Broad Oak: your emotional support animal

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Freud Files

From Wikipedia

I’m tempted to buy a book called The Freud Files. It claims that Sigmund Freud promoted his own reputation, deliberately placing himself at the centre of a "lone genius" myth at the expense of others in his field. Furthermore, the book claims Freud’s acolytes have promoted and nurtured the myth for decades.

How did psychoanalysis attain its prominent cultural position? How did it eclipse rival psychologies and psychotherapies, such that it became natural to bracket Freud with Copernicus and Darwin? Why did Freud 'triumph' to such a degree that we hardly remember his rivals? This book reconstructs the early controversies around psychoanalysis and shows that rather than demonstrating its superiority, Freud and his followers rescripted history.

I suppose many of us have encountered significant cracks in Freud’s faded reputation during the course of our general reading. Doesn’t necessarily mean the issue is worth pursuing though. The field of Freudian scholarship is so vast that a dabbler is almost obliged to begin from a potentially biased starting position. Otherwise how does one select sources? Even neutrality doesn’t work if one side of this debate is substantially correct.

So as a taster I downloaded a free sample of The Freud Files onto my Kindle. You may or may not know, but this is a standard Kindle feature – browse before you buy. The book appears to be clear, concise, well-written and meticulously researched.

So if I buy it, this may be my biased starting point or it may not. Reviews suggest the book is certainly controversial and I am in no position to resolve the controversy.

However I already have a suspicion that Freud was dodgy. For example, some years ago I came across an essay in Speculum Spinozanum which claimed that he acknowledged an intellectual debt to Baruch Spinoza, the seventeenth century philosopher but only in three private letters. He never acknowledged it publicly.

This is not necessarily a big deal because Freud could not have owed a huge debt to Spinoza in the first place. Why not acknowledge it more publicly though? It would have attached an interesting thread to Freud’s thinking, locating it in the wider sphere of human thought.

Inevitably his failure to acknowledge Spinoza, however trivial his debt might have been, raises a suspicion that Freud had no wish to extend the public perception of his ideas beyond his own person. Only a suspicion, but there have been others and they add up.

Freud's reputation probably isn't particularly important to the modern world, but I was brought up in a time where he was still a towering intellectual figure, at least in popular culture. A paradigm of the "lone genius" myth. So maybe I’ll buy the book and perhaps bury the myth.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Smarter voting

A guy who happens to be a billionaire, or at least very rich by normal standards isn’t like the rest of us. For one thing it is easy for him to buy influence if he so wishes. There are over a hundred billionaires in the UK, but let us introduce a fictional one named Alexander Charles Prosser. Let us also infect him with an irresistible urge to spread his political wings.

To satisfy this urge, Prosser could easily afford to put aside say £500k per year and donate it to a political party. It’s only £5 million over ten years – chickenfeed for a fictional billionaire such as Prosser. So what does that £500k buy our man in terms of political influence?

Firstly it depends which party he chooses to support. Hand over the cash to a fringe party of loons and all he gets is to be is a big fish in a small pond. Which may be nice enough but Prosser also has to speak fluent Loon if he is to enter into the spirit of the thing. A tedious learning process may blunt his enthusiasm.

Apart from which, in terms of political bang for his buck, it is obviously better for Prosser to stick with big parties. In the UK that would be Conservative or Labour. With the Lib Dems there is still too much Loon to be learned. UKIP may be an option, but UKIP might not make it into the big time. Prosser should wait until the fog of political war clears – the moolah will still be welcome to the victor.

Unfortunately Prosser will still have to learn a certain amount of politically correct Loon if he chooses to stuff the Conservative or Labour party with his cash. The big plus here is significant political influence - the thing he really yearns for. He gets to rub shoulders with people who actually pass a few laws every now and then. It’s not quite the EU, but UK MPs are still allowed some residual functions.

So Prosser’s £500k per annum buys him a level of influence far beyond anything the ordinary voter could ever hope to wield. The only trouble is, there are other political heavies in there too, so his money might not go as far as he imagines. Even so, it beats being a voter with only a measly five-yearly cross on a piece of paper to look forward to. 

How do we ordinary voters compete against Prosser's £500k per year? It isn't easy, but we have the power of democracy on our side don't we? So one solution is much smarter voting...

Doh!

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Is our EU membership ultra vires?

Dr Richard AE North is a distinguished blogger and writer, but I do not entirely share his distaste for UKIP, of which he was once (like Professor Alan Sked) a key mover and shaker.

It seems that like many others, Dr North finds constitutional objections to EU membership as irritating as a gadfly. Here's a recent exchange:

[from the main body of his post] To this sad, dysfunctional crew, the EU treaties are "illegal" and those who signed it are "traitors". Any idea of negotiation or agreement is an anathema. They would sooner see the British economy crash and burn than accept a deal with Brussels.

[Me] Bit tendentious. I do indeed argue that UK entry into the EU in 1973 was ultra vires. Why that should make me sad and dysfunctional I'm not quite sure...

[Dr North] This is exactly what I mean .... apart from the fact that we didn't enter the EU in 1973 (or the EEC for that matter), the entry was in accord with our constitutional arrangements. Why does it matter so much that you need to assert that it is "ultra vires"? It isn't...

[Me] But we did enter the EU and didn't know it. We were told it was simply a trading arrangement and didn't know about the commitment to "ever-closer union". But Macmillan, Heath and others did know, because they got legal advice that told them of the constitutional implications. And we do have a constitution, one that very specifically forbids ceding any sovereign power to anyone outside the country. So yes, it was and is ultra vires. The referendum didn't validate the change because again the prospectus was false. If this seems like a boring legal point then let us have done with law - which is a trend I see here and elsewhere.

Constitutional argument is currently raging - among those who read, rather than play computer games - in the USA also ("Washington's Blog" is a good place to start). For example, under the US Constitution - at least as it used to be - Congress declares war, not the President.

