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Posts Tagged ‘Britain

“Change threatens, and its possibility creates frightened, angry people*…

 

Brexit

 

Ferdinand Mount has for years been a voice of the Tory establishment; he was described thusly by the (conservative) Telegraph:

Ferdinand Mount is a baronet who prefers not to use his title, a former nanny to the children of American millionaires who later headed Margaret Thatcher’s Downing Street Policy Unit, the most scrupulously intelligent man ever to be appointed as an editor by Rupert Murdoch, the nephew of Anthony Powell, and himself the author of a sequence of novels, ‘A Chronicle of Modern Twilight’, cherished by all those who like their fiction to be amusing, elegant and expletive-free.

So his thoughts on Brexit and the political situation in Britain are especially tangy:

Yes, this is a right-wing coup. It is duplicitous or self-deceiving to pretend that British politics is still proceeding more or less as normal. We are told that it is ‘hysterical’ to argue that Boris Johnson’s regime is in any way comparable to the nationalist dictatorships of yesterday or today. If this is a temptation, I shall happily succumb to it as a patriotic duty. By every standard of measurement, the Conservative Party has been transformed into Britain’s own BJP. ‘Optimism with a hint of menace’ was how the Sunday Times approvingly described Johnson’s first days in power – pretty much the way you might describe the first hundred days of Narendra Modi, or Donald Trump, or Benito Mussolini. Yes, he has come to power by strictly constitutional means. So did they all. It is how they govern when they get there that counts.

First, there was the brutality of the cabinet cull. Macmillan’s Night of the Long Knives pales by comparison, as do Margaret Thatcher’s most far-reaching reshuffles. Both Supermac and Thatcher took care to include up and coming ministers from all wings of the party. Johnson has included only yes-people, or placemen who have vowed omertà in advance. His rhetoric has already assumed a strongman strut. He tears up prepared speeches in favour of sunlit-uplands rants peppered with sentimental appeals to ‘the will of the people’. Implicit in this waffle is a barely concealed contempt for the judiciary and for Parliament. In his two spells in the Commons, Johnson has never bothered to shine, or indeed even to turn up much. His most significant promotion was that of Dominic Raab as foreign secretary, the only man to have issued a veiled threat to prorogue Parliament to get his gang’s way.

We are already beginning to take for granted Johnson’s abusive tone towards international institutions and foreign leaders, except those like Donald Trump who talk the same mixture of bluster and treacle. At home, we are promised more mega-bridges and bonanza buses, the sorts of project with which dictators always like to dazzle the plebs. Here, the author of Boris Island Airport and the garden bridge is at least staying true to form.

What still puzzles some people is that so many old-fashioned Tories should have fallen for such a seedy, treacherous chancer. In fact, I think Johnson has succeeded because of his amorality, not despite it. The transgressive sayer of the unsayable breaks through the carapace of conventional politics with a mixture of humour and vituperation, slang and high-flown rhodomontade. Clowning is part of the act for the leader who wants to reach beyond good and evil in the fashion Nietzsche recommended. A cartoon Superman? Yes, but they all are. See Charlie Chaplin, passim.

How long will he last – five weeks, five years? I have no idea. All I can say is what I see. And it is not a pretty sight. Our new skipper has consistently admitted that he would love to be prime minister ‘if the ball came loose from the back of the scrum’. But that isn’t what happened. He collapsed the scrum, deliberately and repeatedly, and we are all now sprawling in the mud.

From The London Review of Books‘ “How Bad Can It Get– Reflections on the State We’re In.”

Pair with this argument– rooted in the work of psychologist Karen Stenner, described in 2005 book The Authoritarian Dynamic by (a libertarian, not a Democrat, and certainly not a progressive) arguing that it’s “authoritarian fear of difference” that best explains the intolerance, often manifesting as nationalism, sweeping the Republican Party: “What Ails the Right Isn’t (Just) Racism.”  (And, on a similar note, this.)

{Photo above: source]

* “Change threatens, and its possibility creates frightened, angry people. They are found in their purest essence on the extreme right, but in all of us there is some fear of process, of change.”
Carl R. Rogers

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As we brace for more bluster, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) began construction of the Berlin Wall, a guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989.

