Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Wheelie Bin

No sooner had I posted the previous item than a visit to the news sites tells me that The Sky has fallen.

Team Sky in cycling after a successful decade are to finish in 2020 and are up for sale to the highest geared bidder, if there is any interest. This is not guaranteed.

This is the BBC News and it is being reported in other media.

The world of sport and TV coverage is changing rapidly and audiences are moving with it, so cycling may not be a good option for various reasons.

Where are my roller skates?

Bigger Bang

It has been a busy period with one thing after another, time has flown. But on Sunday the short post "The Future Of Earth" was, you may imagine, supposed to be a joke.

Perhaps is wasn't so funny if you read this one from Science Daily about how in the deep past we lost so many interesting species. Supernovae are nothing new or an idea lodged in the thinking part of one of a creature whose kind has been on Earth for a short while, but maybe not much longer.

In Europe our present obsession with some purely temporary political and economic matters seems like a large creature pursuing smaller creatures when at the same time it has created a system which will cause the food supplies to disappear.

What is that one we like to sing at this time of year? "It came upon a midnight clear"? Any millennia, or perhaps any decade now. You have been warned.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

The Future Of Earth

"Hey Great Organiser of the Deep Universe, look what has just come up on the deep search."

"It's just another lump of muck. And call me God."

"No God, there are signs of primitive life who have learned how to escape."

"You mean they could find and try to conquer us?"

"Could be, God, what shall I do, fry it or freeze it?"

"Try both, one of them should work."



Friday, 7 December 2018

Property Rights And Wrongs

The media of today is full of items relating to property and the financial world has this at its centre. We think this is the modern age but it is not. A thousand years ago it was much the same.


University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Historian tells new story about England's venerated "Domesday" book. Journal ReferenceCarol Symes. Doing Things beside Domesday Book. Speculum, 2018; 93 (4): 1048 DOI: 10.1086/699010.

Nearly a thousand years ago, a famous king created a famous book, later given the title 'Domesday' (pronounced 'doomsday'). It's among the most famous documents in English history, but its origins had not been thoroughly investigated.

At least that's been the common story: William the Conqueror, 20 years after his 1066 invasion of England from Normandy, ordered a massive survey of his new realm. One year later, he got a book with the results -- a record of the nation's wealth and resources, everything from property to sheep to servants.

The "Great Domesday Book," as it was later named, is perhaps the most famous document in English history after the Magna Carta. The book's origin story, however, had not been thoroughly investigated until University of Illinois history professor Carol Symes took up the task.

 "What had never been resolved is how this massive text was really created," Symes said, "and in this incredibly narrow timeframe." Now, after years of research, Symes makes the case in the journal Speculum that the final "Great Domesday Book" came years and perhaps decades later than the 1087 date to which it's attributed, also the year of William's death.

It also was not the orderly bureaucratic enterprise that's often assumed, but instead "enabled hundreds of thousands of individuals and communities to air grievances and to make their own ideas of law and justice a matter of public record," Symes wrote.

"This is documentation of the trauma of conquest. We're watching people pushing back, or at least letting their voices be heard because they're fed up," she said. In one example, the text records townspeople bitterly complaining about the leveling of houses to build a castle.

"We need to rethink what has seemed to be a rather straight forward, top-down royal project, but is revealed to be the tip of a big, monstrous iceberg that involves the agency of many historical actors and often preserves their voices.

This helps to tell a very different story about one of the landmark events of England -- the Norman conquest and its aftermath -- that is not just a story about 'the great man.'"

The universe of the "Domesday Book" is complicated, to say the least. The name is attached to two different bodies of text, "Great Domesday" and "Little Domesday" -- the first covering all of the country's shires except three in the southeast, the second covering those three, but in more detail, suggesting it was an earlier draft.

There's also "Exeter Domesday," a collection of 103 booklets that appears to be an even earlier draft of survey results, mostly covering three shires in the southwest. Curiously, London does not appear in any of these records, which likely is a sign its citizens either ignored the inquest or overwhelmed it with grievances, Symes said.

The Exeter collection is just one of many "satellite" documents that have some connection with the survey or book but have received little scholarly attention, Symes said. For many who focus their research on "Great Domesday," the book has been "the sun around which everything else spins."

Among Symes' contributions is to suggest ways that the different texts relate to each other, since that hasn't been clear. "I think I have figured out the workings behind how this book ("Great Domesday") was made," she said.

Most of Symes' research focused on the Exeter collection and another satellite document, a small fragment of parchment roll, perhaps the oldest in England, from an abbey at Burton-on-Trent in the northwest of the country. In both cases, she examined the original documents.

