Sunday, 21 September 2014

Diabolical liberty

First, the Pope came out as an objective deist. More recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury admitted that on some days he's not even a deist. Just how far can this relaxed ecumenicism go? Back when I were a lad, the Not The Nine O' Clock News team asked the same question:

Sadly, the Church of England still hasn't embraced Devil worship, which is a pity, because in some parts of the world, the Satanic community seems more than ready to do its bit for outreach and inter-faith dialogue. And they seem to be making rather a good job of it, if the joyous publication,The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities, currently being distributed by The Satanic Temple is anything to go by.

Okay, it is a bit tongue in cheek, but there is a serious point about liberty and tolerance there, too. Not to mention a paradox wrapped up in a paradox. The well-worn meta-paradox is that most Christian Americans, who live with separation of church and state, take Christianity far more seriously than most people in the UK's biggest constituent country, with its established church.

Within that wider paradox we have the sub-paradox of things like Satanic activity books for tots and the growing acceptance of Wiccans in the US military emerging in a country stuffed with Serious Christians, rather than in a country so irreligious that even the Archbishop of Canterbury struggles with the whole believing in God thing.

Mind you, even though we're behind the curve when it comes to religious tolerance for diabolists, at least the C of E have made a start by omitting the words 'reject the devil and all rebellion against God' from the baptism service in favour of something a bit more inclusive, so the more liberal wing of the church might still end up embracing the Devil and all his works some time before the Anglo-Catholics and Serious Evangelicals have accepted women bishops and gay clergy.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Fear and loathing in West Lothian

Well, the bookies made the right call. But here's another bang-on prediction, this time from somebody who seems to have been in the Yes camp - 'After a No vote, we will see a return to politics as usual as Westminster becomes preoccupied with the next UK General Election.' I reckon this prophecy's been fulfilled in near-record time - in his very first speech after the vote, David Cameron put a 'decisive answer' to the West Lothian question near the top of his to-do list.

Could the fact that 'The Tories are keenly aware that denying Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs the right to vote on English-only legislation could leave future Labour governments in office but not in power, handing the Conservatives an effective veto' have something to do with his sudden desire for a decisive quick fix for an intractable constitutional anomaly that's been baffling better minds than his since the Sex Pistols were in the charts?

It could be pretty frustrating to see an elected Labour government unable to make legislation happen. Although I can remember a time when this might not have been an entirely bad thing...
Without Scottish Labour MPs, English tuition fees wouldn't have been trebled to £3000 and there would have been no Foundation Hospitals. When you consider that these two policies laid the groundwork for £9k fees and the privatisation of the NHS, when you realise that these policies only affect England, the fact that they were passed despite most English MPs voting against them is not just an interesting constitutional quirk. It is an outrage.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

His feet are the right size for his shoes

I just came across a blog post that reminded me of a bit from the Hitchhikers' guide to the Galaxy. Not from the first, perfectly-formed radio series, but from one of its later radio incarnations, where the narrative arc* was less powerful, but most of the whimsical digressions were still the right side of being annoying** and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop was still building a bigger universe inside your head than movie makers with a squillion-dollar cutting-edge CGI budget can manage to this day.

The episode, which contained moderate peril and mild language, found our heroes on the planet Brontitall, being pursued by Hig Hurtenflurst, the risingest young executive in a monopolistic, pan-galactic shoe corporation and his poorly-shod foot warriors:

FOOT WARRIOR:Er, yes sir. Awh, ohh!
[FOOT WARRIOR falls over again]
HIG HURTENFLIRST:You two! Carry him to the projector scope.
ARTHUR:What’s the matter with him?
HIG HURTENFLIRST:His feet are the wrong size for his shoes.

Honestly, you just can't get the staff these days. As every micromanager since Procrustes could have told you, everything would be perfect, if it wasn't for maladjusted people failing to fit in. Fortunately, you can always stretch your human resources to breaking point, or chop them off at the knees for fun and profit:
Capital makes the worker ill, and then multinational pharmaceutical companies sell them drugs to make them better. The social and political causation of distress is neatly sidestepped at the same time as discontent is individualised and interiorised.
(Mark Fisher)
Having adapted or conformed suitably to new conditions, the well-adjusted go confidently about their business...
From the 'The Well-Adjusted' an awesomely good blogpost at Bat, Bean, Beam. Go to the related post 'You and Mark Aren't Friends' to see how a state of perfect well-adjustedness can be attained through the magic of a well-curated social media profile, without any of that tedious mucking about that goes with medicalising dissent.

*'Narrative circle' would be a better description of series one, since the story's a time-travel loop.

