Failblazing

During strategy lectures you’ll often hear the term “first mover advantage”, which refers to a company being the first one to enter a market and carving out a dominant position for itself. This does exist, although examples are more rare than you think. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Yahoo and AltaVista were the number one search engines before Google showed up with a better algorithm and consigned them both to the rubbish bin.

While there can be advantages of going first, there are also drawbacks. The reason almost every modern underground system is better than London’s is because London went first and built tunnels that were too small and stations that were too curved. They had no idea in the 1860s that this thing they were building would become the main method of shuttling millions of people around major cities; had they done so they may have planned it better. By the time Moscow (1930s), Paris (1900s), Tokyo (1920s), and New York (1900s) came to build theirs, valuable lessons had already been learned. Alas, it was too late for London whose underground is still hobbled by design decisions made with no experience to draw on. No doubt there are other examples of pioneers helpfully making mistakes their rivals won’t have to, and readers are welcome to share them in the comments given I’m too lazy to think of them right now.

Anyway, a tweet by Lord Ashcroft reminds me of the benefits those who come later can draw from those who went first:


It’s not inconceivable that a second EU member state will look to leave in the next ten years. One would hope that, unlike ours, their political classes are at least on board with it and actually want to leave but it is likely to be as divisive as Brexit has been for the UK. The lesson future leavers will draw from the Brexit experience is to prepare for a No Deal well in advance of invoking Article 50, as there will be no guarantee the EU will agree to anything which can be sold to the public. The EU has made it plain they want to make leaving as painful as possible for Britain pour encourager les autres. What in fact they’ve done is give any would-be leavers a good look at their strategy, and allow Brexit to become a training manual on what not to do. As a minimum, I expect the next country to leave will put in place robust rules regarding former ministers and non-government politicians meeting with EU negotiators outside the formal process. They may wish to include a set of gallows to accompany that.

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From the Balls of Montezuma

Staying on the topic of Alexandia Ocasio-Cortez, this amused:


It’s funny how the narrative of Europeans wiping out the natives and their descendants living on stolen land stops at the Mexican border. Presumably some think the indigenous peoples of central and south America were already speaking Spanish when the Conquistadors showed up and had names like, well, Ocasio-Cortez.

I have a theory that everyone wants to be an imperialist overlord, but criticism is reserved for those with the competence to actually carry it out. See this exchange, for example:


The Irish spend half the time moaning about British imperialism and the other half demanding Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, and the Falkland Islands be annexed by their neighbours against the wishes of the population. The irony in the case of Ocasio-Cortez is most Puerto Ricans are wishing the US would hurry up and annex them properly.

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Horizontal Collaboration

This is an interesting story:

Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg has issued an official government apology to Norwegian women who were mistreated over World War Two-era relationships with German soldiers.

Many of the Norwegian-German children were born in the German-administered Lebensborn (Fountain of Life) maternity facilities set up from 1941 by the Nazis in the country.

The women who had relationships with the soldiers became known by the nickname the “German Girls”, and were targeted for reprisals in Norway when the war ended – standing accused of betraying the country.

Punishments included being deprived of civil rights, detained or expelled from the country to Germany along with their children.

I have recommended Keith Lowe’s superb book Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of WWII before, and will do so again. He goes into substantial detail on the topic of the treatment of women in occupied countries who had relations with German soldiers, particularly in Norway:

The number of sexual relationships that took place between European women and Germans during the war is quite staggering. In Norway as many as 10 per cent of women aged between fifteen and thirty had German boyfriends during the war.

Regarding coercion, he has this to say:

On the whole European women slept with Germans not because they were forced to, or because their own men were absent, or because they needed money or food – but simply because they found the strong, ‘knightly’ image of the German soldiers intensely attractive, especially compared to the weakened impression they had of their own menfolk. In Denmark, for example, wartime pollsters were shocked to discover that 51 per cent of Danish women openly admitted to finding German men more attractive than their own compatriots.

