March 10, 2006

Happy libel fun.

Looks like Neil Clark is threatening to sue Oliver Kamm for libel.

I ain't saying nuffin. Except that this is a good book and you should buy a copy. Possibly several copies.

My favourite libel story concerns the actor, playwright and director, Steven Berkoff. In 1996 Berkoff successfully sued Julie Burchill of the Times after she wrote that Berkoff was "hideously ugly."

In fact he's not ugly at all. Berkoff's action in going to the funeral of Reginald Kray and eulogising that sadistic criminal was ugly, but his face is OK.

Here's what the Sunday Herald said:

And the respect that Reggie engendered? Actor and utter twit Stephen Berkoff, who had apparently attended the ugly spectacle, was allowed a long and ponderous epitaph to the pathetic old lag in the gaudy coffin.

Given the all-important validating news time, how the ghastly old luvvie droned on. Oh dear, dear Reggie. He was an icon of the people. Berkoff even had the nerve to pronounce that Kray had provided "a mythic service in a dull dreary post-war environment". But what's worse was that the news chose to broadcast such tosh. Berkoff just stopped short of the famous Monty Python sketch parodying such idiot adulation: "But they was gentlemen, mind. They would nail your head to the floor right? But they was always clean and they always treated their old mum like the duchess she were."

Anyway, despite the rather witty dissent of Lord Justice Millett ("it is a popular belief for the truth of which I am unable to vouch that ugly men are particularly attractive to women"), the gangster-admiring (but tolerably handsome) Berkoff won and Burchill lost. Before then it had been generally assumed that saying someone was ugly did not tend to lower them in the esteem of right-thinking members of society. Afterwards, hmm, depends on the context, be careful. Robertson & Nicol say that Article 10 of the Human Rights Act might change things, but for the time being Berkoff v. Burchill is still a precedent.

Victory for Berkoff, then.

Only... the information that someone wrote that Steven Berkoff was "hideously ugly" is in every book on modern British tort law. It did set a precedent, after all. Since courts all over the Anglosphere refer to each other's judgements, I would imagine it is also cited in Australian, Canadian, South African, Indian, New Zealand, West Indian and some American books of law. Law students will learn about it for for decades. Maybe even centuries.

ADDED LATER: The news of the death of Slobodan Milosevic made me regret being so harsh on a mere actor. To praise a killer, torturer and extortioner for providing an interesting show, as if Kray's victims were not real, was shameful behaviour on Berkoff's part. But if I'm going to describe Berkoff's behaviour as "hideously ugly", as I originally did, what words are left for an actual killer? So I've toned down the post above. I still think that it's a hoot that the end result of Berkoff's libel victory has been to propagate the two words concerned to the ends of the earth and set them on course to outlive his dramatic accomplishments as claims to fame.

Posted by Natalie at 10:20 PM

Sort of like "Predator"

only not aliens and not hunting you. Invisible people snogging.
Posted by Natalie at 07:49 PM

Did Galloway really say

the HellToons were worse than 9/11 and 7/7? Squander Two investigates.
Posted by Natalie at 07:46 PM

Nazi buildings.

I have in front of me a book of extracts from Signal, the colourful magazine extolling the virtues of Nazi Europe that Goebbels had distributed all over occupied Europe and elsewhere. Signal had an English language edition aimed at the US and Ireland and also sold in occupied Jersey and Guernsey.

I'm looking at an article called "The New Reich Chancellery". It says
On 11th January 1938, the Führer commissioned Prof. Speer, Inspector-General of Building Construction, with the erection of the New Reich Chancellery ... During the remaining 9 months fixed for its completion, the Inspector-General and his staff of architects, artists, workmen and artisans from all provinces completed this work, which represents the Reich in modern classical form.
Copious illustrations are provided. This website shows similar pictures. You can find more pictures by doing an Image Search but not all the websites hosting them are as respectable as this one, produced by Professor Randall Bytwerk of Calvin College, Michigan.