267px-Berlinermauer

View from the West Berlin side of graffiti art on the Wall in 1986

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Written by LW

August 13, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Earth is ancient now, but all knowledge is stored up in her”*…

 

(Roughly) Daily is headed into a brief hiatus, as your correspondent is hitting the highways of his humid homeland.  Regular service should resume on April 26.  Meantime…

An illustration of the huge waterfalls cascading over the land bridge connecting Britain to Europe

Britain split from mainland Europe to become an island thanks to catastrophe — that might sound political, but in fact it’s geographic. Thousands of years before the UK opted to leave the European Union, a process called Brexit, a different separation occurred. Unlike the political one, it was relatively simple, and probably composed of just two stages.

First, a review of geography: England is separated from the rest of Europe by a body of water called the English Channel; the bit of water where England is closest to France is called the Dover Strait. But the strait wasn’t always there — it was likely created by two major erosion events, according to a study published today in Nature Communications. The first one likely happened around 450,000 years ago, around the same time Neanderthals first appeared in Europe. That’s when huge amounts of water spilled over from a large lake sitting at the edge of a massive ice sheet that stretched from Britain to Scandinavia. The second one may have occurred 160,000 years ago, when catastrophic flooding opened the Dover Strait. When the ice age ended and sea levels rose, water flowed into that gap. Just like that, Britain became an island…

More at “The first Brexit actually happened thousands of years ago.”

* Jeanette Winterson, Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles

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As we cope with separation anxiety, we might spare a thought for Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon; he died on this date in 1788.  A naturalist, mathematician, cosmologist, and encyclopédiste,  Buffon formulated a crude theory of evolution, and was the first to suggest that the earth might be older than suggested by the Bible: in 1778 he proposed that the Earth was hot at its creation and, judging from the rate of its cooling, calculated its age to be 75,000 years, with life emerging some 40,000 years ago.

In 1739 Buffon was appointed keeper of the Jardin du Roi, a post he occupied until his death. There he worked on the comprehensive work on natural history for which he is remembered, Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière. He began in 1749, and it dominated the rest of his life.  It would eventually run to 44 volumes, covering quadrupeds, birds, reptiles and minerals.  As Max Ernst remarked, “truly, Buffon was the father of all thought in natural history in the second half of the 18th century.”

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Written by LW

April 16, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Study the past if you would define the future”*…

 

Six Degrees of Francis Bacon (SDFB) is a digital reconstruction of the early modern social network that scholars and students from all over the world will be able to collaboratively expand, revise, curate, and critique. Historians and literary critics have long studied the way that early modern people associated with each other and participated in various kinds of formal and informal groups. By data-mining existing scholarship that describes relationships between early modern persons, documents, and institutions, we have created a unified, systematized representation of the way people in early modern England were connected…

Follow the connections at Six Degrees of Francis Bacon.

* Confucius

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As we marvel at the interconnectedness of it all, we might recall that it was on this date in 1606 that The Virginia Company loaded three ships with settlers, who set sail to establish Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas.  As this was the UK’s first colony, today can be considered the birthday of the British Empire.

A rendering of the initial settlement/fort at Jamestown, c. 1607

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Written by LW

December 20, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs”*…

 

The digging of Crossrail, London’s new twenty-three-billion-dollar east-west underground commuter line, has been one long party for archeologists. Since construction began, in 2009, imposing encampments, clad in blue fencing and busy with trucks, have appeared across the city, providing access points for the cranes and the huge boring machines that are needed to carve out tunnels, vents, and stations along the line’s seventy-three miles. Almost always, there have also been archeologists on the scene, clipboards and trowels in hand, to see what can be unearthed from the briefly exposed soil. So far, there have been excavations at thirty of Crossrail’s forty building sites, yielding up a section of a medieval barge, in Canning Town; a Bronze Age wooden walkway, in Plumstead; and the remains of a Mesolithic campfire, in North Woolwich.

On a recent, gray spring afternoon, I went to see the latest, and largest, Crossrail dig, across the road from Liverpool Street station, in the middle of the financial district, where a new ticket hall will soon occupy the space previously filled by London’s first municipal graveyard. The New Churchyard, an acre in size, was first used in 1569, not long after an outbreak of bubonic plague, as an alternative to the overcrowded parish plots inside the old city walls. It was not attached to any church, which made it a natural resting place for radicals, nonconformists, migrants, mad people, and drifters—Londoners, in other words. It closed some time in the seventeen-twenties, full many times over. Ten thousand people were buried there; in 1984, a partial excavation found graves dug through graves, eight skeletons per cubic meter…

More urban archaeology at “Bedlam’s Big Dig.”