**As opposed to not entirely sucking.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Please don't break the global economy like we did

Deutsche Bank has compared a possible Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum to the mistakes which led to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Speaking on the Today programme, the bank's global strategist Bilal Hafeez warned that "the economic uncertainty that would ensue from independence, the unstable banking system that would also result, would really result in the Scottish debt having to offer much higher interest rates to attract investors."

I'm guessing that Scots who haven't been asleep since 2008 won't have taken very kindly to lectures on economic prudence from an organisation whose fingerprints were all over the last global economic crisis and the subsequent Eurozone crisis:
Deutsche Bank has long been something of a basket case. In 2007, when the first signs of the impending financial crisis began to appear, it was the most highly leveraged bank in Europe, with assets 68 times its Tier 1 capital. It narrowly managed to avoid sovereign bailout in the financial crisis, but it was a principal beneficiary of the US government’s bailout of AIG and it received liquidity support from the Fed and the ECB. But its problems weren’t limited to US subprime and toxic derivatives. The Icelandic journalist Sigrún Davíðsdóttir reports that Deutsche Bank had lent extensively to Icelandic banks and was left with the toxic loans when the Icelandic banks failed.

Deutsche Bank also turned out to have sizeable interests in Ireland’s teetering banks. When the Irish property market collapsed, the Irish government – partly at the EU’s insistence – bailed out its banks to prevent a chain of contagion spreading out across the Eurozone and risking the solvency of the large European banks such as Deutsche Bank. The banking crisis caused a deep recession in Ireland, while the bailouts caused a fiscal crisis, eventually resulting in sovereign bailout. The price of this has been five years of painful retrenchment by both government and private sector in Ireland.

But it didn’t end there. Deutsche Bank was also heavily exposed to periphery sovereign debt and associated credit derivatives. The exposure of German banks to Greek debt and credit default swaps was the principal reason for German nervousness about the private sector accepting losses: it was two years before the inevitable partial Greek default finally happened – by which time, of course, Deutsche Bank had largely unwound its exposures. It escaped serious damage in the PSI, unlike Greek pensioners whose funds were virtually wiped out. The ECB’s Securities Markets Program helped Deutsche Bank and others unload their toxic Greek debt (and other dodgy sovereign debt) at better than market rates. Guess who holds it now? Yes, the ECB does – and the ECB is of course backed by taxpayers. Yet another disguised bailout for Deutsche Bank.
Frances Coppola

Friday, 12 September 2014

Too gigantick to fail

Corineus and Gogmagog were two brave giants who richly valued their honour and exerted their whole strength and force in the defence of their liberty and country; so the City of London, by placing these, their representatives in their Guildhall, emblematically declare, that they will, like mighty giants defend the honour of their country and liberties of this their City; which excels all others, as much as those huge giants exceed in stature the common bulk of mankind.
Thomas Boreman - The Gigantick History of the Two Famous Giants and Other Curiosities in Guildhall, London, via Faerie Lore

That's 'liberties' in the old-fashioned sense of the word:
Libertas in Medieval Latin conveys the idea of a right to exclude others from your property, your franchise. To be free of something is to enjoy exclusive rights and privileges in relation to it. The freedom of a town is a privilege, to be inherited or bought. So is a freehold estate.
Christopher Hill - The Century of Revolution 1603-1714.

But back to the giants themselves. Faerie Lore reveals their dark, gritty origins story:
The myth states that the Roman Emperor Diocletian had 33 wicked daughters whom he married off to 33 husbands who curbed their unsettling ways. However the daughters were so wicked, led by the eldest sister Alba, they plotted to cut the throats of their husbands as they slept. As punishment for this crime, they were set adrift in a boat with a half year’s rations of food, shunned forever. They drifted ashore the isles of what later became “Albion” (named after the eldest). Fornicating and coupling with demons, they populated the wild windswept island with a race of giants... When Brutus, great-grandson of Æneas, in company of his most able-bodied warrior Corineus, fled the fall of Troy, they by fate found themselves on these islands of Giants. Brutus was impressed with these isles so much that he named the Islands after himself, which later became called “Britain”. The leader of the Giants was a detestable monster named Goëmagot (Gogmagog), who stood in stature twelve cubits, and of such prodigious strength that at one shake he pulled up an oak as if it had been a hazel wand. Brutus and Corineus faced “Gogmagog“, had combat, and hurled him from a high rock to his death... As a reward for this defeat, Corineus was given the western part of the island, which many say is how Cornwall was called after him. After this defeat, Brutus travelled to the East and founded the city of New Troy, which eventually became known as “London”. [Geoffrey of Monmouth's 12th century Historia Regum Brittaniae]...
...Another mythos to their origins tell that the 33 infamous daughters of Diocletian who were captured and chained at the gates of Guildhall as guardians had given birth to numerous sons who were deemed to be “Giants”. The last two survivors of these offspring, were “Gog” and “Magog”. This comes from the lore around the carved giants guarding the gates of Guildhall during the reign of Henry V. They were added to the Lord Mayor’s Show in 1554 which were labelled in 1605 as Corineus and Gogmagog. 
Of course, some spoilsport had to come along and let the facts ruin a good story:
The tale chucks up more questions than I can answer. When did Gogmagog switch from one creature into two separate giants? ...We know it’s mostly toss because the fall of Troy was about 2300 years before the reign of Diocletian, and the name Gogmagog is a mangled borrowing from the Old Testament. But these histories were accepted as fact for centuries.
The history may have been toss but, sadly for the common bulk of humankind, fact has caught up with ahistorical fiction. The modern City and its privileges really are guarded by scary giants with a dodgy back story:
 As the Independent Commission on Banking led by Sir John Vickers noted, the assets of UK banks were nearly five times the size of GDP in 2009. In Germany and France, the figure was around three times, whilst in the US it was one-to-one.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

