15. Nov, 2017

"America First!" Donald Trump.

"Britain First!" The Brexiters.
"Stop Foreign Aid!" The Daily Express.
"Charity Begins at Home!" The Dentist's wife.
"F**k the lot of 'em!" Joe down the pub.

Around the shores of the British Isles there some remarkable communities- those who full time or as volunteers serve the RNLI..The Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Picture this...Cromer Lifeboat Station, in North Norfolk. It is a foul day with a strong sou' westerly blowing.

The lifeboat crew get a shout from the coastguard. A passenger vessel with many school parties aboard is in grave difficulties 40 miles out.

Businesses, professional responsibilities, families are immediately abandoned in answer to the call. Running feet are heard pounding the timber planks of the pier to get to the lifeboat shed at the end.
Doors are flung open, gear is donned. The boat is poised at the top of the runway. The full crew is eager to rescue children and crew...

...But everything comes to a sudden halt.

Is the stricken ship and/or its passengers British?

"If not, why should we risk our safety and resources to rescue foreigners?"

"Should we not aid only British vessels and leave the rest to manage as best they can, regardless of children aboard?"

What do you think POTUS Trump?
You Brexiters?
Mr. Daily Express editor?
Mrs Dentist's wife
and you, Joe, down the pub?

Thirty miles further down the Norfolk coast there is another life boat station at Gorleston. A nineteenth century lifeboat there, was named "FRIEND OF ALL NATIONS." but with your outlook wouldn't you have considered it more appropriate to rename it the "BUGGER YOU, I'M ALRIGHT?"

"There will be no justice in Athens until those who are not hurt are as inddignant as those that are."
Thucydides. 

12. Nov, 2017

ARMISTICE DAY 2017

I have experienced many an Armistice Day and always with the same three feelings about the First World War.

Firstly I have the deepest respect for those who went and did not come back; those who went and did come back and those who refused to go in the first place- Conscientious Objectors who showed equal courage albeit of the moral kind.

Secondly there is deep anger when I reflect on the causes of that monumental human tragedy and the hypocrisy that surrounds it.

Assuming the morality of the common thief, ("He's got it. I want it), the British acquired the biggest empire the world has ever seen. Unlimited natural resources, the industrial capacity to exploit and then sell manufactured articles on a captive market enabled enormous wealth to trickle not downwards but UPwards into the pockets of the already rich and powerful.
Needless to say, this had not escaped their German counterparts, who adopting the same moral code, determined to acquire what the British already had. Conflict was inevitable yet after four years of killing each other the largely citizen armies of Britain, Germany, France et al., returned to the
same squalor and poverty they had left behind before the war. The rich and powerful international set for whom they had unknowingly fought, swanned on untouchable.

My third concern is the nature of remembrance itself. Attend the war memorial to show your respect, listen to the clergy mumble their time-worn cliches, indulge in the sentimentality and go home feeling warm inside.

Get over it. It is time to get down to the hard graft of finding out who started the war. why and what they got out of it. In doing so you will have gone a long way to preventing such calamities from happening again. THAT is a true memorial to those who perished.

10. Nov, 2017

BLAME THE BBC

I have often been asked why my "go to" source for news and information is the BBC.

My answer is provided by the political allegiances of those who ask. Those on the left invariably accuse it of bias towards the right and those on the right invariably accuse it of bias towards the left. What better qualifications could there be?

This stands in stark contrast to an editor like Paul Dacre who would surely be offended if it was suggested that the Daily Mail supported any but the Conservative Party.

However, the search for impartiality creates its own pitfalls and dilemmas. Earlier in the year a radio debate was staged over the validity of Climate Change and global warming.

Now even as the most fervent of deniers will surely admit, 97% of the scientific community accept the thesis, which would  put him  into the flat-earther class of intellectual minorities.

The arguments for climate change were given from the overwhelmingly specialist point of view. The case was clearly argued from an unbiased source, based on stated evidence. Then came the problem. In the interests of balance the producer presented the deniers' point of view but gave it as much prominence as the former despite it being from such a minority's angle.

And who was invited to give that opposing point of view? A highly qualified, climate scientist, basing his scepticism on a life time of meticulous research in his chosen field? An individual with no personal axe to grind? No, none other than ex Conservative chancellor, Nigel Lawson!

Nigel Lawson! A caricature of the white, middle class male whose wealth is based upon profits from a capitalist system powered by fossil fuels! What an unbiased expert!

So Nigel, there you are about to take off on a plane with all your nearest and dearest, but there is a problem. The aircraft has been surrounded by a hundred employees of the airline. Ninety-seven of them are either pilots or flight engineers. They refuse to move stating that in their collective professional opinion, the aircraft is in no condition to fly and is downright dangerous.