The alt-right is fond of claiming western women support mass migration and open borders because they find their own menfolk emasculated, and any successful invader automatically becomes more attractive. The above paragraph would appear to support that argument (see also the young women who flock to refugee camps and immediately sleep with the residents). Lowe then describes the reprisals carried out on such women at the end of the war, which were particularly nasty in France and the Netherlands. Regarding Norway, he says this:

The study of Norwegian attitudes towards what they termed the ‘war children’ of German soldiers is a particularly rich area because, unlike in other countries, these attitudes are so well documented. In the aftermath of the war the Norwegian authorities set up a War Child Committee to consider what to do with such children.43 For a short time, therefore, the problem was openly discussed here in a way that it was not anywhere else in Europe.

There were good reasons why other countries didn’t want to talk about it:

In Denmark 5,579 babies were born with a registered German father – and undoubtedly many more whose German paternity was concealed. In Holland the number of children born to German fathers is thought to have been anything between 16,000 and 50,000.  In Norway, which had only a third of the population of Holland, between 8,000 and 12,000 such children were born. And in France the number is thought to be around 85,000 or even higher. The total number of children fathered by German soldiers in occupied Europe is unknown, but estimates vary between one and two million.

The treatment of children born of German fathers during the occupation of Norway included forced exile, being declared mentally unsound, and denied full citizenship and schooling. Given Norway is one of the more enlightened countries in Europe, one can imagine it was a lot worse elsewhere (in the Netherlands, some were killed outright at the end of the war). It’s hardly surprising national governments just buried the whole issue and moved on, but the impact on thousands of children must have been enormous.

There is also the question of whether the women deserved such treatment. In Norway at least, sleeping with a German soldier was not a crime, and the post-war laws were applied retroactively. As one girl complained, she was 19 and the Germans were the de facto government and had been for some time. Leaving aside the fact that teenage girls and women in their early twenties can hardly be expected to be immune from falling in love with whoever struts around town in the best uniforms, how was anyone to know the Germans were not going to be there forever? For much of the occupation it must have seemed that way to a lot of people; for how long were young women expected to wait for liberation?

The anger these relationships generated among the male population is understandable, and Lowe goes into detail on its origins. However, it’s hard to say with 70 years’ hindsight that all these women deserved to be abused, beaten, humiliated, and sometimes killed because of their relationships with German soldiers. Credit is due the Norwegian government for looking into this sordid episode of their past and issuing an apology, particularly as no other country dared even approach the subject. Surprisingly – or perhaps not, given their true intentions – the treatment of women following the liberation of Europe warrants nary a mention from feminists, outside of the mass rapes of the Red Army.

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Finally, something Trump and Reagan have in common

A couple of months ago I had this exchange on Twitter with a lefty Irishman who I follow mainly because he is so consistently wrong on just about everything. The subject was Ronald Reagan:

I don’t doubt this chap did engage in several years of intensive post-graduate study of Russian history and politics, but I suspect he went in with his mind made up on Reagan and no amount of evidence was going to change it. If his research really did reveal that the Soviet decision-making process which led to the end of the Cold War was based on Carter-era policies while the election of Reagan only made things worse, he’d have written a book on it, and would be lecturing history somewhere. He didn’t, and he isn’t.

The left’s re-writing of history to deny Reagan any credit for ending the Cold War is important in the context of this story:

Friday’s summit between the leaders of North and South Korea was a “historic meeting” paving the way for the start of a new era, North Korea’s media say.

The North’s Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in of South Korea agreed to work to rid the peninsula of nuclear weapons.

In a rare move, state-run TV and the official KCNA news agency hailed the talks and the leaders’ commitment to seek “complete denuclearisation”.

The summit came just months after warlike rhetoric from the North.

It saw Mr Kim become the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

The two men warmly shook hands and then stepped symbolically over the military demarcation line to the North Korean side.

Firstly, let’s not get carried away. I don’t believe for one minute that North Korea has given up its nuclear ambitions and so far nothing has been agreed. But in the context of the conflict between North and South Korea, these developments are huge steps forwardYes it might be just theatre but theatre has a certain importance, particularly when North Korea is involved, a country which is as much theatre as anything else. That the North Korean media are reporting this visit is extremely important, meaning this visit is not just for the benefit of western hawks and South Korean doves.

The two leaders said they would pursue talks with the US and China to formally end the Korean War, which ended in 1953 with a truce, not total peace.

