Published on 11 Jun 2016
Indy sits in the Chair of Wisdom again and this week we talk about Cavalry on the Eastern Front, Cossacks and wolves.
June 12, 2016
May 7, 2016
The Borderers are usually called “the Scots-Irish”, but Fischer dislikes the term because they are neither Scots (as we usually think of Scots) nor Irish (as we usually think of Irish). Instead, they’re a bunch of people who lived on (both sides of) the Scottish-English border in the late 1600s.
None of this makes sense without realizing that the Scottish-English border was terrible. Every couple of years the King of England would invade Scotland or vice versa; “from the year 1040 to 1745, every English monarch but three suffered a Scottish invasion, or became an invader in his turn”. These “invasions” generally involved burning down all the border towns and killing a bunch of people there. Eventually the two sides started getting pissed with each other and would also torture-murder all of the enemy’s citizens they could get their hands on, ie any who were close enough to the border to reach before the enemy could send in their armies. As if this weren’t bad enough, outlaws quickly learned they could plunder one side of the border, then escape to the other before anyone brought them to justice, so the whole area basically became one giant cesspool of robbery and murder.
In response to these pressures, the border people militarized and stayed feudal long past the point where the rest of the island had started modernizing. Life consisted of farming the lands of whichever brutal warlord had the top hand today, followed by being called to fight for him on short notice, followed by a grisly death. The border people dealt with it as best they could, and developed a culture marked by extreme levels of clannishness, xenophobia, drunkenness, stubbornness, and violence.
By the end of the 1600s, the Scottish and English royal bloodlines had intermingled and the two countries were drifting closer and closer to Union. The English kings finally got some breathing room and noticed – holy frick, everything about the border is terrible. They decided to make the region economically productive, which meant “squeeze every cent out of the poor Borderers, in the hopes of either getting lots of money from them or else forcing them to go elsewhere and become somebody else’s problem”. Sometimes absentee landlords would just evict everyone who lived in an entire region, en masse, replacing them with people they expected to be easier to control.
Many of the Borderers fled to Ulster in Ireland, which England was working on colonizing as a Protestant bulwark against the Irish Catholics, and where the Crown welcomed violent warlike people as a useful addition to their Irish-Catholic-fighting project. But Ulster had some of the same problems as the Border, and also the Ulsterites started worrying that the Borderer cure was worse than the Irish Catholic disease. So the Borderers started getting kicked out of Ulster too, one thing led to another, and eventually 250,000 of these people ended up in America.
250,000 people is a lot of Borderers. By contrast, the great Puritan emigration wave was only 20,000 or so people; even the mighty colony of Virginia only had about 50,000 original settlers. So these people showed up on the door of the American colonies, and the American colonies collectively took one look at them and said “nope”.
Except, of course, the Quakers. The Quakers talked among themselves and decided that these people were also Children Of God, and so they should demonstrate Brotherly Love by taking them in. They tried that for a couple of years, and then they questioned their life choices and also said “nope”, and they told the Borderers that Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley were actually kind of full right now but there was lots of unoccupied land in Western Pennsylvania, and the Appalachian Mountains were very pretty at this time of year, so why didn’t they head out that way as fast as it was physically possible to go?
At the time, the Appalachians were kind of the booby prize of American colonization: hard to farm, hard to travel through, and exposed to hostile Indians. The Borderers fell in love with them. They came from a pretty marginal and unproductive territory themselves, and the Appalachians were far away from everybody and full of fun Indians to fight. Soon the Appalachian strategy became the accepted response to Borderer immigration and was taken up from Pennsylvania in the north to the Carolinas in the South (a few New Englanders hit on a similar idea and sent their own Borderers to colonize the mountains of New Hampshire).
So the Borderers all went to Appalachia and established their own little rural clans there and nothing at all went wrong except for the entire rest of American history.
Scott Alexander, “Book Review: Albion’s Seed“, Slate Star Codex, 2016-04-27.
February 27, 2016
In Spiked, Kevin Rooney tells the tale of a young soccer fan who faces jail time for joining hundreds of other fans in singing a song:
Imagine the scene: a young man is led away in handcuffs to begin a prison sentence as his mother is left crying in the courtroom. He is 19 years old, has a good job, has no previous convictions, and has never been in trouble before. These facts cut no ice with the judge, however, as the crime is judged so heinous that only a custodial sentence is deemed appropriate. The young man in question was found guilty of singing a song that mocked and ridiculed a religious leader and his followers.
