Mar 152010
 

I cannot even begin to identify anyone whom I loathe more than I loathe Ed Balls, but at least I could console myself that it was nothing personal – until today.

Ed Balls, in his infinite fucking wisdom, has decided that Latin is a useless subject in schools. Like Boris Johnson, I am outraged, not least because this is my livelihood at stake. When the Secretary of State for Schools declares a subject useless, you can be sure that it will be sliced from the curriculum with great precision, Hannibal Lecter-style.

To quote BoJo quoting Balls:

Speaking on the radio, Spheroids dismissed the idea that Latin could inspire or motivate pupils. Head teachers often took him to see the benefits of dance, or technology, or sport, said this intergalactic ass, and continued: “No one has ever taken me to a Latin lesson to make the same point. Very few parents are pushing for it, very few pupils want to study it.”

Balls, my friend, I will tell you why head teachers have never taken you to a Latin lesson. First, it’s because Latin is offered in so few schools these days that I doubt any of the ones you’ve visited on your infrequent and disruptive photo-ops even teaches the subject.

Second, it would be a pointless waste of time to allow you to observe the teaching of such an elegant and complex subject. Not only would you be incapable of understanding the material, much less appreciating it, the superior knowledge of the students would show you up in a Tennessee heartbeat. Could you even begin to grasp the idea of an ablative absolute, or listen with any light of comprehension in your eyes to a discussion of the sexual puns in a poem by Ovid? Students can. Could you find in your shrivelled soul an inclination to laugh at the comedy of Aristophanes or experience a pang of sympathetic horror at the tribulations of Oedipus? Students can.

Could you learn the lessons of Sulla and Pompey, that it is not okay to destroy a country in pursuit of one’s own personal ambition? Of course not. As BoJo points out, you studied the classics at school. If you could have absorbed the moral of such cautionary tales from ancient history, you would not be what you are today.

Which is an ignorant, judgmental, pompous fool with no appreciation of culture or history and no interest in or understanding of what it takes to make a child a human being, rather than a mindless automaton whose only skill is the ability to wibble on pointlessly about social justice and carbon footprints.

As long as Ed Balls remains a force within the Labour Party, nobody will ever convince me that that party intends any good for anybody whatsoever, try they mightily, and I will do everything in my power to persuade every British voter I encounter that a vote for Labour is a vote for the total destruction of civilisation.

Jan 122010
 

Perhaps the “hardest” language studied by many Anglophones is Latin. In it, all nouns are marked for case, an ending that tells what function the word has in a sentence (subject, direct object, possessive and so on). There are six cases, and five different patterns for declining verbs into them.

One cannot decline verbs, as any fule kno. And there are seven cases.

This system, and its many exceptions, made for years of classroom torture for many children. But it also gives Latin a flexibility of word order. If the subject is marked as a subject with an ending, it need not come at the beginning of a sentence. This ability made many scholars of bygone days admire Latin’s majesty—and admire themselves for mastering it.

Meh. Sure, there’s a flexibility of word order in Latin. There is in English, too, though not perhaps to the same extent. But even in Latin, one doesn’t just arrange the words any old how. Word order is stylistic, just like word choice and syntax. An elegant word order is one that provides the audience with the clearest possible meaning, the greatest possible emphasis, and the most pleasing conjunction of sounds. Exactly like English, in fact. And where English is more constrained than Latin because of conventions regarding word order, Latin as a language has far fewer vocabulary choices from which to choose when constructing a sentence.

Also, that last sentence – scholars admire themselves for mastering Latin, eh? Is it a requirement now that every journalist, be he ever so mistaken in his facts, insert a snide dig at anyone mentioned in the article who has ever accomplished anything of value or difficulty? Jesus, no wonder journalism as a profession is dying. It’s because its practitioners are a pack of unjustifiably smug assholes.

Dec 202009
 

DK has tagged me to do this meme; I turned sixteen in 1997 and was, frankly, a bit of a jackass. Receiving this letter probably wouldn’t have changed that, but hey, you never know.

My dear,

Having been invited by others to advise you about the twelve years to come, please find below a few tips and reassurances. I won’t say too much – time paradox and all that – but I hope you’ll find the general thrust of my advice useful.

My first tip: broaden your ambitions. I know you harbour vague thoughts about going to a small liberal arts university and becoming an English teacher. Abandon those. You’ll realise soon the virtues of anonymity amongst the hordes and warm weather – not to mention that, just in the nick of time, you’re going to realise that it’s not the ‘literature’ part of English literature you enjoy. Go with that instinct – it’ll make you happy.

You also see ahead of yourself, whenever you bother to think about it, a pretty unremarkable lifestyle, living the American dream. Well, you’re living it at the moment; think about how much you enjoy it now, and imagine what it’ll be like when you try it on your own in a couple of years’ time.

