Quotulatiousness

September 3, 2015

Reparations for India’s colonial period?

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

In Time, Shikha Dalmia explains why India may not want to cuddle up too closely to the idea of getting reparations from the UK:

Indian politician and celebrated novelist Shashi Tharoor caused a mini-sensation late last month when he went before the Oxford Union, a debating society in England’s prestigious eponymous university, and argued that Britain needed to give India reparations for “depredations” caused by two centuries of colonial rule. It was a virtuoso performance — almost pitch perfect in substance and delivery — that handily won him the debate in England and made him a national hero at home.

But the most eloquent point that emerged in the debate is one he didn’t make: While Brits are grappling with their sordid past by, say, holding such debates, Indians are busy burying theirs in a cheap feel-goodism.

Colonialism, without a doubt, is an awful chapter in human history. And Tharoor did a brilliant job of debunking the standard argument of Raj apologists that British occupation did more good than harm because it gave India democracy and the rule of law. (This is akin to American whites who argued after the Civil War that blacks had nothing to complain about because — as the Chicago Tribune editorialized — in exchange for slavery, they were “taught Christian civilization and to speak the noble English language instead of some African gibberish.”)

[…]

Reparations make sense when it is still possible to identify the individual victims of political or social violence. But if paying collective reparations for collective guilt is appropriate, then how about India “atoning” for thousands of years of its caste system? This system has perpetrated “depredations” arguably worse than those of colonialism or apartheid against India’s dalits — or untouchables — and other lower castes. And despite what Hindu denialists claim, this system remains an endemic part of everyday life in many parts of India. Indeed, much like the Jim Crow south, local village councils even today severely punish inter-caste mingling and marriage, even issuing death sentences against young men and women who dare marry outside their caste.

None of this is meant to single out India. Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French philosopher, who visited America in the early 19th Century, expressed astonishment at how Americans could blithely both claim to love liberty and defend slavery without any sense of contradiction. Every civilization has its stock of virtues and vices, ideals and transgressions. Moral progress requires each to constantly parse its history and present to measure how far it has come and how far it must go to bridge the gap between its principles and practices.

September 2, 2015

Guardian writer: Terry Pratchett was a “mediocrity”

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

Jonathan Jones lets all of Terry Pratchett’s fans know that they’re idiots for liking such a mediocre writer of “potboilers”:

It does not matter to me if Terry Pratchett’s final novel is a worthy epitaph or not, or if he wanted it to be pulped by a steamroller. I have never read a single one of his books and I never plan to. Life’s too short.

No offence, but Pratchett is so low on my list of books to read before I die that I would have to live a million years before getting round to him. I did flick through a book by him in a shop, to see what the fuss is about, but the prose seemed very ordinary.

I don’t mean to pick on this particular author, except that the huge fuss attending and following his death this year is part of a very disturbing cultural phenomenon. In the age of social media and ebooks, our concept of literary greatness is being blurred beyond recognition. A middlebrow cult of the popular is holding literature to ransom. Thus, if you judge by the emotional outpourings over their deaths, the greatest writers of recent times were Pratchett and Ray Bradbury. There was far less of an internet splurge when Gabriel García Márquez died in 2014 and Günter Grass this spring. Yet they were true titans of the novel. Their books, like all great books, can change your life, your beliefs, your perceptions. Everyone reads trash sometimes, but why are we now pretending, as a culture, that it is the same thing as literature? The two are utterly different.

But, despite never having read a single one, he’s willing to share his amazingly brilliant insight with us ignorant, barely literate troglodytes. What a prince! We should all feel honoured and all that if he’s condescended enough to point out our collective failings, shouldn’t we?

The communal WitchFinder

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

Jonathan Foreman on the social media witch hunt that crashed Tim Hunt’s career and reputation:

In 1983, the British biochemist Timothy Hunt discovered cyclins, a family of proteins that help regulate the life of cells. Eighteen years later, in 2001, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. Between June 8 and June 10 of this year, the 72-year-old Hunt went from being a universally respected and even beloved figure at the top of the scientific establishment to an instant pariah, condemned everywhere for antiquated opinions about women’s role in science that he does not, in fact, hold.

