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September 30, 2009

On their way Saturday

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Adventurers James Cracknell and Ben Fogle

James Cracknell and Ben Fogle will pedal the heroic Major Phil Packer 450 miles across Britain to the Pride of Britain awards in support of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association. Olympic rower and gold medalist Cracknell and TV presenter Fogle have raced across the Atlantic and the Antarctic together. This trip will not be a toddle as they have to arrive in London with Major Packer in their pedicab in time for the award ceremony Monday night. Major Packer received a spinal cord injury in Iraq. But he has managed to complete the London Marathon and he has raised more than £1 million to help injured members of the Armed Forces. Fill their baskets here.

A birthday

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Apple tree in the Vale of Evesham

It's a birthday when you come home -

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these,
Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a daïs of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.

-Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

September 29, 2009

Sting, Trudi Schyler, Robert and Clara Schumann & the mystery of love

Twin spirits.

Come again

From Sting's 2007 collection of John Dowland songs -

Remembering the good

Who knew that hungry Brits fed starving Germans after the Second World War? Below is a post published by David a year ago.

In his recently published book, The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire, Peter Clarke writes that after the Second World War Britain was involved in the occupation of a large section of northwest Germany and the responsibility of feeding Germany's starving population. As a result Britain could not adequately feed her own people, who faced more rationing and economic hardship in the late 1940s than during the war.

It is fairly unique for a victorious people to feed a conquered enemy who had deliberately and horrifically waged war on them, and to suffer low rations for years in order to do so. This is one of the positive, largely unknown facts about the British.

For a long time it was hardly noted that while nearly everyone else in the world had slaves, the British people ended slavery in their empire.

Historical amnesia means that few recall that the British people established free trade around the world and protected the open seas from pirates at considerable expense and cost in lives to the Royal Navy. And little is said about their eradication of cholera or the establishment of sanitation, railroads and schools in India, but much is said about what they did wrong. The wrong should not be forgotten. Neither should the good.

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The British Empire effectively ended with Indian independence in August 1947.

In his book Empire, Niall Ferguson points out that the British brought interesting and valuable gifts, including -

The English language
Property rights
Scottish and English banking practices
Common law
Team sports
The limited or 'night watchman' state (and low rates of taxation)
Representative assemblies and
The idea of liberty.
Ferguson quickly adds -
I do not mean to claim that all British imperialists were liberals - far from it. But what is very striking about the history of the Empire is that whenever the British were behaving despotically, there was almost always a liberal critique of that behaviour from within British society. Indeed, so powerful and consistent was this tendency to judge Britain's imperial conduct by the yardstick of liberty that it gave the British Empire something of a self-liquidating character . .[and that] sets it apart from its continental European rivals. . .

Quite a few people around the world continue to appreciate British gifts.

Despite losing an empire and living on ration cards for years, the British people pulled themselves together and with hard work, global trade and the ideas of a limited state, common law and liberty created the fourth-largest economy in the world with safety nets for the poor and indisposed. They made London the financial capital of the world.

India, relying on those same gifts and the ingenuity of her people, is becoming an enormous economic success.

Today the British political class is scurrying to Brussels to give away our independence, common law, limited 'night watchman' state, representative assembly, a considerable fraction of our personal income and London's prosperity in order to trade with an empire that has high trade tariffs, and is dominated by countries whose previous empires were always despotic and which have today created an undemocratic suprastate. The political class expects us to believe that if we don't submit to the European empire we won't have anyone to trade with.

This political class destroys British fishermen so that Spanish and French fishermen may prosper; undermines Britain's trading position with the world in order to please Continentals; trashes habeas corpus and trial by jury to fit in with the Napoleonic Code; sabotages London's success to make Frankfurt and Paris successful; depresses small businesspeople with regulations and taxes to fit in with European sclerosis; and forces the British people to accept a tidal wave of immigrants.

These actions reveal an almost unfathomable ignorance of history and a nail-bitten lack of confidence.

The emperor has no clothes

The essential role of a free press is to show the facts as they are, not as politicians wish they were. Here is Edward Heathcote Amory on Gordon Brown's nakedness.

Gordon Brown just doesn't understand the bedrock principles of the free economy. This is tragic because under the rule of just law, the free economy has lifted millions out of poverty.

Thanks to James Bartholomew of The Welfare State We're In for the link. Bartholomew's book is a remarkable exposé of the welfare state, and the lost lessons of the last two hundred years. It's one of the most important books we've ever read.


September 28, 2009

Stability and light, harmony and pleasure

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The Tulip Staircase by Inigo Jones at Greenwich

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Richard Woodward described the Palladian Feast of Inigo Jones and how it almost went up in flames. On the same day, we wrote about AWN Pugin and the transformation created by Neo-Gothic architecture.

Inigo Jones was the scene setter for Georgian architecture. The Georgian style was very different from Pugin's. It, too, changed Britain and the world. Seeing Music explains.

Foreign developments that may interest you

1)
The Royal Navy, off South America, seized its largest haul of cocaine, with an estimated street value of £240m. The operation was conducted with the US Coast Guard. This was not the first operation of its kind. HMS Iron Duke is charged with helping residents of United Kingdom Overseas Territories during hurricane season. Apparently crew members found time hanging heavy on their hands.

2)
"Intelligence chief Sir John Scarlett has been told that Saudi Arabia is ready to allow Israel to bomb Iran’s new nuclear site. The head of MI6 discussed the issue in London with Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Saudi officials after British intelligence officers helped to uncover the plant, in the side of a mountain near the ancient city of Qom."

That a chief of intelligence should carry the name Sir John Scarlett may hearten those of us who loved the Scarlet Pimpernel - 'that demmed, elusive Pimpernel'. But the recent admission by world leaders that Iran is indeed developing nuclear weapons is chilling since Iran's leaders have promised to destroy the people of Israel with nuclear missiles.

3)
On this day in 1066, William the Conqueror began his invasion of England. His rule was harsh, particularly when putting down rebellions. Ironically, he had to turn to the constitution of England to control his army and nobles. As a consequence he retained the local courts of the hundred and the shire. Common Law, the legal guarantee of justice, made a come-back - and protects us in the 21st century. Efforts to overthrow the law occurred in the past and occur today.

September 26, 2009

The man who changed the face of Britain - passionate Pugin

After we posted a mediaeval drawing yesterday, the author of the inspiring A Little Guide for Your Last Days urged us to look at Pugin. Actually we had written about this wonderful artist before, but not all that well. So we pruned and polished the earlier post and added details -

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Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin was the writer and architect who almost single-handedly revived the architecture of Christian mediaeval England. He spearheaded the Gothic revival in Victorian Britain, reconsecrating a land that had been desecrated by industry and creating a circle of belonging.

Genius and loss

Born in 1812, Pugin grew up surrounded by his father’s architecture students. He had little formal schooling, but spent his time copying the mediaeval prints he loved in the British Museum. When he was eight, he designed his first chair. When he was fifteen, he received his first commission – from George IV - for a Gothic standing cup now known as the Coronation Cup.

Pugin loved the sea. He dressed in a sailor's jacket and loose pilot trousers, and often went sailing. The theatre drew him. After designing furniture for the King, Pugin designed stage sets. He was enjoying himself hugely when the deaths of his young wife, father and mother within the space of a year left him shaken, and unsure of his future.

Then an aunt died and left him a legacy. In an inspired move that was not quite drawn out of thin air, Pugin decided to become an architect. His training consisted of little more than detailed sketches of medieval buildings in Britain and northern Europe (Oxford's Dictionary of National Biography).

"Boundless good humour and energy"

Pugin had keen grey eyes, a mind that never forgot what it learned, and boundless good humour. He “would work from sunrise to midnight with extraordinary ease and rapidity. His short thick hands. . .performed their delicate work even under such unfavourable circumstances as sailing his lugger off the south coast of England” (Catholic Encylopaedia). His decision to become an architect released and focused his creative energies.