It is a bit odd that a passionate democrat like Dr North, who espouses the direct-democracy "Harrogate Agenda", should dislike those who point out that here as in the US, constitutions - the foundations of legislation and power, the source of their legitimacy - have been snipped through like the string on a child's balloon.

For all its many faults - and no human institution is free of fault, as doubtless Dr North will discover if ever the Harrogate Agenda should come to be implemented - UKIP is gaining support because people are becoming aware how radically disenfranchised we have become, and how money and power are clearing away the last obstacles to their unrestricted global rule.


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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Neoliberalism vs. freedom

Here is Mary Wakefield in this week's Spectator magazine, on the use of mainstream Hollywood entertainment to desensitise teenage war criminals:

"Joshua Milton Blahyi (General Butt-Naked to his foes) ... was once a warlord in the Liberian civil war. Back in the bad old days, Joshua specialised in turning boys into psychopaths...

"He began, he said, by promising boys status. ‘They followed me at first because I was powerful and strong, and they wanted to be important like me.’ It was crucial that this first step was freely taken; that it was their choice. After that, the monster-making began. They were shown violent movies. ‘So they can see,’ said Joshua, ‘that these people in the movies, they intentionally shoot people that die, that killing is just a Hollywood game.’ Hollywood movies, I asked, not African ones? ‘Yes, Hollywood films.’

"The next step was to let them play with guns, shooting blanks, showing off, pretending to kill, and then: ‘We give them a knife to stab dead bodies,’ said Joshua. ‘At first it is hard for them, they feel fear. Later they are stabbing the bodies on and on… On and on and on.’

"...You must escalate the violence all the time, he said, so as to keep the boys in line. Once they’re happy killing, you make them rape, torture, behead. There are things Joshua made his young recruits do that are too horrible and too sad to repeat..."
 
Overleaf in the print edition, we have James Delingpole's panegyric to violent computer gaming, headed:

"The greatest joy of playing Grand Theft Auto V? It lets you give the finger to the PC brigade. It’s condemned for its outrageous sexism, racism, misogyny and violence. But it’s damn good fun."

And one in the eye for his false opposite, "feminazis".

John Ward's piece last night also has a go at the brainless dichotomies offered by neoliberalism, starting with:

"Problem: On the whole, regulators of markets have no experience of commercial life….and thus they tend to both miss the villainy – and come up with daft regulations that just get in the way.

"Neoliberal solution: Deregulation. No more regulators at all."

We have seen what financial deregulation has done since the 1980s. And the latest twist is global regulation in favour of big money - TTIP and so on.

Neoliberalism - as far as the term has any sense to me - may be neo, but it is not what I understand by liberalism. It is not about promoting the freedom of individuals, but - as far as I can see - destroying their defences against oligarchic power and wealth. Now international law is co-opted, so for example if GATT stalls at Doha in 2008 because smaller countries worry about American export disruption to their domestic markets, the US crashes into the TPP to find another way round. The juggernaut rolls on.

From a review in the Sydney Morning Herald
of Ludwell Denny's book, "America Conquers Britain" (1930).

This week also, Charles Hugh Smith looked at the "clerisy", those who serve themselves by serving the world's would-be masters:

"The Status Quo around the world--from France to China to the U.S.--is optimized to protect its Elites and the sprawling Upper-Caste of academics, managers, think-tank toadies, technocrats, apparatchiks, functionaries, factotums, lackeys and apologists who serve the Elites, and are well-paid for enforcing the Status Quo on the disenfranchized castes below..."

What a shame it would be if, in his efforts to get noticed by Rupert Murdoch, Jame Delingpole should eventually find himself wearing the livery of the clerisy.

Can anything stop them? "What chance has the world?"


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Thursday, September 25, 2014

After the conference?



This little figure of a clown was carved from linden wood by Pascal Bosshardt of Thannenkirch in Alsace. We were there last year and bought the figure after watching him at work. To take the photo I stood the clown by a pound coin to give an idea of scale. 

I'm fascinated by this kind of skill, probably because I'm so far from being able to emulate it. I just don't have the coordination between hand and eye, the sense of scale and proportion. This was one of his simplest pieces too. 

I don't know what inspired M Bosshardt to carve it, but to my eye the clown could be an ironic reference to politics. A clown blowing his own trumpet. Doesn't quite work because his expression has a touch of melancholy. 

After the conference?

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MAD

AK Haart raised the question of how over-entertainment and superinformation are changing us. I think it's at least as serious an issue as the phoney drugs war.

Mentally Addictive Devices (MAD) seem to me to be shortening attention span, overstimulating and exhausting the mind with trivial and repetitive tasks, and fostering a hazy expectation of instant gratification in other aspects of life.

They also divert attention from pursuing action that furthers one's real long-term interests - there are students flunking college because of their addiction to computerised role-playing games.

And they override alertness to real physical risk. Look at those who walk blindly across a road while on their cellphones; and the poor girl murdered on a Birmingham bus last year had previously noted the strange behaviour of what was to be her killer, but had merely commented on it on her phone - I think the phone gives the illusion of society and so misleads one into a false sense of security.

What if Orwell's eternally ruling Party had realised that you could subjugate the people with endless dreams?


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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ur-language: "Politics"

One of the striking aspects of archaeolingustics is how certain words have survived millennia almost unchanged - one thinks for example of "atman" (breath, to blow) in Cave Six, the ancestor of the German "atmen" (to breathe) and "atman" (vital breath, the soul) in Sanskrit. The glyph for "atman" is found close to the depiction of a hunter using a blowpipe to bring down some as yet unidentified arboreal creature; given the age of the painting, this has sparked a lively debate on the tools that early Man may have developed before the Rift Valley diaspora.

Similarly, there are several images of what appear to be mouflons in a non-hunting context, suggesting that they may have been domesticated much earlier than the c. 8,000 BCE date previously theorised, perhaps owing to the local geography and micro-climate at the time and the protection offered by the size and depth of the cave complex.

