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They may tek our lives but they’ll nivver tek us seriously!

The BBC News is leading on the story that in exactly a year the pale folk up Norf get to vote on dissolving the Union. Well, like, whatever. I don’t care. If King Alex of Pies wants his fiefdom then so be it as long as the rest of us don’t have to pay for the woadsters (is the woad even historically accurate?) to create a Socialist Celtic Wonderland. In any case it is utter gesture politricks (not an sp) because NewScotland(TM) will of course be de facto be as economically tied to England as ever – even though they have pandas. You simply can’t sever those ties easily and they are the real ties that bind – between individuals and companies and such. It’s like imagining Norway can be truly independent of Sweden, or Canada from the USA.

Now don’t get me wrong. This post is not really about Scottish Independence which is a bizarre idea in an increasingly globalised planet (or maybe not – the only branch of government I trust is my parish council – so, perhaps smaller political entities is the way ahead) but this blanket coverage of what is in many ways a non-issue (we’re not going to get “Checkpoint Alex” in Berwick or rebuild Hadrian’s Wall (don’t tell Micky Gove – it’s the sort of deranged thing he’d like – teaches Classics and gets the proles doing something)).

No, this post is about something deeper. It is the absurd attention that the TV News (I’ll betya Sky weren’t better) pays to politics. And it ain’t just us. I was last in the USA in 2006 and a certain chap I’d never heard of was everywhere on the TV. You might know of him – he’s now the President. He was being hyped more than two years before the election. Now regardless of your feelings about Mr Obama that is ridiculous and so is this. As I said, this is irrelevant. We have a Scottish contributor here, Sam Duncan. Now we, obviously, don’t agree on everything but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts if we met we’d probably talk more about the late and lamented Commodore Amiga computer than who pays for prescription charges in Fife. Shallow? No. Real. We hear a lot in the blogosphere about stringing ‘em up etc but the cruelest and most effective treatment for the political class is to ignore them. They’d rather be flayed over a gun-carriage than have me or you just go, “Yeah, like, whatever…” You can argue the Midlothian question or whether there ought to be a separate Scottish team at the Rio Games in 2016 until you are blue in the face but, “Sam, do you think Atari would have developed the Amiga better…” is more interesting. The really big questions are the small ones. Politicians only make their stuff important because we let them. And the mirage of Scottish independence is a prime example. Note it is exactly a year from now that Scotland goes to the polls. It will be the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. Now if that isn’t gesture politics then I’m a Dutchman!

Does anyone care? Hell’s teeth! When I was in the USA in 2006 I visited amongst other things the Capitol which the Redcoats torched (using the contents of the Library of Congress as kindling) during the War of 1812. Like who cares anymore? I didn’t do it – honest! It’s quite possible ancestors of mine fought at Bannockburn though I neither know nor care upon which side. This is not to dismiss history but to put it into context and not keep on trotting it out like Basil Fawlty with German guests.

And here is something that barely scrapped the news yet really puts our minor squabbles over flags and such into genuine context – this summer our species achieved something remarkable and in the grand scheme a much bigger deal than arguing the toss over the EU-specified meat-content of a haggis or whatever excruciating minutiae the pols raise to rarefied heights of significance. Voyager I passed the Heliopause. There is now a man-made object in interstellar space. Now that is important (and more to the point cool) and makes the ambitions of Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon (why so fishy?) look utterly petty. Or to quote John Nance Garner* (he was speaking about the US Vice Presidency – that he held), “It’s not worth a pitcher of warm piss”.

