Reading the news this morning.. am I the only one to have a growing sense of unease and disquiet? I refer, of course, to the death of Osama Bin Laden.

Not at his death, per se. In that, I feel rather like one might feel about a mad dog. He had to be put down before he hurt anyone else. His death has also spared the American People a debate about what should be done with him, and should the anti-death-penalty groups have won, the cost of keeping him for the rest of his life.

No… In that sense, I am glad he is dead. He cannot hurt anyone else again, now, ever. But I feel unease about the scenes of jubilation coming from the US, from our own government. I look at scenes of happy people outside the White House and I flash back to the scenes of people in Fundamentalist areas cheering the collapse of the Towers. Yes, its understandable of the American people to be happy – particularly those who lost loved ones in the attacks – but I wonder what the reaction will be across the world when the rest of the world sees those images. Will they, like myself, feel the same sense of unease and disquiet?

Should the death of a human being ever be cause for celebration?

Osama, as I have said, was a mad dog. You put a mad dog down – cleanly, quickly, humanely. Then you bury the poor creature and you get on with your life – not with a sense of celebration, at the most, perhaps, with a sense of pleasure – the knowledge that the mad dog now will not hurt anyone else. So it should be with this.

There is one other reason to feel unease and disquiet. Yes, Bin Laden is dead. But Al Quaeda is not – as the US and UK government well know, having placed people worldwide on guard against reprisal attacks. In that sense, killing Bin Laden has achieved nothing – less than nothing, in fact, because ultimately, how effective was he in the last 10 years? He was so pinned down by 9/11 and the bounty on his head, the fact that he was public enemy number one that he probably lost all operating efficiency. Al Quaeda has almost certainly been operating away from Bin Laden’s aegis for a long time now. So really, apart from the justice aspect.. what has been achieved? the mad dog hasn’t been put down after all.

We’ve seen this with the IRA. Imprisonment, death, didn’t work. Even when the UK government finally opened a dialogue with Sinn Fein, and brought the disparate groups together, even when the IRA at large downed arms – smaller, splinter groups refused to disband, and remain active – we’ve seen this in the last few months in Northern Ireland, sadly enough. That is the nature of the hydra: cut one head off… and two grow back in its place.

I hope that I am wrong. I hope that the West does not live to rue this day. We had an opportunity to open dialogue with the fundamentalist world – to use words instead of guns. One might argue that you do not argue with a mad dog. But in this sense, the analogy fails, because Osama wasn’t a mad dog. He was a human being – a misguided, hate-filled, murderous human being, yes. But still a human being, and an opportunity has, perhaps, been wasted.

Yes, as I read on, this morning, I feel ever more uneasy and disquiet. And a sense, that like after 9/11, the world this morning will never be the same again.


Happy New Year!!!

no, not a new year assessment post. i haven’t got time for that! Instead, my nose is buried in Archaic Greece (that is, 800-500 B.C.). Just something I wanted to share with my readers. (If you dislike history, skip by this, it’ll bore you rigid.)

I’ve been reading Tom Holland’s Persian Fire, a wonderful book which I thoroughly recommend to anyone if they want to know a bit about Ancient History (Apparently Rubicon and Millenium are just as good and I cannot wait to get my teeth into them).

Part of Archaic Greece is the prevalence of Tyrants ruling the various city states (polis) of Greece – not bloodthirsty, dictator-type leaders that the word embodies today: the word tyrants, then, simply meant someone who had seized rule without inheriting it. Often they did so by appealing to the popular support of the people, against the aristocrats: and as such, were responsible for some of the cultural flowering of the period. Not at all bad, not all of them anyway, although the ancient Greeks didn’t think so (they were rather fond of their freedom, those Greeks).

One of the better known tyrants was Peisistratus, who did a lot for Athens (follow the wikipedia links scattered throughout this if you want to know more), and after his death, his two sons took over his tyranthood. Hipparchus and Hippias were their names. Hipparchus met his grisly end one day after having had a dream the night before, where a young and beautiful man warned him that crimes must always be paid for. Alas, this was the night before an important festival and Hipparchus, on waking up, didn’t have time to analyse his dream – he went to the procession, and along the way he was murdered by Harmodius and Aristogiton.

so much everyone agrees on. But this is where times have changed. Tom Holland’s Persian Fire, published in 2005, goes into further detail about this: “… Harmodius, was the handsomest man in Athens, in ‘the full splendour of his youth’ (Thucydides, 6.54), while the other, Aristogiton, was his lover – and Hipparchus, who had an aesthete’s eye for beauty, had attempted to split the couple for his own predatory ends, and thereby mortally offended them both.” (Holland, pages 126-7)

Holland goes on to explain that in the course of time, statues of Harmodius and Aristogiton were built, the only ones in Athens for many years, and they were referred to as the Tyrannicides, as the men who freed Athens from the dreadful Tyrants (only, um, it wasn’t them. it was someone else. and um. Harmodius and Aristogiton certainly didn’t kill Hipparchus to get rid of a tyrant. As Holland put it: “… Harmodius and Aristogiton, far from having sacrificed themselves for liberty, had in reality cut down Hipparchus in a squalid lover’s tiff.” (Holland, pp140).