In only 48 hours, he found himself compelled to resign his positions at University College London and at the august Royal Society (where Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke once fought petty battles) after being told that failure to do so would lead to his outright firing.

The Timothy Hunt affair represents more than the gratuitous eye-blink ruination of a great man’s reputation and career. It demonstrates the danger of the extraordinary, almost worshipful deference that academia, government institutions, and above all the mainstream media now accord to social media. It is yet more evidence of the way moral panic and (virtual) mob rule can be accelerated and intensified by the minimalism of Twitter, with its 140-character posts and its apparently inherent tendency to encourage snap judgments, prejudice, and cruelty.

Fortunately, the story did not end on June 10. In the weeks following the initial assault, some of Hunt’s most ardent persecutors have been exposed as liars or blinkered ideologues, abetted by cynical hacks and academic rivals on a quest to bring him down or use him as grist to a political mill. Hunt’s partial rehabilitation has largely come about thanks to the dogged investigations of Louise Mensch, the British novelist and former conservative member of parliament who lives in New York City and is herself a powerful presence on Twitter. Mensch was alarmed by what she calls ‘the ugly combination of bullying and sanctimony” in the reaction to remarks made by “an evidently sweet and kind” older man.

She did some checking on Twitter and soon found that the two main witnesses for the prosecution contradicted each other. Then she began a more thorough investigation of Hunt’s offending comments and the lack of due process involved in his punishment by various academic and media institutions. The results of her exhaustive research, published on her blog, Unfashionista.com, encouraged an existing groundswell of support for Hunt from scientists around the world but most important from Hunt’s own female colleagues and former students.

August 31, 2015

Brendan O’Neill | Freedom of Speech and Right to Offend | Proposition

Filed under: Britain, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 25 Aug 2015

The Motion: This House Believes the Right to Free Speech Always Includes the Right to Offend.

Debate speaker 1 of 6. Watch all the speakers for this debate in order of appearance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtWrl…

Brendan O’Neill is the editor of Spiked Online and a columnist for The Australian and The Big Issue.

ABOUT THE OXFORD UNION SOCIETY: The Union is the world’s most prestigious debating society, with an unparalleled reputation for bringing international guests and speakers to Oxford. It has been established for 192 years, aiming to promote debate and discussion not just in Oxford University, but across the globe.

H/T to Samizdata for the link.

August 28, 2015

The Battle of Hill 60 – Lunatic Persistence in Gallipoli I THE GREAT WAR – Week 57

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 27 Aug 2015

Peter Hart described the state of the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 as “lunatic persistence in the face of the obvious” – and the Battle of Hill 60 proved just that. Outgunned and with a lack of artillery support, the battle was one of the bloodiest days on the peninsular near Constantinople. The Ottoman capital was still out of reach for the Entente to capture. Meanwhile, the war spread to the Indian border region and on the Western and Eastern Front the carnage continued in the air and on ground.

August 27, 2015

The plight of the Calais migrants

At sp!ked, Brendan O’Neill talks about the situation in Calais between the migrants who want to enter the UK and the government that very much wants them to stay on the other side of the Channel:

What’s worse: treating people like animals or referring to them in animal-like language? Most normal people would say the former. Actions speak louder than words, after all. To treat someone as less than human — by denying them their rights, caging them, beating them — has a direct detrimental impact on their individual autonomy and everyday lives. In contrast, comparing someone to an animal, through your choice of words, is just unpleasant; it doesn’t physically hold that individual back. Sticks and stones can seriously impede our ability to live freely; words can only make us feel bad (if we let them).

Yet in the morally inverted world of political correctness, where speaking in the clipped morals of the new clerisy is the key and hollow duty of every citizen, words are more important than behaviour. You’re judged on how you express yourself, not on what you believe, or what you do. Take Swarmgate, the media fury over British PM David Cameron’s use of the word ‘swarm’ to refer to those few thousand migrants in Calais who long to come to Britain. When Cameron was talking about sending soldiers and barbed wire and dogs to keep these aspirant Brits out of Britain, the self-styled guardians of public decency — the Twitterati, liberal editorialists, Labourites — said little, except perhaps that he should do it more quickly. Yet as soon as he referred to the migrants as a ‘swarm of people’, these Good People became pained: they banged their fists on tables, spilt their tea, went on the telly.