Similarly, I have never for the life of me understood Ireland and it’s “troubles” (how delightfully euphemistic). I guess they were “solved” by giving Gerry Adams** a ministerial Jag rather than a cell in the Maze Prison which of course says much about the venality of politicians. No, I never did understand Ireland. If we consider one substantive issue (i.e. not the colours flying over Stormont) like, say, abortion then surely there would be a meeting of minds between staunch Catholics and staunch Presbyterians? So why the agro? Neither of them were up on birth-control or queers so they ought to have gotten along like a house on fire which I suppose in a twisted sense they did. I know many, many people died (frequently horribly) in Ireland over the decades but this anecdote sums it up for me. I gleaned this gem from a documentary many years back. Apparently you set off a fertilizer bomb using sulphuric acid and the best thing to keep that in is apparently a condom which is then ruptured for the kaboom! OK. I’ll take their word for it only ever having used condoms for the more traditional reasons but being “good Catholics” debate erupted amongst the IRA as to the use of “immoral objects” to achieve their moral goals such as indiscriminate killing and maiming. The lack of seeing the big picture here is astonishing. As a side-light it is also illuminating as to assigning morality to objects. I can’t help but feel there is some sort of connexion with the gun-control nuts. A gun is neither moral nor immoral. Going on a rampage in Mumbai is immoral. Shooting a rabid dog in the way Atticus Finch did is the right thing to do. Morality is not about means but desire. With a box of matches you can burn a Rwandan village (and its inhabitants) to ash but you can also light a cooking fire for the refugees. Nobody said life was about easy decisions. Nobody but politicians anyway. They are far too eager to legislate and then call the problem a done one. Just look at the “War on Drugs”.

There is an uncomfortable truth here. Being good and decent is not about law as such (would you rape, rob or murder even if there were no laws against such acts?) it’s about being good and decent and whether you get that from a holy book or just knowing (I suspect there is a large cross-over) morality is not legality. It is not statutes, laws nor all the rest. It is generally fairly basic and obvious***. And that is what is uncomfortable. Like Voyager I in the interstellar cold we have to let slip the surly apron-strings and no amount of politics and minimum booze prices or smoking bans or warnings on fatty food or campaigns against sexual harassment shall do that – just plain decency out of the creche – and yeah it’s a tough one to wave nanny goodbye.

Arguably such laws are counter-productive but the simple truth is that being fair, decent and honest is internal because if we are worth anything we are moral agents, not subjects. It is that simple and that hard. It is why (and I’ve lived in some rough areas – but not here, not now) I implicitly trust my next-door neighbour with my keys and we have hers. Perhaps politicians don’t get this simple truth. Laws can’t force the “good” whether it be a ban or a nudge or whatever. You just are good. Or not. Or most likely a “bit of both”. Yes, the morality of actions can be difficult to judge. That is partly why such judgements matter. Morality matters because we aren’t just Skinner’s pigeons. Politicians don’t understand this. They have the hubris to believe they can perfect the human condition. They can’t (clearly) and neither can we but we can get much closer than they because in a sense we don’t believe. Politics is almost entirely grand-standing. If I were ever in a position to employ folks then would I give a toss about whether or not they were gay, straight, male, female, black, white, Muslim, Christian or Jew… No! If they could field-strip a Dell and tell me what was wrong with it then bingo!

That wasn’t as much of a digression as I had feared.

I regard myself as a libertarian almost not as a political position or even an anti-political position but as orthogonal to politics. The title of this post (despite wrapping itself in a second-hand version of a third-hand Scottish flag – must be a bit tatty by now…) has nothing really to do with Scotland. It’s about the bigger picture. It’s about what freedom really means. Nationalism (of any form) is just a crib-sheet for freedom devoured by politicians. We know better. Don’t we?

We are star-dust that has just started to flirt with the Galaxy and the BBC witters on about Scottish Independence? I like Scotland (when it isn’t raining****) or I’m being eaten alive by midges and it will still be there however the vote goes. It is obviously of supreme importance to the sort of people this sort of thing is of supreme importance to but if, for example, I asked Sam to recommend a Linux distro would it matter? No. Of course not! -

See how irrelevant this is to us all? And see how nasty making it so is?

And Voyager I just projs on!

It’s like the final scene in “Antz” where the CGI pans out to show the anthill is just a little mound in Central Park in NYC.

*A contrary sod but let one of his enemies extol his virtues. In Congressional testimony, union leader John L. Lewis described him as “a labor-baiting, poker-playing, whiskey-drinking, evil old man”. Gets my vote!
**Perhaps the most bizarre graffiti I ever did see was in the gents of the George Green Science Library, University of Nottingham, “I’d sleep with Gerry Adams but I’d be thinking of Martin McGuinness”. God knows!
***Yes, I appreciate there are complexities here. Especially in terms of things like IP and contract law and such and such.
****Living near Manchester that is very important.


  1. peter horne says:

    it’s not scottish independence it’s english independence an it’s a bloody good idea. why don.t we get a vote to get rid of the sweaties?