In 1835 he became a Roman Catholic. His faith and the ancient Gothic buildings that had been created by his faith centuries earlier inspired him. They were like the steady pulse of blood in his body.

In 1836 Pugin published his most famous book, Contrasts. Its beautiful, satirical drawings compare splendid types of mediaeval buildings with their meagre early nineteenth-century counterparts (Oxford DNB). In his books and work Pugin managed to demolish banal pedestrian architecture and revive Gothic - and the people loved it.

Pugin was a self-contained whirlwind of energy. He remarried, and became the father of eight children, Once asked why he kept no clerk to help him, Pugin replied: “Clerk, my dear sir, clerk, I never employ one. I should kill him in a week”. Pugin designed dozens of neo-Gothic churches and their interiors as well as houses, hospitals, and schools.

Due to his vision, "Neo-Gothic style rapidly spread through the culture, encrusting factories, law courts, schools, colleges, waterworks, railway stations and houses with fairy-tale pinnacles and dreaming towers". (Roger Scruton, England).

Many Catholic parishes lacked sufficient funds for Pugin's towers or interior decoration. They were built but lacked his whole concept. St Giles, Cheadle, Staffordshire, built at the expense of the earl of Shrewsbury, had a magnificent red sandstone tower and spire, sumptuous colours inside and a chapel that was a blaze of light.

Pugin's ingenuity at turning architectural problems into brilliant building features would serve him well on his greatest project.

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A house for Parliament

In 1834 the Houses of Parliament were destroyed by fire, and Charles Barry was asked to design the new houses. There was little doubt what the style would be, or Pugin's involvement.

Working with Barry, Pugin produced thousands of construction drawings for the buildings, and created all the interiors of the Houses of Parliament, designing the chambers, libraries, committee rooms, furniture, stained glass (destroyed in the Second World War) and every gas lamp, doorknob, and umbrella stand.

The challenges of the eight-acre project were enormous. Quicksands were found during excavations, and part of the structure had to be erected on land reclaimed from the Thames.

Principles of art with soul

Pugin designed according to three principles. The third seems to us the most important -

‘1st, there should be no features about a building which are not necessary for convenience, construction or propriety; 2nd, all ornament should consist of enrichment of the essential construction of the building’ (True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture, 1841). 3rd, truly honest and beautiful buildings are created by a caring and 'good' society. Pugin's buildings have a soul – a tender, sacred, brave and festive soul.

Pugin's principles and faith affected the treatment of his workers. He taught the workers he employed how to build, and he entrusted the building of his designs to them. Few architects have given workers this kind of confident respect, and they returned the feeling with affection.

Pugin worked closely with a number of artisans. Herbert Minton created the decorated tiles in the Houses of Parliament. John Hardman, the Birmingham button maker and medallist, became Pugin’s close friend and manufactured metalwork and stained glass to his swiftly drawn designs.

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Pugin's tower and clock face, St Stephen's Tower, Westminster, with Big Ben.
The tower and clock face were Pugin's last designs. He wrote, "I never worked so hard in my life [as] for Mr Barry for tomorrow I render all the designs for finishing his bell tower and it is beautiful."

Queen Victoria formally opened the Houses of Parliament on 11 November 1852. Pugin, just 41 years old, had died in September, sinking into madness due almost certainly to mercury poisoning.

Like a wise, kind and brave soul, Gothic architecture enchanted Britain.

No expenses spared

On Friday, the Telegraph disclosed that the mole who leaked the expenses files did so out of anger at the Government’s failure to provide adequate equipment for troops in Afghanistan.

No Expenses Spared tells the inside story of The Daily Telegraph’s investigation into MPs’ outrageous expense demands. Excellent reporting. We hope the voting public takes appropriate action at the next general election.

September 25, 2009

Building

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11th century medieval builder

I wonder about the unknown 11th century artist who drew this sketch. Was it a monk or a cathedral sculptor? His lines are so fluid and easy and timeless.

A patient man

Sorry to be so late posting. Caught up in life!

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James Bowthorpe

You probably heard last week that James Bowthorpe became the fastest man to cycle the globe. Brits seem to have a zest for circling the world at top speed.

You have to wonder at James's grit, carrying 90 pounds, eating at petrol stations, crossing harsh, slick, high, hot and cold terrain, never thinking about the end of the road but only about the mile he was pedalling until he had put 18,000 under his tires.

Bowthorpe rode to raise money for Parkinson's research, the disease which killed his grandfather.

He survived an ambush in Iran, a collision with a wombat in Australia, food poisoning in India and tendonitis in both ankles.

He's a cabinetmaker by trade, and a patient, persevering man. He hasn't raised many £s yet, but we think he will. if you like, you can help him here.

September 24, 2009

Anglo-Saxon hoard unearthed

In Sharing the Inheritance , the book we're readying for publication, we wrote, "hill forts and fields still guard chariot fittings, shields, swords, jewels and gold necklaces". Now another field has given up its secrets.

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Image: The Guardian

Mr Herbert, 55, from Burntwood in Staffordshire, has discovered the biggest cache of 7th century Anglo-Saxon gold silver artefacts ever discovered.

Terry Herbert was working with a battered 14-year-old metal detector in a farmer's field in Staffordshire in what was once the Kingdom of Mercia. He found 1500 "jewel-encrusted gold and silver treasures", including sword hilts and Christian Crosses.

Thrilling. Makes us want to buy a metal detector. You think there might be a run on 'em?

This is the very century when Aidan and Oswald lived. We hope we learn something about the original creators and owners. . .


Wildlife on camera

Wonderful British wildlife photographs.

War and entertainment

I missed the Emmys and Little Dorrit's triumph, but I've finally seen Into the Storm which won Brendan Gleeson best actor in a miniseries or movie for his role as Winston Churchill. Ridley Scott and Tony Scott were the producers. Thaddeus O' Sullivan was the director. And I was the unhappy viewer.

Gleeson is terrific as Churchill.

But I didn't like the back and forth scenes between the Second World War and the days after the war, when Winston waits to learn whether the British people will give him the boot, as he charmingly remarks to George VI when declining his gift of the Garter.

Winston is vacationing in a friend's French villa and quarreling with his wife Clementine. They did argue, but in letters to each other and in biographies describing their marriage it's passionately clear that they adored each other. Clementine could be "a jaguar" in Winston's defence (Winston's words).

Losing sight of a great love story is one thing. Losing sight of a great war is another.

I guess the people who grew up in the shadow of the Second World War assume everyone knows how evil the Nazis were. Many people today don't, and the miniseries never makes it evident. I have even seen a fool's history that suggests Britain should have made peace with the Nazis.

The bombing of Dresden is part of the miniseries story, but it is never revealed that both US President Franklin Roosevelt and Churchill made the decision to bomb Germany after the Nazi German bombing of Warsaw and Rotterdam, the Nazi blitz against London, the destruction of Coventry, the onslaughts against France and Russia and the refusal of the Germans to surrender unconditionally.

Nor is it explained that Dresden "ranked high among the Reich's wartime industrial centers" with more than a hundred factories producing torpedoes and machine guns.

Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels created the first lies about Dresden, grossly inflating casualties, and they have persisted.

It's true that Churchill , who always wanted to be in the thick of battle, hated the loss of life and ruin that occurred in war. The film suggests this.

Covering the world, the Second World War is too great a conflict to be evoked by the inadequate images of Into the Storm. But Churchill, freed by having lost the election, and needing, as usual, money to pay his bills, went back to his study and dictated one of the great histories. His Second World Warcontains fascinating details and the sweep of a huge canvas on every page.


Wounded heroes

Wounded. Determined to live. Heart-breaking and inspiring. Recorded in a documentary that begins with actual footage of the bomb that injured Andy Allen.

