englishmen abroad the same rights as Englishmen at home, and seems so conducive to unity and the expansion of an unified kingdom, that to switch the subject to the-right-of-the-government-to-tax seems a sleight of hand bound to stub thumbs, to lead to schism, and to create discord out of harmony. It was, in fact, a barking mad thing for King George to do.

Caleb Shaw, “Barking Mad – A rave, prompted by facing insane heating costs”, Watts Up With That?, 2014-07-14.

July 14, 2014

They may have been terrorists, but they weren’t particularly religious

Filed under: Britain, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:38

Janet Daley talks about two recently arrested “jihadis” in Britain:

In the midst of the deeply unfunny news coverage of the two young British jihadi volunteers who were arrested on terror charges when they arrived back from Syria, there was one moment of comic absurdity. It seems that before setting off on their mission, Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar found it necessary to place orders with Amazon for those invaluable scholarly treatises, Islam for Dummies, The Koran for Dummies and Arabic for Dummies. Hilarity aside, there is something important to be noted here.

First, these 22-year-olds were obviously not the products of some extreme mosque which had drilled them in Islamist fundamentalism. In fact, they were so untutored in the religion to which they were nominally affiliated that they had to equip themselves with a crash course in its basic principles. Nor had they come from families which were inclined to endorse their terrorist fantasies. Indeed, their own parents were so horrified when they learned of the men’s activities that they turned them in to the police. So we need to ask, as a matter of urgency, where it came from, this bizarre determination to be inducted into a campaign of seditious murder that (we can assume from their decision to plead guilty to the terror charges) they fully intended to bring home with them. What causes young men to risk their own lives, and those of who knows how many others, for a cause about which they know so little that they have to mug it up before they catch the plane?

[...]

There has come to be something of a consensus that this is a problem that only the moderate Muslim community can deal with through its own moral authority. But parents as courageous and civically responsible as these two would-be jihadis had are not going to be ten-a-penny. And it is unfair for the society at large to wash its hands and leave it all to the families and the neighbours, most of whom are as new to all this as we are. If too many young Britons are drawn to a hateful, barely understood dogma because it seems to bring some magical sense of belonging, then something is clearly wrong with their lives in this country. There is apparently nothing on offer here that can compete with the promise of exaltation that is available for the price of a plane ticket.

Contrary to all the educational shibboleths of our time, young men are motivated by aggression and power: their dreams are of glorious triumph over rivals. If they are denied these things — even in the ritualised forms that used to be provided by an education system that understood how dangerous male adolescence was — then they will seek them wherever they can be found. Gang violence, with its criminal initiation rites, or Muslim fanaticism can fill a void, offering not just a licence for brutality but for banding together into hostile tribes. There was a time — before characteristically male behaviour was devalued in favour of the female virtues of empathy and conciliation — when these proclivities were dealt with quite effectively by combative team sports and military cadet corps. Institutionalised aggression was supervised by adult authority until the young men grew up and became responsible for their own impulses.

H/T to Mark Collins for the link.

July 13, 2014

Security theatre still running at peak farcicality – no end in sight

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Government, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:59

In the Daily Mail, Peter Hitchins sums up all the individual losses to personal liberty, actual security, and civil discourse bound up in the never-ending security theatre performances at airports and other travel centres:

We have become a nation of suspects. The last wisps of British liberty are being stripped away and, as usual, this is happening with the keen support of millions.

[...]

Then there are the comical new ordeals travellers must face if they are foolish enough to want to go anywhere by plane.

At least they would be comical if we were allowed to laugh at them, but even to joke about ‘security’ in the hearing of some grim-jawed official is to risk detention and a flight ban.

There’s an odd thing about this. We are constantly told that our vast, sour-faced and costly ‘security’ services, and various ‘British FBIs’ and ‘British KGBs’ are fully on top of the terror threat, and ceaselessly halting plots.

How is it then that they claim not to know if harmless aunties from Cleethorpes or Worthing are planning to manufacture an airborne bomb with the ingredients of a make-up bag?

Just in case such a person is a jihadi sleeper agent, she, and thousands of other innocents, must be treated as criminal suspects.

Like newly registered convicts, they must stand in humble queues, meek before arbitrary power.

They must remove clothing, allow strangers to peer at their nakedness in scanning machines, permit inspections of their private possessions and answer stupid questions with a straight face.