  2. single acts of tyranny says:

    500 years? but otherwise bang on the money

  3. NickM says:

    OK, but a long way back. I mean Christ on a bicycle! And all that.

  4. Rob F says:

    Think it was the Picts that used the woad, but then they got their arses kicked by the Scots (or Scotti), who actually invaded from Ireland.

    Or something like that, anyway. Please don’t quote me on that, though…I’m like the Mickey Mouse version of Wikipedia, even when I think I know what I’m talking about, which isn’t that often. Wibble.

  5. Sam Duncan says:

    Yeah, 700th. Which shows how bloody idiotic it all is. I mean, the United Kingdom has been around for 69 years longer than the United States. Bannockburn was nearly 200 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. You don’t get folk in Delaware saying, “Well, this USA experiment has been fun and all, but I think we’ll just have the Queen back if it’s all the same to you”. The Crowns were united in 1606, for Pete’s sake, which gave us Great Britain, the Royal Navy, the Union Jack, and the Civil War (and if you think that was only England, I invite you to take a look at the list of Deacon Conveners in the Trades Hall of Glasgow: there were none in the 1650s, “By Order of The Lord Protector”… who was, of course, a Westminster MP). A couple of hundred years ago, my ancestors were knocking about Yorkshire and Ireland as far as we can make out, and that’s as far back as we can make out – fuck knows what they were up to in 1314; trying to slaughter de Bruis’s hairy-arsed Teuchters, in all probability. (And yes, Rob, that sounds about right. Hollywood art directors are not to be trusted on matters historical.)

    So the whole Scotland thing’s pretty ludicrous in the first place, when you think about it, before you even get to the Salmondistas. It hasn’t been a proper country for 400 years, and wasn’t much of one before that, with an Anglo-Norman aristocracy cowering in Edinburgh, terrified of the wild Celts to the northwest and doing everything they could to either subjugate or appease them while murdering each other to get their hands on the throne like the proverbial bald men arguing over a comb. Sure, we have a separate legal tradition, but does anyone seriously think that’s what’s going through the minds of these saltire-waving buffoons? They deride Unionsists for “sentimentalism”, but nobody’s more reliant on an emotional appeal to (a largely imagined) history than themselves.

    Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great place, and its people have done some pretty awesome stuff considering how few they are in number, clinging on to life at 50-odd degrees North, but – like America – most of the best bits came after 1700.

    I’m determined to revive the designation “North Britain”. Yes, more out of contrariness than anything else, but it’d annoy the Nats, and that’s always worth doing. Just to see the look on their faces, if nothing else. It’s even funnier than when you tell Lefties about anarcho-capitalism.

    Anyway, I had intended to keep this short. It was to be just a PJ O’Rourke quote:

    Politics are a lousy way to get things done. They are, like God’s infinite mercy, a last resort.

    Yup. Let’s go to the stars without ‘em.

    (An Atari Amiga, eh? Good question. I was always an Amiga guy, even almost a decade before I actually owned one. Commodore was just the company that happened to make them, so I don’t quail at the very thought. It could have been the Ronco Amiga as far as I was concerned. But I dunno. They’d probably have sold the thing better. Then again, given the ST’s ultimate fate, how much better? I’m not sure it would have made a huge difference in the long run. Apple or IBM, on the other hand…)

  6. Lynne says:

    Nick, I rate this as your most profound post – evah!

  7. NickM says:

    Well, it very nearly was the Atari Amiga. Apple or IBM would (and did) squish it but it wound-up being something fought over by the pygmies in the swamp who didn’t realise they were pygmies. I’ve read the complete history (and the Guru meditates) and it is equalled only by the British aerospace industry’s long-walk to oblivion. When I sold my Amiga and got a PC (386SX16!!!) I was shocked at how terrible MSDOS 5 was. Then a couple of years later I’m using UNIX and guess what? It’s not entirely unlike an Amiga. The Amiga was a pimped gaming machine with a proper grown-up OS. Oh, well! Nailed my colours to the MS mast didn’t I. An A500 was my follow on from my second Speccy (a +2 courtesy of that Bertram Blunt Alan Sugar – yes with the non-standard non-joy joystick ports – he was fired – my first computer was a pukka 48K Speccy (still got it), natch and I fell in love, I just knew this was the start of something big.

    I even wrote a game in BASIC on the Speccy. “Orc Fighter”. It was bloody awful. But I did at primary school age.


