Jun 142020
 

In the wake of the tearing down of many US statues of Confederate generals and in the UK, the removal of a statue to a slave trader in Bristol, there is an ongoing debate about the status of statues in the public space.

And some pretty daft things have been said about it.

One of the daftest is the notion that they represent our history and destroying them is destroying our history; no they don’t and no it isn’t. History is a lot bigger and more diverse than the handful of historical (in some cases) so-called heroes.

The best a statue (almost always of an old white dude) can achieve in that direction is to spark an interest in history. And replacing the Bristol statue of Edward Colston with a statue of Paul Stephenson would have very little effect on this “sparking effect”. From a purely ancient history perspective, I might prefer one to Robert Fitzharding, but given that there is no shortage of statues to old white dudes, someone else can take centre stage.

The Bare Family

In the US, it is rather peculiar to say the least that many US cities have statues to traitorous (not to mention racist) Confederate generals. Even ignoring the political question of why they are there, a fair few of them have little to no aesthetic value – if I were one of those dead Confederate generals, I’d be saying “Look, I may have been pretty ugly but at least I looked human!”.

But it gets on to an interesting point – we don’t so much worship the real people depicted in statues as our idealised version of them. In the case of Confederate generals (and ignoring the conscious and blatant racists), some view these as heroes of states’ rights which is more than a little invented – those making up the Confederacy were quite happy trampling on states’ rights when it came to achieving things they wanted (such as the return of run-away slaves).

In some cases the myth of the man (and woman in some rare cases) is enough to justify their statue despite what they were like in life – for instance Churchill was a racist and an imperialist but he also represents anti-fascism, Britain’s war leadership, and the initiation of the European state project.

There are those who would point to the Bengal famine of 1943 as a reason why he should not be venerated in statue form. He certainly deserves criticism for his handling of that famine and bears some responsibility for it, but he hardly caused the famine and there was plenty of other things going on at the time.

Back to the Confederate generals … I don’t think their myth is sufficient to justify the continued existence of their statues in the light of their very real crimes.

In the case of at least some statues, their origin story can be more interesting than expected – for instance there is a statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the British parliament that was put up in the late 19th century. At the time, it was felt that putting up such a statue was rather provocative given the situation with Ireland at the time.

So no public money went to funding the statue; a ‘benefactor’ paid for the statue, but it was put up in the public space anyway – kind of missing the point!

But is the violent removal of such statues justified?

Normally, no. But in some instances, yes.

In the case of the Bristol slave trader, people have been trying to have the statue removed through official channels for over twenty-years! If you do not have a sensible way of handling reasonable objections to questionable statues in a reasonable time frame you can’t get too upset when people resort to direct action.

There must be a sensible, timely, and semi-democratic mechanism by which statues in the public space can be removed – perhaps if 25% of the local electorate vote to remove it, it should go. Whilst this is not properly democratic, if a statue is offensive to a quarter of the local population it seems not unreasonable to remove it.

Mar 252018
 

It seems likely that the company Cambridge Analytica paid Facebook for access to data and using it’s access, downloaded as much data as possible for nefarious purposes. Nobody should be that surprised at this.

Facebook does not host an enormously expensive social network just because it is fun; it does it to make money. It probably does this primarily through advertising, but selling access to social network data is always going to take place.

And from time to time, scandals when companies like Cambridge Analytica are going to take place. At which point Facebook will protest saying that it didn’t realise that the associated firm was doing such naughty things. And once the story drops out of the news, Facebook will carry on leaking data.

As the saying goes: “If you are not paying for it, you are the product.”

In the end, the only solution to something like this, is to produce some kind of peer-to-peer application that is as easy to use as Facebook, uses strong end-to-end encryption, and keeps our data private to those people and groups we choose to share it with.

The Hole

Mar 102018
 

Alfred is a former Anglo-Saxon (actually Saxon) land-owner who has been reduced to serfdom for swearing to support William the Bastard and then breaking his oath in rebellion. Understandably he’s a bit put out by this.

William (no, not the Bastard; another one) is a Norman lord who has taken over Alfred’s estates. He is a bit of a thicko, and his main strength is bashing people with big lumps of optionally sharpened metal; his language skills aren’t especially pronounced which is somewhat ironic as a Norman is really a Viking with a French accent.

Bruce is William’s sword brother and is currently present so William can utter asides to him during the following dialog; he is presently visiting William as a break from his somewhat grimmer estates in Northumbria near the Scottish border, and to drink as much as is humanly possible.

William: “Oy! Alfred. Bring bœuf”

Alfred looks puzzled; he’s heard the word bœuf before but isn’t sure what it means, and isn’t in the mood to be helpful (he rarely is).

William (in Norman French which I have rendered in English because my Norman French is non-existent, and I’m not sure Google Translate is up to this job. It is also in italics to clarify that William is making an aside to Bruce): “These Saxons are a bit thick; can’t even understand the simplest commands.”

William: “Bring ox(masculine ending)”

Alfred: “We don’t have ox(masculine ending), how about ox(feminine ending)?”

William: “Just bring it”

Alfred leaves the hall looking puzzled, and is gone for an unusually long time.

Bruce: Is he trying to breed with the cow so he can bring a bull?

Alfred arrives back leading a cow on a rope; it is obviously still alive. William stands and starts to draw his sword whereas Bruce hurls his nearly empty tankard at Alfred which fortunately bonks his head. This seems to satisfy William who slumps back down in his chair and mutters: See what I have to put up with?

Alfred: “Did you mean ox(ending indicating a roasted dish)?”

William: “Bring food”

Alfred hands the cow’s rope to another serf, heads out of the hall, and comes back a few minutes later with some roast ox.

The Bench

Feb 062018
 

About 100 years ago (being somewhat pessimistic about how long it will take me to write this), the Representation of the People Act was passed. Understandably enough, there’s been a whole bunch of comments regarding women getting the vote; and it was certainly a significant reform because of that.

But you have to hunt long and hard to realise that it also enshrined the one man, at least one vote principle (some University graduates could vote twice). Due to the previous property qualification, before 1918 only 60% of men could vote.

Which is almost as significant as giving women the vote.

Women got the same rights as men 10 years later in the 1928 Representation of the People Act.

The Bare Family

May 012017
 

With an election coming up it is time to try and persuade those who do not vote to get out there and vote. One of the main reasons people give for not voting is because none of the candidates are inspiring enough. Well it is all very well waiting for a candidate that inspires you, but you could well be waiting for a very long time.

Probably the second biggest reason for not voting is that with the first past the post system, there are places where voting for anyone other than the leading candidate is seen as a wasted vote. Nothing could be further from the truth! In almost every “safe” seat, if everyone who didn’t vote for the leading candidate all voted for an agreed alternative, then the seat could easily go to that alternative candidate. For example, the Arundel and South Downs constituency was won with 32 thousand votes in a constituency of nearly 100,000 – easily enough to overturn the Tory majority.

As to tactical voting: It can be summed up by selecting the candidate you would most like to lose (such as the Tory candidate), and picking the candidate most likely to defeat them.

Anyone can find out the last few election results (and a whole lot more) at http://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/. Just look at the last few elections and vote for the second placed candidate (providing that’s not a Tory or a UKIP candidate of course!). And don’t keep punishing the Liberals for breaking their promises; they don’t break their promises any more than the others.

Of course this may mean you are not voting for the candidate you want, but under the present voting system it makes more sense to vote against the candidate you dislike the most. Yes this is crazy, but so is using a voting system first used in the medieval era!

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