If that happens, it will be the biggest diplomatic coup of the century thus far. So how much of this is down to Trump? Well, quite a lot. It was he who refused to bend to North Korean threats, instead responding with threats of his own with a dose of outright mockery thrown in. And it was he, thankfully via mediums other than Twitter, who put pressure on the Chinese to reign in their rogue puppy, convincing them it was in everyone’s interests to do so. Others have played their role for sure, namely the South Koreans, Chinese, and even Kim Jong-un himself, but this would never be happening without Trump. If the Korean War officially ends as a result of this, he will have pulled off a geopolitical triumph orders of magnitudes more important than Obama’s sucking up to Cuba and throwing money at Iran in a desperate attempt to secure his “legacy”.

However, you can be sure the global elites, the media, and Trump’s ideological enemies at home and abroad will do everything in their power to downplay, ignore, or misrepresent Trump’s role in whatever progress is made on the Korean peninsula from hereon. Like those who can’t bring themselves to accept that Reagan’s policies were instrumental in bringing about the end of the Cold War rather than leading to nuclear Armageddon, those who claimed Trump was recklessly endangering the world will be incapable of acknowledging he’s probably made it safer. How much safer remains to be seen, but let’s recall Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for doing absolutely nothing except winning the presidency after George W. Bush. Nobody is ever going to award the Nobel prize to Donald Trump even if he permanently eliminates war and suffering by tomorrow night, but Obama could at least gift him his.

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Teaching the wrong things

This isn’t surprising:

For seven decades, “never forget” has been a rallying cry of the Holocaust remembrance movement.

But a survey released Thursday, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, found that many adults lack basic knowledge of what happened — and this lack of knowledge is more pronounced among millennials, whom the survey defined as people ages 18 to 34.

Thirty-one percent of Americans, and 41 percent of millennials, believe that two million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust; the actual number is around six million. Forty-one percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, cannot say what Auschwitz was. And 52 percent of Americans wrongly think Hitler came to power through force.

There’s a reason for this, but I think part of it might have been missed:

“As we get farther away from the actual events, 70-plus years now, it becomes less forefront of what people are talking about or thinking about or discussing or learning,” said Matthew Bronfman, a board member of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which commissioned the study. “If we wait another generation before you start trying to take remedial action, I think we’re really going to be behind the eight ball.”

Bronfman is right that 70 years ago is a long time: I was born in 1977 and WWII ended a mere 32 years previously, but I’m no more connected to that event than a millennial is. Where he’s going wrong is thinking “remedial action” is required, which will no doubt consist of reminding everyone what Auschwitz was along with harrowing pictures and dark warnings of a rise in antisemitism. But it’s not Auschwitz or the Holocaust that needs to be remembered so much as what brought them about. Alas, it’s not difficult to see why those lessons have been forgotten. For example:

And 52 percent of Americans wrongly think Hitler came to power through force.

Well, yes. When people are told incessantly that democratically elected governments are by definition virtuous, it might be hard to imagine someone like Hitler could come to power peacefully. Rather than warning of the dangers of an overly powerful head of state, we have elected presidents ruling by Executive Order, deliberately bypassing Congress as his supporters cheer and the media explains it’s best for the country. Instead of a Supreme Court ruling on the law as it stands, we have them making overtly political decisions which the people in power say is what the people want. As the federal government gets its tentacles into every nook and cranny of public life and branches of the state security apparatus attempt to thwart the election and then the presidency of Donald Trump, few seem interested in pointing out that the Holocaust was first and foremost an abuse of state power which cared little for due process or individual rights.

At the site of the Monument to Six Million Jewish Martyrs, the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation has been developing an interactive memorial plaza, scheduled to open in October. Visitors will use a new app that will, among other things, feature survivors’ recorded testimonies.

In one part of the plaza, train tracks that carried prisoners to the Treblinka death camp will be embedded in the pavement. When visitors step onto the tracks, the app, using geocaching technology, will pull up videos of Philadelphia residents “who were on those very trains that led to Treblinka,” said Eszter Kutas, the remembrance foundation’s acting director.

