Nice imagery

Shame about the facts:

On Monday, Berliners knocked down a wall of Styrofoam “dominoes” – more fanciful than foreboding – to commemorate the moment when East Germans began hammering their way to freedom.

The hammering was of course on the West Berlin side of the wall, not the East. Even after the freedom to pass through the gates had been conceeded, the East German troops still guarded the wall from the eastern side. All those lump hammers and cold chisels were wielded by those who were already free, determined to tear down the wall that imprisoned their fellows.

PJ O\’Rourke on the fall of the Berlin Wall

Say it Brother! Tell \’em the Truth!

The people in the crowd weren\’t yelling or demanding anything. They weren\’t waiting for anything to happen. They were present from sheer glee at being alive in this place at this time. They were there to experience the opposite of the existential anguish which has been the twentieth century\’s designer mood. And they were happy with the big, important happiness that – the Declaration of Independence reminds us – is everybody\’s, even a communist\’s, unalienable right to pursue.

Go on Brother, go on. Don\’t stop now!

The East Berliners had that glad but glazed look wjhich you see on Special Olympics particpants when they\’re congratulated by Congressmen. The man sitting next to me held a West German tabloid open to a photo of a healthy fraulein without her clothes. He had that picture fixed with a gaze to make stout Cortez on a peak in Darien into a blinking, purblind myope.

You say it!

However, the real change was the lack of fear, a palpable physical absence like letting go of your end of a piano.

Hallelujah Brother!

The East German border guards didn\’t interfere. Instead they came up to openings in the Wall and made V signs and posed for photographs. One of them even stuck his hand through and asked would somebody please give him a piece of concrete to keep as a souvenir.

The hand of that border guard – that disembodied, palm-up, begging hand….I looked at that and I began to cry.

I really didn\’t understand before that moment, I didn\’t realise until just then – we won. The Free World won the Cold War. The fight against life-hating, soul-denying, slavish communism – which has shaped the world\’s politics this whole wretched century – was over.

The tears of victory ran down my face – and the snot of victory did too because it was a pretty cold day. I was blubbering like a lottery winner.

All the people who had been sent to the gulags, who\’d been crushed in the streets of Budapest, Prague and Warsaw, the soldiers who\’d died in Korea and my friends and classmates who had been killed in Vietnam – it meant something now.All the treasure that we in America had poured into guns, planes, Star Wars and all the terrifying A-bombs we\’d had to build and keep – it wasn\’t for nothing.

Take it to the close now!

I say, Shut-up you egghead flap-gums. We\’ve got the whole rest of history to sweat the small stuff. And those discredited peace creeps, they can zip their soup-coolers too. They think Mikhail Gorbachev is a visionary? Yeah, he\’s a visionary. Like Hirohito was after Nagasaki. We won. And let\’s not anybody forget it. We the people, the free and equal citizens of democracies, we living exemplars of the Rights of Man tore a new asshole in International Communism. Their wall is breached. Their gutstring is busted. The rot of their body politic fills the nostrils of the earth with a glorious stink. We cleaned the clock of Marxism. We mopped the floor with them. We ran the Reds through the ringer and hung them out to dry. The privileges of liberty and the sanctity of the individual went out and whipped butt.

You said it Brother, you said it.

Not sure about this

In Moby Dick, Herman Melville included a drinks list for a whaling voyage that included “550 ankers of Geneva (gin) and 10,800 barrels of beer”.

Taking a barrel to be 9 gallons that\’s nearly 400 tonnes of beer.

The Essex (the ship that Melville used as his real life starting point for Moby Dick) weighed 238 tonnes.

Yes, I know, tonnage of a ship is not the same as tonnage of a cargo but 400 tonnes of beer on a 238 tonne ship? No, don\’t think so.

Well, no

So we see a little more spin on that Mussolini story:

History remembers Benito Mussolini as a founder member of the original Axis of Evil, the Italian dictator who ruled his country with fear and forged a disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany. But a previously unknown area of Il Duce\’s CV has come to light: his brief career as a British agent.

