11 July 2017

Skiing in the age of climate change

I have been told by somebody – a fellow academic – that climate change is damaging ski resorts, especially at the lower levels, where it is less cold. Skiing is difficult if there is no snow, so some resorts have invested in snow-making machines.

Personally, I do not think this is likely to be a temporary development. I should think that climate changes will go on getting worse, and snow-making machines will become even more necessary.

This seems to imply that skiing will become more expensive, perhaps finally only a sport for the super-rich. The planet is being messed up because various ideological considerations are regarded as being of overriding importance. (See my post about Fukushima as an example of this.)

But perhaps something quite different will happen. Pensioners are given free bus passes, so perhaps ‘the poor’ might be given free plane passes and free ski resort passes.

12 May 2017

Age quod agis

St Ignatius of Loyola
(1491 - 1556)
The Ursuline convent school to which I went had a school motto, Age Quod Agis (Do What You Do). We were told that this meant one should do everything as well as possible. For example, the inscriptions in books for the prize-giving were written by the art mistress with a special pen for doing italic writing. At a state school, by contrast, I saw some prize books with the recipient’s name simply scribbled in.

At the same state school I saw some exam papers which had been used in end-of-term exams. They were carelessly photocopied, skew on the page with some of the material cut off, and not all of what was on the page was legible. There were some scribbled corrections to make up for the deficits in the photocopying.

At this state school, when you needed a textbook, the teacher took you to a small room where there were shelves full of dilapidated books, and fished around to find some of the least dilapidated for you to use.

At the convent school, all the books in the school were kept in prime condition. Girls would stay behind after school to spend time repairing books.

At the same state school it once happened that a teacher had wrongly marked the work of one of the girls. When it was pointed out to her by the girl in question, the teacher said cheerfully, ‘Nobody will mind about it in a hundred years’ time’.

This attitude, that it did not matter at all whether your marks were good or bad, or whether teachers marked correctly, was very different from the attitude at the Ursuline convent school. Here, there were what they called ‘degree ceremonies’ every few weeks, and the girls lined up in front of the Reverend Mother to have their marks and positions in the form read out.

The ceremonies took place in the school hall and were preceded by rehearsals. Each class was shown where to sit along the sides of the hall. The girls were then called out, class by class, to be shown where to stand in front of the Reverend Mother. Then the positions of the girls in the line were adjusted by one of the nuns, so that the tallest was in the middle and the other girls fell away from her on either side, decreasing in height.

* The first use of the injunction age quod agis is attributed to St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.

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I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

12 February 2017

A poem about Saint Paul

From Saint Paul by F.W.H. Myers:

Whoso has felt the Spirit of the Highest
Cannot confound nor doubt Him nor deny:
Yea with one voice, O world, tho’ thou deniest,
Stand thou on that side, for on this am I.

Rather the earth should doubt when her retrieving
Pours in the rain and rushes from the sod,
Rather than he for whom the great conceiving
Stirs in his soul to quicken into God.

Ay, tho’ Thou then shouldst strike him from his glory
Blind and tormented, maddened and alone,
Even on the cross would he maintain his story,
Yes, and in hell would whisper, I have known.

F.W.H. Myers
The poem* Saint Paul, published in 1867, was very popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A 1916 Spectator article predicted that it would ‘always have its place in English literature’. However, it is nowadays practically forgotten.

The above extract from the poem may be taken to illustrate the fundamental difference between the way of thinking of Victorian intellectuals and that of modern ones. There is a sense of hierarchical significance; something can be overridingly important.

* from Saint Paul, included in F.W.H. Myers, Poems, Macmillan 1870.
These verses quoted in Celia Green, Advice to Clever Children, Oxford Forum 1981, p.121.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position.
I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

06 February 2017

Brexit and European visitors

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty [...] triggers the start of a two-year process of exit talks before the UK is expelled from the 28-member bloc.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said that she will trigger Article 50 by March 2017. In theory, this means Britain will have left the EU by March 2019.
(Daily Express, 3 November 2016)

Brexit may eventually make it more difficult for citizens of European countries to enter Britain.

To any members of such countries who are interested in the possibility of forming an association with us, we would suggest they take advantage of the present situation to come on a preliminary visit, living in or near Cuddesdon.

02 February 2017

‘I will defend to the death your right to say it’

The epithet ‘I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it’ is sometimes attributed to Voltaire, but first occurs in a book called The Friends of Voltaire by Evelyn Beatrice Hall (writing under the pseudonym S.G. Tallentyre), in her chapter on Claude HelvĂ©tius.

Helvétius was a French philosopher whose book On the Mind aroused disapproval, was publicly burnt in Paris, and then became a bestseller.
‘On the Mind’ became not the success of a season, but one of the most famous books of the century. The men who had hated it, and had not particularly loved Helvetius, flocked round him now.

Voltaire forgave him all injuries, intentional or unintentional. 'What a fuss about an omelette!' he had exclaimed when he heard of the burning. How abominably unjust to persecute a man for such an airy trifle as that! 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,' was his attitude now.
(The Friends of Voltaire, London, 1906, pp.198-199.)

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I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

Update: My colleague Fabian has posted an article about counter-extremism and the rule of law.

03 December 2016

Civilization and inequality

Sphinx and pyramid at Giza
In Egypt’s palmy days, industry, foreign commerce, and successful wars poured untold wealth into the coffers of the pharaohs and the nobles. Their magnificent palaces and houses, of sun-dried brick or stone, were sumptuously equipped with richly inlaid furniture, beautiful tapestries, and the handiwork of accomplished sculptors, painters, goldsmiths, jewellers and glaziers.

