In a speech today Tim Collins, the shadow education secretary, will describe the low level of historical knowledge among young Britons as a "farce" and an "outright scandal".
"Nothing is more important to the survival of the British nation than an understanding among its young of our shared heritage and the nature of the struggles, foreign and domestic, which have secured our freedoms," he will tell the National Catholic Heads conference. "A nation which loses sight of its past cannot long expect to enjoy its future."
He will add: "When surveys show that nearly a third of all 11- to 18-year-olds think that Oliver Cromwell fought at the Battle of Hastings and when fewer than half know that Nelson's ship at Trafalgar was called HMS Victory, we have to take action."
Victory, you see. It’s what British history’s all about. Nelson’s a good subject. The kiddies could learn about his massacre of the Neapolitan liberals. A supposed liberator kills thousands of foreigners in the name of freedom. What could that possibly remind us of?
The career of his inamorata Lady Hamilton is also instructive. Her dad was a colliery blacksmith on the Wirrall. She joined the staff of a brothel famed for flagellation at the age of sixteen before being taken up by a certain Sir Harry Featherstonehaugh and then handed around between various upper class rakes and reprobates like a sack of sex potatoes. One, Charles Greville, transferred her to his Uncle, Sir William Hamilton in return for a legacy. Hamilton married her and took her off to Naples, where she met Nelson, all hot and sweaty from massacring liberals.
This also has a very modern resonance. A girl’s got to use what she has to get ahead, right? Anyway, Tim Collins is right. Such a tale would enlighten young minds. At least it would stop the little bastards dealing crack for a couple of minutes.
Elections are called in a country whose president may have personally shot several prisoners and whose security forces routinely practice torture. There’s a curfew. The borders are sealed. There will be no international monitors present at the polls. Instead, forces loyal to the government will provide security. Somewhere down the line, decisions will be taken by successful candidates which will directly affect the interests and policies of the external backer of the current leader, whose troops installed him in office.
Under these circumstances I wouldn’t be surprised if the ruling party did very well indeed.
Thinking about the shadow OPEC article I linked to yesterday – along with some of John Robb’s stuff on cascading infrastructure failure – made me wonder a bit more about what the Home Secretary’s actually up to.
If it’s true that there’s no excess capacity in global oil then serious disruption of Middle Eastern supplies could quite easily have a catastrophic effect in the UK. Our food distribution system, for instance, is almost completely dependant on oil, and with the spread of just in time delivery systems throughout industry, that’s likely true of many other sectors too.
Leaving the ugly political aspects of what Charlie the Safety Elephant’s doing aside, suspending habeas corpus is a lousy way to identify terrorists. Encourage the cops to arrest anyone and that’s exactly what they’ll do. However, it might be more effective as a means of suppressing a restive population after a catastrophic failure in oil supplies.
Just wondering. I’ll take the hat off now. It’s getting a bit scratchy and people are pointing…
A woman was out at night with a bag on her shoulder. A man approached her and tried to grab it. She screamed and fought him. He punched her arm to make her let go of the bag. A brave man who lived nearby intervened and was punched in the head. The assailant gave up and ran away.
He had in fact been holding a broken glass bottle so his punches caused the woman to have lacerations that needed many stitches. The good samaritan also needed stitches to a head wound.
In the melée the attacker cut himself, leaving blood that enabled the police to get a DNA match that resulted in his arrest.
He pleaded guilty to Assault with intent to rob, and GBH. He had only trivial previous convictions. So what did he get?
Most of the comments suggest leniency – a fine, a few weeks of prison or a community punishment of some kind.
During the first three weeks of 2005, there were 13 reported attacks on Iraq's oil infrastructure, bringing the total since the start of the war to almost 200. Though one-third of Iraq's "security forces" and some 14,000 mercenaries now patrol Iraqi refineries and pipelines, the attacks are grinding exports to a slow halt. The State Department admits that the Iraqi oil industry is operating at half-capacity and falling, confirming Paul Wolfowitz's pre-war claim that oil profits would finance reconstruction as one of the best jokes of 2003.