Archived documents have revealed that Mussolini got his start in politics in 1917 with the help of a £100 weekly wage from MI5.

Well, no, that really wasn\’t his start in politics. Pre WWI he had been the editor of the Socialist Party\’s national newspaper, with a circulation of 100,000.

Matthew has pointed out that we perhaps shouldn\’t get our retaliation in early: but this is an example of perhaps why we should. For it is, of course, The Guardian, telling us that his political career started with the British and facism…..

I think I\’ve said something like this myself recently

But what does it matter to those who died what Stalinism developed into? What does it matter to the dead and their families whether they were starved for being kulaks, shot for writing \”nationalist\” literature, thus impeding inevitable progress to socialist utopia, or killed for being Slavs and resisting the Nazis, thus making way for a perfect racial empire? It is surely less important why people were killed, than that they were killed. The fact that the apparent aim of Stalin\’s terrors – the socialist utopia – seems nobler to some than Hitler\’s vision of racial perfection, can offer no solace to those terrorised.

The joy today of course is reading such sentiments in The Guardian.

Jesus Maddy, get a grip would you?

The Mahdi has just discovered that humans are collaborative, social beings.

Heigh ho….

So after this trembling step in the right direction she manages to fall over, flat on her face:

Are human beings self-interested creatures or are they collaborative? The right\’s argument for market capitalism is rooted in the former but the research on the social brain supports the latter.

The argument for markets (leave aside capitalism for another day) is that, yes, of course humans are collaborative. That\’s what markets are, the way in which humans collaborate.

Jesus Maddy, what is so fucking difficult about this concept? It predates the existence of Homo Sapiens, let alone the existence of our own species, Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

\”Hey, Ugg!\”


\”Give me some of that mammoth meat before it goes off and next time I kill a mammoth I\’ll give you some meat….if I do kill a mammoth in the future.\”

\”Cool Dude! There you go!\”.

\”Maybe we should swap some meat for the berries the birds have found?\”

\”Good idea: maybe we\’ll get hubba hubba too!\”.

\”Good thinking, Ugg.\”

(Note that not only have we just described a market exchange, we\’ve managed to include a future and an option as well, along with uncertainty as to the outcome….no, perfect knowledge of the future is not required.)

Surprisingly, modern research shows that you\’re more likely to get laid if you offer your date a steak dinner rather than tofu (this does not work on k d laing for a number of obvious reasons).

We can also see in the fossil record evidence of trading networks: flints heavily worked, by what can only be described as experts, found hundreds of miles from the stone\’s origins. So we\’ve division of and specialisation of labour too.

The argument in favour of markets is not that human beings are self-interested (although, to an extent, they are). The argument for markets is that human beings are collaborative in their own self-interest and markets are the way that they collaborate.

You do this, I\’ll do that and we\’ll swap the production.

That\’s a fucking market you dim bulb time waster!

Jesu Christe on a unicycle, haven\’t you bothered to read any Adam Smith?

The propensity to truck, barter and exchange one thing for another is common to all men…..

Err, no My Lord

Mogg senior:

The Attorney-General had a salary of £7,000, plus fees that had amounted to £8,183 in the previous year. Judges had a salary of £5,000 a year, equal to the Prime Minister, the four Lords of Appeal had £6,000. More surprisingly bishops were very handsomely paid and archbishops were getting the equivalent of City bonuses. The Most Rev Frederick Temple, as Archbishop of Canterbury, received £15,000, though York was only paid £10,000. Even humble Bristol, which had recently been reconstituted, was paid £3,000.

Of course, these sums have to be brought up to date in terms of retail prices. I have used the retail prices index that was constructed in the recent reissue of Roy Jastram’s The Golden Constant, which included valuable updated material by Jill Leyland.

