Thursday, 17 August 2017

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The prison on the plain

As a youngster I read a number of stories which impressed me, stories I’ve always remembered. One was about a futuristic prison set in a vast, uninhabited plain. The was no cover on the plain, no hiding place for prisoners should any be enterprising and lucky enough to escape its massive walls.

Not only was the prison itself secure, but above the plain robot aircraft patrolled day and night, designed to detect and fire on the slightest movement. The story concerned an escapee who made it to the plain but I can’t remember how he avoided those robot aircraft.

What I do remember is how fascinated I was about the notion of an escape-proof prison, because in my young mind that’s what it was in spite of the hero presumably escaping. A comparison with modern life is obvious. Even in my childhood the prison on the plain was not particularly fanciful. Suppose we stick with the word fanciful.

Imagine a future where there is no cash, nowhere to buy anything outside monitored electronic transactions. Everyone is known to the system, anyone can be monitored in any number of ways. Anyone can be financially deactivated within minutes and located within hours should they violate any one of an uncountable number of laws and regulations.

Is that fanciful?

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

A bit o’ butter

This is a piece of eighteenth century porcelain. Made in Lowestoft round about 1770, the cobalt design has clearly run into the lead glaze but with Lowestoft that is not particularly unusual. Firing these things was an art and some firings turned out better than others but everything had to be sold if at all possible. I have included a 50 pence piece to show how small it is. The capacity is about 50ml.

What is it though? Sometimes such pieces are described as cream boats, sometimes as butter boats. Georgians were fond of cream and melted butter so perhaps they were used for both or maybe something else entirely.

If they were used for melted butter then the question of cleaning them afterwards may be worth a thought, especially if we bear in mind the greasy nature of butter, the lack of modern detergents plus the high cost of porcelain even with that runny design. It was expensive and could not be treated roughly.

In which case a servant would never give a porcelain butter boat to the kitchen cat to lick off the greasy remains of congealed butter. That idea would probably work as a cleaning technique but the risk of breakage is probably too high.

How about this possibility? After the nobs have finished their meal, a servant wipes the butter boat clean with a piece of bread, eats the bread then finishes off by licking the butter boat clean. A quick wipe with a kitchen rag and back on the shelf it goes – job done. 

That’s antiques stimulating the imagination.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Shoe fetish

A widely reported shoe story is bound to catch the cynical eye.

Clarks has been accused of "everyday sexism" for a calling a girls' school shoe "Dolly Babe", while the boys' equivalent is called "Leader".

The girls' shoes carry a heart-patterned insole, while the boys' insoles are decorated with footballs.

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, said the situation was unacceptable and "almost beyond belief" in 2017.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative MP for North East Somerset, also criticised Clarks. "To call a pair of shoes for a girl Dolly Babe is dreadful. It's wrong in all sorts of ways ... this is just really silly," he told the BBC.

Carolyn Harris, shadow minister for women and equalities, described the situation as "blatant discrimination", while Sarah Ludford, a Liberal Democrat peer and shadow Brexit minister, called the name choices "depressing

So much madness. A blogger could easily post on nothing else - there is so much of it out there. One might respond more rationally in any number of ways. The obvious one is to suggest that if boys, girls or parents don’t want politically incorrect shoes then they can take their custom elsewhere. Clarks sales figures may then lead it to correct the situation because that’s what markets do.

This of course is part of the problem, the chattering classes do not approve of markets, they think they should be policed by people who think as they do. Of course markets are already policed with respect to standards, but as ever there are those who think they should be policed politically too. Hence our increasingly shambolic energy market.

What about the madness itself, the source of so many crazy stories? It is not the madness of insanity, but the madness of a civilisation that chooses not to recognise certain realities it cannot change but for political reasons must pretend to be changing. That is one for the future, one of the chapters in our ultimate collapse or a problem we learn to deal with in the wider story of our ultimate survival.

For the present we have a minor skirmish in the war against diversity which pretends to be promoting diversity. It also seems to my cynical eye that this battle over kids’ shoes is a reminder of where those stereotyped shoes came from, a reminder that gender stereotypes are popular, particularly with the young. They evolved because they work. Yet we are supposed to believe or at least accept relentless public harangues telling us that gender stereotyping is repressive, out of date, harmful, immoral, itchy or whatever epithet is fashionable, even though almost everyone knows it is not so.

Gender stereotyping is clearly popular out there in the real world. It can be observed over and over again, especially among the young. I recently saw a group of about a dozen young girls and every one of them had fashionably long hair, at least shoulder-length. That was only one of their ways to stereotype themselves.

To my low mind, one should not avoid the basics. Females tend to seek alpha males and in doing that they do not usually depend on gender-neutral footwear. This is the way of the world, one of the biological basics we should not avoid. I don’t know what drives the faux outrage apart from the obvious Pavlovian explanation, but if we neglect the basics we neglect what we know. 

Saturday, 12 August 2017


We were walking on Ecton Hill today. A pleasant walk, part of which took us along a narrow country road which led to a few farmhouses before petering out into a track winding along a valley. This part of the walk was very quiet. We were well away from the Manifold Trail, there were no busy roads nearby, hardly any people and nothing to disturb the sheep from their contented grazing.

It was so quiet that we both noticed how silent it was. Hardly a sound apart from our own footsteps. It didn’t last but most of us have probably become so accustomed to noise that the lack of it is noticed, especially in broad daylight.

The picture shows an old millpond with a small derelict stone building in one corner. Not even a duck ripples the water.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Amazon Prime Trending Movies

Currently the first four Amazon Prime Trending Movies are

The Mask - a 1994 American superhero fantasy comedy film directed by Charles Russell, produced by Bob Engelman, and written by Mike Werb, loosely based on the comic series of the same name distributed by Dark Horse Comics.