Ancient Egypt is like a bright pupil who walks off with a whole batch of first and second prizes. By 3800 BC, her people were working copper mines [...] Their sailing ships and their use of stone in building are the earliest on record. They may be the creators, before 1500 BC, of the first known alphabet, in which each sign represents a single letter. They made the first materials for true writing – at all events in the Western world [...]

The great pyramid of Cheops at Giza stands 450 feet high and, it is said, employed the labour of 100,000 men for twenty years. *

Civilization arises from, and is maintained by, inequality.
In ancient Egypt, people fulfilling different functions had very different lifestyles.

* The Living World of History, London: Collins, 1963, p.11

Update: My colleague Fabian has posted about the meaning of the word “liberal”.

24 September 2016

Poverty and servants in The Railway Children

In Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children, when the family becomes worse off and leaves their salubrious house in a London suburb, the life which they are leaving behind is referred to as a ‘pretty’ life.
You will think that they ought to have been very happy. And so they were, but they did not know how happy till the pretty life in the Red Villa was over and done with [...]
This may seem to imply that nothing serious had been lost. Having servants mattered, not because the family needed things to be done for them, but because there was an aesthetic advantage to being surrounded by women in pastel-coloured uniforms.

In fact, the losses included those of a spacious and well-appointed house, several servants, and (no doubt) social interactions with wealthy neighbours.

The children presumably lost attendance at private schools. There was apparently no suggestion that they should attend state-funded schools instead.

At that time, far less importance was attached to ‘schooling’ than there is now. The railway children went to live in the country and did not go to school at all. Their mother gave them lessons at home.

But at that time (c. 1905) even a family such as theirs, which had come seriously down in the world, still had a full-time (though not a live-in) cook-housekeeper in their relatively primitive country cottage.

Times have changed since The Railway Children was written. Nowadays there is a strong feeling that everyone must go to school, and that nobody should have servants.

* E. Nesbit, The Railway Children, 1906, Chapter I.

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29 July 2016

Revolutionaries at the BBC

Bush House in London
Paul Kriwaczek’s book In Search of Zarathustra, about the prophet Zoroaster, refers to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979 and to the role of the BBC’s World Service in the machinations which led up to it.

This is his description of the goings-on at Bush House, where the World Service was then located.
In the early 1970s, Bush House, the headquarters of the BBC External Services in London’s Strand, was a very unusual place. Developed, designed and decorated by Americans and dedicated to the ‘friendship of the English-speaking peoples’, its imposing pillared portico sheltered dozens of groups of intelligent, articulate, often politically motivated expatriates and refugees from positively non-English-speaking peoples, who sat before the microphones of the BBC, representing to the world in dozens of languages the face of British post-colonial even-handedness and fair play.

At the same time, and in the same serious spirit, many plotted and planned among themselves the confusion, if not the outright overthrow, of their governments. It was said that no other building on earth housed as large a number of would-be — and actual — revolutionaries and insurrectionists at the same time. Meeting in the canteen, and debating and arguing for hour upon hour, day after day, they often seemed to be balanced just on the edge of action. Eventually plucking up the courage to jump after many false starts, they mostly came to a sad end. *
The extract may be taken to illustrate how the BBC (at least parts of it) has for many decades been promoting socialism as the preferred ideology.

* In Search of Zarathustra, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2002, p.9

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17 July 2016

H.G. Wells, Hayek and the ‘rights of man’

H.G. Wells included a ‘Declaration on the Rights of Man’ in his book The New World Order, published in 1940. This contains, for example, the assertion that every man
shall have the right to buy or sell without any discriminatory restrictions anything which may be lawfully bought or sold, in such quantities and with such reservations as are compatible with the common welfare. *
As Hayek pointed out in The Road to Serfdom, a ‘right’ of this kind, limited to what is lawful and compatible with the ‘common welfare’, does not amount to much.
It is pathetic, but characteristic of the muddle into which many of our intellectuals have been led by the conflicting ideals in which they believe, that a leading advocate of the most comprehensive central planning like Mr. H. G. Wells should at the same time write an ardent defence of the Rights of Man.

The individual rights which Mr. Wells hopes to preserve would inevitably obstruct the planning which he desires. [...] we find therefore the provisions of his proposed ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man’ so hedged about with qualifications that they lose all significance. **

* H.G. Wells, The New World Order, Secker & Warburg 1940, chapter 10.
** F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, Ark Books 1986, p.63.

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10 July 2016

Merlin and the servant problem

In C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, the druid Merlin, having been woken from over a thousand years of suspended animation, is talking to the Director of a community of people, and commenting on the hospitality he has received in their house, and on the way the Director lives.
‘Sir’, said Merlin in answer to the question which the Director had just asked him. ‘I give you great thanks. I cannot indeed understand the way you live and your house is strange to me. You give me a bath such as the Emperor himself might envy, but no one attends me to it; a bed softer than sleep itself, but when I rise from it I find I must put on my own clothes with my own hands as if I were a peasant. I lie in a room with windows of pure crystal [...] but I lie in it alone with no more honour than a prisoner in a dungeon. [...]

You seem to live neither like a rich man nor a poor one: neither like a lord nor a hermit.’ *
Merlin’s comments may have been Lewis’s oblique way of referring to the modern intellectual’s difficulty of finding people willing to save him from having to do everything for himself — already a significant issue in 1945 when That Hideous Strength was published.

* C.S. Lewis, The Cosmic Trilogy, Bodley Head 1989, p.649.