That gives a factor of 90 to adjust 1900 salaries to contemporary figures. This puts the Prime Minister of 1900, together with other senior ministers, on a salary of £450,000.

Err, no. When trying to compare wages across time you should not upgrade (or deflate) by retial prices. You should rather use average earnings. We are, after all, trying to compare earnings, are we not, instead of the price of a loaf of bread?

That would make the PM\’s salary then equal to something over £2 million a year now.

Four years ago today

Nosemonkey nailed it:

Cheers for the messages of support. London\’s grateful. And we\’re going to keep our heads. Stiff upper lip and all that – wouldn\’t do to get all emotional. Hardly British – and if we stop being British about it, the bastards have won. So we\’ll have a few beers, make as many sick jokes about it in pubs up and down the land as we can, and get on with our lives as normal. Other than causing the grief of too many innocent people, these cunts will have achieved precisely fuck all. We shall not be moved.

And just to remind you, the young shaver Clive collected some money from the likes of you and me and invited the St. John\’s Ambulance crews who had helped out on the day for a bevvie or two.

Proud to be British really.

How things change

Thirty, forty years ago, this (I assume) was a reasonably common view:

Commenting privately on the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling Roe vs Wade, which decriminalised abortion in the US, the then-president said he worried that access to a legal abortion could lead to \”permissiveness\” because \”it breaks the family\” but thought them justified in certain cases.

\”There are times when an abortion is necessary,\” he told his aide Chuck Colson. \”I know that. When you have a black and a white.\” Mr Colson offered that rape might also make an abortion legitimate, prompting Mr Nixon to respond: \”Or a rape.\”

I think I\’m right in saying that many states still had laws against \”miscegenation\”….the marrying across racial divisions.

I\’m not saying that this view of mixed race children was correct, far from it, just that it was common enough.

Now such views are restricted to the lunatic fringe, thankfully.

Things do change, they do change for the better and society isn\’t going to the dogs, far from it.

Worstall in The Times

As you know, I\’ve penned the odd piece for the Times. I\’m not the first of the family to appear in that august organ though.


Not sure of the date (1929 I\’m told), but that\’s Grandpa before he\’d met Grandma. This was one of his 8 crashes…..

Not sure quite why, but a crash on the Harrow playing fields while aiming for Cricklewood Aerodrome, it, umm, sounds like the beginning of an Alan Coren piece…..

From wikipedia:

The Hyderabad entered service with No. 99 (Bomber) Squadron RAF at RAF Bircham Newton in December 1925 [1], replacing the single engined Avro Aldershot bomber[2]. Deliveries were slow, and accidental losses were high,

On first cousin marriages.

Pickled Politics asks whether they should be banned.

No, I dunno. There´s  conflict there between consenting adults being able to do as they wish (and being prepared to accept the consequences of course) and the damage that will/might be inflicted upon the offspring of such. The sort of moral maze that I´m not competent to find my way through I´m afraid.

But if more people were told about the effects of such cousin marriages we might well see less of them:

Habsburg rule over Spain ended in 1700, only two centuries after it began, with the death of Charles II. He was a sickly, disabled and mentally retarded man, whose poor health and childlessness were probably explained by his inbred inheritance, scientists have shown. A study led by Gonzalo Alvarez, of the University of Santiago de Compostela, has indicated that Charles II suffered from two separate rare genetic conditions, which were almost certainly the result of his ancestors’ marriage patterns.

Charles II, known as El Hechizado (The Hexed), was short and weak, and suffered from rickets, intestinal problems and blood in the urine. He had learning difficulties, a large head relative to his body size, and his two wives reported that he suffered from impotence or premature ejaculation. Dr Alvarez’s team said that his symptoms would have been well explained by two recessive genetic disorders: combined pituitary hormone deficiency and distal renal tubular acidosis.

His genetic background – including that his father, Philip IV, and mother, Mariana of Austria, were uncle and niece – “could explain most of the complex clinical profile of this king, including his impotence/infertility which in last instance led to the extinction of the dynasty”, the researchers concluded.