Long duration of settlement and relative prosperity and security may also have fostered more complex forms of social organization not re-created until after the last Ice Age; this may explain the apparently formally-arranged groups of humans in some of the images. One of these shows such a group gathered around a flock or herd, possibly for the purposes of division, which may have been unequal, seeing the crown or helmet on one of the figures. Alternatively, it may have been to do with some form of treatment, since the co-habitation of man and animal promotes diseases and pests.

It is possible, therefore, that one of the compound words found beside this image may either have a purely literal meaning or, as Professor Strumpfhosen has controversially suggested, be the world's first example of metaphor: "poli" (many) and "tics" (bloodsucking insects). As the Professor remarks, some things never change.


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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I sit on a man's back



I sit on a man's back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means - except by getting off his back.

Leo Tolstoy - What Is to be Done? (1886)

Yes I know it's only another quote, but it seems about right for the party conference season.

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Ur-language: "Managers"

Researchers at the E207 Caucasian cave complex, the world's oldest continuously-inhabited site, believe they have deciphered another part of the ancient wall-scratchings in Cave Six.

It has already been established that the Ur-word ancestor of the Chinese word "ma" (no) and Italian/French "ma/mais" (but) is "man", a generalised negative. More difficult, but extremely exciting, are the pictograms that appear to represent abstracts, including the one that is tentatively rendered as "thought" or "reflection".

It is now theorised that the Ur-etymology of "manager" is "man" (not) + "ager" (much idea).


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Monday, September 22, 2014

The Great Leap Backwards

Preparations for the Great Leap Backwards began in October 1927. According to Wikipedia that’s when the first feature film talkie was released - The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson.

From this small beginning the world changed forever as a number of social trends began to march in step.

Firstly the moving image became an important part of life all over the developed world. Not just for entertainment, but news, information and commentary. Although books had become much cheaper and lending libraries were popular, the moving image gripped its audience in a way books would never emulate.

Cinemas were built in every town, cities had lots of them. Only a few decades later the moving image entered our homes via television. The conquest was complete.

Secondly as the twentieth century progressed and in spite of wars and financial disasters, the developed world began learning how to feed and house even the poorest of its citizens.

These two factors brought out something fundamental about ourselves, an issue we must have missed while still hypnotised by the moving image. Something to do with how we deal with the real world – how those dealings can be subverted by security and physical comfort.

In a way this something is merely the circus of bread and circuses, but much more powerful, intrusive and sinister. As the moving image and comparative prosperity took hold of our lives, intellectual curiosity began to wane.

Today, nearly eighty years after that first talkie, we are losing the urge to know in favour of an urge to be entertained. With it comes a deep-seated love of show and display - a love of theatre. As if life’s edge has been dulled by comfort and prosperity, as if a less basic need slipped into the driving seat while we were queuing up to watch the latest blockbuster at the Odeon or switching on the box for an evening of family entertainment.

Display has always been important to us, as it is with other animals, but without the sharp edge of survival – well the arts of display seem to be all we have left to push us on into our brave new world.

Perhaps we thought intellectual curiosity was enough to spur us on in spite of our full bellies, but apparently not. Curiosity is intimately linked with survival and we’ve dealt with survival. For now. Folk memories of genuine poverty and real hardship are disappearing from the reach of living memory.

The recent Scottish Referendum was pure theatre, rational argument very much noticeable by its absence. Instead we had the unedifying sight of political theatre and its emotional power to get those metaphorical bums on seats. From economic summits to Prime Minister’s Questions, from elections to great debates, it’s all theatre.

Even the mad murderers of ISIL seem to be gripped by a grisly sense of theatre. Black uniforms, sinister headgear and black flags. All theatre. Grim, deadly, insane and even juvenile in some respects, but still theatre.

Science is certainly drifting towards theatre and away from a knowledge culture. Climate change is pure theatre, always was. Take leading actors on the climate stage. Al Gore, Vivienne Westwood, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sting, Emma Thompson... 

Strewth! 

But it's just theatre – nothing else, nothing deeper, nothing demanding, nothing intellectual. Forget the science - the names topping the bill tell you all you need to know about the show. Apart from who dunnit.

Climate impresarios rope in celebrities, fashion designers, artists, pundits and assorted thespians with limited knowledge of the science because they don’t need it. They have their lines off pat. It’s what they do, why they are able strut their stuff on the climate stage without knowing anything worth passing on.

Staying with science - how about physics? Multiverse theories? They look like theatre to me. The vast drama of the cosmos, the thrilling strangeness of untrammelled scientific conjecture, the mysterious depths of untestable notions. Bums on seats matter, even in relatively small and publicly supported theatres such as this.

All the world’s a stage – literally. Yet if people are to be liberally rewarded for acting a part, for learning a narrative instead of the truth, then we cannot use the cold blue light of reason to show us the way to anywhere worth visiting. 

So lots of drama but no happy ending.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

The problem with democracy

Last week's Scottish referendum has lit a match to other firecrackers in this country and elsewhere - Belgium and Spain, for example. But how far (and in what way) should the collective will of the people be sovereign?

The sense of being effectively disenfranchised by a remote political elite leads to calls for localism and direct democracy, an example of which is the Harrogate Agenda:


The trouble is, any system can be gamed. The strategy and tools merely vary according to the way the game is set up.

The birthplace of democracy is said to be ancient Athens, and the classical scholar Peter Jones in The Oldie magazine runs a column in which he often compares current affairs with how matters were settled by the Athenians, who voted en masse on everything, in their weekly assemblies. Yet this democracy excluded women, and the slaves on which the city's economy largely depended. Not everyone's interests were represented.