So where might this shocking story originate? Was it Iran? Saudi Arabia? Afghanistan? Perhaps it was Russia, a variation of the Pussy Riot saga, without the worldwide publicity? No, the country in question is Scotland and the young man is a Rangers fan. He joined in with hundreds of his fellow football fans in singing ‘offensive songs’ which referred to the pope and the Vatican and called Celtic fans ‘Fenian bastards’.
Such songs are part and parcel of the time-honoured tradition of Rangers supporters. And I have yet to meet a Celtic fan who has been caused any harm or suffering by such colourful lyrics. Yet in sentencing Connor McGhie to three months in a young offenders’ institution, the judge stated that ‘the extent of the hatred [McGhie] showed took my breath away’. He went on: ‘Anybody who participates in this disgusting language must be stopped.’
Several things strike me about this court case. For a start, if Rangers fans singing rude songs about their arch rivals Celtic shocks this judge to the core, I can only assume he does not get out very much or knows little of life in Scotland. Not that his ignorance of football culture is a surprise — the chattering classes have always viewed football-related banter with contempt. But what is new about the current climate is that in Scotland, the middle-class distaste for the behaviour of football fans has become enshrined in law.
H/T to Natalie Solent for the link.
November 18, 2015
Published on 22 Feb 2015
Adam Smith was one of the first men who explored economic connections in England and made clear, in a time when Mercantilism reigned, that the demands of the market should determine the economy and not the state. In his books Smith was a strong advocator of the free market economy. Today we give you the biography of the man behind the classic economic liberalism and how his ideas would change the world forever.
November 2, 2015
Anthony King looks at Macbeth as a PTSD sufferer:
Although the descriptions are graphic, Shakespeare’s play itself includes few on-stage battle scenes. Only at the very end does Macbeth actually fight on stage, a last stand in which he kills the young Siward (his last victim) and is in turn killed by MacDuff. For the rest of the play, all of Macbeth’s violence is set off stage, described but never seen. The audience imagines his violence — they do not witness it.
Justin Kurzel’s striking new adaptation of Macbeth, released on October 2, 2015 to critical acclaim and starring Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender, represents a cinematographic inversion of the original. In his film, battle predominates. The film begins with an extended combat sequence. Macbeth and his army are gathered on a bleak moor as they prepare for battle against Macdonaldwald’s army, unseen in the dense fog. The camera pans across the black-striped war-painted faces until, initiated by Macbeth, the host issues a war cry and plunges toward their enemies, who appear spectrally in the distance through the murk. In ultra-slow motion, the two armies clash and brutal fighting follows. Most notably, one of Macbeth’s boy soldiers, on whom the camera dwells tellingly before the battle, has his throat cut during the fighting and bleeds out darkly on screen. Eventually, Macbeth charges Macdonaldwald and slashes him to the ground. The scene is followed by a long sequence in which the dead are gathered and prepared for cremation, including the boy soldier, whose image haunts the rest of the film.
Macbeth’s apparently fearless heroism and remorseless violence is on display throughout these sequences. Yet the sequences highlight an aspect of Macbeth’s character normally absent from adaptations of the play and presumably from the original play, but highly relevant to a 21st-century audience. Macbeth is a combat veteran and, despite his courage, he is plainly severely traumatized by his war experiences. Kurzel and Fassbender construct him as a victim of PTSD, and he displays the classic symptoms of this perturbing condition.
September 7, 2015
In The Register, Bill Ray takes a geek’s-eye-view of the town of New Lanark, a key place in the early industrial revolution:
Nestled in the Clyde Valley the village owes its existence to the falls that were harnessed to refine raw cotton sent in from the colonies: a picture-postcard image from a time when Britain was the factory of the world.
But for all its industrial heritage New Lanark is a long way from being a typical “dark satanic” mill, as it marks the end of that time and the dawning of a better age.
Visit the village today and you can see the big machines that kept the empire running. Enormous water wheels; later supplemented by steam engines, connected by belts and ropes to machines which turned raw cotton into usable thread and fabric. However, it’s not industrial history that is celebrated at New Lanark, rather a social revolution, and one driven by one man whose ideas created the working life as we understand it today.
The man was Robert Owen, who, in 1799, bought New Lanark and immediately embarked on his “grand social experiment”. His radical ideas, such as refusing to employ children, providing medical insurance, and educating the workforce, were ridiculed by his competitors who couldn’t see the value in teaching children, let alone adults. But Owen believed that industry should serve the betterment of all men, not just those who owned the factories.