The crimes of the Nazis are such as to make one hope there is a hell. They can be made not one whit worse by the fact that I don't care for the skimpy square pillars at the front of Speer's project (the overall effect is a bit like Walthamstow Town Hall, only not as impressive.) Nor are their crimes made one whit less dreadful because Speer's "Long Hall" (called "the marble gallery" in the Calvin College link) looks rather nice. If it hadn't been dismantled by the Red Army it might have made a pleasant place for a cup of tea in the afternoon - and Speer was still a willing tool of tyranny.

Although there are interesting things to be said about the way dictatorships build, in moral terms it doesn't matter how good or bad Nazi architecture was. To condemn a style because Hitler approved of it is as cheap a shot as to condemn vegetarians because Hitler approved of vegetarianism. I can see why they sandblasted out the swastikas in 1945 but if by any chance they missed any, I'd say leave them in place on grounds of historical interest. Although the juxtaposition of the words "Nazi" and "architecture" can still stir passion and controversy sixty years on, I thought that none of this would disturb my Olympian cool...

...but even I was disturbed by the idea of a Nazi church. The photo is not online but the print edition of the Times shows a carved font with a stormtrooper standing next to Jesus. Apparently the church was in use until a few years ago, so I presume babies were baptized in it until recently.

Posted by Natalie at 07:41 PM

March 09, 2006

Demise of slavery - another installment, possibly the last.

JEM writes:
I've found it!

As soon as the 14th century reared its ugly head in this slavery debate, I knew the essential reading on this was highly respected historian Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror -- The Calamitous 14th Century". But could I find it? I have vast numbers of books, yet am no librarian. I knew the book was there, but could not find it.

Until I went looking for something else this evening...

I'll have to read the whole thing. But one little point... well all right, big point, is worth bringing to the fore right now:

Tuchman focusses her history around the life and times and experiences of one French nobleman, Enguerrand de Coucy VII, who lived from 1340 to 1397, and through his marriage to the eldest daughter of the King of England, was closely entwined in the story of both England and France, although these countries were at war with each other throughout this period.

I quote:

[In 1368] ... [Coucy's] own domain ... suffered from the shortage of labor that was afflicting landowners everywhere since the Black Death. Picardy, in the path of English penetration from the start, had suffered not only from invaders but also from the Jacquerie and the ravaging of the Anglo-Navarrese. Rather than pay the repeated taxes that follow upon French defeats, peasants deserted to nearby imperial territory in Hainault and across the Meuse.

To hold labor on the land, Coucy's rather belated remedy was enfranchisement of the serfs, or non-free peasants and villagers, of his domain. From "hatred of servitude," his charter acknowledged, they had been leaving, "to live outside our lands, in certain places, freeing themselves without our permission and making themselves free whenever it pleased them." (A serf who reached territory outside his lord's writ and stayed for a year was regarded as free.) ... Coucy's territory was late in the dissolution of serfdom, perhaps owing to former prosperity. ...Abolition had occurred less from any moral judgement of the evils of servitude than as a means of raising ready money from the rents. Though the paid labor of free tenants was more expensive than the unpaid labor of serfs, the cost was more than made up by the rents, and, besides, tenants did not have to be fed on the job, which had amounted to an important expense.

In other words, quite clearly it was the profit motive, not morality, that freed the serfs. And further reading makes it equally clear how the difference between slaves and serfs was in real life a difference without a distinction.

All of which is just about exactly what I've been saying.

Game, set and match, I think!

I hope I don't unduly annoy JEM, whose emails I value, but I don't think so at all. This is not because I disbelieve the information quoted from A Distant Mirror, which I also own. It's a fine book. Rather it is because I think that what ARC has been saying is not invalidated by the evidence Tuchman provides.

Re-reading some earlier posts by JEM, ARC and others, it seems to me that although there are significant differences as to points of fact (for example, was the Black Death more or less severe in Britain than elsewhere, was serfdom significantly different from slavery), nonetheless neither side disputes that serfdom had gone by around 1500 and that this was not brought about by moral scruples or religion. Correspondents differ as to how big a role various non-moral causes such as the Black Death, the Little Ice Age, various wars or the invention of the horse collar played.

JEM then goes on to say that, whereas this or that economic or environmental cause could end slavery in this or that country, only for the institution to rise again later, it was the Industrial Revolution that put the stake through its heart wordwide. Short term it may not have done, but long term it did.

