All entries for January 2007

January 31, 2007

How To Sue A Peasant

It’s amazing what you learn from your seminar reading sometimes…

So it turns out that in the Elizabethan and early-to-mid Stuart period (especially c.1580 until c.1640) the English liked nothing more than suing each other. Seriously. All the bloody time! Lacking a police service to deal with those who upset the status quo, and without such other modern recourses as aggrieved blogging, letters to the Daily Mail, or a retaliatory drive by shooting, the villagers, townsfolk, yeomen, gentry, nobles and wenches of the early modern period often resorted to litigation in their attempts to respond.

Some slights would make sense today. Stealing livestock.

Mild-to-severe street violence.

And, of course, personal insults, or defamation as it was called in those days.

Thus sheep thief gets hit with two law suits, and ginger gets hit with one. However as sheep thief also got hit by ginger, he is well and truly the loser in this scenario.

Back then it was really quite severe to insult someone. Naturally being horribly sexist, the men got their cases of defamation dealt with in proper legal courts, whilst women had to make do with the Church courts, which didn’t seem as grown up and involved vicars.

This was a dangerous thing as the records record that one particular vicar was such a model of dignity and vicar-ness that he sued one parishoner 26 times in six years. 26! You can almost imagine how it went…



They couldn’t even spell properly in those days (spot the error)!

So with all these lawsuits flying around people became really worried that this meant the end of all civility and decency. People who started lawsuits were treated with disdain. But they still started lawsuits. Some people, probably including our vicar above, were using what was known as vexatious litigation, that is just suing to annoy someone. How bloody annoying you can imagine. Well, at the time it wasn’t annoying, it was seen as a clear sign that SOCIETY ITSELF WAS FALLING APART!!! They feared there would be riots and chaos as no one would love their neighbour anymore!

Funnily enough, it was this attitude which meant society didn’t fall apart. See, because litigation was such a bad thing whenever a lawsuit was threatened the community would run around and try and prevent it happening. This usually meant making the parties sit down and talk it over with someone there to mediate. The local clergy were useful for this, even if they did appear to have very bad facial hair and were very very skinny.

Often this was enough. The people involved in the lawsuits were just like everyone else. They didn’t like litigation either and often dropped it when they calmed down or realised it would cost loads to actually continue the suit. There were no annoying TV adverts for companies offering “No win, no fee” back then. Some would argue this is a good thing.

Traditionally mediation would take place over some food and drink. Those church ales that clergy were alawys brewing came in useful for a purpose other than enlivening the Sunday sermon.

If this didn’t work then there could be forced arbitration which was like when the priest told them to behave but with a more scary authority figure telling them to behave and them having to by law. Or they could go through with the suit and be disapproved of forever after.

And that was the great thing – most people didn’t want any lawsuits so they tried to avoid getting involved with one, and tried to stop any they found out about. Except there was still a massive rise in litigation (at least one lawsuit per household per year, every year for 60 years). It made no sense! As it turned out people were calming down from about 1600, but the rising population meant more people to have lawsuits with so the fall didn’t occur until all them had calmed down too.

Bunch of whiny hypocritical hippies.


January 28, 2007

Movement In NI?

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/6308175.stm

Well well well, Sinn Fein have decided to back the Police Service of Northern Ireland, a move which was predicted but whose implications throw up some interesting possibilities.

The Republican objection to the police is longstanding and understandable. Bloody Sunday was merely the worst of the various incidents which turned the Catholic population from mild suspicion to outright hatred and distrust. It didn’t help that members of the then RUC colluded with loyalist terrorists to kill Catholics who were a nuisance. Whilst some were Republican terrorists themselves, some were people who merely annoyed the loyalists, like the lawyer Pat Finucane whose representation of IRA suspects in court earnt him an assassination in front of his wife and children. The response of the IRA to such incidents was to shoot police officers which bred a vicious cycle. My mum’s cousin was a Catholic RUC member who was shot whilst out on patrol one day in Northern Ireland. He survived but the officer he was with was killed.