And even for those who had a voice, there was the question of how their decisions were influenced. The way to game a system based on debate and voting is to refine the arts of persuasion, so that emotion can sometimes not assist but overcome reason. Set against Socrates, who asked questions to get at the truth, were the sophists such as Gorgias, who held that nothing really existed and who gave answers simply to sway opinion. Socrates was forced by his enemies - who persuaded the Athenian assembly - to drink poison at the age of 71, when he was still in good shape; Gorgias lived to 108.

As well as his opponents, the skill of the orator can ruin his supporters, and even himself. Demosthenes, reputedly the greatest speaker in history, caused Athens to resist the Macedonians, and it was only by the earnest pleading of Phocion with Alexander the Great that the city was spared the destruction visited on Thebes. Phocion also persuaded Alexander to give up his demand for Demosthenes and other crowd-rousers to be delivered up to him, which gave the orator a few more years of life (until he had another go at the Macedonians).

A modern example of the deadly persuader would be Adolf Hitler, whose speeches were electrifying even though he was eventually off his head with the cocktails of drugs he took daily. In the latter stages of World War Two the Allied decided to stop trying to assassinate him, because we were more likely to win with him still ruling his roost and terrifying his general staff.

Ultimately, democracy can be used to annul itself. The French Revolutionary Assembly quickly turned into a reign of terror that consumed its own leaders. Democracy turns to mobocracy and the rise of cliques and strongmen, as the Communists - heirs of Gorgias as far as respect for the truth is concerned - well know. Those who advocate local democracy can look across to the USA and see how wrong it can go in some communities - judges and police chiefs making decisions with an eye to re-election - just as democracy is failing in the nation as a whole, with a developing media-and-law-buying oligarchy that even the Federal Reserve chairman Janet Yellen can't quite deny.

And those who think referenda are the universal answer might like to watch Peter Cook's 1970 film, "The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer". What the Wikipedia synopsis doesn't make clear is how the antihero becomes a dictator: he offers the public the power to take part in all law-making via referenda , so that the ordinary man finds himself fretting at home over proposed legislation while his tea is getting cold, and eventually the people decide to leave it all in Rimmer's hands.

Nor do the people speak with one voice. I think it's an American spin doctor who describes the electorate as "a bag of magnets", that is, groups of people who feel strongly on both sides about issues and about other groups, so that the art is not to please all but to get a small majority polarised in the direction chosen by the manipulator.

Majority voting is not only decisive, but divisive, as we now see north of the border. Members of the minority have become sharply conscious of the numbers that share their view, and there will be work to do in reconciling the two sides. It is not enough that the greater number should have their will; their defeated opponents must agree to abide by the result.

Debate continues about voting systems and how fair they are, and we saw in 2011 how the Establishment united and fought hard against proportional representation. This misleads us into viewing the political crisis as psephological. It is not.

Far more important is what unites the community through its differences: a sense of common identity, equality for all under the law, the preservation of individual rights and liberties, and the justified expectation that by obeying the law and applying oneself it is possible to better one's economic condition. In these aspects there have been grave failures by the political elites and the magnates within and outside the country who have their ear.


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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Man of Sorrows

According to the Loeb Classical Library translation, the root of the name "Odysseus" is "man of pain". Athene, remonstrating with the chief of the gods, uses a pun on the hero's name to ask why he has been imprisoned on Calypso's island so long:

 τί νύ οἱ τόσον ὠδύσαο, Ζεῦ
Why then did you will him such pain (ὠδύσαο - "odusao"), O Zeus?
(Odyssey, Book I, line 62)

Something I never knew before, and which changes how I see the story: a series not of adventures, but tribulations. So it is about endurance and fidelity - Penelope waiting ten years after the Trojan war has ended for a husband that most would by then have assumed was dead; Odysseus turning down Calypso's offer of immortality so that he may spend his remaining mortal years with Penelope.

The Greeks: grief, grit and pride.

And loyalty and pathos, exemplified by the moment his ancient dog Argos is the first to recognise the much-changed man on on his return to Ithaca.





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Could the law order a fresh Scottish referendum?

 
http://i4.dailyrecord.co.uk/incoming/article4265480.ece/alternates/s615b/1.jpg


On 15th September 2014, the leaders of the three largest political parties in Westminster made and published the above "vow".

I understand that when a contract is negotiated, any oral explanation, or additional undertaking given as a condition of agreement, forms part of the contract, even if it is not in the wording on the page.

So this "vow" must be considered as an integral part of the referendum held by the Scots. A vow is a binding commitment and for me the implication is that by making it the British Government has turned the No decision into a legal contract between itself and the Scottish people. If it fails to keep these promises in full, then the contract is invalidated and Scotland will be entitled to a fresh referendum.


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Like I said...

‘What price the union?’ said one senior Conservative MP angered by the last-ditch offers to the Scots. ‘And why is Gordon Brown the tail-wagging Westminster dog?
 
‘Nobody wants to cause trouble ahead of the referendum but these panicked offers mean Alex Salmond has won whatever the result.’

- Daily Mail, 16 September 2014

"I think it's coming anyway. The panic last-minute promises from HMG are a gift to the Yes camp, who can say, "Would they have offered these concessions if they didn't think we'd leave; will they keep their promises if we don't?"

"Then later, if the promises aren't kept, it'll be let's vote again, now we know; and if the promises are kept, then it'll be like one of those I-need-some-space "trial separations" that end in divorce proper.

"Salmond's done it, with the assistance of an incompetent and negligent Westminster."


- Broad Oak Magazine, 9 September 2014

Ye heerd it here fust.


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Manchester, 1965: aliennation




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China heading for a bust, the rich are running

"Over half the nation's monied Elites have either left the nation or plan to leave and transfer their financial wealth overseas."
Another fascinating post from Charles Hugh Smith.


