A police helicopter flying over Glasgow, Scotland last Friday lost control and crashed into the roof of a crowded Irish pub, killing three on board and six customers. An additional 32 persons present in the bar were injured.
Meanwhile, French prosecutors announced today that preliminary charges of “public insult and inciting hate” were filed last month against Bob Dylan for comments made in the course of a Rolling Stone interview last year during which the singer-songwriter discussed race relations in America.
Curiously, the offended parties were the Croats. What Dylan said was:
If you got a slave master or [Klu Klux] Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.
By a curious coincidence, the Republic of France was also awarding Dylan the Legion of Honor around roughly the same time that French prosecutors were indicting him for hate speech.
Theodore Dalrymple reflects, in Taki’s magazine, on the modern state’s law enforcement priorities and their deeper meaning.
A couple of American filmmakers came to Paris to interview me—it always surprises me that anybody would take so much trouble to interview anybody, let alone me—and decided that the little park opposite my flat, with a pretty little bandstand, would be a good place to do so. They set up the camera, but a few seconds later, before they could ask me a single question, a municipal policeman arrived. They were not allowed to film here without a permit from the mairie of the arrondissement, he said. I explained that these were Americans, come all the way from Texas expressly to interview me. He, a very pleasant and polite man of African origin, phoned his chief to see whether an exception could be made. As I suspected, it could not.
I told the film crew that we should make no fuss; the man was only doing his job, silly as that job might be. As it happens there were several drunks in another part of the park making aggressive-sounding noises and breaking bottles, but them he did not approach, perhaps wisely, as they were several and he was only one. He thought he would have more luck with someone wearing a tweed jacket and corduroy trousers as I was. We found a café willing to accommodate us.
The contrast between the authorities’ alacrity on one hand in preventing innocent filming for a matter of a few minutes (the policeman said authorization was necessary because it might cause a disturbance, and, being kind, I refrained from laughing), and on the other their slow response to a nasty incident that might have ended in murder, was emblematic of the modern state’s capacity to get everything exactly the wrong way around, to ascribe importance to trivia and to ignore the important. There are, of course, many more employment opportunities in trivia, since there is much more that is trivial in the world than is important.
France is not unique in this respect, or even the worst example I know. In London I once parked outside a hotel where I proposed to stay. Parking was forbidden outside, but I stopped only to take my baggage inside. I received a parking ticket within sixty seconds, a miracle of efficiency (I genuinely admired it in a way), though it was perfectly obvious from my car’s open doors that I did not propose to stay long and was only taking my luggage into the hotel. But on another occasion when my wife telephoned the police to inform them that youths were committing arson in our front garden before her very eyes, they had no time to attend to it. A more senior officer, however, did find the time a quarter of an hour later to complain to my wife that she had wasted police time by complaining in the first place.
It often seems, then, as if modern state authorities live in a looking-glass world: What normal people regard as important is for them of no importance, while what they regard as of supreme importance normal people regard as of no importance. For them the respectable are suspect and the suspect respectable. A tweed jacket is a sign of menace, while a broken bottle is a sign of harmless intent.
One must not exaggerate the degree to which official idiocy impinges on our lives. The exaggeration of misery is one of the royal roads to political disaster. Still, I have seen the future, and it is idiocy.
A History of Britain in Thirty-six Postage Stamps tells the rich, layered, and breathtaking history of England through thirty-six of its fascinating, often beautiful, and sometimes eccentric postage stamps. West shows that stamps have always mirrored the events, attitudes, and styles of their time. Through them, one can glimpse the whole epic tale of an empire unfolding. From the famous Penny Black, printed soon after Queen Victoria’s coronation, to the Victory! stamp of 1946, anticipating the struggle of postwar reconstruction—A History of Britain in Thirty-six Postage Stamps is a hugely entertaining and idiosyncratic romp, told in Chris West’s lively prose.
On their own, stamps can be curiosities, even artistic marvels; in this book, stamps become a window into the larger sweep of history.
I have a terrible feeling that A History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps may be a hard sell for some readers. But trust me: Chris West’s cultural history is fast paced and engaging, and the organizing principle takes the narrative in all kinds of unexpected directions. Sure, there’s a little light philately in there, but even those who only communicate electronically will be glad they picked it up.
So I guess I have to read it, despite having zero interest in stamps.
For the occasion of the victory parade on the Champs Élysées on 14 July 1919, marking the end of hostilities in World War I, the military command ordered the airmen to participate “on foot” – like the infantry. This was a provocation to the pilots, who regarded themselves as “heroes of the air”. At a meeting in the “Fouquet” bar located on the Champs Élysées, a group of aviators decided to address this affront by selecting one of them to fly through the Arc de Triomphe during the parade. The choice fell on Jean Navarre, who had twelve air victories and was considered to be an ace among the fighter pilots. However, Navarre was killed in a practice flight on 10 July. With 500 flying hours, Charles Godefroy considered himself experienced enough to take over the task, which excited the young aviator. With his close companion, the journalist Jacques Mortane, he inspected the Arc de Triomphe several times to examine the air route and the air currents; then he began to practice at the bridge over the Small Rhône at Miramas.