But the change of heart by Sinn Fein comes admist reform and change. the question now is whether there will be some reprisals from Republicans beyond the shouting of “Traitor!” at Adams, and whether the DUP will return to powersharing. Ian Paisley has no doubt been dreading this moment. Since the second ceasefire in the 1990s Sinn Fein and the associated members of the Provisional IRA have been moving closer and closer to being a cooperative, legitimate party. Though not always inevitable, once the Good Friday Agreement was signed this was always a highly likely outcome. Hotheaded young radicals might like to weild guns and shout slogans, but when they grow up and realise they can make more difference (and get arrested less) in politics then they shift to more peaceful means. The electoral success Sinn Fein have seen since the IRA publically renounced violence has only fuelled their push to democracy. The PSNI move is designed to get more SDLP voters, and get more political power. In itself this isn’t a bad thing to most reasonable people – better to have the dissenters shouting rather than shooting?

So this becomes a test for Paisley. If his objections to Sinn Fein have always been about protecting the Protestants from harm, about maintaining law and order then he should come back to the table and talk. He should get the power sharing assembly working. Surely with the passing of his big objection over Sinn Fein and the PSNI should signal reproachment. Maybe it will. But part of me suspects it won’t, that a new excuse could be found. I’ve never truly believed that Paisley’s stance wasn’t tainted by racism. I won’t call it sectarianism as that has strangely acquired a position which isn’t as poorly looked upon as racism. Had a Protestant celebrity picked on a Catholic one for their faith on Big Brother we wouldn’t be having the same broo-ha-ha we have seen over the racism. Paisley has subjected Catholics and the Irish from the Republic to appalling racism over the years, and if he finds something else to object to about Sinn Fein, having banged on about their police stance for the last year or two since decommisioning, then I truly hope people will open their eyes and see him as the racist his is.

And Sinn Fein had better behave too. Just because they’ve done a ‘good thing’ for moving along the peace process doesn’t take away from the fact that they’ve done it several years later than it should have been done in the first place. Once more they come out of events looking good for doing something which is a little overdue for a political party wanting to play by the rule of law. But progress is progress and anything is better than police officers like my relative being shot in the street. Let’s see what happens.


January 23, 2007

Martin Rowson

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/cartoons/martinrowson/archive

One World Week finally threw something up other than food under curtains in the Union (joke) – thank you, thank you, thank you to whoever was responsible for booking Guardian, Independent, etc etc cartoonist Dr Martin Rowson to give a talk on political cartoons and their history. It was probably the most fascinating talk I’ve heard in my time here. Sorry lecturers, but this was brilliant.

Dr Rowson has a ridiculous number of plaudits and honours to his name. He’s London’s official cartoonist. He’s won cartoon of the year. And judging from the talk today he is well informed on the history of cartoons, from Hogarth, Gillray and Low, to his contemporaries like Steve Bell.The talk could easily have been three or four times as long and (numb bum from sitting on the floor aside) it wouldn’t have made a difference. It was one of the most informative hours of my life. He presented us with his philosophy and his methodolgy, albeit not in an in depth, “I use these pencils” kind of way (I admit, I asked him about those details afterwards).

His philosophy was one which I felt was perfectly balanced. Whilst admitting there are contradictions to beware of, he articulated an idea (I’d hesitate to say doctrine though manifesto would fit) that in politics those who you are drawing are people who have enough presumption to want to rule our lives. Thus they are themselves legitimate targets to be satirised. Dr Rowson insisted he never picks on anyone less powerful than himself. This lead him to an interesting discussion of the Danish cartoons – he feels the cartoons themselves were wrong because they picked on people weaker than the cartoonists – poor Muslim immigrants in Denmark – but the over the top reaction distracted and derailed the debate. To his mind the protests almost justified the cartoons. Almost, but not quite. It is a fascinating perspective that many people in that debate never thought of. The position of the artist overlooked. Guess it takes an insider to see such things, and yet I was completely in agreement with him.