I’m sure this is very interesting from a historical perspective, but wasn’t the whole point of “never forget” to ensure the Holocaust was never repeated? I’m a lot less concerned that the population is slowly forgetting a terrible event which occurred over half a century before they were born than their being unaware of the importance of things like limited government, freedom of speech, and individual rights in preventing another.

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Rape Culture, Religion & the Bible. But just the Bible.

Via reader Rob Harries, an article claiming Jesus was sexually abused:

The idea that Jesus himself experienced sexual abuse may seem strange or shocking at first, but crucifixion was a “supreme punishment” and the stripping and exposure of victims was not an accidental or incidental element. It was a deliberate action that the Romans used to humiliate and degrade those they wished to punish. It meant that the crucifixion was more than just physical, it was also a devastating emotional and psychological punishment.

Right, but where was the sexual abuse? I mean, if the Romans had set out to sexually abuse the Son of God, they would have done something which everyone would recognise as such, and not nail him to a cross and rely on some dingbat academics to interpret it two millenia later. It’s not like the Romans lacked imagination when it came to cruel and unusual punishments, is it?

The convention in Christian art of covering Christ’s nakedness on the cross with a loincloth is perhaps an understandable response to the intended indignity of Roman crucifixion. But this should not prevent us from recognising that the historical reality would have been very different.

Very different? Will this be the plot of the next Dan Brown thriller?

“Renkowned undergarment expert Robert Langdon uncovers a terrible truth the Vatican have kept secret for centuries when he stumbles upon a skid-marked loincloth buried in the basement of the Louvre that he can prove was torn from Jesus moments before he was crucified.”

I’m getting good at this blurb writing, aren’t I?

This is not just a matter of correcting the historical record. If Jesus is named as a victim of sexual abuse it could make a huge difference to how the churches engage with movements like #MeToo, and how they promote change in wider society. This could contribute significantly to positive change in many countries, and especially in societies where the majority of people identify as Christian.

Ah. This is all about bashing Christians who aren’t woke enough. But just Christians, though. Yeah, because they’re the ones who keep turning up in courtrooms charged with rape and sexual assault.

Some sceptics might respond that stripping a prisoner might be a form of violence or abuse, but it is misleading to call this “sexual violence” or “sexual abuse”. Yet if the purpose was to humiliate the captive and expose him to mockery by others, and if the stripping is done against his will and as a way to shame him in public, then recognising it as a form of sexual violence or sexual abuse seems entirely justified.

Perhaps, but I’m confident not even the most miserable medieval peasant was ever tortured as much as this argument.

The scene highlights the vulnerability of the naked prisoner who is stripped and exposed in front of the assembled ranks of hostile Roman soldiers.

Those Romans who were famous for their communal baths and shithouses?

The scene also hints at the possibility of even greater sexualised violence which might be in store.

The authors’ argument for overturning centuries of Christian thought is based on what is hinted at in an episode of a TV series.

Analysis of the gendering of nakedness by Margaret R. Miles demonstrates that we view male and female nakedness differently.

As Patricia Arquette allegedly said: “Things you’ll never hear a woman say: ‘My, what an attractive scrotum!’”

Some present day Christians are still reluctant to accept that Jesus was a victim of sexual violence and seem to consider sexual abuse as an exclusively female experience.

The sexual abuse of Jesus is a missing part of Passion and Easter story retellings.

Rather than trying to convince people that Jesus was sexually abused in the absence of any biblical or historical evidence, these academics might want to look at what the Bible has to say about hubris and conceit.

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Farce Masquerading as Justice

The ZMan talks about this subject from time to time:

A German court has sentenced an 89-year-old woman to 14 months in prison for Holocaust denial.

Ursula Haverbeck, dubbed the “Nazi Grandma”, has been convicted several times but is yet to spend time in jail.

She was first given a jail term last year but received additional punishment for handing out pamphlets repeating her beliefs to those attending court.

Under German law, Holocaust denial constitutes a crime and carries a sentence of up to five years in jail.

I think the law on Holocaust denial is stupid, but that’s the law in Germany. What I find silly is the next sentence:

Haverbeck and her late husband were members of the Nazi party during the Second World War.

If Haverbeck is 89 in 2018 she was 16 or 17 when the war ended and 10 or 11 when Germany invaded Poland. Her membership of the Nazi party is absolutely meaningless, given her age and the fact it was compulsory.