It worked too, rather to the surprise of his peers. New Lanark was a successful mill and profits rose steadily under the beneficent command of Owen. It could be argued, perhaps, that New Lanark would have been even more profitable without the social agenda, but every afternoon at five we should all be grateful for his reforms that made our working lives what they are:
“Eight hours daily labour is enough for any human being, and under proper arrangements sufficient to afford an ample supply of food, raiment and shelter, or the necessaries and comforts of life, and for the remainder of his time, every person is entitled to education, recreation and sleep”
Not that the workers at New Lanark did quite as well as we do; their working day ran ten and a half hours, but once mealtimes had been deducted it was approaching eight and certainly much better than the conditions in other mills around the country.
July 24, 2015
Katherine Timpf on the beleaguered organizers of the annual Glasgow Free Pride event:
The organizers of Free Pride Glasgow in Scotland have hit a snag in their mission to plan a totally inclusive event: Some activists think drag queens are offensive to transgender people, others think banning drag queens is offensive to transgender drag queens, and still others think allowing only transgender drag queens is offensive to cisgender drag queens.
Although drag performances had been part of Free Pride Glasgow for years, the event organizers announced in a statement on Saturday that they would not be allowing them this year because some transgender individuals found “some drag performance, particularly cis drag,” to be offensive because it “hinges on the social view of gender and making it into a joke.”
In the original statement, the organizers maintained that since they felt it would “not be appropriate to ask any prospective drag acts whether or not they identified as trans,” they would just cancel drag performances altogether. You know, just to make sure that no one would be uncomfortable. One problem: The attempt at appeasing transgender people who are offended by drag performers wound up offending transgender people who are drag performers. Whoops.
June 4, 2015
The second of the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy is still under construction. Here’s a time-lapse video of the transportation and installation of the forward island:
Published on 26 May 2015
Timelapse video charting the incredible journey of the 680-tonne command centre of the Royal Navy’s latest aircraft carrier – HMS Prince of Wales – as it left its construction hall in Govan, Glasgow this month before being installed on the under-construction carrier in Rosyth dockyard, near Edinburgh.
May 27, 2015
Mark Steyn on the result of the British general election:
It would be churlish to deny oneself the pleasure of hooting at the politico-media establishment, but, when that’s done, this is a deeply unhealthy electoral result. The Conservatives won because Labour got wiped out in Scotland and the Liberals got wiped out in England. But the reality is that, for a supposedly United Kingdom, the country no longer has any national political party. England and Scotland have taken on the characteristics of Northern Ireland — hermetically sealed polities full of weird, unlovely regional parties (“SNP”, “Conservative”, “Labour”) that have no meaning once you cross the border, and whose internal disputes are of no relevance to the other three-quarters of the kingdom: Nobody outside Ulster cares about “official” Unionists vs the more red-blooded Democratic Unionists. And so it goes with the Scots Nats and Labour in Scotland: nationalist socialists vs unionist socialists; Likewise, with the Tories and UKIP in England: transnationalist conservatives vs nationalist conservatives.
Wales is the exception that proves the rule, where UKIP outpolled Plaid Cymru, albeit with no seats to show for it. The Scottish National Party got 4.7 per cent of the UK vote, and 56 seats. UKIP had nearly thrice as many voters — 12.6 per cent — but only one seat. That discrepancy is because there is no longer any such thing as “the UK vote”. I far prefer the Westminster first-past-the-post system to European “proportional representation”, but it only works if you have genuinely national parties. If the system decays into four groups of regional parties, the House of Commons will look less and less like a genuine national parliament, and more and more like some surly conditional arrangement — Scottish Kurds, Tory Shia and seething Labour Sunni triangles.
The composition of the new house would strike any mid-20th century Briton as freakish and unsettling. It’s a bit like Canada in the Nineties — where Reform couldn’t break out of the west, the Bloc Québécois dominated Quebec, the rump Tories clung on in the Atlantic provinces, and Ontario and a few seats hither and yon gave the Liberals their majority. The difference is that the Bloquistes are pretend separatists; the Scottish National Party are not.
And that’s before you take into account the competing nationalist dynamics of the Anglo-Scottish victors: secession from the UK north of the border and detachment from the EU south. Cameron is a wily operator and one notices he uses the words “United Kingdom” far more than his predecessors. But saying will not make it so.
May 5, 2015
Charles Stross calls the current situation a “Scottish Political Singularity”:
The UK is heading for a general election next Thursday, and for once I’m on the edge of my seat because, per Hunter S. Thompson, the going got weird.