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#indyref - accusation of vote-rigging in favour of No



Genuine? If so, on what scale?

htp: Karl Denninger


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Friday, September 19, 2014

The two black wings of self

I wished to believe myself angry, but really I was afraid; fear and anger in me are very much the same. A friend of mine, a bit of a poet, sir, once called them ‘the two black wings of self.’ And so they are, so they are...!
 John Galsworthy – A knight (1900)

Crude it may be, but to my mind the Scottish referendum is well summed up as a battle between fear and anger - the two black wings of self. The Yes camp was angry with Westminster and the No camp fearful of change. Both strove mightily to stoke their emotional engines but fear always had the edge. We live in a fearful age.

The AV vote referendum was much the same and there is no reason to suppose an EU referendum would be any different. The establishment knows how to use the endless subtle pressures of fear, knows too well how potent they are.

In any event it isn’t easy to whip up anger over abstractions such as democracy, accountability or even lying and corruption. For one think, angry criticism is being choked off by the pervasive pressures of political correctness. An intemperate outburst could have the police knocking on your door, an association of ideas which is surely deliberate. Expect more of the same.

So angry words are being squeezed from our language. Not primarily because they offend, although that is the official narrative, but because anger has far too many political hazards for a morally corrupt establishment. Anger rocks the boat - fear doesn't.

To a large degree I think we have the BBC to thank for this deplorable state of affairs. That and our collective laziness. Fear of change saturates BBC output. Not overtly, but covertly in an endless unwillingness to engage with anything genuinely radical.

Comedy and satire are fine as long as they don't quite hit the target, but any serious challenge to the status quo is always beyond the BBC pale. The abode of extremists. A fearful place where decent folk never go. Room 101.

To my mind the important message is one we knew already. It is better to vote against the big three parties than to expect Cameron to deliver a fairly contested referendum. He knows the value of fear and probably knew he was unlikely to lose Scotland. He also knows he is unlikely to lose the EU if voters are foolish enough to trust him. 

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Now for independence WITH the Scots



"How shall I be sad on my wedding day?" (at 48:40)

It's not business as usual today. As Professor Vernon Bogdanor said last night, there has been a collective rejection of all the major Westminster parties.

In England, this will tend to strengthen Farage's hand, despite the seethings of various independence/democracy purists who seem to hate UKIP as much as the Establishment does.

If, as now seems likely, the Scots have marginally voted No under intense cross-party Westminster political pressure (including reckless concessions re further devolution) - and with a biased and powerful news media - then we are on for Independence Royal instead of Independence Lite.

Alex Salmond has not shown signs of being able to ride the mighty horse he caught - keeping the pound and staying in the EU would tie Scots to a wider disaster still forming.

The idea that No - the status quo - is safe is almost laughable. Gordon Brown's gusty guff (where has he been these past four years?) lacked specifics on the security offered.

We are not secure.The UK's 90% government-debt-to-GDP is bad enough, but pales in comparison to our housing-soaked total national debt/GDP ratio of 500%.

And when some other place in the world - Frankfurt? Hong Kong? - gathers enough cheats together to replace the City of London, the golden goose in Britain's GDP flock will have been stolen from us - and what will be the debt ratio when that happens?

Everything is now in the pot, and we must play for all we are worth. The old arrangements and lazy political heirs must go for the sake of the nation as a whole.

Scotland, as so often before, we need you in this fight.


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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scotland: the REAL question

If Scotland were an independent country today, should her people vote to give up self-government and be ruled from Westminster?

Your reasons, please.

Now replace "Scotland" and "Westminster" in the above sentence with "Britain" and "Brussels".


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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scotland: today's precis challenge

Q1. Reduce the following article from 1,590 words to 650 or fewer.

Q2. "The union... has endured since 1707." Respond, with reference to 1715 and 1745 among other events.

Q.3 "... considerable benefits for all involved." Discuss to what extent the Union alone was responsible for growing prosperity. Your comments should take into account scientific and technological innovations, overseas colonialism and the defeat of Napoleon.

Q.4 If Scotland had always been a sovereign nation, what arguments could be made for subsuming it into the present British political and economic arangements?

____________________________________________

"Scottish independence: catalogue of errors that has brought UK to the brink"
Both sides of the independence struggle have failed to understand each other. The repercussions could affect millions

Linda Colley
The Guardian, Tuesday 16 September 2014
___________________________________________
 
So why did it go wrong – and when? To be sure, political unions between European countries have often failed in the past, but usually only after relatively brief periods. Denmark and Iceland separated after 130 years; the unions between Spain and Portugal, and between Sweden and Norway each lasted less than a century. By contrast, although the union between Scotland on the one hand, and England and Wales on the other, was initially unpopular on both sides of the border, it has endured since 1707, and with considerable benefits for all involved. At the start of the 18th century, Scotland was one of western Europe's poorest nations. Now, Alex Salmond feels able to cite Scottish prosperity and potential as grounds for independence.
If the yes vote does indeed triumph this Thursday, commentators are likely to focus on some broad and long-term causes to explain why. Some will stress, rightly, the shrinkage of formerly powerful pan-British cements. A once assertive Protestantism has ceased to be a dominant religion and culture in England, Wales, Scotland, and part of Ireland. Men and women in these countries are no longer able to share in the perks and pride of empire, as Scots once did to an especially disproportionate degree. And although Transparency International still lists the UK as one of the least corrupt states in the world, ahead in this respect of France, the US, Belgium and Ireland, many Scots have become convinced that "Westminster elites" are rotten, and that only political smallness can be pure and properly democratic. Yet from the 18th century until after the second world war, at least, most politically minded Scots, like most of the English, Welsh and some Irish, seem to have believed in the particular virtues and freedoms of Britain's unwritten constitution. Even the Scottish Covenant Movement, which pressed for home rule in the 1940s and early 50s, usually stressed its deep attachment "to the crown and … the framework of the United Kingdom".