This is not an exercise

Given this lack of preparedness among the higher echelons of the Pacific navy, it should come as no surprise that when the attack [on Pearl Harbor] began men and women on the base and on those ships simply could not believe their eyes...

...Commander Logan Ramsey was on Ford Island when a Japanese pilot dived down: he and another officer ran out to get the number of whatever young idiot had decided to pull off such a dangerous stunt.

Harry Mead was astounded that American planes were bombing a hangar: ‘Boy… is somebody going to catch it for putting live bombs on those planes’.

Frank Stock, a fireman on the Vestal was struck by how red discs had been painted on the attack planes to add realism in a military exercise.

A marine Roy Henry bet another Marine that it was the Army surprising the Navy with false torpedoes.

Harry Mead saw something drop from a plane and thought ‘some mechanic is going to catch hell for that’, as explosions began he asked himself why they were using live ammunition.

Sailors on the USS Sumner were struck by the army flying planes on a Sunday.

Joseph A. Pesek thought that the bombing was strange but assumed that the navy was out to destroy a target in the water.

A group watching on Ford Island saw the Navy practising with water bombs and when an oil tank exploded in flame one commented that the pilot would get in trouble. When a disc was spotted on the wing of a plane, meanwhile, another commented: ‘There goes one of the red team’...
This piece in Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog perfectly captures the reality lag after a black swan has glided into plain sight. Everybody from the overlords of the Westminster/press bubble to this obscure English blogger knew that Scottish Independence was a theoretical possibility, but complacently assumed that it might happen some other time, maybe never. Now the captain and crew are about to find out whether that's a real torpedo heading for the ship of state.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

As Sir Walter Raleigh said of Elizabeth I...

I see that the spoof Jacob Rees-Mogg Twitter account, previously closed down due to 'threat of legal action' has reappeared, complete with a profile pic straight out of Monty Python's "Upper-Class Twit of the Year" sketch. Link here (for now, at least - don't be too surprised to find this link broken if the latest iteration gets taken down). Bonus blog link here.
I am told @DouglasCarswell 's alma mater is the "UEA" not the "UAE". I have never been to either; the one being too flat, the other too hot.

[on Alex Salmond] One is unlikely to trust a man to lead his country when he has failed to notice a lectern less than a foot from his elbow. 

Utterly appalled by EU ban on high powered carpet cleaners. Mrs Trower has been batting my rugs for years at no risk to herself or others

Meanwhile, the bona fide Rees-Mogg has been expaining to Sunday Stürmer readers that "we" 'must give Clegg's job to Nigel Farage ... and get in bed with Ukip.'* in an article almost as funny  as the spoof version:
Perhaps as a sign of good faith even the Minister for Europe could be a Ukip MP ... If the Prime Minister were to do this, no longer could his critics say – as Sir Walter Raleigh said of Elizabeth I – that he ‘did it all by halves’.
Sadly, the real Rees-Mogg's mots fail the <140 characters test, although he does get bonus points for unintended irony by actually being Jacob Rees-Mogg and being able to write, presumably with a straight face, that '[Farage] appeals to not only traditional Conservative members but also to those who have felt disenfranchised, people who feel that politicians are part of a too-cosy establishment while Ukip is shaking it up.'

*No link provided, as I'm sure you're smart enough to find the article if you're that interested. I leave it up you to decide whether clicking Mail articles is more likely to give aid and comfort to the enemy, or to crash and burn their business model.