September 23, 2009

Ultrasound pioneer John Wild

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Many parents are familiar with his work.
Image: The Tinker family

A Briton trained in surgery at University of Cambridge [and at University College Hospital, London, Ed.], John J. Wild became interested in peering inside bodies when he was called on to treat victims of V-1 bombs during World War II. The bomb's shockwave produced distended bowels in victims that could be fatal if not treated, and Dr. Wild realized he needed a tool that could measure the thickness of the bowel wall.

Continuing his research after the war, Dr. Wild moved to the University of Minnesota, where he worked at first with a machine designed to find stress fractures in tank armor and then with a radar simulator at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Minneapolis. Working at first in his own basement, he constructed some of the first echoscopes, as he termed the early devices.

At the time, it wasn't known whether sound waves could cause harm, so Dr. Wild at first aimed his echoscope at a cow kidney his wife had intended to turn into steak and kidney pie. This produced, he later wrote, "the first direct image of soft tissue, and in real time."

The echoscope's first public diagnostic triumph took place on May 22, 1953, when at a demonstration before the Minnesota State Medical Association, a breast tumor was diagnosed.

"The tumor was revealed in positive contrast" in photos, Dr. Wild wrote in a memoir. It was "shining like a planet in the night sky. It could not be missed."

Wild had realized, of course, that he could project "the information drawn from the sound beam sweeping through soft tissue on to a fluorescent television screen". His landmark papers soon convinced the skeptical medical establishment that healthy and malignant tissues produced different 'echoes'.

"A tinkerer from childhood" - he ran his motorcycle on charcoal when fuel was short during the Second World War - Wild changed the landscape of medicine.

Cookers, eater and bittersweets

English Cider - "an absolute joy."

Goodwood Revivial

A racer's view.

September 22, 2009

Drawing until the lights went out

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Aubrey Beardsley's illustration for Oscar Wilde's Salome

Collector and author Alan G. Thomas writes in Great Books and Book Collectors (Excalibur Books, 1975) -

"Aubrey Beardsley (1872-97) was, perhaps, the most extraordinary phenomenon in English art. Already tubercular at the age of seven, his only training one year's evening classes at the Westminster School of Art, he was famous at twenty and dead by twenty-five.

This Keats of graphic art created an original and fantastic world entirely of his own with extreme economy of line. His reputation stands higher, and his influence has been greater, than any other English book-illustrator. Forced to earn his living, he worked as a clerk in the City of London offices of the Guardian Life Insurance Company. Many of his lunch hours were spent in the bookshop of Jones and Evans. . ."

JM Dent, the publisher of the Everyman Library, sold books for a shilling, making them available to many who couldn't afford a book otherwise. He did not do this with a government grant, but on his own, and he made a tidy profit. In the 1890s, Dent decided to publish Morte d' Arthur with 350 original drawings. (No small dreams for JM Dent.) Frederick Evans of the bookshop told him that Beardsley was the artist to do it. This was the break that Aubrey needed. He quit the insurance company. Thomas continues -

It is hard to imagine two persons more dissimilar than Dent and Beardsley. Dent. . .was earnest, worthy, rather stolid and a nonconformist. Beardsley was brilliant, a dandy, epicene, erotic and, ultimately, a Roman Catholic. The only quality they had in common was a capacity for hard work. Beardsley worked with the passionate intensity of an artist who knows he must die early. Already, when hardly more than a boy, he was utterly self-assured and created an incredible quantity of drawings. And all this was achieved while he was constantly interrupted by coughing, haemorrhages and the ensuing exhaustion.

Beardsley always worked sitting between two tall candlesticks and coughing, coughing.

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The Lady of the Lake, Arthur and Merlin
Image: The Savoy

The Morte was published in two volumes quarto in 1893. In 1894 Beardsley illustrated the first edition of Wilde's Salome.

"These drawings, Thomas wrote, "the masterpiece of Beardsley's early period, had an immense influence on Art Nouveau."

Beardsely went on to create illustrations that were frankly obscene and silly. He had, however, a change of heart and mind -

One of his last acts after converting to Catholicism a year before he died was to plead with his publisher to "destroy all copies of Lysistrata and bad drawings. . .by all that is holy all obscene drawings." His publisher, Smithers, not only ignored Beardsley's wishes, but continued to sell reproductions and outright forgeries. (Wiki)

A betrayal to keep in mind. It is not worse than modern society betraying children by exposing them to unholy - un-whole - images.

Thomas's book reminds us of how many beautiful books have been printed in the previous twelve centuries. Just opening his book is a joy - it has a lovely scent of paper and ink. . .

We've had the same feeling

The European Union and Westminster suck up news coverage and the country's energy and wealth. The more that Westminster Government does, and the more it costs us, the less we can and will do. Meanwhile those of us not living in the Westminster Village agree that things are getting worse and worse.

Why doesn't Westminster Government fulfill its duties under the Constitution and get out of the way so the rest of us can step up to meet our responsibilities and get on with it? Greg Dyke, the former head of the BBC, shares some of these views and names the BBC as a big stumbling block to reform.

Note that the BBC is so worried about his remarks it used a weird camera angle to photograph him and pipes up in the middle of a news article - "The BBC said its political coverage was highly regarded by the public". Pravda used to say the same thing.

September 21, 2009

Magna Carta, the environment and the EU

Environmental editor Charles Clover sounds the alarm -

Thanks to Magna Carta, citizens may take their governments to court if they believe they have misapplied the law in Britain, the United States, and in. . .other countries. They may not do this, however, in the European Union , something most of its 500m citizens do not realise. When they do realise, they are shocked.

Let me shock you. From the outside, it certainly looks as though individuals and citizens’ groups are entitled to their day in the European Court of Justice, but this is an illusion.

This year, two environmental groups, the WWF and Greenpeace, tried to put the EU on the spot over the application of its own laws, contending that they had not been applied correctly in the handing out of quotas for overfished North Sea cod and bluefin tuna. (The quotas vastly exceeded those advised by scientists.) Both cases were turned down by the European court on “standing” — the right to participate — one at the beginning of the process, one on appeal. In another case before the court, campaigners are challenging an EU regulation that will increase the levels of pesticide allowed in food. The pesticides case also rests on “standing” as to whether the court will hear the case at all, which is unlikely. As EU law moves tortuously slowly, an appeal is unlikely to conclude before 2014.

There is virtually no other jurisdiction in the world where the decisions of unelected officials affecting the environment and vital resources such as fish, food or fuel are immune from challenge in this way. . .

An inability to hold a government accountable leads to predatory government.

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Note: In his column Clover mentions the barons who won Magna Carta. Magna Carta was won by knights and townspeople, barons and bishops, the English and the Welsh. The idea that Magna Carta was a document created only by barons is a Fabian Socialist myth meant to discredit Magna Carta.

Largest half-marathon in the world

Marathons and half-marathons are dear to one of our hearts, so it was good to learn that the Great North Run, a half-marathon led by the Red Arrows blazing overhead, was a success. More than 54,000 completed the course in Newcastle. Many of them helped to raise money for Leukaemia Research.

Better late than never

The Labour architect of the EU's Lisbon Treaty has warned it puts the future of democracy in Britain at stake.

Former health minister Gisela Stuart said the treaty breached the fundamental democratic principle that voters can get rid of those in power.

Just weeks before the Irish are asked to vote again on the measure, she said it would also allow the EU to launch future power grabs completely unchecked.

The Irish are now being forced to vote a second time on the EU Constitution/Lisbon Treaty because they said no the first time. What's next? Will the EU elites appoint a new people if the Irish don't give them the answer they want?

Heart-breaking and infuriating when you consider the post below.

The good news is that 70 per cent of British voters want a Conservative government to offer a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, even if it is already law when they come to power.

