Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Fred Goodwin, Ex Knight


So, in a move completely unrelated to the furore over Stephen Hester's bonus, the Queen has decided to strip Fred Goodwin of his Knighthood on the advice of the Prime Minister and his advisers.

Ironic that they selected a Scottish banker to make an example of considering the number of titles that have been stripped from incumbents throughout British history for 'Jacobite rebellion'.


I wonder if this is a move towards a more plebiscitary approach to honours. Since Goodwin hasn't carried out any of the traditional activities that lead to honours being stripped (fraud, rebellion, treachery, bigamy and the theft of livestock) the only reason that this can have happened is the massive popular demand for the revocation.

If we do get to select as a population who gets Titles and who doesn't then I'd like to make a few suggestions of people we could strip of their honorary Knighthoods (posthumously):

- Constantin von Neurath - for holding high office under the Nazi regime, being a member of the Party and an honorary SS officer and having been convicted at the Nuremburg trials.

- Suharto - for the massacres carried out during the invasion of East Timor, massive corruption and imposing dictatorial rule over the Indonesian people.

- King Leopold II of Belgium - for the genocide of the people of the Congo in pursuit of personal profit.


I mean seriously, nobody likes to see bankers get huge bonuses for running their banks into the ground but we should try and keep a sense of perspective. Blatantly political actions like this can only further devalue an already silly institution.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Curiosity killed the .......

So I've been wondering about a couple of things this week. That's what I get for having a rare week when seminar reading is light and I don't have any deadlines hanging over me.

1) So it's a well known fact that small pox and other European diseases decimated the indigenous population of North America and other colonial locations. This is generally explained by the natives not having resistance to European disease. How come there wasn't a similar decimation of Europeans? I know that European explorers in Africa often died of Malaria but I can't think of a single other case and certainly nothing on the scale of small pox in the Americas or Australia.

2)Whenever the news sites talk about the recent French move to criminalise denial of the Armenian genocide they say that it is a move by Sarkozy to sway Armenian voters. But aren't there rather a lot of ethnic Turks in France? Surely on that logic and assuming that migrant Turks have a similar strength of feeling on the issue as migrant Armenians the end result will be minimal.

Filibustering with Gregor MacGregor

I've been dipping into a Project Gutenberg book about the Spanish-American war recently. Interesting reading - I knew the vague outlines of the fighting and the colonies that changed hands but I'd never heard about the Battleship Maine incident or the other reasons why the war started.

Anyway I was most confused when I came to a chapter that talked about the 'filibustering' of Americans in Spanish-occupied Cuba. Previously I'd thought this term only referred to a parliamentary technique where representatives time out a bill they disagree with by talking incessantly so as not to allow the opposition to get a word in edgeways.

Apparently this political meaning derives from an earlier military activity. The political tactic was seen as the sort of sneaky technique that a filibuster would engage in. A filibuster was something like a freebooter in British English - a piratical individual who attempted to launch revolutions in foreign countries through military intervention.

While skimming through some web pages on this I came across the sort of story that Neal Stephenson (I'm reading 'The Confusion' at the moment) would love. Gregor MacGregor was a Scottish filibuster who fought alongside Simon Bolivar in the South American wars of independence. However, after leaving Latin America he decided to skip the hassle of actually taking over a country and instead simply said he had. He sold land in the fictional country of Poyais and even sent a ship full of colonists out to live there (most of them died).

Have a read:



Monday, 23 January 2012

There may be certain benefits in having unelected officials.


It says something about the current government when I'm siding with the frikking House of Lords against them!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Precipitous performance from Sherlock!

So, the second series of Sherlock is over. Watch out for spoilers below because you really don't want to lose the tension on this one.

The Reichenbach Fall - A definite improvement over Moriarty's last appearance. The initial heist and his use of apps to open up the three most secure locations in England was a really funny bit of play acting that compensated for the lack of laughs in the rest of the episode. Moriarty's slandering of Sherlock then brought us into 'The Dark Knight' territory as persecution brought out the uglier aspects of the detective's character. Katherine Parkinson didn't feel quite right as the female journalist but I guess they had to put a face on the insidious media presence that was undermining his reputation.

The ending was a bit contrived (all of the conflicting assassins shooting each other became a bit farce-like at times) but Moriarty's suicide was a wonderful shock. As with the last series we are left with a brain teaser. How did Sherlock survive his fall? Those familiar with the books will have suspected that he was coming back but the producers did a good job of drawing it out.