My second tip: avoid becoming materialistic. I hate to break it to you, but you’re destined for the life of a nomad. I won’t horrify you with the details of how many times you have to pack up your shit and move it. Just take my word for it that acquiring more stuff than you need is going to cause you more trouble than it’s worth.

My third tip: when, in a few years, you decide to pursue your further academic career, ignore the cost and do it. It’s not going to turn out the way you think, but it’s going to lead you to interesting places. There will be ups and downs, but persevere through the downs: the ups are more than sufficient reward.

My fourth tip, which follows on from the third: when you encounter other obstacles to your wishes, don’t give up. This isn’t an inspirational platitude; I’ve seen time and again that when you bust your ass, you succeed. In time, you will come to regard this quality of yourself as a kind of mystical power. Just remember the converse is also true: when you don’t bust your ass, you fail. And you will fail. More than once. The greatest of those failures will come in November 2000. Ride it out: it’s your threshold to adulthood, and between you and me, you dodged a bullet there.

Finally, a word about men. You go out with anybody who asks, and you aren’t afraid to be the pursuer. People will frown on this, but keep it up. Every loser you date because you like the look of his cheekbones, or because he made an intellectual remark about philosophy, is going to provide you with valuable learning experience. And one day, via a series of random and unlikely-in-retrospect events, you’re going to come across a man who combines the best in cheekbones, intellect, and various other qualities you’ll come to value. When circumstances bring you to his attention, remember my fourth tip.

Oh – and in 2002, keep your eyes open for a conjunction of Latin and libertarianism. You’ll know it’s coming up when a total stranger insults you gratuitously in public. That incident will change your life.

Godspeed.

Oct 302009
 

We highly recommend it to you.

Brains — Let’s face it, as a class medievalists are just plain smarter than other people. Academic medievalists can often read more dead languages than most people can read living languages. We know what happened between the fall of Rome and the discovery of the New World. We know art, philosophy, you name it. You’ll never find conversation with a medievalist dull.

Apocalypse — If civilization collapses, who would you rather be with: the National Guard, or the Society for Creative Anachronism? I’d go with the SCA, because as soon as the gasoline and ammo run out, you’ll need guys who can fletch their own arrows and pierce a zombie’s eye at 50 yards. Never again have a date go bad because of unexpected apocalypse.

Plenty of other good reasons there, too.

H/T A Commonplace Book.

Jun 152009
 

Habeas corpus, as far as I understand it, is simply a writ that a detained individual is being held to await the judgement of a legally constituted court of the validity of charges against him:

corpus…habeas…ad subjiciendum et recipiendum ea quae curia nostra de eo adtunc et ibidem ordinare contigerit in hac parte.

It is a constitutional principle only insofar as the writ demands that proof be presented to the court that the detention of the individual is lawful; it also states that without such convincing proof, the court will release the individual. A detained individual has, therefore, the right to challenge the charge and evidence against him before he is formally tried. If the charge and evidence are found to be valid by the court, he will then be remanded to await trial.

There appears to be some debate, at the Devil’s Kitchen and at Tom Paine’s, about whether this appears in Magna Carta. It doesn’t, obviously, as Magna Carta is a charter of liberties, not a legal writ that refers to the detention of a specific individual. However, Magna Carta does protect and confirm the legal necessity for writs of habeas corpus in Article 39:

nullus liber homo capiatur, vel imprisonetur, aut disseisiatur, aut utlagetur, aut exuletur, aut aliquo modo destruatur, nec super cum ibimus, nec super cum mittemus, nisi per legale judicium parium suorum vel per legem terre.

The necessity of providing proof that an accused individual ought to be detained, and his right to challenge that proof before a court, already existed in legem terrae; Magna Carta confirms them.

Tom Paine says: ‘For the first time in history, it limited the power of the state. It ended the rule of men and began the rule of law.’

This is not entirely accurate; what Magna Carta actually does is enumerate legal principles that already existed, but which John had routinely ignored or infringed; for the first time, Magna Carta enshrined what all men already held to be true, that the monarch was bound to observe his own laws. That Magna Carta had to be written, and John had to sign it, is merely a function of common law: it created a recorded precedent, thus overriding what had already been convention.

It is also slightly unfair to say that ‘you will be disappointed by’ the other articles.

No. 2 confirms the level of payment of relief upon inheritance – in other words, the Crown cannot demand extortionate inheritance taxes.

No. 3 confirms that underage heirs are not liable for relief/inheritance tax.

No. 4 confirms that trustees cannot plunder an underage person’s inheritance.

No. 7 confirms that widows do not have to pay relief/inheritance tax upon their husband’s death.

No. 9 confirms that only movable goods may be seized for payment of debt – not homes or land.

No. 12, 14, 15 and 16 confirm that no scutage (payment in lieu of service, i.e. tax) can be levied without the consent of those who would be paying it, and even then the Crown cannot demand more than what is reasonable and has been agreed upon.

No. 17, 18, and 19 confirm that people must be tried for crimes in the jurisdiction where they reside or in the jurisdiction where the crime took place.