Thanks to Harry Hoffman of Britannia Radio for sending the link to the Daily Mail.

The Dutch remember

Dutch schoolchildren, more than 800 of them, held aloft bunches of flowers, whispered the names inscribed on the white headstones before them, then gently deposited their bouquets on the graves of 1,756 British and Polish airborne troops who dropped from the sky 65 years ago, fought a bitter ten-day battle and were killed at Arnhem.

More than 10,000 people packed the hallowed war cemetery at Oosterbeek yesterday to commemorate the heroism of the British 1st Airborne Division and the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade. [We hope they remembered all the Allies, including the Americans desperately trying to reach the British at Arnhem. - Ed.]

The annual memorial service was a moving tribute to those who lost their lives in Operation Market Garden. . .

f_wwii_parachutes.gif Jump day was September 17th 1944. Photo Credit: U.S. National Archives 111-SC-354702

After they landed, "Against enormous odds, the British clung fiercely to their positions." We have the Arnhem story, as we know it, here.

September 19, 2009

A quiet Brit, kidnapped by al-Qaeda, rose to the occasion

Werner and Gabriella Greiner pay tribute to Edwin Dyer.

In the burning sands, he quoted Shakespeare and nursed his companions.

Ave atque Vale.

Debating the Really Big Questions of the Universe

We didn't link to the debate between Richard Dawkins, the famous British scientist who daily doubts God, and Karen Armstrong, the former nun who has wandered into the mists of a mythic journey, but the letters responding to their dialogue in the Wall Street Journal are worth reading.

September 18, 2009

On to London - a hello from Ed and Will

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This coming Saturday night, at 7:30 pm, the 19th of September, we will be singing in the South Bank Centre in London.

We couldn’t refuse this gig, nor did we wish to. The evening is called ‘Club Topicana ’, and is part of Topic Records’ 70th anniversary celebrations, with musicians and songs from all over Britain and Ireland.

We’ll be singing too, fresh from 7 months of walking and exploring between Canterbury and Saint Davids in far West Wales.

This leap to London town is an odd detour for us, but so the path unfolds. After this gig is done,and the songs sung, we'll be bicycling back to Wales,to resume our journey, till we settle in the woods for the winter. A valley in southern Snowdonia will hopefully be the venue for our winter rest, where we'll try to learn some good skills, and build strength for Springtime, when we'll carry on walking up into the North .

This will be our only visit to London for a very long while, and it’ll be much fun, with plenty of music that's rare, fresh, jolly and traditional.

It's this Saturday, at 7:30 pm, in the South Bank Centre, in old London Town.

“If a nice pint of beer goes along with anything, you’ll come along with me”.

Bring your family, pals and lovers, and we'll all enjoy the pleasure of good old songs doing their great works, in the heart of the flash grey city.

We look forward, and hope to see you there.

Ed and Will

We always like to hear from Ed and Will (and Ginger) who have been walking around Britain.

Apologize?

With all the apologies hitting the airwaves, PG Wodehouse has the right idea. In "The Man Up-stairs", he wrote,

"It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them."

From Eric Felten's Apology Not Accepted.

"The breathtaking girl next door"

In 'Bright Star', a dramatization of the intense though unconsummated love affair between the young Romantic poet John Keats and his younger neighbor, Fanny Brawne, the filmmaker Jane Campion has performed her own feat of romantic imagination. The production is modest in physical scale, mostly reserved in tone and touchingly simple in design (apart from Fanny's dazzling wardrobe, which is justified by her gifts as a seamstress). Yet the effect is exhilarating, and deeply pleasurable. It's like the dive into a lake that Keats evokes to explain the experience of poetry. The point, he explains to Fanny, is not to get to the other side, but to luxuriate in the lake.

The most obvious source of pleasure is the film's heroine, about whom much has been written in the past two centuries, despite a scarcity of factual knowledge. What's never been in doubt is the depth of the poet's passion for Fanny; his love letters to her enjoy a special place in English literature. What we know about her, though, comes mainly from him, and it's more suggestive than definitive. His first impression, that of a stylish minx, gave way to adoration for a woman who, he said, could "concentrate my whole senses." Not a blank slate, then, but one with plenty of open spaces that Ms. Campion has filled in the course of a film that avoids any trace of musty reverence for a long-dead poet by concentrating our senses on the breathtaking girl next door. . .


Abbie Cornish plays Fanny Brawne, who can "upstage a bedroom full of butterfllies". Ben Whishaw, plays John Keats, "Awake for ever in a sweet unrest".



Swimming in the lake with Keats -

To Autumn
An Angel's Tear

September 17, 2009

In Praise of Constitutions

What are a country's guiding principles and organization and will they secure the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? A country's constitution is one answer to that question.

The US Constitution was adopted today in 1787 by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and after intense discussion was ratified by conventions in each state. It can fairly be said that it would never have existed without the British - sometimes called the English - Constitution, which was its main inspiration. (Future US President John Adams called the British Constitution "the greatest fabric of invention in human history".)

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The structure of the oak tree is a visual sketch of the British and US Constitutions. Each constitution has three branches of government—the legislature (Parliament or Congress), the executive (the Sovereign or President) and the judiciary (courts of justice under common law). These powers are meant to balance each other. Without that balance, the tree is unstable.

Just law is the supporting trunk that carries nourishment to all the branches. The roots of the Constitution are the people. The earth is their birthright of freedom. The people and their freedom nourish the Constitution, and are nourished by it.

The written and unwritten elements of the British Constitution that contribute to this structure and defend the people's liberties include -

1. Common Law
2. The Coronation Oath
3. Magna Carta
4. Parliament
5. The Declaration of Right
6. Unwritten customs and traditions

In 1792 James Madison moved mountains—in this case, the US Congress—to amend the US Constitution with the promised Bill of Rights.

Many of these rights had been fought for in Britain over the course of a thousand years and were part of the British Constitution—

The right to habeas corpus and to trial by jury
The right not to be fined excessively or punished cruelly
The right to be silent under interrogation
The right to the privacy of your house, free of government searches—‘your home is your castle’
The right to petition your government
The right not to have soldiers quartered in your house
The right to bear arms.
These rights were made part of the first ten amendments to the US Constitution, the US Bill of Rights.

Several significant rights were added, including freedom of religion. The last amendment in the Bill of Rights wisely reserved all the powers not specifically delegated to the federal government to the states or the people. They had good reason for this. They understood the creeping menace of centralized power and the strength and creativity of decentralized, local government and free people.

Thomas Jefferson explained that under Article I, Section 8, Congress does not have unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but [is] restrained to those specifically enumerated.

The current US Government is trampling on this principle. In doing so it is trampling on the creativity of the American people and putting their future at risk.

Current and previous British Governments have attacked the people's constitution by introducing poison.

By poison we mean the European Union. Its undemocratic power and immense wealth - taken from British and European peoples in the form of taxes and tariffs - is used to suborn the British people's independence and overwhelm them with an avalanche of laws.

Today both Constitutions are under attack, but both Constitutions have been attacked before. They will survive if we defend them.

September 16, 2009

Imagining King Arthur

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Death of King Arthur by James Archer (1823-1904)

Defender of his people. King of the Knights of the Round Table and seekers after the Holy Grail. Betrayed by wife and friend. Death, and the promise of return.

Does the legend still live?

The Elizabeth Cross in the light of government failures

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The Government has sent British men and women into war without adequate equipment or support. As we've frequently noted, Richard North of Defence of the Realm has been reporting on the Government's shocking dereliction of duty for years. The mainstream media has belatedly begun issuing similar reports.

We now learn from Englishman's Castle and the Sun that -

THE Queen has vented her anger over the Army equipment crisis directly with No10, it was claimed last night. Internationally-respected historian Andrew Roberts says the Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Charles are up in arms over the failure to provide Our Boys with bomb-proof vehicles and enough helicopters.