They must be compelled to accept this treatment without protest or complaint.

In fact, when we enter an airport these days, we enter a prototype totalitarian state, a glimpse of how it will eventually be everywhere if we do not find a way of resisting this horrible change.

July 9, 2014

Britain’s latest moral panic enters the “proposing bad law” stage

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:40

Iain Martin says it’s now gotten to the point “where it is permissible to mention George Orwell and his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four“:

Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC, said earlier: “If someone consciously knows that there is a crime committed against a child, and does nothing about it because they put the reputation of the organisation above the safety of that child, that should be a criminal offence.”

“Consciously knows.” There’s an interesting phrase. It seems that the NSPCC sees this sanction applying only to people in positions of responsibility. But how can that be defined fairly in law? Will the new law only apply to the chief executive of a health trust, but not to the finance director or to the head of communications? It would be impossible to define such a law so narrowly. In time it would have to apply to anyone working in any organisation. And, surely it must also apply to anyone who comes into contact with said organisation and who might have heard that a crime has been committed? People often think they “consciously know” something when they have actually only heard it third-hand. If the idea is established that failure to pass on a wild rumour to the police is somehow illegal, it is not difficult to imagine what could go wrong.

[...]

If it is to become a crime to fail to report suspicions that child abuse is taking place, why should the new law not to be extended in time to all other areas of criminal activity? It could become illegal to fail to report to the police if you suspected that a fellow citizen had committed a crime, or might be about to. As someone wise on Twitter put it earlier: the historical precedents of states making it compulsory for citizens to report on their fellow citizens are not encouraging.

QotD: British nepotism, old style

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

A problem constantly before the modern administration, whether in government or business, is that of personnel selection. The inexorable working of Parkinson’s Law ensures that appointments have constantly to be made and the question is always how to choose the right candidate from all who present themselves. In ascertaining the principles upon which the choice should be made, we may properly consider, under separate heads, the methods used in the past and the methods used at the present day.

Past methods, not entirely disused, fall into two main categories, the British and the Chinese. Both deserve careful consideration, if only for the reason that they were obviously more successful than any method now considered fashionable. The British method (old pattern) depended upon an interview in which the candidate had to establish his identity. He would be confronted by elderly gentlemen seated round a mahogany table who would presently ask him his name. Let us suppose that the candidate replied, “John Seymour.” One of the gentlemen would then say, “Any relation of the Duke of Somerset?” To this the candidate would say, quite possibly, “No, sir.” Then another gentleman would say, “Perhaps you are related, in that case, to the Bishop of Watminster?” If he said “No, sir” again, a third would ask in despair, “To whom then are you related?” In the event of the candidate’s saying, “Well, my father is a fishmonger in Cheapside,” the interview was virtually over. The members of the Board would exchange significant glances, one would press a bell and another tell the footman, “Throw this person out.” One name could be crossed off the list without further discussion. Supposing the next candidate was Henry Molyneux and a nephew of the Earl of Sefton, his chances remained fair up to the moment when George Howard arrived and proved to be a grandson of the Duke of Norfolk. The Board encountered no serious difficulty until they had to compare the claims of the third son of a baronet with the second but illegitimate son of a viscount. Even then they could refer to a Book of Precedence. So their choice was made and often with the best results.

The Admiralty version of this British method (old pattern) was different only in its more restricted scope. The Board of Admirals were unimpressed by titled relatives as such. What they sought to establish was a service connection. The ideal candidate would reply to the second question, “Yes, Admiral Parker is my uncle. My father is Captain Foley, my grandfather Commodore Foley. My mother’s father was Admiral Hardy. Commander Hardy is my uncle. My eldest brother is a Lieutenant in the Royal Marines, my next brother is a cadet at Dartmouth and my younger brother wears a sailor suit.” “Ah!” the senior Admiral would say. “And what made you think of joining the Navy?” The answer to this question, however, would scarcely matter, the clerk present having already noted the candidate as acceptable. Given a choice between two candidates, both equally acceptable by birth, a member of the Board would ask suddenly, “What was the number of the taxi you came in?” The candidate who said “I came by bus” was then thrown out. The candidate who said, truthfully, “I don’t know,” was rejected, and the candidate who said “Number 2351″ (lying) was promptly admitted to the service as a boy with initiative. This method often produced excellent results.

C. Northcote Parkinson, “The Short List, Or Principles Of Selection”, Parkinson’s Law (and other studies in administration), 1957.