* William Shakespeare, Richard II

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As we memento mori, we might recall that it was on this date in 1606 that King James I, having inherited the English and Irish thrones to go with the Scottish monarchy that (as James IV) he already had, decreed the design of a new flag for his domains, according to which the flag of England (a red cross on a white background, known as St George’s Cross), and the flag of Scotland (a white saltire on a blue background, known as the Saltire or St Andrew’s Cross), would be joined together, forming the flag of England and Scotland for maritime purposes. King James also began to refer to a “Kingdom of Great Britaine”, although the union remained a personal one.  The flag– known as the Union Flag or Union Jack– was adopted as the national flag in 1707, after the completion of the Treaty of Union and the passage of the Acts of Union.

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Written by LW

April 12, 2015 at 1:01 am

“This is a service station. We offer service. There’s no higher purpose”*…

 

This quaint art deco Tower Conoco Station and U-Drop Inn Cafe in Shamrock, Texas, was one of the first businesses the tiny panhandle town built along Route 66, in 1936. Built by architect Joseph Barry, it’s now owned by the city and used as a visitor’s center. (CLINTON STEEDS VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Gas stations are rarely known for their aesthetics. Looking like a truck stop is no compliment for a work of architecture. It hasn’t always been so: In the early days of American car culture, gas stations were designed with enough architectural flamboyance to lure customers off the highway. As driving has become an ingrained way of life, though, that extra design effort has fallen by the wayside. Though in general we’re not a huge fan of city driving, as long as people continue to rely on cars, there will have to be places to fuel up. Why make car infrastructure more of a blight on the landscape than it already is?

Some of the best-known architects of our time have set their sights on gas station architecture, from midcentury icons like Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe, to Jean Prouvé to Norman Foster. In a new book from Architizer founder Marc Kushner, The Future of Architecture in 100 Buildings, Kushner devotes an entire section to this car-centic architecture that outclasses the barren Shell stations of today by a mile…

This gas station in Matúškovo, Slovakia, built in 2011 by Atelier SAD, looks like a spacecraft. The columns supporting the concrete overhang also serve as drainage pipes.  (TOMAS SOUCEK)

Fill ‘er up at “9 Gorgeous Gas Stations Throughout History.”

* “Socrates” (Nick Nolte), a gas station attendant in Peaceful Warrior

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As we opt for unleaded, we might recall that it was on this date in 1934 that Britain introduced the first Driver’s Test for licensing.  Optional until 1935 (so as to avoid a crush at the test centers), the new requirement, enacted with the Highway Code of 1934, followed a year in which cars on the road topped 1 million in the U.K. and road deaths reached 7,300.  In an effort to calm motorists made nervous by the new requirement, Ford produced a short, reassuring film, narrated by motor racer and land speed record holder Sir Malcolm Campbell:

email readers click here for video

 

Written by LW

March 26, 2015 at 1:01 am

There will always be an England…

 

Via Collective History.

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As we look both ways, we might send covert birthday greetings to Ian Lancaster Fleming; he was born on this date in 1908.  The scion of a wealthy merchant banking family, Fleming worked as a journalist and served as a naval intelligence officer before finding his stride, starting in 1952, as the author of a series of spy novels featuring a suave MI6 agent who was licensed to kill.  While he also wrote such well-known works as Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, his James Bond novels have sold over 100 million copies; the films based on his novels have grossed over $12 billion (adjusted for inflation), second as a series only to the Harry Potter films.

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Written by LW

May 28, 2013 at 1:01 am

Rule, Britannia!…

 

What do Guatemala, Tajikistan, Luxembourg, and the Marshall Islands have in common?

Every schoolboy used to know that at the height of the empire, almost a quarter of the atlas was coloured pink, showing the extent of British rule.  But that oft-recited fact dramatically understates the remarkable global reach achieved by this country.

A new study has found that at various times the British have invaded almost 90 per cent of the countries around the globe.

The analysis of the histories of the almost 200 countries in the world found only 22 which have never experienced an invasion by the British.

Find the other 18 unviolated nations in the full story at The Telegraph.

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As we realize that, perhaps, “Cool Britannia” isn’t such a bad idea after all, we might recall that this was the date in 1955 to which Marty McFly returned in Back to the Future (and Back to the Future II).

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Written by LW

November 12, 2012 at 1:01 am

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