Ladies and gentlemen, behold the inhumanity of political correctness, which bats not one eyelid when 5,000 human beings are reduced to the level of animals, yet which becomes wide-eyed with anger when their animal-like status is mentioned in polite society. ‘Treat them like shit, just don’t use shitty language while you do it’ — that’s the glorious motto of the PC.

Right now, nothing better captures PC’s Kafkaesque levels of dishonesty and censorious linguistic trickery than Swarmgate. This controversy has exposed that many influential people now mistake politeness for morality, linguistic temperance for decency. So it was that Harriet Harman, acting leader of the Labour Party, could go on TV and rail against Cameron for using that s-word and then in her very next breath call on him to do more to prevent these migrants from getting to Britain. ‘He should remember he’s talking about people and not insects’, she said. Then, in mere seconds, without embarrassment, she talked about the ‘nightmare’ of having all these noisy migrants at the English Channel and said Cameron should put pressure on the French to assess ‘these people’ to see which ones ‘should be deported’. Sent back to where they came from, which in some cases is Afghanistan and Iraq: nations Harman’s party helped to destroy.

August 25, 2015

We finally find someone (not funded by Lockheed Martin) who likes the F-35

Filed under: Britain, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Okay, I poke a bit of fun … there are defenders of the F-35 who are funded by other stakeholders … I kid, I kid! Here’s a contrarian take by Think Defence justifying the UK’s F-35 commitment:

In the 7 years I have been dribbling my thoughts into Think Defence there are a few things on which I have been consistent; the ISO container is the greatest invention since the Bailey Bridge, commonality is not a dirty word, logistics are critically important, and, the F-35B is worth it.

Yet to be discovered tribes in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest could not have failed to notice the untrammelled hype that surrounds the F-35 in general, and the STOVL F-35B in particular. The amount of coverage is staggering, some of it informed, some of it not. Being developed under the un-staring eye of social media and a long line of people who seem to live for being critical has exposed every developmental misstep to ruthless criticism. Reports are often selectively quoted, conclusions drawn without context, over-simplification of complex subjects is rife and correlation confused with causation.

It is also an extremely polarising aircraft, read anything on-line and it seems you are either a Lockheed Martin shill or thick as mince critic who knows nothing.

I suspect, the reality is somewhere between, whilst the F-35 is not the cure for cancer, it is not cancer either.

f35b-power-and-propulsion-740x428

Although I have written about the F-35B many times, including this 5 part series, this is the first for a while

Into this toxic environment I go, a look at the F-35B.

August 23, 2015

The Falklands War – The Untold Story

Filed under: Americas, Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 19 Aug 2013

Falklands Crisis was a 1982 war between Argentina and the United Kingdom. The conflict resulted from the long-standing dispute over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, which lie in the South Atlantic, east of Argentina.

H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link.

Jeremy Corbyn and the British Labour party

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

In sp!ked, Mick Hume describes the state of the British equivalent to the NDP in their current leadership race:

Jeremy Corbyn has been a Labour member of parliament for a remarkable 32 years without ever leading anything or leaving any visible mark on British political life. How could such a veteran non-entity emerge overnight as favourite to be the new, left-wing, game-changing leader of the Labour Party?

Only because the Labour Party as a mass movement has not just declined, but effectively collapsed. The apparent rise of Corbyn is made possible by the disintegration of his party. The key factor in all of this is not any resurgence of radicalism, but the demise of Labourism.

Over the decades that Corbyn has been an MP, Labour has ceased to be the party of a mass trade-union movement with a solid working-class constituency. It has been reduced to an empty shell run by a clique of careerists such as Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband – and the other three current candidates for the leadership – with no ambition beyond their own election.