July 8, 2014

Understatement of the day – “Britain in the Seventies was a very weird place”

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:42

In the Telegraph, Iain Martin tries to put this summer’s British media hysteria/witch hunt into a bit of perspective:

Anyone who expresses astonishment about the wave of recent revelations and allegations centred on the conduct of assorted entertainers and celebrities from the Seventies must have been lacking access to a television set, if they are genuinely shocked. In that decade, and on into the Eighties, even the most successful and least funny comedy programme rested mainly on one joke, which involved a man in a raincoat chasing around bikini-clad young women. Back then the work of Benny Hill was regarded as family entertainment, and groping, sexual incontinence and jokes about the corruption of innocence were the staples of countless other comedians. It would be surprising – really, wouldn’t it? – if a minority of twisted, power-crazed people working in “entertainment” intent on sexual abuse hadn’t exploited the opportunity to do terrible harm.

Britain in the Seventies was a very weird place. The sexual revolution (largely an elite project of the Sixties, which did not go mainstream until later) had produced a bizarre popular culture hybrid. In the Seventies, the British saucy postcard tradition, always darker than it looked, featuring cheeky innuendo, collided with a crazed mood of supposed sexual liberation. The message pushed out in some sitcoms and other forms of popular entertainment was that everyone was permanently at “it” and that any woman resisting “it” was a prude or a relic of a bygone era. Questions of license, consent and desirability became hopelessly confused. This was the dark flip side of the numerous benefits which came with the abandonment of the old, stifling constraints imposed on both sexes.

To make matters even more hazardous, Britain in the Seventies was a country wobbling on the verge of a transition. The population’s over-reliance on deference and a blind faith in the virtues of authority had already been tested in the Suez disaster and in the Profumo scandal of 1963, although it had not collapsed entirely. Parents still operated on the assumption that fellow adults in positions of power were likely to be trustworthy, and the majority were. But thanks to scandals revealed since involving schools, churches, children’s homes, the BBC, the Scouts and so on, we know that some individuals and networks of paedophiles exploited that trust, again to do terrible harm.

The hound pack of the media is in full cry, and that urge to convict before trial is overwhelming common sense and propriety.

But increasingly we seem less interested in due process – as a protection against miscarriage of justice or to prevent a bad precedent being established – than we do in the excitement of the moment and urgent demands for a government “inquiry” which must usually be “over-arching”. These inquiries are now an industry in themselves, although curiously the one area that probably deserved it (the banking collapse presided over by the political class which triggered the worst downturn in 80 years) was not given a proper inquiry. Funny that.

On Westminster child abuse, the risk was identified by Claire Fox speaking on BBC Radio 4′s Today Programme earlier. She said that rumour is already becoming confused with evidence. All manner of claims are now being aired and reported as though they are fact. “Twenty members of the Establishment,” “ministers” and unnamed “leading figures” are accused of dark and sinister deeds. Alongside those making genuine allegations, anyone with a claim will get on air at the moment, any crank or fantasist who wants to attract attention or settle scores will cry that they are being ignored or suppressed if the broadcasters will not give them a platform immediately. It would be a brave BBC producer who would decline right now.

July 7, 2014

The BBC losing its balance over climate reporting

Filed under: Britain, Environment, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:16

Matt Ridley on the BBC’s loss of balance:

The BBC’s behaviour grows ever more bizarre. Committed by charter to balanced reporting, it has now decided formally that it was wrong to allow balance in a debate between rival guesses about the future. In rebuking itself for having had the gall to interview Nigel Lawson on the Today programme about climate change earlier this year, it issued a statement containing this gem: “Lord Lawson’s views are not supported by the evidence from computer modelling and scientific research.”

The evidence from computer modelling? The phrase is an oxymoron. A model cannot, by definition, provide evidence: it can provide a prediction to test against real evidence. In the debate in question, Lord Lawson said two things: it was not possible to attribute last winter’s heavy rain to climate change with any certainty, and the global surface temperature has not warmed in the past 15 to 17 years. He was right about both, as his debate opponent, Sir Brian Hoskins, confirmed.

As for the models, here is what Dr Vicky Pope of the Met Office said in 2007 about what their models predicted: “By 2014, we’re predicting that we’ll be 0.3 degrees warmer than 2004. Now just to put that into context, the warming over the past century and a half has only been 0.7 degrees, globally … So 0.3 degrees, over the next ten years, is pretty significant … These are very strong statements about what will happen over the next ten years.”