He said: "They are all furious with Gordon Brown over sub-standard equipment in Helmand". . .as the Prime Minister spent the traditional weekend with The Queen at Balmoral Castle, Scotland.

Her Majesty might consider perusing Defence of the Realm for insightful and up-to-date reports.

The loss of men and women in the Armed Forces is a heart-breaking tragedy for their families.

Last week,

The Queen presented the military honour that bears her name to the grieving families of six soldiers killed fighting overseas for Britain.

It was the first time she had personally presented the Elizabeth Cross, awarded to the next of kin of armed forces personnel who are killed in active service or as a result of terrorism. The Cross is a mark of national recognition of their loss.

A higher mark of national recognition would be improving equipment and pay.

It would be a small tribute to the men and women risking their lives.

September 15, 2009

Battle of Britain Day

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Scrambling to defend Britain.
Image: Royal Air Force Museum

We salute the Royal Air Force on Battle of Britain Day.

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On the 16th August, 1940, the German Air Force launched over 1,700 sorties against airfields and radar stations in the South of England, and on London.

The desperate resistance put up by Fighter Command of the Royal Air Force over the next month saw some extraordinary deeds. . . Flight Lieutenant James Nicolson of No.249 Squadron won the Victoria Cross after staying in his burning aircraft to shoot down one of the aircraft attacking Britain. . .

By October, RAF pilots had shot down so many Luftwaffe aircraft that the Nazis would decide to call off their invasion, but not their attacks on Britain. The Second World War had yet to be won.

A few minutes from the Battle of Britain film -

Re the movie scene, we know you'll try not to be shocked by the cigarette.

"Total British civilian losses from July to December 1940 were 23,002 dead and 32,138 wounded, with one of the largest single raids on 19 December 1940, in which almost 3,000 civilians died". (Wiki, which provides a well-documented analysis of the Battle of Britain.)

One of those who survived the Second World War was Sqn Ldr Neville Duke. His story is emblematic of British gallantry during the war and revealing of the decades that followed.

Fighting with Britain as pilots in the RAF were 145 Poles, 127 New Zealanders, 112 Canadians, 88 Czechoslovakians, 28 Belgians, 32 Australians, 25 South Africans, 13 French, 7 Americans, 10 Irish, and one each from Jamaica, the British Mandate of Palestine, and Southern Rhodesia. (Wiki)

Did we mention that with their valiant defence the RAF helped to stop the evil of the Nazis - known in German as National Socialists? We should have.

Steaming

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Image: PA

I returned to Hampshire after a month away and learned that a Hampshire man, Charles Burnett III, had smashed a 103-year-old world land speed record for steam-powered vehicles.

Driving the 25ft-long British Steam Car - nicknamed the 'fastest kettle in the world' - he reached an average speed of 139.843mph on two runs over a measured mile at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Mr Burnett said: 'It was absolutely fantastic. I enjoyed every moment of it.

'We reached nearly 140mph on the first run before I applied the parachute.

'The second run went even better and we clocked a speed in excess of 150mph. The car really did handle beautifully.'

As Burnett financed the car, that must have been satisfying. He is the nephew of speed ace Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.

The car will reside at the National Motor Museum in Hampshire. It is made from a mixture of lightweight carbon-fibre composite and aluminium wrapped around a steel space frame chassis and fitted with 12 boilers containing nearly two miles of tubing.

Where, if anywhere, this steam feat leads is an open (and exciting) question. British engineering proved excellent, and the British support team was fantastic.

September 14, 2009

"Friendship and esprit de corps and decorum"

My brief and extremely amateurish foray on a golf course a few weeks ago had me looking with interest at the Wall Street Journal account of the Walker Cup. John Paul Newport reported on the 42nd Walker Cup match, which begins Saturday at the Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia.

. . .The two squads, one from the U.S. and one from Great Britain and Ireland, play two days of matches in alternate shot and singles format only (no best ball, no stroke play) on courses that, in the U.S. at least, are as exclusive and historic as they get.

. . . In choosing the teams, on-course performance is not the only consideration. In fact, according to US team captain Buddy Marucci, it ranks significantly behind a player's ability to represent his country with integrity and good sportsmanship. "The matches were founded with an emphasis on esprit de corps, friendship and decorum, and it's incumbent on the players and the captains to continue to pass that down over time," Mr. Marucci told me Thursday, standing on the porch of the stately white clapboard clubhouse at Merion, where he is a longtime member. . .

On our humble green, we received the same generous grace from a woman golfer held up by our play which consisted all too often of shots to the right of us and shots to the left of us disappearing into the trees. . .

Beautiful traditions.

"Wild horses couldn't drag me away"

Susan Boyle covers the Rolling Stones' song.

We've wept these tears.

September 12, 2009

Tea party

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18th century teapot made by American silversmith and rebel Paul Revere
Image: MS Rau Antiques

Back from Salem, the capital of Oregon, where I attended a tea party, one of hundreds across the country, and then raced back to Portland to attend a friend's wedding.

At the tea party we were protesting the astronomical amounts of indebtedness that will be borne by every American taxpayer while government grows increasingly powerful and corrupt. I walked in across the statehouse lawns with two men who looked like farmers and were friends - not that their skin color matters, but one was Caucasian and the other was African.

The crowd was genial. The speakers were eloquent and brief. There was no personal animosity toward any particular politician on display, but this crowd had had it with politicians of all stripes. As the party ended we cheered when we learned that ABC News had estimated there were 1.5 million tea party attendees in Washington, DC.

The tea party inspiration, as you know, came from the tea party launched in Boston two hundred-plus years ago when Americans, who at the time were British subjects, fought for what they called "the bright inheritance of English freedom".

Why is the British press more honest in its reporting on this stuff [the tea parties] than the American press? asked Instapundit. He linked to this report from the Daily Mail.

"Another interesting detail about the march — it was filled with immigrants. I'm pretty sure every Cuban in a thousand mile radius was there, helpfully explaining to everyone who would listen that Cuba's vaunted free health care system involves shoddily trained doctors and bringing your own linen to the hospital. I also spoke to angry immigrants from England and Ireland, appalled the country was slouching toward socialized medicine."

Practical idealism moved the advocates of liberty in Britain, and they move tea party protesters today.

But who wouldn't be concerned? The government, which has allowed Medicare to totter toward bankruptcy, is planning to pay for national health "reform" by chopping $600 billion from Medicare funds. One thinks 'blood from a stone', but 'pound of flesh' is more like it.

LAST WORD: QUINCY, ILLINOIS TEA PARTY WRAPUP from Instapundit:

I’ve been involved with a lot of events over my life, from civil rights protests to rock concerts to science fiction conventions, and I’ve never been involved with an event that ran with such well-oiled efficiency. I was going to say “ruthless efficiency,” but of course it was cheerful, considerate Midwestern efficiency and not ruthless in the least. The Quincy folks were charming hosts, and threw a dinner party for us last night where all the food was homemade, and delicious.

One interesting note: I’ve said this before, but those in the GOP who think that the Tea Party movement is for their benefit need to think again. Roger Stone spoke, and while nobody had anything against him in particular, several people told me that they thought the GOP was trying to co-opt the Tea Party Movement, and they weren’t happy about that. My advice to the GOP — and, for that matter, to those Democrats who care — is to try to find a way to address the Tea Party crowd’s interests, bearing in mind that if you don’t they’re just as happy to throw Republicans out of office as Democrats.

September 11, 2009

9-11 - What do we remember?

Athos reminded me that the Greek word for truth is not to forget.

The question might then be what do we remember? A post we published in 2008 suggests what we take from a day made heroically famous in 2001 and in 1777.