As the ZMan is fond of pointing out, this hounding of supposedly octogenarian Nazis isn’t about justice, it’s about virtue-signalling. Everyone who was in any position of authority during WWII is now dead or so old they might as well be. Even those in their mid-nineties were little more than kids, and those they still insist on dragging from their care homes in front of a court are charged only with having been there at the time and doing admin work:

PROSECUTORS in Munich confirmed today they have opened a probe into a 92-year-old woman who served in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War.

They said the elderly woman from Chiemgau in Bavaria served at the Stutthof camp near Danzig – now Gdansk in Poland – where 60,000 inmates suffered and died.

Prosecutor spokesman Florian Weinzierl said that the investigation into her role in the camp was ongoing, but it is known she worked in the telephone exchange of the camp.

This would mean she transmitted and received orders about prisoner arrivals, departures and liquidations.

The passage of time has dealt with any Nazi who ever existed, regardless of what they did or didn’t do. The next step, if they continue like this, will be to hound the children of Nazis, thus giving prosecutors an entire new generation to go after. This stopped being about justice a long time ago, and it’s time this farce was stopped.

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Earth to Earth

When I was a child my parents, in lieu of a television, used to listen to Radio 4, especially at meal times. My mother hailed from Sidmouth and so took interest in a radio series that concerned a remote farming family in mid-Devon who one day blew their own heads off with a shotgun. Chez Newman was a barrel of laughs, I can tell you. I remembered the series, which was called Earth to Earth, and the book of the same name that someone gave my mother shortly afterwards. For no particular reason I tracked it down on Amazon and bought a secondhand copy (it’s now out of print).

The Luxton family had been farming in Devon for around 600 years, and by the 19th century the various branches pretty much owned everything within a day’s ride of Winkleigh, the village around which the events took place. The author of the book, John Cornwell, noted that marrying between cousins was common among the Luxtons simply because the family was so large it was pretty much impossible to cast one’s net beyond their geographical spread in the days when people’s worlds were very much smaller than they are today. Things looked good for Robert George Luxton, born in 1818: he inherited six farms and plenty of assets in the form of stock, dwellings, furniture, and paintings and was the undisputed head of the local aristocracy. Being a rich chap, he indulged in foxhunting, gambling, womanising, and drinking along with his pal the Fifth Earl of Portsmouth, who was even richer and built himself an extravagant mansion in 1854 to which he would invite hundreds of his friends to engage in hunting and pissing it up.

At the same time, Robert George embarked on a large program of upgrades to his farms, investing heavily in new machinery, rebuilding barns, acquiring better breeds of livestock, and adopting more intensive farming techniques requiring large outlays on seeds and fertilisers. A lot of this was financed through loans, which the banks were only too pleased to extend at seven percent interest. His sons and daughters were given expensive educations and preferred to play sport or idle rather than work the land, and soon he began to lose control of his workforce. But what happened next was worse:

The catastrophe, when it came, was more widespread and appalling and permanent than any could have guessed. The background to the agricultural depression of the latter half of the nineteenth century was the influx of cheap food from the United States, Russia, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. Steam navigation and the relentlessly spreading tentacles of the railways in every part of the world brought speedier, cheaper transport. The Americans had pioneered the mechanization of crop farming on an unparalleled scale to open up and exploit the vast and fertile prairies. Inevitably the food markets of the world were transformed. It was an era of aggressive free trade and British farming was brought to the edge of collapse. Throughout the 1870s North American grain pushed prices down to levels unknown since before the year 1700. The populations of the manufacturing towns were being fed on Argentine beef, Australian mutton and bread made with American wheat. In the 1880s the cost of a loaf fell to half its previous price. Denmark counteracted the changing market forces by rapidly switching to dairy produce. The Danish farmer fed cheap imported grain to dairy cattle and pigs, and exported high-quality standardized bacon to England.

Many British crop farmers converted their farms to grass­land, hoping to redeem their fortunes by investing in milk production. As a result there were huge milk surpluses and plummeting prices meant they failed to cover their invest­ments. Their attempts to break into the cheese markets were frustrated as they watched American cheese drop to twopence a pound. No British farmer could produce good cheese for less than fourpence a pound.