The overall electoral picture based on polling UK-wide is ambiguous. South of Scotland — meaning, in England and Wales — the classic two-party duopoly that collapsed during the 1970s, admitting the Liberal Democrats as a third minority force, has eroded further. We are seeing the Labour and Conservative parties polling in the low 30s. It is a racing certainty that neither party will be able to form a working majority, which requires 326 seats in the 650 seat House of Commons. The Liberal Democrats lost a lot of support from their soft-left base by going into coalition with the Conservatives, but their electoral heartlands — notably the south-west — are firm enough that while they will lose seats, they will still be a factor after the election; they’re unlikely to return fewer than 15 MPs, although at the last election they peaked around 50.
Getting away from the traditional big three parties, the picture gets more interesting. The homophobic, racist, bigoted scumbags of UKIP (hey, I’m not going to hide my opinions here!) have picked up support haemorrhaging from the right wing of the Conservative party; polling has put them on up to 20%, but they’re unlikely to return more than 2-6 MPs because their base is scattered across England. (Outside England they’re polling as low as 2-4%, suggesting that they’re very much an English nationalist party.) On the opposite pole, the Green party is polling in the 5-10% range, and might pick up an extra MP, taking them to 2 seats. In Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party (who are just as barkingly xenophobic as UKIP) are also set to return a handful of MPs.
And then there’s Scotland.
Having lived through a couple of near-national-death experiences here in Canada, I’m less than enthused that the country of my birth is now having similar threats from the Celtic fringe. I’m a fan of Charlie’s writing, and I think he’s someone who thinks interesting thoughts, but I hope he’s wrong in this area.
April 22, 2015
Rosie Cima looks at the complex relationship between humans and dogs … dog breeds, that is:
Meet the Skye terrier. Named after the Scottish Isle of Skye, he’s one of the oldest terriers in the world — with a lineage tracing back to the Middle Ages. He’s also been a very popular dog in his day. Queen Victoria kept several as pets starting a fashion trend. Mary, Queen of Scots kept one, which hid under her skirt at her execution. Famously loyal, “plucky but dignified”, and an important cultural icon, this is the kind of dog people erect statues of. In fact, they have.
Want one? Better act fast: the breed could go extinct in your lifetime.
Skye terrier breeders are doing their best to change the tide, but things don’t look good. The global population is between 3,500 and 4,000, making the once-common breed one of the rarest in the world. Skye terriers are rarer than red pandas. In the UK, there were only 17 puppies of the Skye terrier breed registered in 2013. Breeders say they need 300 births a year to maintain a healthy population and avoid complications from inbreeding.
How did this happen?
For most of human/canine history, dog breeds evolved gradually, alongside human society, to fill different functional roles as they were needed. If a society or economy shifted, and the role was no longer needed, the breed ceased to exist. Those dogs were either bred for a different purpose or were subsumed into the general dog population.
April 20, 2015
I think the nastiest drink I’ve ever drunk in my life was some stuff called mezcal in a Mexican market town. It’s made, I find, from the same aloe-like plant that gives us tequila, of which mezcal is a kind of downmarket version, if you can imagine such a thing. When I bought my bottle at the grocer’s it had a small packet tied to the neck. Inside was what looked like a shrimp in talcum powder. “What’s that?” I asked my American friend. “That’s the worm,” he said, “the best part. You can try it without.” I tried it without. My head filled with a taste of garage or repair shop — hot rubber and plastic, burnt oil and a whiff of hydrochloric-acid vapour from the charging engine. When I sold Mack the rest of the bottle he emptied in the pounded-up worm, recapped, shook, and poured himself a tumbler of greyish liquid with little pink shreds in it. Give me Tizer any day.
I haven’t yet sampled Ruou Tiet De, a North Vietnamese mixture of rice alcohol and goat’s blood, or Central Asian koumis, fermented from mare’s and camel’s milk. Sake, a sweetish rice beer from Japan, goes well with Japanese food, so if you happen to like eating raw fish and seaweed this is obviously your tipple. You drink it warm. I may say that when I heated some on the stove recently to check that it was as horrible as I remembered, it took all the deposit off the lining of the saucepan.
You needn’t go as far afield as that to find a drink offensive to any person of culture and discrimination, especially if mixes are on the agenda. In South Wales you’re likely to find them throwing down Guinness with Lucozade and Ribena, or Mackeson and orange squash — not in the more refined areas, true. In Scotland they put fizzy lemonade in their whisky. Yes, in respectable places in the Highlands there are quart bottles of the stuff on the bar alongside the Malvern water and the siphon. The objection is not that it’s vulgar, but that, of course, it kills the Scotch and tastes frightful.
Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, 2008.
April 10, 2015
Brendan O’Neill on the odd disconnect between American views of Scotland (roughly summed up by kilts, whisky, and Braveheart) and the reality:
… far from being a land of freedom-yearning Bravehearts, Scotland in the 21st century is a hotbed of the new authoritarianism. It’s the most nannying of Europe’s nanny states. It’s a country that imprisons people for singing songs, instructs people to stop smoking in their own homes, and which dreams of making salad-eating compulsory. Seriously. Scotland the Brave has become Scotland the Brave New World.
If you had to guess which country in the world recently sent a young man to jail for the crime of singing an offensive song, I’m guessing most of you would plumb for Putin’s Russia or maybe Saudi Arabia. Nope, it’s Scotland.
Last month, a 24-year-old fan of Rangers, the largely Protestant soccer team, was banged up for four months for singing “The Billy Boys,” an old anti-Catholic ditty that Rangers fans have been singing for years, mainly to annoy fans of Celtic, the largely Catholic soccer team. He was belting it out as he walked along a street to a game. He was arrested, found guilty of songcrimes—something even Orwell failed to foresee—and sent down.
It’s all thanks to the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, which, yes, is as scary as it sounds. Introduced in 2012 by the Scottish National Party, the largest party in Scotland the Brave New World and author of most of its new nanny-state laws, the Act sums up everything that is rotten in the head of this sceptred isle. Taking a wild, wide-ranging scattergun approach, it outlaws at soccer matches “behaviour of any kind,” including, “in particular, things said or otherwise communicated,” that is “motivated (wholly or partly) by hatred” or which is “threatening” or which a “reasonable person would be likely to consider offensive.”
Got that? At soccer games in Scotland it is now illegal to do or say anything — and “in particular” to say it — that is hateful or threatening or just offensive. Now, I don’t know how many readers have been to a soccer game in Britain, but offensiveness, riling the opposing side, is the gushing lifeblood of the game. Especially in Scotland. Banning at soccer matches hateful or offensive comments, chants, songs, banners, or badges — all are covered by the Offensive Behaviour Act — is like banning cheerleaders from American football. Sure, our cheerleaders are gruffer, drunker, fatter, and more foul-mouthed than yours, but they play a similarly key role in getting the crowds going.
The Offensive Behaviour Act has led to Celtic fans being arrested in dawn raids for the crime of singing pro-I.R.A. songs — which they do to irritate Rangers fans — and Rangers fans being hauled to court for chanting less-than-pleasant things about Catholics.
Even blessing yourself at a soccer game in Scotland could lead to arrest. Catholic fans have been warned that if they “bless themselves aggressively” at games, it could be “construed as something that is offensive,” presumably to non-Catholic fans, and the police might pick them up. You don’t have to look to some Middle Eastern tinpot tyranny if you want to see the state punishing public expressions of Christian faith — it’s happening in Scotland.
March 19, 2015
The Scots are almost everywhere you go – every corner on the planet — anything that’s worth it, doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about banks in Hong Kong or rubber plantations in Malaya or the Canadian Pacific Railway, everywhere you go on the planet was built by Scots. And you go back to contemporary Scotland now, and they’re these pathetic, feeble, passive economic swamp of dependency – parts of Glasgow, male life expectancy … they all sit around eating fried Mars bars all day, and life expectancy is getting down to West African rates in certain wards of Glasgow. So if you’re someone who knows the Scottish diaspora, all that great stuff they did around the planet, and you go back to Scotland, you think, “What the hell happened?” Well what happened is government. What happened is welfare.
February 23, 2015
Tim Chester alerted me to the discovery of a short story contributed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to a fundraising effort to save a bridge in Selkirk:
A Scottish historian has discovered a lost Sherlock Holmes story in his attic, over 80 years after it was written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Walter Elliot found the 1,300-word tale featuring the famous detective — played on TV by Benedict Cumberbatch — in a collection of stories he was given over 50 years ago. It’s called Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar.
Elliot was given the 48-page pamphlet half a century ago by a friend, but forgot all about it until he was rooting around in his attic recently. It’s believed to be the first unseen Holmes story by Doyle since the last was published over 80 years ago.
The story is now available to read online.
You can read the story at the Telegraph.