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The Nation-Makers by Howard Pyle
Brandywine River Museum

9-11 is the date of two hugely significant events. Many of us remember 9-11-2001 when 2,974 men, women and children - American civilians and nationals from 90 different countries - died in attacks by Islamic terrorists. (Wikipedia)

Among them were Anglo-American Rick Rescorla who brought hundreds to safety out of the burning south tower before he died in its collapse, and the men and women who gave their lives to stop Flight 93 from hitting Washington, DC.

Many have forgotten 9-11-1777, when, at the Battle of Brandywine, 3,000 soldiers were killed and the cause of American independence was almost lost. Barely escaping death were George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Monroe, John Marshall (future head of the Supreme Court), and Generals Greene, Wayne and Sullivan. These men, who would be hugely important to the future of America, risked their lives in the battle, along with Lafayette, from France, and Count Pulaski, from Poland.

The survival of the future United States of America depended on the courage of soldiers and civilians and on what I would like to call Anglo-American spirit, though in the battle British and Americans were opposed.

As is pretty well known, the British considered the American Revolution an insurrection by fellow British subjects. The Americans, who began the struggle to defend their rights as freeborn Brits, eventually saw the war as a struggle for independence and freedom.

Looking somberly at the intelligence failures of 9-11-2001, we note that on the morning of September 11th, 1777, the dream of a United States of America was almost destroyed due to incomplete and misleading information of the most vital kind. The American Army barely avoided complete defeat. That Americans were not utterly destroyed is due to a number of men and women whose names are barely remembered.

In 1777, the third year of the American Revolution, General William Howe landed with 13,000 British troops and 5,000 Hessian mercenaries in Maryland, and headed north to capture Philadelphia. By September 9th, his army was at Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, six miles west of the Brandywine and the Chadds Ford crossing.

Facing them on the east side of Chadds Ford was George Washington with 11,000 American soldiers. He aimed to stop them.

Trees grew so thickly on the banks of the Brandywine River it was impassable to an army except at the fords. Washington had set guards at every ford, but a crossing to the north had been overlooked.

Howe had better information about the terrain. On September 11th he decided to send part of his force to attack Washington at Chadds Ford while the rest of his army, screened by woods and Pennsylvania's rolling green hills, marched north, crossed the Brandywine at the unguarded crossing and launched a devastating surprise attack.

Early on the morning of 9-11, Washington rode out to look at the woods and pastures that would form his battlefield. He was accompanied by only an aide. It was already warm and humid.

Patrick Ferguson of the British Army had adapted the breech-loading mechanism used in sporting guns to his military rifle so he could fire six rounds a minute. He was a brilliant marksman.

On the morning of 9-11, he was out, scouting. According to M. M. Gilchrist, he saw Washington on horseback near Chadds Ford, and put him in his sights. He was about to shoot when Washington turned his back on him. Ferguson later said, the idea of shooting in the back someone who was going about his duties so coolly disgusted me. Even when told that the officer in question was Washington, he never regretted his chivalry.

Over the new increasingly hot hours, reports began reaching Washington that British brigades were moving north on the other side of the Brandywine, and he ordered General Nathaniel Greene to strike across Chadds Ford. But the next intelligence to reach Washington inaccurately suggested that Greene's force would be attacking the entire British army, and Washington pulled him back.

By early afternoon, the British army was about to descend in force on the unsuspecting Americans. A local, Thomas Cheyney, who had escaped capture, arrived with the news at Washington's camp.

John B.B. Trussell, Jr. of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission describes what happened next -

Washington sped orders to his commanders to move to high ground and block the British at the Birmingham Meeting House. The Americans. . .raced toward the British, who halted and opened fire. Seeing this, a rear brigade delivered a volley. This fire did not reach the enemy but plowed into the Americans from the rear, and they broke and fled. . .The British pressed their attack. The Americans laid down a telling fire, slowing the British advance, but were steadily forced backward on the flanks.

Meanwhile, there were children caught near the battle. As he describes in his book West Chester to 1865, That Elegant and Notorious Place, Douglas Harper used an original source to describe the reaction of children caught nearby. Harper wrote -

The morning was wretchedly hot, with some clouds that brought little relief. Persifor Frazer’s three young children were at school in Thornbury. The oldest was Sally, age eight. Many years later, she remembered hearing the gunfire and cannonading: "The teachers went out, and listened some time, and returned, saying, 'There is a battle not far off, children, you may go home.' As we returned we met our mother on horseback, going over towards the place of action, knowing that. . .our father must be in the midst of the affray." Strong-willed Mary Taylor Frazer knew her husband well.

Keep this little incident in mind. We think that when you read between the lines, you will see something important about the spirit of an Anglo-American people.

Trussell describes what happened next -

After almost an hour, the British army was close enough to launch a bayonet charge against the American right flank held by a brigade under a French volunteer, General Prud'Homme de Borre. As the scarlet line drove in, De Borre panicked and fled, followed by his brigade. . .Under increasing pressure, the Americans on the left also gave way, but the center held on.

The sound of the battle had carried to Chadds Ford. Washington immediately ordered Greene out of reserve to reinforce the troops at Birmingham Meeting House, and Greene's men, with George Weedon's Virginia brigade in the lead, were soon pelting across the fields. Then, as the gunfire swelled, Washington turned over command at Chadds Ford to Anthony Wayne. Guided by a local farmer, Joseph Brown, the General and his aides started for the battle in a cross-country gallop reminiscent of Washington's fox-hunting years in Virginia.

. . .The threat of imminent encirclement forced the Americans to abandon Birmingham Meeting House. With most of the artillery horses dead, the cannon had to be left behind. The troops fell back half a mile along the Dilworth Road to a hill, where they formed another line. There the British struck them again, but were hurled back - not once, but five successive times. However, the Americans' ammunition ran low, and few were armed with bayonets; at the next British charge the surviving Americans began streaming down the hill.

At this point Washington reached the scene and disregarding the hail of British bullets tried to rally the men. . .Lafayette fought valiantly although he was wounded and his boot had filled with blood. Weedon's men arrived - they had double-timed four miles in about forty minutes - and deployed at a narrow defile on the Dilworth Road a little to the rear. They parted ranks to let the retreating troops pass through then closed up again, halting the pursuing British with volley after volley.

Weedon was a tavern owner in Virginia. As the Hessians drove across Chadds Ford, overrunning the artillery, as Wayne's men fell back, fighting hand-to-hand in orchards and fields, and Sullivan's men retreated from the Birmingham Meeting House, Weedon and his men stood all that sweltering September afternoon and fought, withdrew and stood and fought again. Their fighting withdrawal bought time for the American army to escape as darkness fell.

Artillery was lost, but not all of it. African-American Edward Hector, a private in Proctor's Pennsylvania Artillery, in actions of outstanding bravery, rescued a number of the Artillery’s cannon in the face of the Hessian advance.

The Americans retreated toward Chester. Howe sent cavalry to cut the road, but Polish volunteer Count Casimir Pulaski, leading American cavalry, covered Washington's retreat.

This is not the first time that Polish-led cavalry has proved vital. When the Ottoman Empire attacked Vienna on 9-11-1683, Polish King Jan Sobieski led the successful cavalry charge that turned the Muslim invasion of Europe into a rout, and sent the invaders back home.

Howe had defeated the American Army, but he had not crushed it. Americans remained in good spirits. They hoped to recoup their losses in the future, and they did.

After the battle, and acting again in the spirit of chivalry, British soldiers accompanied wounded American soldiers from the battlefield to the settlement of Turk's Head (West Chester's original name) where they could be treated.

Douglas Harper explains -

It was customary courtesy, after a battle, to deposit the enemy's wounded in some safe, dry public building (or private one) where they could be cared for, and no doubt some British officer down around the battlefield had questioned local residents and learned that there was a small log school in Turk's Head that would serve as a temporary hospital.