Now compare this to J C Stobart‘s The Glory that was Greece. First published in 1911 (although i’m working from the 1938 third edition), he too relays the story above. But with one important difference. When Stobart comes to explain the motive for the murder, he simply says this: “Apparently, too, the motive was merely a love affair of a kind that we consider disreputable…” (pp 115). Oh dear. He was certainly a product of his time!

Times certainly have changed.. thankfully!!!

[And before you ask how this is relevant to our lives today.. consider this. The toppling of the Tyrants Hipparchus and Hippias, eventually led to the rise of a man called Cleisthenes, to answer some of the problems that Athens was experiencing at the time. Cleisthene’s answer was to develop a demokratia – or a democracy….]

I don’t yet know if I’m going to be directly affected by all this. but regardless: I look at the pictures coming out of London last night; the disgraceful attack on the Prince of Wales & Duchess of Cornwall, and I wonder: when did education stop being a privilege, and become a so-called right?

I especially look at the last photograph: a shot of the rear of a statue of Winston Churchill, who has done more for this country than any of the thugs “protesting” last night, and the slogan graffiti’d on the base. “Education for the Masses”, it says. “no”, thinks I, “if you were truly educated, then you’d not stoop to that level”.

Protesting is one thing. Having your voice heard is one thing. Last night was pure mindless thuggery, nothing more, nothing less.

I’m ashamed to be a student today.

Sergeant Matthew Telford of the Grenadier Guards was killed in Afghanistan in November 2009. He’d been promoted to Sergeant just a few months earlier, in June ’09. Because of some obscure rule that says a serving soldier has to have been in rank for a year before his wife/children accrue pension benefits appropriate to his status, Sergeant Telford’s wife and children only get the pension equivalent to that of a Corporal.

Regardless of what you think of the war in Afghanistan, whether you think its right or wrong, whether you think that serving soldiers deserve all they get because they’re soldiers, surely most people must see that it is unfair to further punish a bereaved wife and children with such petty rules…. if you disagree with this disgrace, then please sign the petition here: http://soldiers-pensions.co.uk/?q=petition. Thank you.

[thanks to Inspector Gadget of the ‘Police Inspector Blog‘ for alerting me to this issue.]

I’ve blogged in the past about the Dutch version of Remembrance Day – 4th May, the day before Liberation Day, when the Netherlands was formally freed from German Occupation in 1945. Its a day when all those who have died in war or times of strife are remembered, and is very close to the average Dutch person’s heart.

As we always try to do we settled down this evening at 6.55 for our own little ceremony: we light a candle, and watch (if we can) the ceremonies on Dutch TV via the internet. This year was no different. Shortly after or just before the end of the 2 minute silence at 7pm (8pm Dutch time), there was a mass movement of people in the Dam, the central square where the National Monument is situated. Heart in our mouths, we sat there, clutching each other, both of us thinking “NO!”, and praying it wasn’t a terrorist strike, while the Dutch Royal Family and politicians were rushed to safety. You can see the whole thing on the video below, although any commentary will be in Dutch, alas. If i find anything on the BBC/English sites i will post links later.

Turned out it was simply someone fainting and falling against a metal barrier, which sounded like a shot. Given the situation last year where someone had driven a car at the Dutch Royal family, people were understandably nervous, but all due respect to the Dutch Queen & Royal family, they came straight back out, once the true situation was clear, even though they must’ve been nervous and shocked – Hell, WE were shocked, still are, and we’re nowhere near it….

Fortunately the person who fainted had light head wounds, but is otherwise okay – when it happened, someone nearby started screaming which certainly didn’t help matters. I can only thank the Gods that it wasn’t a terrorist attack – the amount of people in that square, it would have been a terrible, terrible event….

Update: I’m now getting from Michiel (who is getting this from various Dutch news sites) that no one fainted: the whole incident was started by a guy who was either talking to himself or on the phone during the 2 minute silence and who was asked to be quiet and be respectful by members of the public. Reports at the moment describe the man as being dressed like an orthodox jew, which is really strange. the man’s response to said “shushing” was to start screaming – and of course, the panic was then triggered, including a metal barrier being pushed over, which made the sound like a shot that Michiel heard. Some people were hurt in the panic, it looks like several children were hurt and at least one little boy has had his leg broken, poor thing. I’ll post more as i know more. Still nothing on the BBC though.