The Habsburgs’ poor prospects were further compounded by an extremely high rate of mortality in infancy and childhood, which may also have been a result of their inbred character. Half of all royal children died before the age of 10, compared with only 20 per cent of children born in ordinary Spanish villages in the same period.

Given that the purpose of marriage is to have children (alright, only in a Darwinian sense but still….) the evidence that first cousin marriages makes having children moot as your line will/could die out should reduce the incidence, no?

Interesting history lesson

With his Cabinet divided over these proposed cuts, MacDonald offered to resign as Prime Minister – only for George V, in a masterstroke of royal statesmanship, to persuade him to stay on as head of a National Government formed with members of the Tory and Liberal parties.


It was an extremely effective solution and, even as MacDonald\’s former Labour colleagues jeered from the sidelines, the new government slashed £70million
(£13 billion today) in spending at a stroke.

Everyone on the public payroll – from Cabinet ministers and judges down to naval ratings and dole recipients – had to accept immediate cuts of 10 per cent.

The police got off lightly, though, with a cut of just  five per cent: the ostensible reason was that Herbert Samuel, the Home Secretary, had accidentally mentioned that figure in the Commons, and said he felt obliged to \’honour my mistake\’.

Many people, however, thought he simply wanted to guarantee police loyalty at a time of crisis.

Extraordinarily, most people accepted their pay cuts with good grace. Indeed, only the judges, who were among the best paid people in the land, made a fuss – the Lord Chancellor, Lord Sankey wrote to the Prime Minister to complain that the profession was in \’mutinous mood\’.

The result of the cuts, however, was that the government had taken a major step towards trimming the deficit.

Thanks to our garbled modern history curriculum, few people remember the MacDonald government today.

Well, yes, but about that "good grace" bit. It would appear that even those who write about the MacDonald government forget that the pay cuts brought parts of the Royal Navy into open mutiny.

Tsk, the education system of today, eh?

Absolutely Amazing!

Charles Darwin spent more money on expensive shoes than books while studying at Cambridge University, newly-discovered records show.

Stunning, isn´t it?

I really cannot believe that in a place with libraries stuffed with free books and with nary a free cobbler to be seen that this could be true.

About the Vikings

Well, yes….

"The Vikings weren\’t these big, hairy delinquents, they mostly came from the upper classes," says Ingmar Jansson of Stockholm University. "They were sophisticated and at the cutting edge of civilisation."

But isn\’t that rather what was being complained about? The cutting edges on those very civilised double bladed axes?


To (over)simplify, the emergence from the Dark Ages was a long, bloody experiment in social organization. Finally, in the century or so between the Glorious Revolution and the publication of The Wealth of Nations, Europeans started getting things right.

Save Bletchley Park!

The UK equivalent of these museums is Bletchley Park and the National Museum of Computing which is housed there.

Bletchley Park is an example of British brains and British thinking at its best. Have we no national pride? Is the UK government ashamed of British achievements? Where is our debt of gratitude for the efforts of so many to achieve so much? In Britain we can’t even manage to preserve what we have.

Well, yes, there is indeed something there worth saving.

The Mansion house was bought by Sir Herbert Leon in 1883 and was requisitioned by the government in 1938.

In fact, what is worth saving is the very best of British.

We\’re the people who invented the concept that even the Government was not above the law. That private property really is private property.

The government of the time nicked it off Sir Herbert Leon\’s family citing urgent national need. They should now restore it to the state it was and give it back.

Reinforcing the idea that what is ours cannot be simply taken by bureaucratic fiat is far more important than a museum of computing. Indeed, a far better memorial to those whose war service there was to protect us from that most un-British of ideas, that we and what is ours belong to the State.