British General Howe asked General Washington to send doctors to tend the wounded rebels who had been captured in the battle -

The American doctors who were sent behind enemy lines by an arrangement between Washington and Howe included Benjamin Rush, a leading Philadelphia surgeon and one of the ringleaders of the rebellion.

As a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Rush took a bold risk in riding unarmed into the British camp. He was briefly detained when his identity became known. But since Rush was a doctor, and had come under a flag of truce, Howe respected the rules of war and let him do his job

Look again at that paragraph about the children and their mother. It contains interesting insights into Anglo-American life in Pennsylvania in the 18th century.

First there is the fact that children went to school, and the school was large enough to have more than one teacher. Second, girls were taught as well as boys. Education helped to make the people of Britain and America prosperous. So did respecting women. No country can be successful unless women are treated as the equals of men.

Third, the battle put a crimp in lessons, but the teachers apparently thought nothing of sending children across country, perhaps straight toward two armies.

Fourth, women rode horses, and were used to taking care of themselves. Fifth, if they really loved a man, they rode into battle to find him.

Some of these comments may apply only to the Frazers, but we know from other sources that American and British boys and girls were taught to read and write and ride and to be self-reliant.

The dream of a United States of America survived, and would become reality twelve years later in 1789.

Take pride in Brits and Americans who lived by chivalry and courage. Remember the Brits and Americans who slowly but tirelessly worked to over evil and to establish fair play for every person. Honour their principled determination to create a limited representative government that will protect free men and women. Join them in living lives of courage, chivalry, and teamwork.

This post has been edited. See sidebar if you're interested in a book which illuminates the Anglo-American inheritance.

September 10, 2009

Heritage Open Days - September 10th - 13th

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Haworth Art Gallery, Lancashire. A Tudor-style Edwardian house and a fine example of the Arts and Crafts movement, Haworth stands in nine acres of parkland. It is home to Europe’s largest public collection of Tiffany glass. Image: Hyndburn

Heritage Open Days celebrates England’s architecture and culture by offering free access to properties that are usually closed to the public or normally charge for admission. Every year on four days in September, buildings of every age, style and function throw open their doors, ranging from castles to factories, town halls to tithe barns, parish churches to Buddhist temples to Haworth Gallery.

It is a once-a-year chance to discover hidden architectural treasures and enjoy a wide range of tours, events and activities which bring to life local history and culture.

As someone I like very much used to tell me - 'get your skates on'.

UPDATE British soldier died to free NY Times journalist

Corporal John Harrison, 29, of the Parachute Regiment but serving with a Special Forces Unit, died in a daring pre-dawn raid on Wednesday to free Stephen Farrell, the British-born New York Times reporter.

Army sources have expressed "disquiet" about the operation after it emerged that Mr Farrell had ignored security advice from Afghan police who told him not to travel in the area where he was captured, which is a known Taliban stronghold.

If this is true, it is very disturbing.

Once again, and with heavy hearts, we gaze at the soldier who was lost -

Corporal Harrison was described as "a tower of strength" and "a remarkable man".

"His hallmark was an undemonstrative, yet profound, professionalism; he cared deeply about his work, and more deeply still about those he commanded and served alongside. . .He was an unflinching and inspirational man with a deep, deep pool of courage, who died as he lived - at the forefront of his men.

Ave atque Vale.

'This is the moment"

Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway -

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the first draft of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in a white heat after waking from a dream. It made a tremendous impression when it was published and has remained firmly embedded in modern consciousness ever since.

The 'Jekyll and Hyde' is a person who has vastly different actions and responses depending on what he needs and desires and thinks at the moment. Who is unhappier - the Jekyll and Hyde character or the person who encounters him?

Credit: Mark Steyn reminded us that President Obama likes to think 'This is the moment'.

September 09, 2009

Being a report from distempered times

A time possibly more disordered than our own.

James Holloway has written to alert us to the online appearance of the Eastern Association, his rambunctious new 17th century blog, which plunges us into the English Civil War.

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James writes -

My model was  James Ellroy's "LA Quartet"  of crime novels, set in Los Angeles from the end of World War II to the late Fifties: weave fictional people into actual history, in an effort to come to an understanding of the "meaning" or "spirit" of an era.  

One of the many remarkable things about the  English Civil War was the huge literary output - tracts, sermons, etc. The Puritans were hugely dedicated diarists and journalists. (Wallington's run to 44 volumes, I think). Elizabethan poetry and the King James version were the stuff of daily speech; they were intoxicated with words. . . That period also saw the rise of the "news industry," with each side putting out various newsbooks and what not. 

So it struck me that it would be interesting to try to tell the story of the English Civil War with the types of writings that were produced in the period, stitched together with some basic novelistic type narrative, and using technology available today to tell it on a quasi-real-time basis. The designers and I looked at newsbooks, tracts, etc. and tried to come up with something that "felt" 17th century. Of course, there's no way I could really reproduce actual 17th century rhetoric. It's not easy to read - try Clarendon, for example. But it is possible to get echoes. . .

A Red Hand on the blog guides you to the start of the story in the summer of 1642. Edmund has just returned from America; Sydney is in London, buttoning down business and preparing to ride west; John is organizing an attack on the forces of Charles II. Religious animosities are fierce.

The dates on the site correspond to the dates they actually occurred in 1642. "On August 10, there's a bit of narrative about Cromwell seizing the plate of Cambridge College, because that's what Cromwell did on August 10th, 1642." On September 8th, peace is rejected and Leicester is threatened.

Meanwhile Sydney is furiously denouncing -

. . .the Second Son of a Knight who hath Pickled his once-notable Gifts as a Soldier in Drink and Dissipated the Fortune of his Ancient Family by complete Contempt for the Elemental principles of Economy. . .

Ah, yes, the modern connection. Our Parliament and Congress are full of second sons.

British soldier dies to free NY Times journalist

Stephen Farrell, 46, a British-born journalist for the New York Times who had been seized by the Taliban, has been rescued by commandos. A British paratrooper died in the rescue attempt. His name has not yet been released.

Not out of Africa?

A science festival run by the British Science Association was told -

The conventional view of human evolution and how early man colonised the world has been thrown into doubt by a series of stunning palaeontological discoveries suggesting that Africa was not the sole cradle of humankind.

In the bicentenary of Darwin's birth, things are getting a little complicated in the human evolution department.

September 08, 2009

The Langdales

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Photographed from Blea Tarn, looking towards the Langdales, Lake District National Park, Cumbria
Image: Howard Maunders, Beautiful Britain To view a larger image

"Langdale is known to archaeologists as the source of a particular type of Neolithic polished stone axe head, created on the slopes of the Pike of Stickle and traded all over prehistoric Britain and Europe" (Wikipedia).

I like to think about the people who lived thousands of years ago in this place.

The national park was created in 1951 to protect land and wildlife. Unlike public parks in the States, almost all of the park remains in private hands - good, caring hands, it appears.

September 07, 2009

A hero at 100

I was traveling, and didn't have enough time to link to this story about Sir Nicholas Winton. I loved his "bloody-minded" determination to save children.

A labour of love.

What is the real story?

Andy McCarthy has questions.

The Genesis Enigma

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Mike Potemra writes -

When you pick up a book titled The Genesis Enigma: Why the Bible Is Scientifically Accurate, you expect a fundamentalist attack on the theory of evolution, or at least a plea for Intelligent Design theory. In fact, the author, Andrew Parker, believes in evolution. A scientist based at Oxford University and the Natural History Museum in London, Parker is not a Bible literalist, and he dismisses Intelligent Design as a “concocted theory” characterized by “flawed logic” and “forced” theorizing. The book describes the remarkable similarity between the order of events described in the first chapter of Genesis and the scientifically known series of macro-evolutionary steps in the history of life on earth. Parker asks how a text written some 2,500 years before the development of modern science could have captured this order of events, and says it was either a lucky guess or a matter of inspiration.

