Jolly Good War

Winston Churchill once recommended ‘Jaw, Jaw’ as opposed to ‘War, War’. This despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that Churchill himself had participated in a number of wars, including Sudan’s River War, about which he wrote a book. Moreover, Churchill made a point of enlisting during World War I, and by all accounts, actually enjoyed the trenches. He must have been one of very few.

I have occasionally made the point that one of the strengths of the European Union has been the fact that we have had peace in Western Europe now for almost seventy years. It’s not much, not even three generations, but it’s the best we’ve ever done.

Humans suffer from historical Alzheimer’s, and I reckon three generations is it. You see it at a family level in the great fortunes. A very few people display exceptional ability to accumulate vast wealth, even making and losing fortunes several times. Left to their own devices, their first generation descendants labor under the impression that they too are captains of industry (now there’s a good military term), or live pointless and dissipated lives. Either way they enthusiastically squander money.

Since in such cases there’s lots of dough, it normally takes three generations to fully close the cycle. This happens because wealth, just like matter and energy, is subject to the laws of thermodynamics. Simply stated, wealth is not created, contrary to what banks advertise, it’s simply pushed around. For me to make money, someone has to part with it, i.e. lose it.

When I write a blog, I’m getting paid. Bet you didn’t know about that! The way I  get paid is that WordPress allows me to use their disk space, posts my blog on their server, and provides and maintains a great web interface, and an underlying MySQL database, so I can write, store, and display my scribblings. So WordPress incurs a cost on my behalf. What’s in it for them? Not my writing, since I retain copyright. Adverts? They sell ads, not on the blog home page, but occasionally on specific links.

So I went hunting the Snark. If you’re not familiar with this particular chase, I strongly recommed you read it, hopefully after you finish this. To whet your appetite, a few lines from the preface.

…take the two words “fuming” and “furious.” Make up your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will say first. Now open your mouth and speak. If your thoughts incline ever so little towards “fuming,” you will say “fuming-furious;” if they turn, by even a hair’s breadth, towards “furious,” you will say “furious-fuming;” but if you have the rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say “frumious.”

Later on, in the Bellman’s Speech, I love the reaction when the map is displayed.

He had bought a large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand.

As an aside, that seems to be the map politicians are comfortable with these days, all at sea.

Geographic distribution of the Automattic staff. I love that business model, a real planetary scheme. No regional offices, just good people all over the world. For any global service company, that’s the way to do it.

Anyhow, turns out WordPress is owned by a company called Automattic, not that easy to find. This was a start-up created in 2005 by a guy from Yahoo, who quite possibly sports a stutter. Automattic owns WordPress, Akismet, Gravatar, PollDaddy, VaultPress, and various others. All good ideas. The company seems ripe for a takeover, in the ever-present holy grail of ‘monetizing’.

What do I get from writing my blog? What is the oppotunity cost of not doing something else with my weekend?

It’s on a par with playing guitar or car maintenance, something that focuses my mind in a completely different direction. For a period of about three hours each week. It blocks out work, sadness, weather… It makes me feel like when I was writing The India Road, where even the sound of a motor car outside my window would render me furious-fuming, tearing me away from a small caravel rocking in the Indian Ocean off Mozambique Island.

Apart from the therapy value, I feel deeply committed to the one thousand plus views I now get a month. It’s like a gigantic family, spread all over the world. And who knows, maybe once in a while I sell a book.

Above all, I think being able to do this is fantastic―an impossible dream, really, when seen from the perspective of my childhood.

And an impossible dream right now in many parts of the world, made clear this week by the appearance of a show called Burayadah’s Got Talent.

Burayadah is a small town in Saudi Arabia, with strong Wahabi roots, which decided to join the general worldwide trend of vacuous reality shows―their version is similar in all respects to the inane offerings of Britain’s Got Talent, except for two minor points: no women, and no dancing. Instead, the town’s talent is a men-only affair, manifested through sports, poems, and religious chants. About as exciting as the Poland-Russia soccer match.

Saudi’s Got Talent. Not if you’re a woman, and as for dancing, forget about it. Say a prayer for freedom.

Scenes off the pitch were much more thrilling than the game itself, where players from both teams appeared to have two left feet. To understand the off piste action is to understand Europe.

There is an internet funny going around about the merits of different nations when it comes to war. Of clearly Anglo-Saxon inspiration, it suffers from  TGA (three generation Alzheimer’s) syndrome. Don’t get me wrong, it’s funny, just historically innaccurate. The Italians, once the root of the Roman Empire, join the French and Spanish as shameful cowards. The Germans are portrayed as perennial losers.

France, or at least Normandy, invaded England in 1066, courtesy of William the Conqueror. For centuries, not decades, the barons of the realm were largely of Norman origin, and the plain Englishman, who worked the soil, or toiled at a trade, hated the oppressors. Robin Hood is very much part of that story, and the folk tale is from the late twelfth century. Your ordinary English guy was called Smith, Mason, or Groom. The ruling classes sported family names such as Beaumont, Mortimer, Vernon, Lucy, Vincent, Mandeville, Curzon, Montague, d’Arcy, FitzWilliam, and Neville.

In the Wikipedia list of Old Etonians from the XXth century, there isn’t a single chap (never a guy) called Smith, except in double-barrelled names such as John Maynard Smith. This despite the fact that Smith is the most common surname in England. However, to put this in perspective, the twentieth most common name in China has more bearers than all the Smiths in the entire world.

As for the Germans, the British royal family is itself originally German, the family name Battenberg having been anglicized to Mountbatten during the First World War. And if the U.S. hadn’t joined the European theater in WWII, it is highly questionable whether the Nazis would have lost, particularly as they too raced toward an atomic bomb at the latter stages of the war.

So much for ancient history. Except for one last thing. When confronted last week with the point that a stable union in Europe was a major element for peace on the continent, a (rare) pro-Europe British MP commented:

“That won’t sway British public opinion. Everyone knows the Brits love a good war.”

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.


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