Compounding the misery of British farmers was the appalling weather I described in this post. The upshot was that many farms went bankrupt, sending thousands of farmers and agricultural workers to all four corners of the globe to seek better fortunes – including many who bore the Luxton name. Robert George was forced to sell land and other assets to pay his debts, before breaking his neck in a hunting accident in 1902 aged 84 and penniless. His pal, the Earl of Portsmouth, killed himself in 1906.

Observing all this, and taking careful notes, was a cousin of Robert George’s by the name of Lawrence Luxton of West Chapple farm. Although the two had grown up together, he was highly critical of Robert George’s extravagant ways, himself eschewing modernisation and spending almost nothing. When the crash happened, Lawrence Luxton was determined to survive with his farm intact. Believing the real danger to a farm lay in outside forces such as markets and money-lenders, and understanding that a farm can be almost entirely self-sufficient, Lawrence Luxton simply shut the farm gate and rode out the storm. Their main contact with the outside world was to barter produce in exchange for items they couldn’t make themselves, such as clothes and boots. What is astonishing is that the family carried on like this for two more generations.

A hundred years later, in the 1970s, West Chapple farm was owned and occupied by the last remaining members of the once-enormous Luxton clan: brothers Robbie and Alan, and their sister Frances, Lawrence Luxton’s grandchildren. Their father, Robert John, had been raised by Lawrence to run the farm and view the outside world much as he did, and Robert John in turn passed this outlook onto his own offspring. As such, the Luxton’s farming practices remained unchanged from those of a hundred years before: everything was done by hand, there was almost no machinery, they used draft horses in place of tractors, and there was no mains water or electricity (at least, according to Cornwell’s book: this is disputed). By all accounts they were excellent farmers, producing good animals and taking tremendous care of their land, and they didn’t spend a penny more than was absolutely necessary. When WWII arrived, and brought with it thousands of American and Canadian soldiers, the world opened up a little for Alan, the youngest of the three siblings. He joined the Young Farmers club and, after long days in the fields, would scrub down, head into Winkleigh, and go drinking in the pub.

When the war ended Alan tried to persuade his elder brother to modernise the farm but Robbie, wedded completely to his father and grandfather’s methods, refused. He allowed the lane leading to the farm to grow over, claiming he wanted it for grazing, and erected gates at either end. Anyone driving by on the public road would just see a meadow on the other side and never guess there was a farm in the valley beyond, hidden completely from view. The family fortunes changed dramatically when Alan met a local woman and became engaged. He approached Robbie and said he wanted to sell his share of West Chapple so he could buy a small property of his own and raise a family, but again Robbie refused: he couldn’t afford to buy Alan out of his share, and to split the farm up was unthinkable. Furious rows ensued and even physical violence, with Frances – who was older than them both – caught in the middle but sympathising with Alan. Eventually, unable to win his brother over, Alan called off his engagement and returned to the farm. He then suffered a complete mental breakdown, locking himself in his room and hurling abuse at everything and nothing, roaming the farmyard dressed only in sacks and incapable of doing any real farm work. He was to remain that way until his death years later.

Frances had a few romantic liaisons but none developed into anything serious, probably because her brothers were so dependent on her staying at the farm. Once it was clear Alan’s condition wouldn’t improve, her fate on the farm was sealed. Robbie, for his part, was uninterested in women believing his sister was all he’d ever want or need. As the siblings grew older the farmwork grew more difficult. They began to think about succession but had nobody to pass the farm onto. Deeply aware they were the last remnants of a great Devon farming family, Frances took to researching their ancestry in the hope of finding a suitable heir. But as time passed and none was forthcoming, the weight of family history bore more heavily upon them. By the time Robert and Frances were in their sixties, and the erratic Alan in his mid-fifties, the farm had become too much for them and they agreed to sell it. Then they changed their minds, then they found a purchaser and agreed to a sale, but immediately regretted it. Witnesses say Frances spent her final days in a sort of delirium over the sale of the farm, repeating over and over that they should stay and die in West Chapple.