In fact, global surface temperature, far from accelerating upwards, has cooled slightly in the ten years since 2004 on most measures. The Met Office model was out by a country mile. But the BBC thinks that it was wrong even to allow somebody to challenge the models, even somebody who has written a bestselling book on climate policy, held one of the highest offices of state and founded a think-tank devoted to climate change policy. The BBC regrets even staging a live debate between him and somebody who disagrees with him, in which he was robustly challenged by the excellent Justin Webb (of these pages).

And why, pray, does the BBC think this? Because it had a complaint from a man it coyly describes as a “low-energy expert”, Mr Chit Chong, who accused Lord Lawson of saying on the programme that climate change was “all a conspiracy”.

Lawson said nothing of the kind, as a transcript shows. Mr Chong’s own curriculum vitae boasts that he “has been active in the Green party for 25 years and was the first Green councillor to be elected in London”, and that he “has a draught-proofing and insulation business in Dorset and also works as an environmental consultant”.

So let’s recap. On the inaccurate word of an activist politician with a vested financial and party interest, the BBC has decided that henceforth nobody must be allowed to criticise predictions of the future on which costly policies are based.

The “Cambridge Five” were a boozy bunch of incompetents

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:34

In the Telegraph, Allan Massie reviews the boozehound “Cambridge Five” who spied for the Soviet Union:

So the Mitrokhin files from Soviet Intelligence reveal that they were wary and critical of some of the Cambridge spies. Burgess and Maclean were unreliable drunks – Burgess careless in looking after files he had removed from the Foreign Office for copying, Maclean given to speaking rashly when in liquor. As we used to say as prep-school boys: “Tell us news, not history.” All this has been known here for a long time. It would be astonishing if it wasn’t equally common knowledge in Moscow, where, one might add, alcoholism was scarcely unusual among members of the Soviet Politburo. The Cambridge spies flourished long before the days of “Only mineral water, thanks” at lunchtime.

Nobody is, even now, quite sure how much damage the Cambridge spies did, though Philby’s responsibility for the deaths of agents smuggled into Albania and other Soviet bloc countries is well established. Arguably they were less important than the “Atom spies”, scientists Klaus Fuchs and Alan Nunn May. They were less highly valued by their masters than Melita Norwood, “the granny spy”. Working as a clerk for a company whose work contributed to the making of the atom bomb, she passed on innumerable scientific and technical documents of great use to Soviet industry. Her controllers described her as “a loyal, trustworthy and disciplined agent”. “Trustworthy and disciplined” were adjectives they would never have applied to Burgess and Maclean, while even Philby wasn’t granted the highest honour, “Hero of the Soviet Union”, perhaps because his masters in Moscow were never absolutely sure where his loyalties lay. The suggestion that he may even have been a triple, rather than merely double, agent, has been floated. Melita Norwood on the other hand was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Soviet Labour, and given a Soviet pension to ease her retirement in Bexleyheath.

For years after Burgess and Maclean decamped in 1951, it was said that Burgess had no need to do so, because there was no evidence against him and he wasn’t even under suspicion. Maclean’s case was different; he was about to be interrogated. Philby, who had learned of this, told his friend Burgess to tip him off. Burgess was about to be asked to resign from the Foreign Office, but this was because of a number of scandalous drunken episodes when he was attached to the Embassy in Washington. He was in greater danger of prosecution as a homosexual than as a Soviet spy.

The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:32

In the Edinburgh Reporter, Rosemary Kaye gives us a quick introduction to “the Laundry” and how the next book in the series gets underway:

Bob is a civil servant. Not any old civil servant though: Bob works for The Laundry, a secret department set up to protect the population from occult powers. In a Google-esque attempt to raise morale he and his colleagues have been told to devote 10% of their time to following their own ‘creative, innovative research ideas’ – but they’re far too busy to find space in their working days to regain their va-va-voom, so they have to develop their projects at night.

One night Bob returns to his office to find a colleague, Andy, conducting a ‘hello spirit world’ experiment. He’s intending to summon a demon, a ‘class one manifestation’, but whatever he’s called up, it’s not that. Everything is feeling rather cold. Bob drags Andy from the room and shuts the door, but soon realises that;

‘elephant size termites appear to be chewing on the edges of reality.’