But whereas ARC agrees (I think) that the Industrial Revolution and its Siamese twin, capitalism, had the long term effect of finally making sure slavery did not pay, he says that one of the reasons that the Industrial Revolution happened in England was that England had been a non-slave society, until it was "re-infected" with the slavery virus via the African trade. Mere circumstances had taught them that a non-slave society could work just fine. Then they had the moral choice whether they wanted that sort of society or not. It is true that eventually mechanical inventions would, in Adam Smith's words, produce "their legitimate effect, that of abridging labour" and "effect those great changes in human destiny, which it is in their nature and in their futurity to accomplish". It is true that this destiny was widely predicted, as evinced by the famous prediction from Smith himself that I just quoted. But it wasn't obvious to everyone. And the prospect of just allowing this outrage to continue for decades or even centuries while the glacier of economic necessity inched its way to the sea was unbearable to good men.

This brings me to a recent Samizdata post by Johnathan Pearce, "A good man who made a difference." It is about the anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson. Pearce writes:

But even though there is some truth in ascribing changes to these things [economic forces], as this Wikipedia entry accepts, it still requires the energy and commitment of actual people to force the pace of change. We do not know, for instance, how long slavery might have persisted under the British Empire had people like Clarkson not bothered to campaign against it. It is fair to assume, however, that it ended a good deal sooner than otherwise and hence millions of people probably owed what freedoms they had to people such as this fellow.
I am conscious that I have, perhaps, both put words into the mouth of ARC (whose opinions on this are close to mine but not identical to mine) and given a slightly rough ride to the words of JEM. It is clear from many other emails of his that JEM has no desire to denigrate those who campaigned against slavery, he just thinks that economics came first.

Guys, I just don't think we are going to agree. Unless anyone feels really hard done by I think the destiny and futurity of this thread is to be put to bed for a while.

Posted by Natalie at 01:56 PM

To get me back in the mood for blogging

here are some posts made over the last couple of weeks that caught my eye.

Robert Hinkley is inspired by David Irving to open up new lines of historical research.

Most of what Patrick Crozier posts at the moment comes out in Q&A format to fit his Wiki. It all reads as if it has been written to be easily translated into foreign languages. Am I complaining then? No. It's very clear style, and that is exhilarating. I have just noticed I am copying it. Here is an example. The post argues that the proposed new law to prevent assaults on nurses will do no good.

AOG of Thought Mesh links via Michelle Malkin to pictures of the placards carried by Muslim demonstrators, placards that said "Behead those who insult Islam" and "Europe, you will pay, your 9/11 is on it's* way." Famously, the police took no action over this incitement to murder until after an enormous public outcry. AOG argues that this type of failure to act makes a blanket opposition to immigration more rational and more likely.

But when you see pictures like this, you are forced to consider the fact that not all immigrants can or will assimilate, by which we mean accepting the fundamental values of the host nation. What is to be done about such people?

Two thoughts come to mind. The first is that if, in our politically correct culture, we are incapable of punishing immigrants who openly call for murder, mayhem and the destruction of the host society, then the rational reaction of the citizenry is to restrict immigration because that is then the only way to stop them is to stop everyone. It doesn’t require (as certain webloggers claim) bigotry or racism, or even the belief that most immigrants are like that. It requires only the belief that nothing can or will be done about those who are. In many ways it is similar to the job schlerosis in restricted economies. If employers can’t fire people, no matter what, the natural result is lack of hiring. Protect immigrants from the consequences of their actions and there will be much more support for restricting immigration.

Which leads to the second thought, which is that cracking down on the moonbats is not only good for the host country, but good for the non-moonbat immigrants by removing trouble makers from their communities and improving the overall image of the immigrants.

Stephen Pollard says he is mystified as to what the fuss was about when Tony Blair said God would be his judge over invading Iraq. Surely people already knew Blair was a Christian? Surely they already knew that even the wishy-washiest Christians believe God will judge the actions of men? (Sorry, "people", as Tony would undoubtedly prefer I said.)

I think they did know. But having a happy rant about the imaginary Christian peril of Tony Blair is as close as some people dare go to mentioning more pressing problems.

*I always said they were ignorant fanatics.

Posted by Natalie at 01:23 PM