Martin Rowson on Bush in Iraq.

He covered a lot of topics – a brief history of cartooning which could have been longer, and which I think he would have made longer of he’d had more time, and which got me really thinking about my course (this happens to us historians). He went into the rivalries amongst cartoonists (they steal from each other all the time which was funny). He dealt with 9/11 and Blair and Iraq.


Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’, one of the most important cartoons of all time.

Cartoons are seen as things which are meant to be funny, something which both frees and limits them. The Guardian should continue its podcast obsession and get Dr Rowson to give his talk (or a version of, it was rather visual with lots of his art and the art of those who inspired him) in a form which can be downloaded and heard further afield.

I have a lot to think about now, which is nice.


January 16, 2007

UK OK?

This is the cake no one wants:

The cake is the 300th birthday cake of the signing of the Act Of Union 1707 which decreed that from that day forth the people who had previously lived in Scotland and England would have to pretend to like each other and not rape and pillage each other’s borderlands. Due the nonexistence of a proper Act Of Union with Wales, English and Welsh people are still technically allowed to rape and pillage each other’s borderlands as demonstrated by the massive spanking which London gets everytime Charlotte Church decides to visit.

The Act Of Union abolished the Scottish parliament of the time and is generally seen by historians as having been an excuse for the Scottish MPs to fanny around in London pouring scorn on thw whole place by declaring the inhabitants soft, and their city “crap” in relation to the cold, harsh climes (and indeed climbs) of Edinburgh and its hills. Naturally they couldn’t possibly live in Edinburgh when doing this as none of the London soft poofs would hear them! Thus a long tradition of Scots with something to say going to London was established.

The Act Of Union can seem at times like a massive parent who forced two children who don’t really like each other to play in the same room. This doesn’t stop the children having their own toys (read: international football and rugby teams) nor does it prevent one from bursting into tears when the other one wants to play with its North Sea oil. But as children do, over time they grew up. The stage they currently seem to be at is the mid teens age. Neither has really come to completely accept that they are related, that they’ve known each other for years and years, and that secretly they are fond of each other in that special way you can be fond of someone you’re allowed to punch occasionally. This analogy also explains why places like Stoke-on-Trent exist – they are the teenage acne which has afflicted the faces of these country siblings.

So the anniversary of the pair being put into the same playpen (thus the anniversary of the beginning of a long series of retrievals of the toys both have thrown out of the playpen over the years (cf. Scotland signing a different peace treaty with Russia)) has gone past with not too much fuss. Most of the fuss has been over whether the two will play together much longer. But it would be silly to separate them. Neither truly appreciates that the other needs it in a psychological way. The pair work well together. Sure, they bitch and fight and will never admit to liking each other in public, but that’s the point of siblings sometimes.

So no cake. No party. Everyone carries on without making a fuss or doing anything so vulgar as celebrate. But there’s no massive counter protests. No scramble to lash out on this symbolic day. Neither side appears to care. They probably don’t. No one cares about how they got their family (mostly because it involves thinking about parent sex and that is wrong). They just did. It’s very very…

...

...British.


January 14, 2007

Hollyzone Needs A New Look

The title says it all. I want to change things here, not contentwise obviously because I can only write in one style (poorly spelt/grammatically dubious whinges, rants and waffles), but it needs something new. Something different. New year, new look.

The sidebar needs a big overhaul, it looks too clunky and isn’t nice and smooth. Plus I cannot get my goddam lastfm chart to work at the moment but that’s more likely to be the interweb or me being incompetent than anything else.

So, any suggestions? No? Damn.