Me, I welcome this news:

Paying for the right to work for nothing is one of the more interesting economic concepts to have come out of this downturn. Time was in the US when spring would come and a young man\’s fancy turned lightly to thoughts of a summer internship. Every year, hundreds of thousands of students migrate to the big cities over the long break to get their first step on the career ladder with a few weeks of negligibly (if at all) remunerated filing, dogsbodying and sporadic sexual harassment.

One might have expected this sort of chattel system to thrive in a recession but, apparently, quite the opposite. There is so much competition for internships that some parents – those, it must be said, of the controlling "helicopter" persuasion – are reaching for their chequebooks. Others are hiring consultants to promote their little darlingsby sending a blizzard of CV-shots to likely targets.

Meanwhile, fund-raising websites have reported a sharp increase in supposedly sexy media companies – including Rolling Stone and Elle magazines, and Atlantic Records – auctioning their internships. A week polishing CD boxes for a music-production company went last month for $12,000.

A welcome return to Victorian values: where the apprentice paid his apprentice master for the value of the training he received. And of course, when people are indeed paying for something then the value of what they receive is likely to go up, is it not?

Robert E Lee

A comment seen elsewhere:

Robert E. Lee\’s sins are well-known, and heavily-paid for; besides, Obama was telling a wicked joke which was actually funny…. but what the hell, a Lee story that OUGHT to be more widely known:

One thing that Americans sometimes undervalue is being a good loser. Lee lost badly, after all, in every way (stroll through his family\’s old rose garden sometime), but after Appomattox when Mosby proposed to Lee that he could take his men up into the hills and kill Yankees until Kingdom Come, Lee told him to give it up — and he had the moral clout to make it stick. That\’s not nothing.

But of course the biggest problem in the Confederacy was race, what to do with emancipated slaves: a whole society, centuries old, turned upside down. That it healed to scab doesn\’t mean it couldn\’t have been worse — and there were moments when it looked like it might have been better.

There was a famous incident right after the war, when an incredibly courageous black man dared to walk up to the rail at Christ Church in Alexandria (it\’s still there) to receive communion — a literally unthinkable outrage. The terms "segregation" or even "civil rights" don\’t do justice to the immediate post-slavery environment — there was stunned silence in the church, nobody knew what to do.

And then Robert E. Lee got up, walked to the rail, and knelt next to the man. IIRC, the minister served the black man first.

Is that an image, or what?

Great description

The reason Towton hasn’t come down the ages to us may be in part that it was in the middle of the Wars of the Roses, that complex internecine bout of patrician bombast, a hissy fit that stuttered and smouldered through the exhausted fag end of the Middle Ages like a gang feud.

Knife Crime

It\’s all the fault of markets. If we\’d remained in our cloth caps huddled around the mine or factory we worked in, grateful for the annual day out on the charabanc to the seaside, this would never have happened.

Yet the terms on which the better life was granted did involve the undermining of collective communal values. The growth of the market was at the expense of society. If the market has favoured individuals, it may also have injured society, even "broken" it, as Conservatives claim. How is the connection to be traced between perpetual economic growth and the social fracturing everyone deplores? It seems the social cost of things does not appear at the point of purchase, but manifests itself slowly, insidiously, over time.

In order to sell more and more to people in the 1950s and 60s, inner, psychic spaces had to be cleared so that we would be receptive to whatever was on offer. This required the dismantling of older ways of answering need, which involved dependency upon others. Networks of kinship and neighbourhood had to be swept away in order to create markets; just as in the colonial era, "undiscovered" lands had to be "opened up", so that "natives" might learn the value of a handful of coloured beads in exchange for the ruin of their cultural traditions.

OK, let\’s be very crudely reductionist here. There are something like 1200 murders a year in the UK (rough number). We\’ll also assume that in that golden age there were none.

Hands up everyone who would rewind the clock: back to a 1950s standard of living, back to a stultifying society (the 60s really were rebelling against something) but 1,200 people a year not being murdered.


Or is the collateral damage worth it (obviously not to the 1,200 of course, but to the 60 million of us)?