  8. RAB says:

    What nationalism is basically saying, when you boil it right down is… Ya da de da da We’re better than you! Which is seldom if ever true.

    I play upon my Welshness from time to time cos it’s nice to be a bit different, but it is a running joke on my behalf , not something to get seriously puffed up about. My generation of Welshmen were told to put our nationality on application forms for University or jobs as British in case we were thought of as too parochial. Now parochial seems to be the flavour of the month.

    We four nations in these tiny isles have had our differences and our wars, but we are stronger together than we ever would have been apart. I take pride in a Scottish philosopher or an Irish writer, an English scientist, because I feel they are part of me, not seperate from me.

    But what I really take the greatest pride in, as Nick has magnificently pointed out with Voyager, is the whole goddam Human Race.

    Last night I watched a documentary about the 2000 year old computer, and it blew my mind. Not only had the ancient Greeks figured out how the stars and planets worked, they had made the most incredibly sophisticated machine to predict what happens next in the heavens. For those of you who can go see it, it is still up on iPlayer…

    And yes Nick, this post is awesome!

  9. NickM says:

    I live in the NW of England. I can’t turn the telly (Samsung) on without hearing that Jaguar/Land-Rover are recruiting and that is because Indians are now running it and making a clearly good job of it. 11,000 new jobs directly in like three years. But they’re Indian! Yeah, so what. So fucking what. I know people who tut at this sort of thing but I don’t care. Well, actually I do care that someone -anyone- has taken a business from the puke-bucket to glory. So they are Indian. So fucking what! I am writing this on a most excellent Lenovo (not IBM) lappy. IBM built the Thinkpad brand but the Chinese ran with it. I was digging through my stuff recently at my Mum’s house and found a 2001 Computer Shopper. It had an advert for an IBM Thinkpad for 2,300 quid! This machine cost GBP335. Well a bit more because it’s got the full 8G of mem but in 2001 that was stroking a Persian cat territory and saying, “No, Meester Bond, I expect you to die!!!”.

    So we have gone interstellar and the Lib Dems are still on about building fucking windmills.

  10. Paul Marks says:

    The hyping of (the life long Marxist) Barry Obama started in 2004 – with the Kerry Convention.

    John Kerry – whose wife helps fund the Tides Foundation (many roads of evil lead back to the Tides Foundation) with the money from her death Republican husband Mr Heinz (how the Comrades must laugh about that).

    As for Mr Kerry himself – he should have been hanged 40 years ago. For giving Aid and Comfort to the enemy whilst in military uniform.

    Politics is a serious thing you see.

    In the end it is about killing or being killed (at least when one is dealing with the Comrades)

    And that is a serious thing.

  11. Julie near Chicago says:

    Paul. That is absolutely correct. All of it.

  12. john malpas says:

    Does any of this matter when you all are destined to be vassels of the EU

  13. RAB says:

    A tad defeatist there John Malpas.All Empires, especially artificial ones, have come and gone.

    The UK is already, in many ways that have never been explained or mentioned to the voters, a vassal of the EU. But things are changing. Scales are falling from eyes, not just in the UK, but all over Europe. The EU will cling on tenaciously, but it will end in entropy. The mess will be nasty to clean up, but hopefully we will learn not to pursue any more of these utopian fantasies in the future.

  14. john malpas says:

    Such utopian fantasies as mass immigration and multiculturism? Too late.

  15. John Galt says:

    On the matter of the EU, I suspect that RAB has the truth of it, like other multinational organisations such as the League of Nations, it is a relic of the past, a 1950′s institution attempting control from the centre regardless of the mendicants pushing for subsidiarity (which is and always was collectivist cant).

    The dissolution of the EU will not be like the road to American secession in 1861 as the EU has only a façade of sovereignty and no natural support outside the political establishment, it will wither on the vine as the USSR did, a monument to its own irrelevance.

    Despite the protestations of not-so-former Maoist José Manuel Barroso, it is not the existence of the EU which stops the German tanks rolling across the Polish border, but nearly 70-years of peace and relative security in Europe, the source of which was NATO and free trade rather than any EU inspired initiative.

  16. Paul Marks says:

    John Galt.

    Quite so.

  17. Well said all of you.

    You made me smile and you made me think… but wow! Voyager has left the park. Now that is something.

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