Now all I need is the time and the CSS superpowers…


January 12, 2007

Fictional Beast Sausages

Hahahaha, I’m pro-EU at heart and this Warwick Boar column shows it… sort of. Also sorry about linking to the website so much when it’s not been updated in a while. Apparently it will be at some stage. It’s award winning, y’know!

I have to lay my cards on the table, both now and for future reference. Due to an excess of Irish DNA sloshing around in my genes I am intrinsically inclined to view the idea of the European Union as a good idea. Now I also, inexplicably, think that eating sponges is a brilliant idea but I’ve not done that since I was a small child (when mum replaced the half eaten sponge with a much less enticing flannel) whereas I still think Europe is a good idea. The only problem with it is continuing and unabated existence those assorted nutjobs elected to and working at the EU itself. Living in Eurosceptic Britain means a constant diet of exaggerated EU nonsense, like the fictional straight bananas which were rumoured to be forced upon us in the 1990s, but quite often reports of the EU’s bouts of madness are fairly close to the truth.

The latest disconnection from common sense comes from a fairly logical system which has been in place and beneficial for a while. The EU has strict rules on naming of products. Parma ham must be from Parma, Cornish pasties from Cornwall. Some have objected to this, but remember that the grape growers of the Champagne region will fight, almost to the death, the stop others using their sacred, and expensive, name. It’s not unreasonable when it’s a traditional dish, and one whose reputation is worth protecting. I know people from Cornwall who find the idea of a Cornish pasty being made here in the Midlands as sacrilege. Most Irish will tell you that Guinness tastes better in Dublin than in Britain, travel and/or production abroad can negatively affect stuff.

So far so good. But what happened when the EU noticed the existence of Welsh Dragon sausages last week? A total collapse of any reason. The poor makers got told off and forced to alter their name to Welsh Dragon Pork Sausages because their product doesn’t contain any dragon. Let’s review that. The sausages did not contain the meat of a fictional animal which everyone knows to be fictional, but clarification was needed anyway. At this stage the Europhile is banging their head against the desk screaming “Why must you make us laughing stocks?”. Even if there are morons who might think the sausages actually contained dragon what’s the worst that could happen? They get a little disappointed that it taste of pork? Personally I’d be inclined to slap them and tell that to be grateful it doesn’t taste of chicken like snails, frogs and humans.

Overly literal bureaucrats with a poor view of the average Joe/Jose/Llywelyn’s intelligence are the bane of any system. It makes me wonder what happens when they notice me – how much trouble am I going to get in for not being a spiky evergreen plant? What sanctions will be imposed on my existence for the lack of a few red berries protruding from my scrawny frame? God knows what damage they could wreak on account of my surname, fill me with old people and shove me into the sea?

You don’t win people round by making out that you consider them to be morons, even morons object to being blatantly tagged in such a way, once they’ve worked out the meaning of all those big polysyllabic words you’ve used. So come on EU, let’s stop treating people like idiots and then I’ll stop looking like an idiot for not cursing you with all my being. And for heavens sake, don’t throw me into the sea! The sponges out there aren’t the same as the ones at home.


January 11, 2007

"Hello, Guinness Book Of Records…

The Careers Service never did get to grips with me. A warwick Boar column which says more about me than them.

Sometimes, at very irregular intervals, I am gripped by a sudden and overpowering sense of destiny. In these moments, which fade all to soon, I see a bright shiny light emanating from the future calling to me in dulcet tones, “This is the job which you will be happy doing in the future…”. Invariably this fades as soon I realise things are a little more complicated than they seem. Practicalities, the most effective destroyer of dreams, emerge blinking into the sunlight and piss royally on the ticker tape parade in my head. Questions flood forth – is the volume of paperwork and risk of being stabbed compensated for by how cool the police riot uniform is? Does the lack of decent pay and necessity of marking essays overshadow being a lecturer who gets to talk loudly about stuff they’re interested in? Does having no discernible musical talent, or drug habit, really preclude me from being a rock star?