On 7 August 1919, three weeks after the victory parade, under cover of secrecy and dressed in his warrant officer uniform, Charles Godefroy took off at 7.20 a.m. from the airfield of Villacoublay in a biplane “Nieuport 11 Bébé” (Bébé = baby – because of its low wing span of 24.67 ft / 24’8’’ or 7.52 m). He reached the Porte Maillot shortly thereafter. Coming from the west, he circled the Arc de Triomphe twice and began the approach along the Avenue de la Grande-Armée. He gathered speed and forced the plane down and through the Arc. He did not have much clearance – the width of the Arc is 47.57 ft / 47’6’’ (14.50 m). He passed at a low level over a tram in which passengers threw themselves to the ground, and many passers-by ran away frightened. Godefroy flew over the Place de la Concorde before returning to the airfield, where his mechanic checked over the engine. No one at the airfield had taken any notice of the flight, which had lasted half an hour.
The journalist Jacques Mortane had the whole event filmed and photographed. Articles have been published in many newspapers. The film screening was banned by the Commissioner of Police. Godefroy stayed officially in the background, but his name could not be kept secret for long. The authorities disapproved of the event and were afraid of it being imitated, but Godefroy escaped with only a warning.
Beaten from flesh into light
Hath swallowed the fire-ball
Attraverso le foglie
His rod hath made god in my belly
Sic loquitur nupta
Cantat sic nupta
Dark shoulders have stirred the lightning
A girl’s arms have nested the fire,
Not I but the handmaid kindled
Cantat sic nupta
I have eaten the flame.
From British Archaeology #131 (July/August): [There was] a Wessex Archaeology dig in 2004-05 at Cliffs End farm in Thanet, a piece of north-east Kent that was an island up until the 16th century when silting finished connecting it to mainland England. What we’re dealing with here is ritual murder, some pretty strange disposal of the dead and ancient Scandinavian migrants. ...
[It went] on for 800 years, well into the Middle Iron Age about 200 cal BC. A three-century hiatus during the Early Iron Age, I speculate, may be covered by the part of the feature that hasn’t been excavated.
At least 24 people end[ed] up in sacrificial pits between 1000 and 800: males and females, ages 6 to 55. One large pit sees the following sequence (image above):
1. Redeposited human bones and two new-born lambs
2. Woman over 50, killed by sword blows to the back of the head
3. Another pair of lambs
4. Cow’s head, two children and a teenage girl
5. Cattle foot and bag containing dismembered man, 30-35
6. More redeposited bones from people who died before the pit was dug …
Iron Age practices in the sacrificial pit complex are less intense and intricate: over a period of three centuries, eight people get buried whole and seven disarticulated bone bundles are deposited. One young man is buried on top of half a horse. The bone bundles bear signs of scavenging by dogs.
Who were these people then? Could anybody at Cliffs End get roped in for sacrifice and be denied respectful burial at the whim of the local druid? ...
Andrew Millard of Durham University analysed all suitable teeth from 25 individuals. Here’s the geographical breakdown of the sacrificial victims’ area of origin:
32% southern Norway or Sweden
20% western Mediterranean
The reason that you do more than one tooth from the same individual is that teeth form in sequence during gestation, childhood and adolescence. If you move or change your diet during that period, this shows up in the isotope ratios of whatever tooth your body is making at the time. This gave particularly interesting results in the case of an old woman whose disarticulated skull was redeposited in the Late Bronze Age charnel pit discussed above. She was born in Scandinavia, moved to northern Britain as a child, lived a long life and finally ended up as a prop in a religious ritual on Thanet.
More than half of the victims are foreigners. And though more than a third are locals, we don’t know if their parents were locals as DNA hasn’t been done yet. Who travels like this in the 1st millennium BC? Certainly not tourists. Traders do travel, but for a community dependent on long-distance bronze deliveries, it would not be a sustainable strategy to ambush and kill the traders – never mind that these were in all likelihood well organised and armed. My guess is that we’re dealing with slave raiding and slave trade. Goods travelled, and one valuable commodity was slaves. All valuable commodities were appropriate as sacrifices to the gods when that time came.
In the case of the well-travelled old woman, I imagine her being taken from her tribe in southern Norway by Scottish slave raiders, growing up in Scotland, and then being traded on maturity to a Kentish tribe with odd religious practices. She probably gives birth to more slaves there (perhaps a few of the recovered individuals with local isotope signatures) and lives most of her adult life at Cliffs End. Not as a member of the clan, but as property of a clan member. And then comes that final Beltane feast out by the barrows.