The fiercer, more uncompromising, often utopian nationalism that now grips some Scots possesses echoes in other parts of the world. In part this is because the relentless advance of globalisation has fostered a desire in many countries for a more distinctive and reassuring local identity. This trend is particularly marked in Europe because it contains so many ancient, culturally distinctive groupings – like the Catalans in Spain – who do not possess a state of their own, and want to have one. But a growing desire to secede from longstanding political unions so as to construct something fresh and distinctive is evident in other parts of the world too. There is a lively separatist movement in Texas, for instance, which only became a US state in 1845, and which is incontestably large enough and rich enough to flourish mightily on its own.
As John Stuart Mill remarked in regard to Ireland, once countries and regions become sufficiently enamoured of separation and independence, political concessions on the part of their rulers lose effectiveness, because men and women in such countries and regions will no longer settle merely for concessions from above. They only want separation and independence. If a majority of Scots have reached this critical stage, this will not just be because of long-term British developments and international shifts and pressures, but also because of more short-term and contingent events. In particular, if Scottish secession takes place, this will largely be because all of the main protagonists involved in this struggle have failed in recent decades fully to understand the pull and repercussions of varieties of nationalism.

As far as the leaders of the main Westminster groupings are concerned, they have often seemed to exhibit a tin ear in regard to the importance and volatility of national identities in at least two respects. At one level, they have failed creatively and systematically to replace the old, declining props of British unionism with new arguments and supports. At another level, they have failed to anticipate and keep up with the challenges posed by a new and more venturesome Scottish nationalism.
The litany of miscalculations and unforced errors is a depressing one. Margaret Thatcher's decision to use Scotland as a testing ground for the poll tax was arguably the most disastrous attempt at fiscal engineering since London slapped the stamp tax on the American colonies in the 1760s. Thatcher did not understand that the union with Scotland had in practice always been a limited one. From the outset, Scots retained their own legal, educational, and religious systems, and were traditionally governed by way of their own indigenous grandees and operators. It was sadly ironic that the arch-prophetess of a limited state appeared to want to rip up this formula for indirect rule and to impose on Scotland in radically new ways, one reason why so many people there still detest Thatcher's memory.

Tony Blair's New Labour tried harder, in part because its leaders knew Scotland better and needed it more. Nonetheless, in formulating its devolution measures in the late 1990s, his government fudged. It pursued ad hoc measures in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, but declined to adopt a systematic federalism that might properly have embraced England as well; and it created a new Scottish parliament and local electoral system that helped the SNP to acquire a degree of power that it had never previously possessed. And Blair did more. One of the strongest arguments for the union has always been that it helps defend the component countries from attack from without. But by pursuing his unpopular war with Iraq, Blair allowed nationalists to argue that the union was instead a machine that sucked Scotland into profitless and expensive exercises in overseas aggression.
As for the present prime minister, David Cameron, some of the strikes against him in regard to the current crisis are well known. He refused to include a third, devo max option in the referendum ballot, and thus failed to win credit in Scotland for a policy that he has now belatedly felt compelled to espouse. He allowed Alex Salmond to draft the referendum question and shape the timetable. And by his own admission, he believed that a protracted referendum campaign would somehow be cathartic. Yet nationalism has historically been one of the most inflammatory and volatile human passions. Expecting that protracted arguments over the future and identity of Scotland would clear the air and help foster consensus and a renewal of sweet reason was like lighting a fire in the hope that it will burn out.

For many Scots, all this is evidence that London is out of touch and inward looking. Yet one can actually argue the reverse: that a prime reason why many at Westminster appear inept in regard to nationalist and identity issues is that they operate in a city that has long been quintessentially cosmopolitan. London is not just an international financial centre, it is also one of the most ethnically diverse places on earth. Three hundred languages are represented within its boundaries, and – as is true of some other English cities – more than half of London's inhabitants describe themselves as non-white. By contrast, only 8% of Edinburgh's population is non-white, and that is twice the average for Scotland as a whole. It is therefore hardly surprising that some (by no means all) Scots espouse a degree of cultural and ethnic nationalism that seems incomprehensible to many at Westminster, or that the latter sometimes gets the former wrong.
Moreover, it is not just Westminster politicians that have sometimes failed adequately to consider the full ramifications of national imaginings. One of the undoubted achievements of the union is that over the centuries it has put a brake on English national assertiveness, an important factor as far as Scotland is concerned given that its population is now only a tenth of that of England. Yet precisely because of the union's protracted existence, some SNP activists – including Salmond – sometimes take continued English complacency too much for granted. When in Scotland last month, I was assured by one yes advocate that, post independence, the poison would be drawn, and that Scots would be "full of love" for their southern neighbours. Possibly so, but this is hardly the only point at issue.

The proposition that the referendum is only a matter for the inhabitants of Scotland has become a mantra, but is of course substantially untrue. Whatever happens on 18 September, not just Scots, but also the English, the Welsh, and Northern Irish will be affected. Repeated polls suggest that a clear majority of the population in these three countries badly want Scotland to remain within the UK. If it secedes, a future division of the spoils is likely to cost the English, Welsh, and Northern Irish money, time, influence and face, and yet they will have had no democratic say in this outcome. It is hard to think of a better recipe for future resentments and divisions.
It is still possible that all this may be managed: that even if there is a yes vote, political actors in all parts of the present UK will finally rise to the challenge of events, and work out new constructive solutions together – perhaps a free federation of the isles. But we shouldn't bank on it. As we commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war, this referendum campaign may be yet another example of how easily fierce ideologies, tribal passions, longstanding grievances, undue optimism and political cock-ups can take hold, with consequences that go on to affect and afflict the lives of millions.


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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Scotland: "No" is not the safe option

It's not about Alex, even though Mail columnist Jan Moir angled her coverage of the referendum to make it a vote on his sexual attractiveness, and Eddie Mair took up that refrain in his recent Radio 4 interview with the SNP leader. Media Lens has a good post on the co-ordinated bias and distortion of the British media here.

