Friday, 24 June 2016

Brussels Broadcasting Corporation: Towards a New Narrative

The referendum was ostensibly about membership of the European Union. But voters took it to be asking a different question: what kind of country do you want Britain to be? 

Yesterday seemed to offer a fork in the road: one path (Remain) promised it would lead to a modern world of opportunity based on interdependence; the other (Leave) was advertised as a route to an independent land that would respect tradition and heritage.

Which path people took depended on the prism through which they saw the world.
Thus Mark Easton, BBC Home Editor, this morning.

Only ostensibly about membership, you note: hoi polloi are far too cretinous, bless 'em, to understand that the EU Referendum was really about membership of the EU.

We Leave voters have turned our backs on the modern world of opportunity! a world of 28 countries in which we have chosen sullen isolation. Oh, the Bright (and Modern) Young Things who tried to take us there!

And I was thinking there were around 190 countries in the world. But only a hidebound dull-witted old fogey like m'self would work under such a retrograde delusion.

The BBC is getting its Narrative nicely polished up: the chattering classes are invited to Deplore.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

And As For That L. Calpurnius Piso...

 L. Sergius Catalina, and not L. Calpurnius Piso at all, by Maccari.
Crime, vice and corruption in the last age of the Republic are embodied in types as perfect of their kind as are the civic and moral paragons of early days; which is fitting, for the evil and the good are both the fabrication of skilled literary artists. Catalina is the perfect monster - murder and debauchery of every degree. Clodius inherited his policy and his character; and Clodia committed incest with her brother and poisoned her husband. The enormities of P. Vatinius ranged from human sacrifices to the wearing of a black toga at a banquet. Piso and Gabinius were a brace of vultures, rapacious and obscene. Piso to public view seemed all eyebrows and antique gravity. What dissimulation, what inner turpitude and nameless orgies within four walls! As domestic chaplain and preceptor in vice, Piso hired an Epicurean philosopher, and, corrupting the corrupt, compelled him to write indecent verses. This at Rome; in his province lust was matched with cruelty. Virgins of the best families at Byzantium cast themselves down wells to escape the vile proconsul; and the blameless chieftains of Balkan tribes, loyal allies of the Roman People, were foully done to death. Piso's colleague Gabinius curled his hair, gave exhibitions of dancing at fashionable dinner-parties and brutally impeded the lawful occupations of important Roman financiers in Syria. Marcus Antonius was not merely a ruffian and a gladiator, a drunkard and a debauchee - he was effeminate and a coward. Instead of fighting at Caesar's side in Spain, he lurked at Rome. How different was gallant young Dolabella! The supreme enormity - Antonius, by demonstrating affection towards his own wife, made a mock of Roman decorum and decency.

R Syme, The Roman Revolution (1939) p149 (1982 edn)

 Black toga at a banquet, chap being lovey to his wife! Whatever is the world coming to?

The whole chapter "Political Catchwords" is a tour de force.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Ever Grander Grandiosity


A grand statement from Donald Duck Tusk (Polish, Poland):

"As a historian I fear Brexit could be the beginning of the destruction of not only the EU but also Western political civilisation in its entirety," he told the German newspaper Bild.

Must be an extremely shit historian then.

Oh, I forgot, Polish. Wouldn't know a "political civilisation" if you shunted one up his fundament.

"Free country"?


Saturday, 11 June 2016

Mistakes For Dummies

Stephen Gethins (SNP, North East Fife): What’s the Prime Minister’s worst mistake in his time in office?

David Cameron (Con, Witney): The time to reflect on your mistakes is when you’re close to the end of your time in office, so that doesn’t apply!

PMQs 5th June

Malapropos, then, to reflect on your mistakes while you're making or shortly after you've made them. Orrrrr before you make them.

So's you can just plough on with making those mistakes.


Thursday, 9 June 2016

Nobody Here But Us Chickens

Bill Gates seems to have fallen for the Chicken Fallacy.

They lay eggs for food and sale; they make more chickens to lay more eggs and make more chickens; if they need feeding at all the feed is cheap; they don't stray so no maintenance effort required: what can possibly go wrong?

So for the longest time chicken farming has been the lazy man's easy road to self-sufficiency. Failed chicken farmers of note include Betty MacDonald (author of the bestselling The Egg and I - at least she did find a way of turning chickens into cash)  and Heinrich Himmler.

Day trading, Bill, that's the modern way to get your meathooks into the money. You're just a few mouseclicks away from the mountains of moolah. Work as little as you like, make as much as you want. Infallible, as my handy guide "Day Trade Your Way to Plenty: the Secrets Wall Street Doesn't Want You to Know" ($75.50, few copies left so order now) explains.

Friday, 3 June 2016

No Theory Please, We're Roman

C. Octavius, now C. Julius Caesar Octavianus and with no emphasis on the "Octavianus" (he was Caesar the Dictator's great-nephew and adopted son) within months of the Ides of March, 44 BC:

Such were the resources that Octavianus gathered in late summer and autumn of the year. Men and money were the first thing, next the skill and resolution to use them. An inborn and Roman distrust of theory, an acute sense of the difference between words and facts, a brief acquaintance with Roman political behaviour - that he possessed and that was all he needed. It is a common belief, attested by the existence of political science as a subject of academic study, that the arts of government may be learned from books. The revolutionary career of Caesar's heir reveals never a trace of theoretical preoccupations: if it did, it would have been very different and very short.

R Syme, The Roman Revolution (1939) p120 (1982 edn)

Syme completes the chapter "Caesar's Heir" with a magnificent review of Octavianus' position and political education:

He soon took measure of Antonius: the Caesarian soldier was a warning against the more generous virtues and vices. Another eminent Roman could furnish a text in the school of politics. The failure of Cicero as a statesman showed the need for courage and constancy in all the paths of duplicity. A change of front in politics is not disastrous unless caused by delusion or indecision. The treacheries of Octavianus were conscious and consistent.

Syme is here, as elsewhere, also down on biographers in recasting the fall of the 'Free State':

But it is not enough to redeem Augustus from panegyric and revive the testimony of the vanquished cause. That would merely substitute one form of biography for another. At its worst, biography is flat and schematic: at the best, it is often baffled by the hidden discords of human nature. Moreover, undue insistence upon the character and exploits of a single person invests history with dramatic unity at the expense of truth. However talented and powerful in himself, the Roman statesman cannot stand alone, without allies, without a following[...] In all ages, whatever the form and name of government, be it monarchy, republic or democracy, an oligarchy lurks behind the façade; and Roman history, Republican or Imperial, is the history of the governing class. 

As Syme points out, nobody at the time knew what was going to happen next. Yet the natures and foibles of the rest, Antony, Cicero, Cassius, Brutus, are discernible; redeemed from biography the characterless Octavianus' rise seems inexorable.

Writing in 1939, terms Syme uses such as 'Free State', 'New State', 'Commonwealth', 'July days', have a weight to them. Did contemporaries use these terms?