The Exeter documents provide numerous clues on how "Great Domesday" was assembled, but also serve as a window on the people and the process. A bishop can be seen intervening with the king's advisers when his property is not recorded. Teenage scribes make drinking plans in the marginal notes of manuscripts.

The abbey's parchment fragment, however, is key to Symes' contention that the final book came years and even decades later. She ties its contents to the comings and goings of a man who served at one time as its abbot, who had access to the survey data that went into "Domesday" and may even have been involved in the survey.

"It plugs a huge hole that we had in our evidence. It suggests that the process of creating the thing we call 'Great Domesday' actually took a lot longer than people had thought."

Symes said she was attracted to this particular book as part of her interest in medieval manuscripts, especially the complex ways in which they were "mediated" -- i.e., written, handled, copied, recopied, added to, edited, interpreted and heard by audiences, all in an age before the printing press.

Historians need to take a text's complex mediation into account, she said, even considering the parchment on which it was written, to fully understand and not misinterpret it.

Symes also likes messiness -- finding out "how the sausage gets made." She was attracted to Domesday, in part, "because it's a messy document that people pretend is not messy. It's taken to be this pristine, transparent thing when it's not."

One value in the Domesday research, she said, is in "realizing that the people of almost a thousand years ago were real people with real human emotions and needs. We're putting on a different set of glasses to look at these sources, and what we see is all those people who were written out of the record. We're getting to see and hear them again."

The "wonderful irony," Symes said, is that we can do that through one of the most famous books created in the Middle Ages, by a king.


Perhaps not by a king but for a king and telling him what he would like to hear.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

The New Contemptibles

The government has been held to be in contempt of law and perhaps reason by Parliament in matters relating to Brexit, that is the in or out of Europe. This is said to be new. What is new, perhaps, is that it has a vote to that effect beyond mutterings in the smoke rooms and occasional outbursts of vocabulary in the House.

In 1914 when Britain declared war on Germany to honour its treaty obligations it had a relatively small regular army compared to other states, but supported by a volunteer Territorial Army, made up of part time volunteers. They were not ready for action in the first weeks of the war.

A number of units of the regular Army were also scattered about the Empire and awaiting transport to return to Europe. So the number of  the first British troops sent to France was small. The German operation orders were that the initial strike would go through neutral Belgium to take the Channel Ports and march round the positions of the French Army to take Paris as soon as possible.

Kaiser Wilhelm II referred to the British contingent as a "contemptible little army" but they still stopped the Germans in their advance by a heroic defence and the quality of their rifles and riflemanship. At the end of the war, the survivors of this action had a society called "The Old Contemptibles", now all gone from us.

Today, we have a Cabinet and government and Parliament who welcome the German advances and domination of European affairs. When Angela Merkel says jump, Theresa May jumps along with her minions.

They are pictured above, it seems in their uniforms. Let us call them "The New Contemptibles".

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Europe Forward To The Past

Long ago I did an item on the Habsburg dynasty, their vision of Europe and what it meant. The idea was that this was the past. On reading it, however, it begins to look like a great deal of the present, only without the Habsburgs but a new founding mob.

It said: Well, after all that, we are now agreed that basically, taking everything into consideration, and looking at all the options the Habsburgs were right. It is now admitted by our leaders in Europe, not all of them elected, that after about six hundred years, all those wars of ideologies, wealth and empire seeking, dynastic disputes, and sundry fighting between other groups with particular agendas were a waste of time, men and money.

If only those misguided people our forebears trusted with power in the past had just let the Habsburgs, their Emperors, Princes, Dukes and the rest get on with running the show, religion, trade, and everything we could all have lived happily ever after.

I will skip the slightly complicated history of the Habsburgs, it is all there on the web and Wikipedia serves for starters. Nor do I suggest that the various descendants of Habsburg’s line scattered about the world should be elevated to high positions in Europe.

They seem to be a sociable lot, but their heritage has meant exclusion from politics. They could almost claim to be an ethnic group who have suffered social and political isolation and apply for the relevant grants from Brussels.

The Habsburgs, Holy Roman Emperors, not only ruled much of Europe and beyond, but in the parts they did not have direct rule, exercised a profound influence over what went on. Moreover, many went in for micro management to an astonishing degree, complaining that they were slaves to their peoples.

We can also ignore their foibles and eccentricities, difficulties in personal relationships, and consequences of genetic inbreeding.  They are minor compared to those of many of the current European and UK leaders, and as for the UK we can substitute “political” for “genetic”. The effects of that are infinitely more serious and damaging to the business of ruling than the twitching of the DNA.