This is not a General Election and Salmond is not campaigning for a Parliamentary seat. It is about the future of Scotland, and much of the distortion and distraction in the media focuses on the risks of a Yes vote. Distraction, because the false implication is that the UK as a whole is the safe option. Peter Hitchens' Sunday column exploded that. Our economy as well as our polity is heading for what Carl Hiaasen* - vulgarly, but it's too good not to use - described as "a screaming nose-dive into the sh*tter."

I'll forgive the Scots for their resentment at the perceived absentee-landlordism of Westminster politicians, but they do not sufficiently appreciate how much their feelings are shared by much of the rest of the UK. Scotland must understand that it's not only England she needs to get away from but the EU, else she has exchanged her master for his master.

This is especially urgent since the EU is about to move to a majority-vote (not your vote, of course) system that will nullify our ability to veto their worst and most stupid decrees.

And beyond that there are the various international-capitalist schemes, of which the latest is the TTIP, that aim to make their commercial writ run untrammelled in all lands and disenfranchise the world's electorates.

The Scottish referendum is just a local instance of a global fight for democracy and self-determination.

That's the issue.
_______________________________

* From his novel, "Basket Case". Hiaasen is a brilliantly funny slapstick crime writer.


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Monday, September 15, 2014

Scotland's golden window of opportunity

 
(pic source)
 
Imagine starting a country with no National Debt, a balanced budget and freedom from EU interference.
 
Imagine controlling the fishing areas of the North Seas together with two other similarly independent countries (Iceland and Norway).
 
It is not Scotland that faces imminent economic crisis, but the UK. Scots have been granted an opportunity to escape before disaster hits:
 
Extract from the above:

"Listen to it – the poor Scots are threatened with currency collapse, bankruptcy, irrelevance and isolation. There’ll even be a frontier, doubtless with barking dogs, searchlights and minefields planted with exploding haggises.

"Well, what do you think we’re all going to get if we stay in the EU? The real scare story is that 40 years of EU membership and wild overspending have brought the whole UK to ruin.

"The current strength of sterling is an absurdity and can’t last. George Osborne’s boom is the most irresponsible bubble since the 1970s, based entirely on ludicrously cheap housing credit. 
"Roughly half the containers that leave our main port at Felixstowe contain nothing but air, and quite a few of the rest are crammed with rubbish for recycling, because our real export trade has collapsed, much of it throttled by EU membership.

"The incoming containers are full, of course, of cars, clothes, gadgets and food – but how are we to pay for them?

"As usual, the biggest story of the week was buried – the rise in our monthly trade deficit during July to £3.3 billion. That includes the famous ‘services’ which are supposed to make up for the fact that we don’t manufacture much any more.

"It is impossible to see how we can live so far beyond our means for much longer. Both Government and people are deeper in debt than ever.

"So forgive me if I point out that it’s quite scary enough staying in the UK."
 
(And - if you dare - just Imagine having the opportunity to issue your own debt-free currency as a sovereign country. Fare well, banking families.)
__________
 
The only regret is that we could have done much of this together, the UK as a whole... forty years of wasted opportunity. Only the (oft-repeated) short-sighted electoral calculations of the Labour Party have ultimately led Scotland to this unbarred window and the chance to escape; don't blame them if they take it.
 
 
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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Earth Mother mumbling: green advocacy and gender perspectives

Pic source


"As our boat rocked in that terrible place – the sky buzzing with Black Hawk helicopters and snowy white egrets – I had the distinct feeling we were suspended not in water but in amniotic fluid, immersed in a massive multi-species miscarriage. When I learned that I, too, was in the early stages of creating an ill-fated embryo, I started to think of that time in the marsh as my miscarriage inside a miscarriage. It was then that I let go of the idea that infertility made me some sort of exile from nature, and began to feel what I can only describe as a kinship of the infertile."

Naomi Klein's Guardian article yesterday ("Naomi Klein: the hypocrisy behind the big business climate change battle", retitled "Climate Crimes and the Greenwashing of Big Business" for the Reader Supported News site) runs to 4,508 words, not counting photo captions.

The piece includes some 72 instances of "I" and 50 of "me/my/myself". Women's talk often features more of these words, presumably driven by the instinct for social dominance and attention (noted comically by Miranda Hart - "and back to me" - and slyly exploited by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his TV cookery scripts to increase the appeal of his show for its female viewer demographic - listen for it if and when the old episodes are re-screened).

The excuse in Klein's case is doubtless that she is not only peeking behind the green front of polluting businesses but mixing in her personal journey towards hard-attained motherhood and deeper eco-commitment.

She also has a book to sell. Although I share her environmental concerns, I shan't be buying it - because I won't be able to read it. It was hard enough to get through her article. I wanted to cut out all the self-referential material and generally do a precis as we were taught to do at school in the Sixties, reducing a piece of prose to about a third of its original length in order to expose the central argument (in Russell Brand's case you can cut 92%, but there's an unusual amount of wind in his head). How like a man, you may say, so impatient and task-oriented.

But if you do this, you'll see how well she picks the flaking green paint off Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg. It's factual, and penetrating.

Set against this male-dominated industrialism is Klein's female, instinctual, emotional response, an Earth Mother feeling the world's desecrated tides inside her as her child forms. Well, maybe I should get in touch with my inner woman.

Yet it's not just men-billionaires and their monstrous appetite for wealth and power that are to blame. Who wants all the stuff they make? The average man would be content to live in a caravan or a tree. Food, drink, a woman and some peace and quiet - all right, a bit of singing if you must, then some peace and quiet. Maybe something to read, and a few pals.

454532556
Pic source

Still, I've managed to squeeze in a few first-person pronouns myself. Maybe I'm making progress.


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Saturday, September 13, 2014

M6 doglocked

Source

And we must always beware of romance: of people who love nature, or flowers, or dogs, or babies, or pure adventure. It means they are getting into a love- swing where everything is easy and nothing opposes their own egoism. Nature, babies, dogs are so lovable, because they can’t answer back.
D.H. Lawrence  ...Love Was Once A Little Boy (1925)

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Scum lies on shallow waters

To my mind, one of the most striking aspects of the internet is the way it so often brings out the raw power of colloquial language. Many areas of public debate are much shallower than elites and pundits would have us believe.

