Sunday 14 February, 2021

Digging into The Dig contd.

From Pete Ashton…

I too saw The Dig recently and have enjoyed the ongoing saga on your blog. It seems we as a culture find it impossible to deal with the phrase “based on a true story”, as in not a true story, just inspired by one. I would prefer these films dispense with the whole “true” thing and fully fictionalise everything, but I guess that’s not financially prudent. For me the film (and presumably the novel (fiction, not history) it was based on) wasn’t about the Sutton Hoo find or even archeology. It was a meditation on death on the eve of a period of mass slaughter in Europe. It’s doubtless frustrating for those who know the facts, but the facts are just raw material for the storytellers. Or to put it another way, it’s art, innit. (See also, Black Swan isn’t really about ballet, Armageddon isn’t really about extinction-event meteorites, The Crown isn’t really about the royal family, and so on)

Re historical (in)accuracy of movie blockbusters, I heard a nice story about an American scholarly friend who, when asked by her father how historically accurate Braveheart was, replied, carefully: “Well, there was a man named William Wallace”.

More on dental services in Tenerife…

Readers may have been amused (or perhaps outraged) by yesterday’s revelations of my countrymen’s Cummings-style ingenuity in discovering how to travel (including overseas) for ‘medical’ reasons. Some of them have been booking dental appointments in Tenerife, getting email confirmations, and then flying gaily off to the sun having waved these tokens of authorisation at the airport. (Looks like this loophole has now been closed, btw.)

The one saving grace in all this is that others among my fellow-countrymen and women have a lively sense of humour, evidence of which keeps popping up in my WhatsApp and Signal feeds. For example, this:

Or this:

I was also reminded of a story I told on my lockdown audio diary about similar evasive tricks employed by Dublin’s drinkers in 1939:


(Text version available here)

Quote of the Day

“Growing old is like being increasingly punished for a crime you haven’t committed.”

  • Anthony Powell, 1973.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Johnny Cash | My Old Kentucky Home (Turpentine and Dandelion Wine)


I love this song and prefer Randy Newman’s version. On the other hand, nobody has a rich gravy voice like Johnny Cash.

The real conspiracy theory…

… is not to mention the reality of Brexit, as it is now being discovered by British subjects (Britain doesn’t have citizens, remember; only republics have those) and firms.

Terrific column by my Observer colleague, Nick Cohen. Sample:

We have the hardest of possible Brexits because the Conservative right insisted we must leave the European customs union and single market. Every promise they made to the public is turning to ashes in their mouths as a result. Take trade. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove’s Vote Leave swore to the electorate in 2016 that Brexit would free Britain to strike deals “with major economies like China and India”. It was just another in the interminable list of false pledges they made, safe in the knowledge that, by the time the truth came out, Brexit would be done. Yet, even now, they try to maintain the pretence. Last week, the Sun announced that Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, had created a post-Brexit “Enhanced Trade Partnership” with Delhi. Already it had “created” 1,540 jobs, courtesy of the Indian tech firm Tata Consultancy Services.

It was pure propaganda: utter bullshit. No one knows what “Enhanced Trade Partnership” means, the former government trade official David Henig told me. I asked Truss’s department when it was signed and how might exporters read its terms. They can’t. There’s nothing there beyond a “commitment” to a “long-term India-UK partnership” and the hope of drawing up a “road map”. The UK and India have signed no agreement. Tata Consultancy is already in Britain. Indeed, it was ranked as the “UK’s top employer”. Truss’s department accepts Tata’s new jobs are “not linked directly” to the alleged partnership.

Amazing to be governed by such stupid charlatans. But the most important point in Nick’s piece is this: why is the Labour party not calling the government out on this?

(Answer: because there are too many Brexiteers in what were once safe Labour seats.)

Universities need to wise up – or risk being consigned to history

This morning’s Observer column:

Eli Noam’s point was that the new technologies could not be ignored because they involved a reversal of the historic direction of information flow that determined how universities functioned. “In the past,” he wrote, “people came to the information, which was stored at the university. In the future, the information will come to the people, wherever they are. What then is the role of the university? Will it be more than a collection of remaining physical functions, such as the science laboratory and the football team? Will the impact of electronics on the university be like that of printing on the medieval cathedral, ending its central role in information transfer? Have we reached the end of the line of a model that goes back to Nineveh, more than 2,500 years ago? Can we self‐reform the university, or must things get much worse first?”

When that article came out I was teaching at the Open University, and to me and my academic colleagues Noam’s article seemed like an elegant, pithy statement of the obvious. This was because we were running a university that had many, many thousands of students, none of whom ever came near the campus. So in that sense, we were already living in the future that Noam was envisaging. But what was astonishing – to me, anyway – was that no one in the conventional university sector paid much notice to the warning. Every so often, when I ran into a vice-chancellor of a traditional institution, I would ask what he or she made of Noam’s essay. “Eli who?” was generally the response.

And so it went on for 25 years.

Do read the whole thing.

Other, hopefully interesting, links

  • The Top 1% of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion From the Bottom 90%—And That’s Made the U.S. Less Secure. Yep. Link
  • I’ve Seen the Evidence, and There’s a Lot of It, and It’s Overwhelming and Very Persuasive, and I’ve Decided to Ignore It. Eli Grober has a stab at getting inside Mitch McConnell’s brain. Link

This blog is also available as a daily email. If you think this might suit you better, why not subscribe? One email a day, delivered to your inbox at 7am UK time. It’s free, and there’s a one-click unsubscribe if you decide that your inbox is full enough already!