No. 20 confirms that fines for offences cannot be levied arbitrarily, must be proportionate to the offence, and cannot result in the deprivation of livelihood.

No. 24 confirms that courts held by inappropriate authorities are invalid.

No. 27 confirms that if a man dies intestate, the Crown cannot seize his effects.

No. 28, 30, and 31 confirm that the Crown may not take a man’s property without payment.

No. 32 confirms that the Crown may not freeze or otherwise control a convicted felon’s assets for more than a year and a day.

No. 35 confirms standards in weights and measures.

No. 36 and 40 confirm that the Crown may not deny, delay, or sell justice.

No. 38 confirms that no man may be tried on the basis of hearsay or without the evidence of independent witnesses.

No. 42 confirms the free right of movement into and out of the country.

No. 45 confirms that only men who know and observe the law may be appointed to enforce or decide it.

Each one of these is tremendously important and not a function or product of circumstances limited to 1215. How many of them, I wonder, has the current government infringed?

May 192009
 

Independent regulation of all remuneration of MPs – that’s it?

(1) How fucking embarrassing. The governors of our nation admit they cannot be trusted to govern themselves.

(2) Is it really possible to have ‘statutory independent regulation’? I mean, who is going to choose these regulators? From what funds will they be paid? From public funds? In which case, are they really independent?

(3) If they will be paid from public funds, how much hiring and paying and funding of this new, presumably civil service, branch of the state is going to go on? When this came up in a discussion with libertarians on Saturday afternoon, a figure of £600,000pa was posited. Small change in terms of spending, but surely part of the whole scandal is that public money is being spent not only too much, but unwisely!

(4) Brown’s little press conference would have been a hell of a lot better without his autoencomium. His own Bill of Rights and Duties (ugh), and New Labour’s devolution, reform of the House of Lords, etc., etc. Nobody cares or wants to hear that sort of boasting in this situation.

(5) Someone has asked what the definition of ‘breaking the rules’ is, under which MPs will not be able to stand in the next election. Brown has no answer. I suspect that since the running excuse is that all these expenses were within the rules – and, indeed, it appears many of the most obnoxious ones were – we will see bunches of these bastards standing again, more’s the pity. (That, or Brown intends to use this ploy to neutralise his political enemies.)

(6) Brown has no response to a remark about how the public are saying that, if they did this stuff, they’d go to jail; the example given is of a shoplifter offering to return or pay for his booty. Brown’s claim: not an equivalent situation, because Hazel Blears acted within the rules. No ‘discipline’ for her then. Aha.

(7) A radio reporter-type has said Brown should call a general election. His response: it is the system at fault, not the Government, since ‘all parties must take responsibility for this.’ Never mind that the real reason for an election is the total collapse of public confidence in government. When the government cannot govern – as it appears not to have done over the past three weeks – a new democratic mandate is needed. Brown must be hugely delighted on the inside that the European elections are happening so soon, as it means the public will take out their justified rage and exercise their democratic privilege there – where it will have no effect on Labour’s continuing grasp-of-dead-hand hold on the UK. Once the voters have vented their spleen on MEPs, perhaps their disaffection will be purged! (He hopes.)

(8) A question about the Tamil protestors. Brown defends freedom of assembly. [Stopped listening; laughing too hard.]

(9) Brown keeps smiling – what the fuck has he got to smile about? He’s also leaning on the lectern in a way that, I’m sure, Obama the Orator never would. This bizarre body language actually makes him look… bored.

Speaking of which, I’m bored now too. Most of the snide questions I was droolingly anticipating have been asked, and Brown is now wittering like a madman: a maximum of words, a minimum of meaning, and enough use of the passive voice that, if this were transcribed into Latin, the page would be littered with -turs.

Make that turds. Which represent exactly what Brown, his speech, all other MPs, and the whole rotten edifice of this state are worth.

Feb 162009
 

A new version of the Hail Mary, over at Lambeth Palace. I liked it so much, I’ve put it into Latin:

Ave, Gordon, gratia carens,
Dominus non tecum.
Vituperatus tu in hominibus
et vituperatus fructus laborum tuorum, recessio.
Nefas Gordon, pater incompetentiae,
interveni usque non adeo pro nobis civibus
nunc et in hora mortis perduellionis.
Amen.

Inaugural

 indolence  Comments Off on Inaugural
Feb 022009
 

I get worked up (positively and negatively) about things, and my friends have grown weary of rant-filled emails and IMs at all hours of the day and night. Needing a place to vent, I’ve come here. These are my wars. Watch me wage them.

I also have a pathological paranoia about writing anything that can be construed as public or permanent. Call this aversion therapy, then.

The title comes from Ovid’s Amores I.9, although I have modified it slightly. The original couplet reads:

inde vides agilem nocturnaque bella gerentem:
qui nolet fieri desidio suis, amet.

The photograph in the banner is detail of the Gallic Wars from the triumphal arch in Orange, France.