This disintegration has left a space for Corbyn’s allegedly explosive rise in two ways. First, widespread dissatisfaction with the dire state of Labour and wider UK politics has created an appetite for something/anything that appears different. And second, the hollowing-out of the Labour Party – reflected in its desperation to give anybody a leadership vote for just £3 – has made it possible for relatively few Corbyn supporters to seize control of events.

For all that, however, the new profile of Corbyn the inveterate invisible man remains only a symptom of the wasting disease that has destroyed the Labour Party.

August 16, 2015

Farewell to the Vulcan … in infra-red

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Ashley Pomeroy attended the Yeovilton Air Day event, one of the last flying events for the last of the Vulcans. She took along her camera to capture some rather interesting images:

Vulcan in IR 1

Off to the Yeovilton Air Day, with an infrared camera and a bottle of pop. This year the Avro Vulcan retires for the third and final time. Like Lazarus, it was raised from the dead; and like Lazarus it is fated to die again, this time forever.

I used an infrared camera - there is no shortage of Vulcan photographs taken with visible light - in part because the results are dramatic but also because I was curious to see what would happen.

I used an infrared camera – there is no shortage of Vulcan photographs taken with visible light – in part because the results are dramatic but also because I was curious to see what would happen.

The Vulcan entered service in the 1950s. Its original mission was to incinerate Russians – tens of thousands of them – with our nuclear bombs. In practice this never came to pass, and the only people incinerated by Vulcans were Argentine ground crew, six of them, during the Falklands War of 1982. The Vulcan was retired from service almost immediately afterwards. It remained in flight as a display aircraft until 1993, at which point the expense of keeping a jet bomber in the air became too great.

In this shot, for example, you can see that some of the panels were made of a different material from the rest of the airframe, or perhaps they used a fundamentally different paint.

In this shot, for example, you can see that some of the panels were made of a different material from the rest of the airframe, or perhaps they used a fundamentally different paint.

[…]

What’s it like to see a Vulcan dancing in the sky? In an airshow context the experience is somewhat muted, because regulations prevent it from flying overhead. The pilot can only make long passes parallel with the crowd line plus some wingovers. The Vulcan’s low wing loading gave it superb high-altitude performance – I imagine that the likes of the F-86 or MiG-15 would have found it an incredibly hard gun target – but this doesn’t help at an airshow. Nonetheless, when the pilot gunned the engines it was like being punched in the chest, and I could feel a collective grin from the crowd, although I was too far from the car park to hear the car alarms going off.

August 15, 2015

Impersonal forces acting on passive innocents

Filed under: Britain, Media, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

We’ve seen plenty of examples of this kind of “reporting”, where the presentation of the case absolves the actors in advance of any motive or action … they’re always implicit victims of circumstances beyond their control. Theodore Dalrymple points to a recent example:

Sometimes the employment of a single word in common use gives away an entire worldview. There was just such a usage in the headline of a story in the Guardian newspaper late last month: “How the ‘Pompey Lads’ fell into the hands of Isis.”

Pompey is the colloquial name for Portsmouth, the naval town on the south coast of England, and the “lads” of the headline were five young men of Bangladeshi origin who grew up there and later joined Isis in Syria. The article describes how the last of the five has now been killed, three others having been killed before him and one, who returned to Britain, having been sentenced to a four-year prison sentence (in effect two years, with remission for good behavior). The use of the word “lads” is intended to imply to the newspaper’s readers that there was nothing special or different about these five young men, nothing that distinguished them from the other young men of Portsmouth. Its use was a manifestation of wishful or even magical thinking, as if reality itself could be altered in a desired way by the mere employment of language.

But the word that implied a whole worldview was “fell.” According to the headline, the young men “fell” into the hands of Isis as an apple falls passively to the ground by gravitational force. The word suggests that it could have happened to anybody, this going to Syria via Turkey to join a movement that delights in decapitation and other such activities in the name of a religion — their religion. Joining Isis is like multiple sclerosis; it’s something that just happens to people.