Personally I think it has to have something to do with Sherlock's request of Molly. The simple solution would be that she helped him fake his death (leaving open the question of how he survived the drop from the building). However with this show we shouldn't be surprised if it is something a little more subtle.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Were-Lion performs community service

"I remember a case which occurred in Chiromo soon after we commenced the administration of the Protectorate. A series of murders and mutilations took place in the vicinity of the native village. At last they were traced to an old man who, it was found, concealed himself in long grass near the route to the riverside, and when solitary passers-by came near him he would leap at them unawares and stab them. He then mutilated their bodies.

He was caught almost red-handed and abundant evidence was given as to his being the author of every one of these crimes: but the old man himself talked freely about the matter and admitted to having committed the murders. He could not help it (he said) as he had a strong feeling at times that he was changed into a lion and was impelled, as a lion, to kill or mutilate.

[Johnston then noted that]: As according to our view of the law he was not a sane person he was sentenced to be detained 'dur-ing the chief's pleasure' and this 'were-lion' has been most usefully employed for years in perfect contentment keeping the roads of Chiromo in good repair."

H. H. Johnston's, British Central Africa (London, 1897)

This brilliantly morbid account of the treatment of a convicted Were-lion is taken from Megan Vaughan's article on the Zomba asylum in Nyasaland. It shows one of the many inconsistencies in colonial psychiatry. Vaughan notes that had his crime been to claim that he owned 15 bicycles or was the King of England then he would have been quickly incarcerated in an asylum. Natives taking on European discourse was seen as unsettling by Europeans who were always a bit wary of educated indigenes.

However, since his murderous rampage fitted in with traditional European images of African madness it was seen as less threatening. The 'self-proclaimed' Were-lion was merely put to work on the same highways where he had previously murdered and mutilated people!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

New Sherlock, New Girl?

Still in intensive essay writing mode but I've found time to watch some of the new telly programs as are coming out at the moment. It's a reassuring start to the New Year, none of this Post-Christmas lull business. Here are my thoughts - watch out for spoilers:

1) New Girl -

I watched this in a half hour essay break and it was one of the few programs I've ever seen that made me want to cut it short. I'd read a positive Guardian review that was especially fond of the adorable Zooey Deschanel who plays main character Jess.

They turned out to be using that very American definition of 'adorable' which I cannot stand. Kooky characters who always get it wrong, fall over a lot and occasionally break into song are only funny to those with gerbil-level intelligence.

None of the rest of the cast made up for my generalized loathing of Jess. Don't think I'll be watching any more of these any time soon.

2) Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia -

I really enjoyed the opening episode of this new series. Sherlock's ego has not taken a knock between series and Benedict Cumberbatch was as good as ever (New Star Trek villain apparently for film sequel. Excellent!). Lara Pulver was very good as a cameo and her duel of wits with Sherlock was great. Nice tension at the end and I loved the cryptography bit with the planes full of dead people - very Neal Stephenson.

3) Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville -

A bit of a let down after the Belgravia episode. Pity as I'd been really looking forward to this one. It's probably one of my favourite Sherlock Holmes stories. Russell Tovey looking very comfortable in his role as the psychologically troubled Henry Knight. For once I actually guessed most of the ending before the big reveal. I was just trying to decide whether it was the friendly GM doctor who had drugged them (possibly in league with the psychiatrist - I thought the hallucinogenic was in Knight's cigarettes) or the nasty one. I don't think the CGI added much to it and the plot seemed a little rushed - even for such a long programme.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

I was disappointed at the start of this month when I checked up on a whimsical fact that I have been fraudulently relaying for the last half decade or so. I knew the end of the world in the Mayan calender in 2012 was based on extremely sketchy evidence. However, I was pretty sure that somewhere I'd seen that if it were true one component of this apocalypse would be a rain of Jaguars. This led to many a jolly conversation about whether the Jaguars were meant to splat on impact or not and if they didn't whether they would be in any fit state to maul people. Occasionally someone would raise the genuine concern about whether the Mayans were referring to the cars or the animals (although I'd be extremely worried if they were that good at predicting the course of history). Anyway turns out that there is not a zillionth of truth in this cherished fact. I'm most hurt by this. A plague of jaguars on all your families.

Apart from that its been a fairly conventional beginning to the year. The University have been kind enough to set us two 5000 word essays for the 20th January and there has been much stress regarding that. A pub chat with an uncle has led to a barrage of emails regarding Irish history which was an unexpected outcome. Interesting to discover that my great-grandad's creamery in Sligo was burned down, not once, but twice by the hard-working British police before independence. Work is worklike but they've obligingly given me a week off pre-deadlines which relieves the tension somewhat.