The Europe of the Habsburgs was a sprawling regime with its many parts rarely functioning in connection with the others. It was a massive tax and wealth gathering entity which spent vast sums on prestige projects, personal palaces, and in enforcing the doctrines of which they and only they determined and defined.

It was multi layered to a bewildering and complicated degree. Most of the time of its functionaries was spend in working out who they were and what they were supposed to be doing. If they found that out, then someone higher up would confound it, and it will all start again.

Public decrees would be made, laws and regulations issued, but how they came to be or why would be shrouded in secrecy; only the powerful or the proximate would be party to any of it. This meant that as you went down through the levels of administration, matters became slower and slower, and more uncertain.

Nobody knew what decisions might be made and when, unless, of course, they paid good money to find out and obtain the right result.

There was a proliferation of senior, high paying, posts to satisfy the many clients of the state, and as many of the highest gathered so many of them to themselves, then there was extensive delegation to much cheaper and junior officials whose only hope of survival was to extract as much income and as quickly as possible.

The Empire had a monopoly of policing and military matters that were closely combined and under the instruction of the doctrinal and legal administrative classes, so that rebellion was prevented, and any reformers or opposition would be classed as rebellion or heresy and dealt with accordingly.

At the highest levels it was necessary to have connections and background that were absolutely correct. Without the sixteen quarterings of the right families you could neither be admitted to nor held worthy of rule.

Then it was ancestral because that was held to the test of rightness or wrongness.  Today there are other tests of political correctness that amount to the same thing. They are boxes that contain the right configurations of display, beliefs, and membership.

Nobody really knew where the money went, and accounting was simply an exercise in writing fiction. Who was supposed to getting the money was one thing. Who really benefited was quite another, sometimes completely random in effect, and at others going to people who had abused every office they held.

There were political jurisdictions which held out against the Habsburg system, but in the 20th Century by the more effective methods of wars with  modern communications and means of propaganda they were suborned and defeated.

For almost a century Europe was freed of the last of the Habsburg heritage. But it has been too difficult to shake them off. They may not be back in person, but their political tradition has triumphed.  Their system is back, bigger and better than ever and we are all now subject.

At least we will not have dynastic or other continental wide wars.

Well, not for a year or two.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Music And Musing For Advent

It is Advent and those who tune in to any of the services or the Nine Lessons and Carols in the Christmas period might hear a chorale by the Rev. John Troutbeck above 1832-1899, or an excerpt of the Bach "Magnificat" which he translated from the German.

He has a page on Wikipedia where the German operas translated are listed, Mozart with "Cosi fan tutte" and Wagner etc including "The Flying Dutchman".

He was a Canon Precenter at Westminster Abbey and a Chaplain in Ordinary to HM Queen Victoria. You might think that he was not the sort of person who would be chasing about The Lake District of Cumberland on a horse hunting foxes, perhaps in the company of Beatrix Potter, the authoress who gave us "Peter Rabbit".

The 19th Century was another time. He was one of the family of Troutbeck of Blencowe. In 1851 two of them were at Rugby School at the time of Thomas Arnold and the era of the book "Tom Brown's School Days" written by Thomas Hughes, doubtless playing hard at the football, as well as riding in  the school hunts around the neighbouring shires.

Matthew Arnold, his son, the poet, was contemporary with John Troutbeck. There were other literary connections and especially in The Lake District. In the earlier generation the poet and writer, William Wordsworth's sister, Dorothy was close friend with a Mrs. Troutbeck.

For the younger sons of the landed classes, the options typically were The Church, The Army, The Navy, The Law or the Civil Service. But there was another, important, but forgotten and misunderstood. There were the Land Agents, or Estate Agents, not the kind of today, salesmen for any sort of property. They were the men who ran many of the major estates of the aristocracy.

In the 1850's the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester was turning out qualified and capable men to manage and improve the lands of Britain as well as going out to the Empire to reform and make productive other lands of the world. See the Wikipedia page and the web site of the Royal Agricultural University.

John's younger brother Robert became Land Agent to the Viscount Falmouth in Kent and in the time before local government reform was the major figure in the locality of Maidstone, County and Garrison town. He built a large family house there, long demolished and replaced by blocks of flats. Reveille and the Last Post were part of each day.

In the large vicarage a short distance down the road lived the Rev. Rivers and his family. One of whom was the Dr. William Rivers of World War 1 fame and his diagnosis and treatment of shell shock. Today it has wider implications in the form of PTSD.

All people that on Earth do dwell?