One morning, in the autumn of 1975, a grocer’s delivery man approached West Chapple and found Robbie, Frances, and Alan lying dead in the yard with massive shotgun wounds to their heads. The police quickly ruled out the involvement of a fourth person and concluded that Alan had probably committed suicide first, with Robbie following suit an hour or so later having first dispatched Frances who didn’t appear to offer any resistance.

Suicide rates among farmers still remain high everywhere, including in the UK, France, and USA. While most observers focus on economics and isolation, there is often also a great weight of family history pressing down on the shoulders of farmers whose forebears have worked the same land for sometimes hundreds of years before. As the case of the Luxton’s shows, this can exert an enormous psychological pressure on farmers faced with no choice but to sell up. If they have nobody in the family to hand over to, this pressure can become unbearable. Having grown up in a rural area and known several farmers who died early from heart attacks (although thankfully, none through suicide), I can relate to the pressures they are under even if none is exerted on me. Back when I was a kid listening to Earth to Earth on Radio 4, I thought the story immeasurably sad. Now I’ve read the book as an adult I still do, particularly the Luxton’s despair in a world which had passed them by, leaving them stranded on an island able only to look backwards. There is nothing as relentless as the passage of time, and nothing so unforgiving as the march of progress.

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Severe weather is nothing new

I’m currently reading a book which contains this section on the farming conditions in Devon in the second half of the 19th century:

[I]n 1879 it simply rained without ceasing throughout the whole of the summer, turning much of the English countryside into a desperate, oozing mire. It continued to rain until the end of 1882, causing an epidemic of pleuro pneumonia and liver rot in sheep, while the crops collapsed in the fields. The middle of the decade was marked by severe droughts and catastrophic frosts. S. G. Kendall, the West Country yeoman farmer who kept a detailed diary of the weather, vividly describes the year 1879 and the following five years of appalling summers. The persistent rain that summer, he wrote, was accompanied `by a damp, dark, cold atmosphere which struck a chill almost into one’s bones, bringing ruined crops with widespread devastation in their train … We had no barley crops at all that season on heavy soil’, and the wheat ‘turned blighty and black and seemed to shrink back in a different way yet not dissimilar to the barley two months earlier’.

Another diarist, George Rope, describes the floods that summer: ’23 Aug. Began cutting tolavera – slightly sprouted as it stood – from continual rains for the last fortnight. The wettest season since 186o and similar, but not so cold – about two-thirds of the hay and clover spoiled – and a large quantity carried away by floods – on 22nd July we had the greatest flood I can ever remember.’ He goes on to describe cows drowned, houses flooded, and how people had travelled by boat from farm to farm.

At the end of 1879 Kendall wrote: ‘This dismal, wet, dark, never-to-be-forgotten year is now at an end; may the coming eighties bring with it better luck and greater good fortune.’ But 1880 was if anything worse – bad weather and disease carried away five million sheep in England; and 1881 brought fresh disasters including a blizzard lasting forty-eight hours. G. E. Mingay, who has chronicled the weather during this period in his Rural Life in Victorian England, summarizes the continued disastrous weather thus:

The following summer was wet, and 1882 had a very wet autumn so that little wheat could be sown. The summers of 1885 and 1887, by contrast, were dry, with shortages of roots for the stock … the early nineties saw fresh disasters. The great blizzard of 8-13 March 1891 brought twenty-foot snow drifts to parts of the West Country, and claimed over 200 lives on shore and at sea. The farmers suffered great losses of livestock – some sheep were blown over the cliffs into the sea – as well as devastation in orchards and woodlands. The summer of 1891 also produced a wet harvest, and 1892 and 1893 brought very severe droughts. In [the West Country] hardly any rain fell between February and July 1893, and there was almost no grass for haymaking. On the heavy land the harrow marks of April could be seen right up to harvest. Then came a most bitter and persistent frost in the winter of 1894-5, when drifts of snow from six to fourteen feet deep covered the ground for weeks.

I’m posting this mainly to counteract the view of a rather dim BBC presenter who, the other day on television, opined in the context of global warming that “the weather is definitely getting more extreme”.

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Do we get our Empire back, then?

This is from a Lib Dem MP:

Wasn’t the supremacy of sovereignty and self-government over economics and political stability the entire basis of the anti-colonial movement?

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