So I was a little surprised to have inspiration strike me once more earlier today, and I remain surprised at how little my enthusiasm has waned. And it’s all because of you, dear readers. I know there is a general scepticism in some areas about the Boar and its approach to to facts (insofar as facts can exist in one’s mind after you have had to endure a seminar on post-modernism) but quite often the facts in this newspaper are checked with sources and people who might know the answer, or are authoritative enough to quote, and not find ourselves getting sued for the resulting article. This is mostly done because printing outright lies is apparently illegal and not allowed. We would appreciate if someone could tell the News Of The World this.

In the minutes before my flash of inspiration I was witness to several members of the editorial team trying to make contact with the Guinness Book of Records to check some facts for us. And then it struck me. I want the job on the other end of the phone. I want to answer calls with “Hello, Guinness Book of Records, which astounding feat or event can I amaze your tiny mind with today?”. Imagine putting someone on hold whilst you check who holds the record for the most toe nail clippings collected, or the longest river of marshmallow ever created. Considering some of the stuff that makes it into the Guinness Book of Records, it couldn’t be too boring a job, could it? I guess you’d need the emergency services on the other line, if only for when someone rings up and tries to break a record down the phone to you and only end up breaking limbs.

Alas, a setback soon reared its ugly, and not record breaking, head. There is no such Guinness Book of Records phone line, only email. Now this is not to say there couldn’t be a phone line. Hardly anyone knows there isn’t one. And this could be another fun job – setting up a rogue phoneline to distribute complete bollocks in lieu of real records. The downside that there appears to be no way of making any money from such a scheme is currently the only thing stopping me. So here’s your record for the day – Most pigeons stuffed up one nostril: 11, by Dame Judi Dench on the set of The Shipping News in 2001.

Oh come on, you’d stick pigeons up your nose too if you found yourself cast in that film.


January 10, 2007

The Price Of Fame

Whilst watching the news yesterday I stumbled across one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard. The report in question was about paparazzi hounding of Kate Middleton, Prince William’s girlfriend. She was greeted, upon leaving her house on her 25th birthday, by a swarm of photgraphers who then proceeded to follow her down the street taking photos photos from close range. It all looked completely undignified and distressing. Then, when she had gotten away, one moronic snapper had to gall to justify his actions by saying “She’s famous, she should expect this”.


If only they were so retro…

The absurdity of this statement goes beyond the usual crap you get from media types. He was essentially saying that she has given them the right to intrude so directly into her life by being famous. But has she? Kate Middleton works for a high street retailer doing something so boring and admin-like that I don’t even know what it is. She does not go to showbiz parties; she does not work in a job which exposes her face, her voice, her thoughts to the world; she would never in a million years be in any way media notable if it wasn’t for her boyfriend. And just because of who she fell for (a process we have no control over) she is ‘famous’ and deserving of harrassment?

People become famous these days for either being good at something we like, good at getting famous, or for the sort of spurious, out-of-their-control reasons which Miss Middleton has experienced. Fame for the latter two groups is a simple thing, one group craves it and the other gets it whether they want it or not (most likely the latter). But the media has created both these groups from the first group – the charismatic, extrovert, talented and popular actors, singers, footballers, etc, who became famous for what they did or had. Looking back decades Charlie Chaplin was the world’s most famous man because he made the best movies in the world. These days you can get a similar level of media saturation by being a rather insignificant musician with a drug habit, model girlfriend and the attention of the media. People can’t make themselves anymore, the media makes them for us. And this will include those who do not want to be made.


Greta Garbo

Interest in the potential future monarch’s partner is understandable but the level of interest, the depth of the media’s invasion is excessive. I really don’t know who wants to see a picture of a young woman having her birthday ruined by paparazzi. There have always been people were coy about the spotlight, famous cases like Greta Garbo for instance, but they were exceptions because they were important. Garbo was a legendary actress, an icon who had voluntarily put herself in front of millions as an actress but always made clear that offscreen she was a private person. She could do this because there wasn’t such an invasive press in those days – what press invasion she experienced surprised her and made her more reclusive. Were she alive today it seems unlikely that she would follow the same career path at all.