The word “fell” denies agency to the young men, as if they had no choice in the matter. They were victims of circumstance by virtue of their membership of a minority, for minorities are by definition victims without agency.

August 6, 2015

Comedians and UKIP

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

Published on 30 Jul 2015

“Progressive” bigotry – the respectable kind.

August 5, 2015

QotD: The Anglo-German Naval Race

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

Germany’s decision to embark on an ambitious naval programme has occupied a commanding position in the literature on the origins of the First World War. Viewed with hindsight, it might appear to foreshadow, or even perhaps to explain, the conflict that broke out in 1914. Wasn’t the decision to challenge British naval hegemony a needless provocation that permanently soured relations between the two states and deepened the polarization of the European system?

There are many criticisms one can make of German naval strategy, the most serious being that it was not embedded in a broader policy concept, beyond the quest for a free hand in world affairs. But the new naval programme was neither an outrageous nor an unwarranted move. The Germans had ample reason to believe that they would not be taken seriously unless they acquired a credible naval weapon. It should not be forgotten that the British were accustomed to using a rather masterful tone in their communications with the Germans. In March 1897, for example, a meeting took place between the assistant under-secretary at the British Foreign Office, Sir Francis Bertie, known as “the Bull” for his aggressive manner, and the chargé d’affaires and acting German ambassador in London, Baron Hermann von Eckardstein. In the course of their discussion, Eckardstein, a notorious Anglophile who dressed in the manner of Edward VII and loved to be seen about the London clubs, touched on the question of German interests in southern Africa. Bertie’s response came as a shock. Should the Germans lay so much as a finger on the Transvaal, Bertie declared, the British government would not stop at any step, “even the ultimate” (an unmistakable reference to war), to “repel any German intervention”. “Should it come to a war with Germany,” he went on, “the entire English nation would be behind it, and a blockade of Hamburg and Bremen and the annihilation of German commerce on the high seas would be child’s play for the English fleet.”

Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.

July 26, 2015

Mark Knopfler – Tracker – A Film By Henrik Hansen

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

Published on 20 Feb 2015

‘Tracker’ by Mark Knopfler available now.

July 25, 2015

Gurkhas in the SAS

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

Strategy Page on the (long overdue) inclusion of Gurkha troops in the British army’s elite Special Air Services (SAS) units:

It was recently revealed that the British SAS commandos have, since about 2010 recruited a dozen Gurkhas. The SAS, who were the original modern commandos and were first formed during World War II, are a very selective and elite organization. There are only about 200-300 SAS operators active and several years ago it was decided to recruit some Gurkhas. What was unusual about this was that the Gurkhas are not British and it is very rare for commando organizations to recruit foreigners. The Gurkhas are different in that they have served Britain loyally for a long time. While the Gurkhas are native to Nepal (a small country north of India) for two centuries Britain has recruited Gurkhas from the Gurkha tribes. This was mainly because Gurkhas have an outstanding reputation for military skills including discipline, bravery and all round kick-ass soldiering. Having served in the British Army, most can speak good English and all are familiar with British weapons, tactics and military customs.

There are currently 3,500 Gurkhas serving in the British army, and recruiting more is not a problem. Because of high unemployment in Nepal, a job in the British army is like winning the lottery. British military pay is more than 30 times what a good job in Nepal will get you. There are over sixty applicants for each of the few hundred openings each year. The men who don’t make it into the British army, can try getting into the Indian Army Gurkha units. There are about ten times as many Gurkhas in the Indian army, but the pay is only a few times what one could make in Nepal, and the fringe benefits are not nearly as good. Then again, you’re closer to home.

When the SAS quietly sought Gurkha recruits they found fifty willing to try out. A dozen of these passed the screening and survived the training. That’s a slightly higher pass rate than the usual SAS volunteers (British citizens serving in the army or Royal Marines). This was not surprising because Gurkhas have an outstanding military record. Such mercenary duty is now a tradition in the Gurkha tribes, where warriors, and things like loyalty and courage, have been held in high esteem for centuries. Nepal was never conquered by the British, although they did fight a war with the colonial British army in the early 19th century.

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