Don't fret, however, Nigel, you need not miss your flight. The remaining three employees assure you that the aircraft is perfectly safe and that the others are exaggerating the danger for their own (unstated) ends. After all the three should know what they are talking about. Have they not worked at the airport for years...as baggage handlers?

The demonstrators are eventually removed and the aircraft cleared for take off. So, Nigel, whose advice will you take...that of the of the 97% highly qualified aviation experts and stay on the ground or that of the unqualified 3% and take off into the wide blue yonder?

Your preference for taking a chance on minority points of view certainly explains much about your career as Chancellor of the Exchequer and of those of your establishment Climate Change denying cronies!

8. Nov, 2017

OCTOBER…

100 years ago , the Russian Revolution took place.. To commemorate the event, BBC2 showed "October-10 days that Shook the World." a film by Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948).

It was made in 1928, in black and white and was silent, is pure propaganda (advertising by another name), yet I maintain it to have been a masterpiece of film.

Compared to Spielberg, Jackson and the other boys in the band, Eisenstein had very limited technical resources. His genius lay in making the most of what he had got and of satisfying the artistic tastes of Stalin and the Soviet Politburo.

It tells the story chronologically of the 10 days that saw power shift from Kerensky’s Provisional Government to the Boshviks of Lenin and Trotsky. What has always fascinated me is HOW Eisenstein gets the story across.

As I explained in other Blogs here on this website, my main interest is in joiner photography. This is a style that runs a direct line from Picasso and Braque to David Hockney that endeavours to show the passing of time and place on a two-dimensional surface. It also attempts to imitate the way we actually see things. Do we see a situation like a two dimensional object or as a series of impressions that the brain puts together into a memory? If so then differences in witness statements are easily explained.

Eisenstein did a similar thing but using a series of 3 second movie shots to build up an incredible 100 minute montage of recreated events during those 10 days in Petrograd.

As a historian who has experienced a fair amount of primary and secondary source material from the time, there is little doubt that Eisenstein employed more than a little artistic license, but with J.Stalin Esq., breathing down his neck who can blame him?

It is heavily biased but it captures the exciting, confusing, deadly atmosphere of the time.

It is presently on BBC iPlayer. Do yourself a favour and watch it

6. Nov, 2017

ANOTHER DO GOODER…

Another PC-obsessed do-gooder, this time trying to end a fine old English tradition in the interests of health and safety….

YUP. THAT’S ME and my target is the annual November 5th Bonfire/Fireworks/Guy Fawkes night/ “celebrations“.

Allowing for the fact that the English are woefully ignorant of their nation’s past, let alone of History, I will recap. 1605 was a time of violent religious intolerance. A small group of Catholic extremists (the Jihardists of their day) plotted to blow up the House of Parliament on the day of its state opening and so at one fell swoop wipe out King James I, his queen and the princes, the senior Anglican Clergy, the leading members of the aristocracy and the Commons.
The plot was discovered and exploited by James’s secret service led so ably and ruthlessly by Robert Cecil. Their brief being to protect the king “at all costs,” their methods put the KGB and Gestapo to shame. (For a dramatic portrayal and allowing for dramatic licence see the recent three-part BBC production of “Gunpowder” still on iPlayer).
Of course it is easy to excuse “patriots” of the time on the grounds that it was a violent age (as indeed it was) and a damned sight less squeamish than our own. On the other hand, would the Cecils of the time have wanted their families subjected to the same vicious treatment should Catholics have been in the majority? No, I thought not. They knew it was wrong but still did it on the grounds of “ends justifying means.” Frankly I would prefer my country not celebrating such dubious ethics as that.
However, I went along with the celebrations until 6th of November 1963. On that afternoon we had a school rugby match and one of our students sustained a broken leg. I went with him in the ambulance to the Luton and Dunstable Hospital and so gained entry to the children’s ward.
It was like a battlefield clearing station with at least 20 children in various states of burn…all victims of fireworks.
The ward sister, whom I knew, told me this was the usual post-Fireworks casualty list and was it not about time the b***dy things were banned? She added that folk did not understand that getting burned by a firework was the equivalent to holding a hand in a gas ring.

‘Nuff said! I have never looked at fireworks so complacently again.
Sadly too many fireworks still find themselves in irresponsible hands come the first week in November every year.
TRUE, On the grounds of safety, people are urged to go along to public displays (and pay handsomely for the privilege),

BUT as a twenty-first century society, do we really need to celebrate the state-endorsed religious intolerance, resulting physical torture and public disembowelling of the seventeenth? Is there not enough such intolerance in our own time that we would be better off trying to eradicate instead?