Scientist Fred Hoyle has different ideas about intelligent design.

Personally I don't see why evolution couldn't be part of divine plan - an expression of God's hand.

September 05, 2009

A reader reminds us of one of the great mysteries of World War II

Holly writes - Since you mentioned the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of WWII, I thought you'd like this passage:

In fact, Britain nearly alone saved Western civilization between September 1939 and June 1941. From May 1940, it fought almost alone against the entire continent of occupied Europe, when the United States was still isolationist and the Soviet Union was actively helping the Nazi cause. One of the great mysteries of the war is how an isolated Britain survived the Blitz, German submarines, Gen. Erwin “the Desert Fox” Rommel, and the industrial might of the entire European continent until Russia and America joined its cause. . .

Victor Davis Hanson, writing in National Review Online.

Thank you, Holly.

A word from Obed Ramotswe

That would be the father of Mma Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. He speaks so us in Alexander McCall Smith's book, which I've been reading as I travel (actually, rereading, but I had forgotten I had read No. 1 once before).

In Chapter Two, Obed tells us about his life, which is embedded in Africa as Africa is embedded in him. And he says something that many of us will relate to. We visit a new country, we start new lives somewhere we've never been, we are forced to leave our country or we return, happily, we return - whoever we are, many of us this will know this feeling -

I said to him that. . .every man has a map in his heart of his own country and that the heart will never allow you to forget this map.

. . .and the heart will never allow you to forget this map. . .

September 03, 2009

A day of historic dates for kings and people

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"Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown."

On this day -

-In 1189 Richard I of England was crowned at Westminster Abbey. The coronation ceremony had been designed two hundred years earlier by St Dunstan to bring leader and people together in a covenant of justice, equity and mercy.

-In 1651 Charles II was defeated at Worcester in the last main battle of the English Civil War. The issues of that war continue to be argued, but the refusal of the King to see that his covenant bound him to respect the rights and liberties of his people contributed to the end of his reign.

-In 1783 the American Revolution - which arose due to the destruction of the covenant between King George III and Americans - ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. A new nation had been born.

Also on this day, in 1939, the democratic peoples of Britain, New Zealand, Australia and France declared war on Nazi Germany as a result of Germany's invasion of Poland.

The man who fought River Blindness

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Thirty years ago, it was common in Africa to see a child afflicted by River Blindness (onchocerciasis) or blinded by a – perfectly treatable – condition such as cataract. That this is much less frequent today is due in no small part to Barrie Jones and those he trained with such dedication.

Barrie Jones was born in New Zealand in 1921. He came to Britain in 1951 for postgraduate training, enrolling at the Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital. He had a brilliant career. In 1963 he was appointed the first Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology at the University of London.

There he was an innovator who dramatically improved diagnostic methods, developed new surgical procedures and contributed to more effective treatments. But all the time he was aware that six million people worldwide were blind due to trachoma, a contagious bacterial infection of the eye, a condition he thought should and could be treated.

A man of compassion - fieldwork in Iran and Nigeria

So at the same time he was teaching and helping to raise a family, Barrie Jones devoted twelve years carrying out fieldwork in Iran "on the isolation and culture of the causative organism, Chlamydia trachomatis, its transmission within impoverished communities, and its control". In 1981 he resigned from London University to establish the International Centre for Eye Health to train professionals who could bring eye health to the poor.

To be poor and blind! How difficult life must be. Barrie Jones understood. He was "a man of compassion".

With help from donors, Barrie Jones embarked "on a large clinical trial in Nigeria, which showed the efficacy of the drug Ivermectin in the prevention of River Blindness". Finally there was a treatment for this illness, caused by the proliferation of worms in the body.

When he was 81, Jones went back home to New Zealand. He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Pauline, and by their daughter and three sons.

To laugh often
and love much;

to win. . . the affection
of children;

to earn the approbation
of honest citizens. . .

To appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to give of one’s self;

. . .to know even one life
has breathed easier
because you have lived.

-Attributed to Emerson
Ave atque Vale.

September 02, 2009

Excellent free speech news from Canada - AND UPDATE

Gary Hollingshead was the first to send us the news that Section 13 has been struck down.

The National Post has just reported,

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ruled that Section 13, Canada's much maligned human rights hate speech law, is an unconstitutional violation of the Charter right to free expression because of its penalty provisions.

The decision released this morning by Tribunal chair Athanasios Hadjis appears to strip the Canadian Human Rights Commission of its controversial legal mandate to pursue hate on the Internet, which it has strenuously defended against complaints of censorship. [Cat's note - And valid complaints they were.]

It also marks the first major failure of Section 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, an anti-hate law that was conceived in the 1960s to target racist telephone hotlines, then expanded in 2001 to the include the entire Internet, and for the last decade used almost exclusively by one complainant, activist Ottawa lawyer Richard Warman.

We wonder if the people whose free speech rights were attacked, who in some cases had to mortgage their homes to defend themselves, can sue Mr Warman for damages.

UPDATE 3 September Mark Steyn writes -

The Canadian "Human Rights" Tribunal's decision is a huge victory for the free-speech campaign Ezra Levant and I and a few others have been waging for the last couple of years. When Maclean's magazine and I were acquitted by the British Columbia "Human Rights" Tribunal last year, a lot of people looked on it as a Steyn exemption — that if you were a prominent person with a powerful publisher and you both had deep pockets, the thought police would decide that discretion was the better part of valor. And, once the bigshots were out of the way, they'd go back to making life hell for little guys.

But Marc Lemire, though dogged and very deft in his approach, is not a prominent person. Indeed, he's exactly the kind of obscure figure the thought police would have taken to the cleaners a couple of years back. Now the judge has, in effect, ruled that Section 13, Canada's "hate speech" law, is unenforceable against anybody:

I have also concluded that s. 13(1) in conjunction with ss. 54(1) and (1.1) are inconsistent with s. 2(b) of the Charter, which guarantees the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression. The restriction imposed by these provisions is not a reasonable limit within the meaning of s. 1 of theCharter. Since a formal declaration of invalidity is not a remedy available to the Tribunal (see Cuddy Chicks Ltd. V. Ontario (Labour Relations Board), [1991] 2 S.C.R. 5), I will simply refuse to apply these provisions for the purposes of the complaint against Mr. Lemire and I will not issue any remedial order against him.

This is the beginning of the end for the Canadian state's policing of opinion: Judge Hadjis has repudiated the "human rights" regime's entire rationale as well as a couple of decades of joke "jurisprudence".

I confess I wasn't optimistic when the thought enforcers decided to pick a fight with me, but Ezra Levant persuaded me that the thing to do was go nuclear on this disgusting racket and re-frame the debate. We succeeded.

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September 01, 2009

September

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Sailing off the Western Isles

The September Calendar is up. Along with fascinating events on the ground, there are an amazing number of air shows.

Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks

Agatha Christie wrote more than 90 books, most of them mysteries, which have sold an estimated four billion copies. How did she do it and why?

HarperCollins – with whom she first signed a three-book deal back in 1924 – is about to publish Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks, a hefty volume that details, exhaustively, the contents of the 73 extant notebooks in which she sketched out plots for her detective fiction.

Christie biographer Laura Thompson discusses the notebooks and suggests the clues lie elsewhere.

As to why we like to read mysteries - those clues lie within us.

Nice catch - holy islands

Nice catch from Miranda Summerfield, who noticed that I had posted an image of a Holy Island I thought was Lindisfarne. In fact it was a misty view of Holy Island at Lamlash Bay, North Ayrshire. Happily, Miranda set me straight, and I posted the image of Lindisfarne with swans.

Does anyone know how many Holy Islands there are around Britain?

Here is a small file on Colum Cille and Iona.

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