I don’t often bring up national politics on this blog, i know, but this is something i feel quite strongly about. We’re watching this at the moment, both of us sniffling along. But does anyone else feel that Gordon Brown just has no place being there? If anyone should be there, its the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, two people who actually *saw* the war through – and both on active service. I know Prince Charles has gone there, to try to mitigate the row – but, really, what WERE the French thinking? and then for Gordon Brown to try to make out that the event is for “prime ministers and presidents, not royalty”, like somehow being a prime minister trumps royalty..

I’m watching it now and I just want to push his smarmy face off stage. Gordon is a) an unelected PM, b) a failure PM, and c) seems to have absolutely no understanding of the duty and sacrifice that the men at  the event have lived through. if he had, he’d not be attending today. He’d not even be PM. He’d have resigned last week. He just comes across as being so petty. I’ve just watched him push Sarkozy up the steps, seemingly because he couldn’t bear to be a “step lower” than the French President, even though Gordon is quite a lot taller…

I seriously hope, that the next time there’s a big commemmoration event (in 5 year’s time?) that the French see sense and invite the Queen promptly, and that Gordon is not even in politics any longer, let alone PM. Maybe then we’ll have someone who, along with the Queen, can represent this country with dignity & pride.

Edit: the latest gaffe: he referred to Omaha Beach as Obama Beach. Seriously. How STUPID can you get? He also got booed when he stepped up to speak at the commemmoration service yesterday. Not a lot, but enough. i think that says it all. (and many.. MANY kudos to the Master of Ceremonies who told the VIPs to get off their backsides under the shelter and stand out in the rain with the soldiers for Auld Lang Syne. Well done, Sir, that was a masterclass in how to shame politicians into action…) even the telegraph has noted it… I especially liked one person’s comment on that page:

Never served, never given, not even donated except on expenses, this hypocrite should not be allowed within miles of a service for those who did and do.
This man spends billions on his like minded and similarily parasitic fellow travellers at the expense of those who do stand and serve. No decent life saving equipment and weaponry for the undermanned armed forces.
To cap it all he is a gibbering inadequate who cannot even read a speech properly.

Well said.. well said…

… some things just don’t change….

Newspaper article from 1898, spotted yesterday while searching through archives. Apologies for the quality of photograph - it was snapped on a microfiche.

Newspaper article from 1898, spotted yesterday while searching through archives. Apologies for the quality of photograph - it was snapped on a microfiche.


That is a question which has frequently exercised the minds of doctors. We eat too much heavy food — too much meat. We do not, as a nation, take to the lighter and more varied viands of our continental neighbours. That practical humourist, Mr G. R. Sims, evers that England owes much of her greatness to her roast beef and honest beer, but it is a question whether a little less of those excellent commodities would not be a step in the right direction. Heavy foods, however well cooked, produce a feeling of repletion not consonant with healthy mental and physical energy. Moreover, it tends to a sluggish condition of the liver, which has much to do with our admitted lack of life and spirits as compared with our lighter-eating and lighter-hearted friends across the English Channel. There can be no denying this fact, but at any rate there is a remedy at hand. Our sluggish system must be made to act more energetically, in a natural way, without our having recourse to deleterious pills and purgatives..……

…… some things, thankfully.. blessedly.. do. In the UK, at least.

newspaper article from 1898 spotted today in the library. apologies for the quality - it was displayed on a microfiche.

newspaper article from 1898 spotted today in the library. apologies for the quality - it was displayed on a microfiche.


A pathetic story of a mother’s vain sacrifice is reported from Blackburn. A coroner’s jury on Wednesday recorded their opinion that Lettuce Ball, the wife of a bricklayer, had starved herself to death in order to feed her children. Yesterday the coroner received information that one of the children, aged three years, who had been removed to the workhouse in a terribly emaciated condition, had also succumbed.

I’ve seen many heartbreaking records in the archives while i’ve searched. The husband and father who lost his wife and 9 day old child at the same time. A child who was found dead, just a few hours old, in “Radcliffe Road”, buried with no name, no love. I’ve seen humorous sights too – from the wedding that had to be cancelled for 24 hours because the groom turned up drunk, to the man who came back to the church 20 years after he was married to insist the vicar alter the archives because “he didn’t know his own name at the time he was married”. I’ve learned about the corrupt vicars who sold burial plots more times than they should’ve, so instead of 6 people being buried in a grave plot, there were 9 – and as a result, burials in the area are a complete mess, with many not being recorded. I’ve learned about the young people who were often told, when they wanted to get married but couldn’t afford it (or when she fell pregnant, and they couldn’t afford marriage), to live together as though they were married, and .. well.. they’d sort the paperwork out when they had the spare cash (marriage was an expensive business in the 19th C – you had to pay the vicar, the registrar, and the use of the church, and you could only marry in a church of england church for many years).. quite the contrary to the straight laced image that so many have of the Victorians.

Everything changes.. and nothing does. And i find both thoughts somewhat comforting…

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