The effects of these attacks haven't been limited to Iraq, of course. Oil analysts estimate that around $10 of the current cost of a barrel of crude reflects a "risk premium" that is a direct result of the oil infrastructure raids in Iraq. Basra bombs; Japanese jitters.
"This is a new situation," says Gal Luft of the Institute of the Analysis for Global Security in Rockville, MD. "What has changed in the last year or so is that, because of the rise of China and India, the world oil market lacks liquidity and spare capacity, so any attacks on supply, any barrel of oil removed from market due to sabotage, immediately effects the market prices."
China underwrites the West’s business model. It’s the major funder of US government debt. And while it’s criticized for keeping its currency artificially cheap, this stimulates the cheap exports of consumer goods that enable employers to pay low wages and which keep consumer debt at sustainable levels. If China is to continue doing this – and if India’s going to continue to meet our cold sales calling needs - then both countries need oil.
That’s why China is close to the Sudanese government. And it’s also why China successfully lobbied against effective Sanctions on Sudan over Darfur and by extension why the militias there can continue their depredations. In short, the reason the West isn’t in Sudan is because it is in Iraq. And that’s not the worst of it
"A handful of small attacks made against Saudi infrastructure will push oil well over $100 a barrel," says John Robb, an independent analyst and author of the forthcoming book Global Guerrillas. "Twenty or so a month will keep it there. We are about to see the rise of a shadow OPEC. The control of oil doesn't rest in the hands of the governments. It is in the hands of the guerrillas that can stop the flow."
So with one invasion, George and friends put the testicles of the entire global economy in the hands of the jihadis and invited them to squeeze. I know we’re all supposed to be getting excited about the Iraqi elections right now, but I never heard of an ambulance that runs on the “transformative power of liberty.”
On the other hand., if we’re all under house arrest then we won’t be driving anywhere
A friend returns from China with news of something stirring. Specifically, he reports general public exasperation with corruption and a general feeling that the growing gap between rich and poor is insupportable. The two issues are linked. By and large, Chinese people were happy to let “some people get rich first” – or at least tolerant of the idea - provided that they too could have a fair crack at the goodies. A growing conviction that it takes crooked means to acquire wealth undermines this consensus. Hence things like this.
It was the feeling that corruption had grown insupportable that fuelled the Tiananmen uprising, which originally cohered into a movement at the death of reformist Hu Yaobang. Hence the almost total media blackout over the death of Zhao Ziyang.
Protest in China generally seems to take two forms; the peasant uprising and the civic revolt. Examples of the second include the May 4 movement and Tiananmen itself. Peasant uprisings occur when the peasantry, having been beaten, bullied and cheated beyond endurance, rally round some charismatic leader with a millennial faith and erupt into a general frenzy. They are not pleasant.
The Communist Party’s original success lay partly in its ability to bring the two styles of revolt together, providing leadership and coherent objectives to the peasants while offering satisfaction to the urge of liberal urbanites for honest government and social justice.
Since Tiananmen, China’s official policy has combined a clampdown on anything that looks like it might develop into a political party, trade union or civil society movement with a more recent general redirection of state economic resources towards the interior – stamping out the civic revolt before it can gain momentum while improving the economic condition of the rural poor.
The first policy seems to have been successful. If you want to protest about something in China, you don't form a group or party. Instead, you present a petition, just like you did in imperial times. But the second is running into trouble. There were around 50,000 serious demonstrations in China last year, mainly out in the sticks. Greater investment in the countryside actually seems to be making things worse, stimulating corruption and enabling local big shots to turn themselves into petty tyrants.
Still, there’s a fallback position. Having successfully eradicated urban or intellectual opposition, nothing stands between China’s consuming classes and any general peasant insurrection but the Communist Party itself. Contra received wisdom, it’ll be China’s new middle classes that will keep the Communists in power or at least ally with them in any struggle to stay in power. Without any kind of independent political representation, they won't have much choice.