Social, political, economic – many important aspects of apparently complex subjects are easily described in pithy colloquial language – even crude language.

Most politicians are lying scum.

No, I don’t mean this kind of simplistic yet curiously accurate language. Although it has been enlightening to discover quite how accurate it is. Too many politicians are lying scum aren’t they?

No, I’m thinking of colloquial language in general. How easy it is to use ordinary language to tease out a valid and useful aspect of almost any complex social or political issue. In other words, there is not as much depth to these matters as we may have supposed or as we may have been told in the past. Nobody needs a doctorate in political history in order to say something worthwhile about politics.

We common folk may not have imbibed heaps of academic data about political language and the classification of political trends, but it is surprising how often a simple colloquial summary is good enough.

Politicians always brown-nosing vested interests.

Oops – still somewhat basic, but I think the point begins to emerge well enough. One could write a treatise on political pressures given enough patience and nothing better to do. No doubt somebody has or is doing or will do in the future, but it’s easier and possibly more constructive to keep it simple and colloquial.

To the horror of many and the puzzlement of many more, institutions such as the BBC, the monarchy, established churches, major charities and numerous others are not nearly as trustworthy as we once supposed. Not nearly as truthful, adaptable or transparent either. Even their supposed expertise is tarnished as the world becomes less deferential, more inclined to explore alternative points of view.

There is less depth to many areas of debate than the pundits and experts would have us believe. Yes there may be complexities and yes there may be mountains of data, but many orthodoxies are essentially shallow and easily discredited by even the most limited investigation. And perhaps some sharply descriptive colloquial language.

Something is crumbling, something essentially false, ugly and repressive. The shallowness of social distinctions, the elusive and misleading nature of genuine expertise in the more complex and intractable areas of human life, our tendency to allow determined dullards to place themselves on pedestals. The absurdity of it all.

Perhaps the resources of language and mass communication are killing off something we need to kill off. Yet perhaps the resources of power and mass communication will ensure its survival via censorship and the mighty power of money to confuse and misdirect. As yet we cannot tell but...

Most politicians are lying scum.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Salmond has done it!

As I comment on AKHaart's preceding piece:

I think it's coming anyway. The panic last-minute promises from HMG are a gift to the Yes camp, who can say, "Would they have offered these concessions if they didn't think we'd leave; will they keep their promises if we don't?"

Then later, if the promises aren't kept, it'll be let's vote again, now we know; and if the promises are kept, then it'll be like one of those I-need-some-space "trial separations" that end in divorce proper.

Salmond's done it, with the assistance of an incompetent and negligent Westminster.


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If Scotland votes Yes

From Wikipedia

What about this Scottish independence malarkey eh? Which way is the vote likely to fall and what are the expected consequences?

If I had Scottish blood coursing through my veins instead of the part Irish blend I have in reality, then I know I’d be sorely tempted to go for the misty glories of independence. For my heart at least it would be no contest.

However...

Delightful though it would be to deliver a sword-thrust into the stinking bowels of Westminster, I’d have to convince myself that Scotland actually wants and is prepared to grasp a new spirit of adventure. To my mind, the value of independence lies in making a distinctively Scottish future from the distinctively Scottish virtues of the past.

I’d need to be sure that a reborn and independent Scotland would rid itself of the soul-rotting government-sponsored illusions of everlasting welfare. It would have to decide once and for all that there is no magic money tree fed and watered by bureaucrats.

So how likely is that? How does the leadership of Alex Salmond infuse the Scottish people with a sense of personal responsibility in this adventure? Because it could be a fine adventure, but not if somebody else is always supposed to do the adventuring.

How does Alex Salmond attract able people who have left Scotland simply because they are able people – because they need something more than an endless tangle of small surrenders - to borrow Chesterton’s telling phrase.

It’s the chance of a lifetime – literally. He isn't the only player in this drama, but is Alex Salmond capable of delivering the fruits of a vote for independence? To me he comes across as a very accomplished political huckster, a charlatan’s charlatan. As ever it comes down to people, so although I’m not Scottish I’ll watch the vote with interest.

If the vote goes for independence, and whatever my concerns I hope it does, then it will be seen as a huge vote of dissatisfaction with Westminster politics. Whether that dissatisfaction amounts to something different and vibrantly inspiring - that's another matter. The people of today are not the people of yesterday.

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Sunday, September 07, 2014

Even the gods love handbags

http://sanjindumisic.com/pergamon-museum-berlin-photos/

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Thursday, September 04, 2014

The UKIP revolt

If we are to believe certain oracles of crafty political views, a little revolt is desirable from the point of view of power. System: revolt strengthens those governments which it does not overthrow. It puts the army to the test; it consecrates the bourgeoisie, it draws out the muscles of the police; it demonstrates the force of the social framework. It is an exercise in gymnastics; it is almost hygiene. Power is in better health after a revolt, as a man is after a good rubbing down.

Victor Hugo - Les Misérables (1862)

Of course Hugo was writing of far more dramatic revolts than anything UKIP is ever likely to achieve. He was writing of death and destruction at the barricades on the streets of Paris in the nineteenth century. Even so his words sound a note of caution for those of us who hope UKIP might at least rock the political boat.

Can we really see the future of UKIP in the words of a nineteenth century French writer? Unless the UK electorate suddenly turns radical I think we can. Not clearly and not in any detail, but the establishment is likely to absorb and make use of UKIP as it absorbed and made use of socialism.

When UKIP is absorbed, then Hugo's point will apply. Effective UK opposition to the EU will not only have been neutralised, but the only viable vehicle for that opposition will be gone. A few UKIP MPs on the green benches will probably help the process of absorption rather than hinder it.

Power is in better health after a revolt. 

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All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.