Constantine - a 2005 American occult detective film directed by Francis Lawrence (in his directorial debut) and starring Keanu Reeves as John Constantine. Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Tilda Swinton, Pruitt Taylor Vince, and Djimon Hounsou co-star. With a screenplay by Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello, the film is based on DC Comics' Hellblazer comic book,

Practical Magic - Maria Owens, a young witch, is exiled to Maria's Island in Massachusetts with her unborn child for escaping her execution. When her lover does not come to rescue her, she desperately casts a spell upon herself to stop falling in love due to heartbreak, only to die soon after.

Annabelle  - a 2014 American supernatural horror film directed by John R. Leonetti, written by Gary Dauberman and produced by Peter Safran and James Wan.

To summarise - we have a fantasy based on comics, an occult tale also based on a comic, a dose of witchcraft and a tale of the supernatural. Movies are merely entertainment of course. However popular they may be, does their popularity cast doubt on the rational nature of our culture?


Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Former People

"Comrade Lenin Cleanses the Earth of Filth" by Viktor Deni. November 1930

Written by Douglas Smith, Former People: The Destruction of the Russian Aristocracy is not a cheery read. It is a very well written and horribly compelling history of the Bolshevik Revolution. “Former people” is a term applied to the tsarist ruling class, the class enemies of the revolution. Their story is told primarily through the grim fate of two noble families, the Sheremetovs and the Golitsyns. As Smith says -

History, we are told, is written by the victors. What is less often stated, though no less important, is that history is usually written about the victors; winners get more attention in the history books than losers.

The Sheremetovs and the Golitsyns certainly lost, although many nobles saw, however dimly, the inevitability of a Russian catastrophe. They knew Tsar Nicholas II was hopeless and they also knew things had to change and would change sooner or later. What they did not foresee was how ruthless, how astonishingly rapid and catastrophically devastating that change would be.

As the historian Evan Mawdsley commented, “The Civil War unleashed by Lenin’s revolution was the greatest national catastrophe Europe had yet seen.” Russia descended into savage anarchy beyond imagination. “War and strife, famine and pestilence—the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” Mawdsley wrote, “devastated the largest country in Europe.”

However, there are also a few touches of grim irony to remind us that human nature is not changed by even the most severe political turmoil.

The famine gripping Russia in those years spared no one, except for the new elite; the Sheremetevs’ remaining chef left them around this time to cook for Lenin and his comrades in the Kremlin.

Inevitably the hypocrisy took many forms.

Bunin reveled in pointing out the hypocrisy of Red leaders who preached “war on the palaces” and then moved into them as soon as the owners had been evicted. He was revolted by this “new aristocracy”: “Sailors with huge revolvers on their belts, pickpockets, criminal villains, and shaved dandies in service jackets, depraved-looking riding britches, and dandy-like shoes with the inevitable spurs. All have gold teeth and big, dark, cocaine-like eyes.”

With equal inevitability, some journalists had allegiances they were happy enough to share with their readers.

The British reporter Walter Duranty arrived in Moscow in 1921. Among his earliest impressions of the Soviet capital was the dreadful condition of the old aristocracy.

To another Western reporter, Edwin Hullinger, the same scene testified to the revolution’s great achievement. Having stripped away the institutional foundations upon which class and caste had been built, the revolution had exposed people’s true essence:

As proof, Hullinger quoted the words of a former countess. “Yes, many of us can see that the Revolution was for the best,” she told him. “It made us into living, real people. Many were only existing before. We have gained confidence in ourselves because we know we can do things. I like it better. I would not go back to the old. And there are many young people of our class who think as I do. But we paid a terrible price. I presume it was necessary, however.”

As a single example of that terrible price, here is the story of one life briefly told.

Consider the case of Professor Nikolai Nekrasov, the last governor-general of Finland before the revolution and a former minister in the Provisional Government. An excellent engineer, he had been arrested several times, most recently in 1930, when he was sentenced to ten years. He was brought to Dmitlag as an inmate specialist, yet was given his own newly constructed house in the “the free sector” along with a car and driver. He was released in 1935 but chose to stay on and worked at Dmitlag until the project was finished. In 1940, he was arrested for a final time and then shot.

The Former People story is well told and well worth reading, but to my mind the most lasting lesson of Smith’s book is a forceful reminder of something we already know. Former People sets before us an important political lesson to be drawn from the Bolshevik Revolution – the eternal role of political enemies.

Political parties, factions and movements all need enemies. Even the effete parties of our floundering democracies need them. There is an absolute political necessity to have or to invent the Outsider, the one who is responsible for present woes, the one who must be destroyed in order to set things right, who must be hated in order to relieve the faithful from any possibility of doubt.

Life, comrades,” Stalin announced in 1935, “has become better, life has become more cheerful.” His words became the defining slogan for the mid-1930s, the brief three years from 1934 to 1937 between the end of the First Five-Year Plan and the Great Terror.

The same year Stalin made his famous remark, the newspaper Komsomolskaia Pravda ran a series of articles on “Teaching Hatred” by such luminaries as Maxim Gorky and Ilya Ehrenburg. Hatred, it turns out, was not to be condemned but instilled, encouraged, and celebrated, for persons “who cannot hate with passion are unlikely to be able to love with passion.”

One is left with the impression that even our politically correct laws against hate speech may not be what they seem. By inventing haters we have surely invented yet another enemy. The person or social group accused of hating may in turn be hated with impunity. People who used to speak their mind on subjects now closed for debate perhaps. Former People we might almost say.