There are a lot of talented actors, singers, etc, who we are being deprived of because they don’t want to play the media game which will cost them any privacy. Whilst I admit to being as intrigued by the private lives of celebrities I like, I can quite easily cope without knowing or seeing photos if it will prevent them from being harassed. We run the risk of having a media world entirely populated by the fame hungry, who may or may not have talent, rather than those who would actually be any good at acting, singing, etc. We’re going to end up with the famous people we deserve – fame hungry and mostly talent deficient. And Kate Middleton is going to end up with a harassment she doesn’t deserve.

For crying out loud, she works in retail admin!


January 09, 2007

Science And History

Guess I should put up a few more of those lousy Warwick Boar columns which I spew out from time to time (I have no idea what to write about at the mo, I need ideas!). This one is a good reason why historians shouldn’t buy New Scientist.

If there’s one thing that’s inherently adorable about scientists it’s that they are, by and large, made up of the more optimistic members of the species. Coming to university with big ideas about changing the world, discovering cures for stuff, and theories for making the world better and improving humans with laser powered implants. Those who continue in science after bachelors are the real optimists, remaining in possession of a faith in science despite all the 9am lectures and lack of reading weeks that university can throw at them. Want proof? Try the latest New Scientist magazine. Celebrating 50 years of the magazine it invited scientists to make predictions for the world in 2056. The vast majority are optimistic, some wildly so. Some talk excitedly of the imminence of the discovery of life on Mars, healthy people over 100 being the norm, and we can all talk to animals and become vegetarian as a result. One dementedly optimistic man thinks we’ll be able to buy a tee shirt with the equations from the unified laws of physics printed on them, though let’s be honest, even in 50 years we’re not going to be that geeky en masse, are we? Are we?

Naturally, in response to this wave of forcast innovation, the Boar has decided to allow a historian (easily the most cynical and pessimistic sort of student you will find on campus) to write about this event. Believe me, it is hard to handle when you realise that, in contrast to science and its remaining aura of loftiness and difficulty, the most profound thing to be uttered about your subject was in fact uttered about ten years ago by Dame Shirley Bassey. She’s seen it before, and she’ll see it again, it’s all just a little piece of history repeating. And we have. Everyone loves making scientific predictions about wonder inventions but the truth is most advances are rarely foreseen, and when they do arrive most people’s first instinct will be to see how they can a) break them, b) write sarcastic articles about them, or c) use them to distribute porn.

We don’t make many predictions in the Humanities but in the spirit of things here are some. One of those pseudo-scientific humanities like Psychology, or Sociology, or both, will have a unified theory of why people act like berks in groups when they are so reasonable as individuals (the Football Crowd/Armchair Fan Theory). They are also hopefully going to find out how the human mind adapts to difficult challenges like finding a room in Social Studies. Actually that might be one for the scientists, can they work out just how many dimensions are at work in that warren of corridors?

The Philosophy department are looking forward to the first entirely post modern degree in which it really doesn’t matter what mark you actually get, if you think you got a first then that’s as valid a mark as what your tutor gave you. Attempts to start the first Foucauldian degree were actually began about three years ago but then the department involved were told off for causing unnecessary suffering, not all of it physical. The History department will be combing forces with the Music Centre (which is expected to cover at least 80% of campus by 2056) to produce the first module in the utterings of Welsh divas. And all courses will have laser powered seminar tutors rather than phd students, mostly because undergraduates are less likely to complain about someone who can melt their face with a glance.

It’s the future and it’s coming. As for myself, I am going to go and look forward to the future by discovering alien life, unifying the laws of physics (it can’t be that hard, surely?), and eating bacon whilst I am still incapable of empathising with it.


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