Andy has used his own code instead of the regulation issue;

‘there’s nothing worse than an IT manager who’s getting creative…’

Bob’s boss Angleton is soon on the scene; an old school presence ‘as chilly and powerful as the thing behind the door’, he instructs Bob to call the Night Watch. The Night Watch appears ‘in classic Bela Lugosi style’, its members being zombies or, as the civil service now requires them to be designed, ‘Residual Human Resources.’ It becomes clear to a horrified Bob that Angleton’s intention is to send one of them into the room;

‘I’ve gotten used to dealing with the metabolically challenged, but …….you can’t just go using the Night Watch as meat probes’

Bob sees that even the zombies are uneasy about this one, but Angleton is determined. The poor zombie’s bony hand ends up frozen to the door knob, but eventually the door is opened, to reveal;

‘tentacles and lobster claws, eyes the size of my head…..total sensory overload…voices like telemarketers in hell…’

And to find out what happens next, you need to buy the book – which many of the audience already have.

July 6, 2014

Henry II – “from the Devil he came, and to the Devil he will surely go”

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:40

Nicholas Vincent looks at the reign of King Henry II, the founder of the Plantagenet dynasty who died on this day in 1189:

Although in December 1154, Henry was generally recognised as the legitimate claimant to the throne, most notably by the English Church, his accession was fraught with perils. Among the Anglo-Norman aristocracy there were many who saw Henry as an outsider: an Angevin princeling, descended via his father, Count Geoffrey Plantagenet of Anjou, from a dynasty that had long been regarded as the principal rival on Normandy’s southern frontier. King Stephen had left a legitimate son, William Earl Warenne, still living in 1154, and Henry himself had two younger brothers who might well have disputed his claims to succeed to all his family’s lands and titles. Asked some years before to judge Henry’s chances of success, St Bernard of Clairvaux is said to have predicted of Henry that ‘from the Devil he came, and to the Devil he will surely go’.

Yet, from what contemporaries termed ‘the shipwreck’, and modern historians have described as ‘the anarchy’ of Stephen’s reign, Henry II was to emerge as one of England’s, indeed as one of Europe’s, greatest kings. The Plantagenet dynasty that he founded was to occupy the throne of England through to 1399 and the eighth successive generation. Henry himself came to rule over the most extensive collection of lands that had ever been gathered together under an English king – an empire in all but name, that stretched from the Cheviots to the Pyrenees, and from Dublin in the west to the frontiers of Flanders and Burgundy in the east.

In part this empire was the product of dynastic accident. From his mother, Matilda, daughter and sole surviving legitimate child of the last Anglo-Norman King, Henry inherited his claim to rule as king in England and as duke in Normandy. From his father, Geoffrey, he succeeded to rule over Anjou, Maine and the Touraine: the counties of the Loire valley that had previously blocked Anglo-Norman ambitions in the South. Rather than share these inherited spoils with his brothers, Henry seized everything for himself. William, his younger brother, was granted a rich but by no means royal estate. Geoffrey, the third brother, threatened rebellion but was bought off with a shortlived grant of the county of Nantes.

Henry, however, was far more than just a fortunate or crafty elder son. Through his own exertions he greatly expanded his family’s territorial claims. In 1152, two years before obtaining the throne of England, he had married Eleanor, heiress to the duchy of Aquitaine and only a few weeks earlier divorced from her previous husband, the Capetian King Louis VII. As effective ruler of Eleanor’s lands, Henry found himself in possession of a vast estate in south-western France, stretching from the Loire southwards through Poitou and Gascony to the frontiers of Spain. Henry’s marriage to Eleanor was regarded as scandalous even by his own courtiers. She was eleven years older than him and was rumoured to have enjoyed extra-marital affairs not only with her own uncle but with Henry’s father, Geoffrey Plantagenet. By temperament she was as fiery as Henry, and as determined to stake her own claims to rule. As a result, Henry’s domestic life was far from tranquil. From 1173 onwards, Eleanor was to be held under house arrest in England, whilst Henry, to judge by the bastard children that he fathered, had long enjoyed the favours of a series of mistresses. Even so, by his marriage, Henry laid the basis of the later claims made by England’s kings to rule over southern France: claims that were to unite Gascony to the English crown as late as the fifteenth century and which were to play a vital role in the history of Anglo-French relations throughout the Middle Ages and beyond.

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