Game of Thrones review: Jumping the shark

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One of the features of the Game of Thrones TV series, based on the J.J. R Martin’s novels, that I find most interesting is its attempt to create a medieval high fantasy, but one grounded in a bit of realism. A flaw often made within fantasy settings (such as the Tolkien novels, the D&D gaming system of Gray Gygax or computer games, notably the World of Warcraft series) is to a failure to consider the consequences if you start to introduce magic or dragons into, say a medieval world.

For example, as this vlog post from Shaduniversity points out, if you end up in a world with dragons or wizards who can melt castle walls (or dimensionally travel inside them) then, unless a counter measure can be created (e.g. blocking dimensional travel, defences capable of resisting such attack), castles become pretty much useless and nobody would bother to build them. Similarly if an army has to face off against dragons or spell wielding wizards, it would be suicidal to do so using the sort of tightly packed infantry formations commonly used during the medieval period. And magic would have an impact on the economy, to the point where the feudal system wouldn’t really work any more. In short a medieval high fantasy world with magic won’t exist, because this ignores the essential reasons of how the medieval world worked.

GoT and J. J. R. Martin’s books do attempt to try and address this by toning down the magic element a lot (spell casters are so rare many doubt they even exist), aiming more for “low fantasy rather than high fantasy genre. However, that said, the GoT series has kind of gone off on the odd tangent which I feel which does kind of let itself down, particularly in the latest series.

How to loose allies and alienate your subjects

Let’s start with a major plot hole, how is Cersei still on the throne after blowing up the great Sept of Baelor with a large numbers of the nobility inside? A feudal society is held together by its religion, so such a blatant attack on the church, as well as the nobles and the common folk, would generally guarantee immediate overthrow. Part of the role of the church is to get the peasants to accept their place and not roast the nobles on spits (as did happen more than a few times in our history when the church was unable to restrain them). Even if Cersei could pin the blame on some outside force, in medieval times people interpreted misfortune as proof that the divine mandate rulers relied on had been withdrawn.

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Sometimes the peasants can be revolting in more ways than one!

So if something like that ever happened in an actual medieval society, there would be a massive uprising shortly thereafter. But Cersei could just put that down with army right…..which army would that be? Medieval rulers did not maintain large armies, they might have a few hundred knights, maybe a thousand or so men at arms at most. This was kind of the whole point of the feudal system. Without all the labour saving technology later societies enjoyed, it required massive amounts of manpower to harvest crops, manufacture goods and keep the wheels of the economy going.

Instead rulers looked to the nobles to administer their lands and raise troops for them, with each noble typically commanding a few dozen to a few hundred full time troops, as well as being able to raise larger armies from among their peasants on a temporary basis as and when needed (and usually only on a seasonal basis). In short, feudalism was just a giant protection racket, which the church legitimised.

This has two consequences, firstly raising armies is expensive, simply because by taking people away from the fields you are making labour more expensive, which means everything else in the economy gets more expensive, which means sooner or later a ruler runs out of coin to pay them (and no, a foreign bank isn’t going to be able to bail them out, as the issue here is we are trying to defy the laws of economic gravity).

And secondly if the nobles withdraw their support, that ruler is screwed. The nobles (the made men in our medieval world) wouldn’t support Cersei in this a scenario because she’s broken the code (you can’t kill your fellow nobles, they’d worry she might have them killed on a whim as well). They’d also fear the consequences of their own people rebelling if they backed her. And, all to aware that her goose was basically cooked, why back a lost cause? Better to sit on their hands and do nothing and then pivot behind whoever comes out on top later. This happened time and again throughout medieval history. Most of said rulers military strength will simply disappear (or worse turn on them in the middle of a battle) along with most of their finance.

And to make matters worse in a large city (such as King’s Landing) they’d rely on local militia (basically the medieval equivalent of community support officers) to keep the peace, who would not be reliable in a scenario such as this (most would join the uprising and the rest would stay out of the mob’s way).

So balance of probability is that in such a scenario, there would be an uprising, she’d lose control of not only the city but the entire country and while she could barricade herself in the Red Keep, that would be a risky strategy as she’d be trapped when her enemies showed up. So her best option would be to flee.

Meanwhile the nobility would rally around some obvious challenger. And in GoT that likely be the surviving Tyrell’s or the Dornish houses (incidentally, a major plot hole in season 7 being how they can go from having an army of at least 100,000 one episode to both armies vanishing the next) who would advance on the capital, picking up allies as they went and arrive to essentially find it an open city. The Queen would facing a toss up between being handed over to them on arrival (then executed), killed by her own guards (fun fact, one of leading causes of death for Roman emperors was to be killed by the Pretorian guard, there’s been plenty of Kingslayer’s throughout history) or hunted down afterwards.

In a high fantasy setting, where the ruler is for example a powerful magic user, or perhaps a dragon rider (such as Daenerys) then they can get away with things a normal medieval ruler couldn’t do, simply because overthrowing them isn’t as easy. However, even they would be limited in what they could get away with as they would be bound by many of the same limitations as any feudal ruler. This actually something that GoT did cover rather well in the 5th and 6th series where Daenerys tried to do the right thing in Meereen, but soon found that this wasn’t an easy thing to do.

Right to rule

A significant plot hammer element of series 7 was establishing Jon Snow as the rightful ruler of the Iron throne, presumably because he ends up on it at the end of season 8. Because the person with the best credentials always ends up on the throne, don’t they?….ummmm…no!

As this BBC article discusses, ya he might well have the most credible case, but as its experts also point out that might not matter diddly squat in a medieval world, where possession is 9/10 th’s of the law. The Lannister’s and Baratheon’s have almost no credible claim, yet they’ve been on the throne for 7 seasons and there’s plenty of similar examples in history.

Take Queen Matilda. After the white ship disaster killed her brother she became next in line for the English throne. Her father went out of his way to ensure her succession won’t be challenged. He arranged a strategic marriage, got all the lords and nobles to pledge to her….only after the king died those pledges were broken before rigamortis had even set in and his bastard brother Stephen of Blois, a French noble who barely spoke a word of English, ceased the throne. That said, William the Conqueror’s claim to the throne was also fairly dubious.

As I mentioned above, the likely outcome of Cersei’s actions in series 6 (if the Lannister/Baratheon’s had managed to last that long, i.e. the nobles hadn’t ousted them after the red wedding) would be to unite the whole country against her, allowing the surviving Tyrell’s and Martell’s to take over. They might well invite in Daenerys afterwards with a suitable marriage pact to legitimise their claim (this was a theme explored in the novels). But either way, they’d be the ones calling the shots.

The problem with Jon‘s claim, as outlined in season 7, is its meaningless. His only evidence revolves around a vision his brother Bran had (which is a bit like saying, the bloke down the pub told me). There is some documentary evidence of a marriage annulment, but no mention of him, nor any living witnesses who can verify any of it (which is the problem with GoT’s murderous habit of killing people off). Its a medieval world, its not as if they can take him down to a clinic and run a paternity test.

Indeed, the likely outcome of such a plotline would be that the Southern lords would laugh him out of the room, pointing out that by breaking with the seven kingdoms he’d invalidated any claim to the throne (it would be like Nicola Sturgeon getting Scottish independence and then a few years later trying to become PM in Westminster). Meanwhile the northern lords upon hearing he’s a Targaryen and not a Stark at all, would kick him out and he’d end up back at the wall. And we know what happened last time he was there.

Defensive architecture

One rather annoying feature of GoT is that they don’t seem to know what a moat is, something that Shaduniversity also mentions in this video with regard to Casterly Rock.

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Moats are kind of important

A moat is kind of essential around any keep because you want to keep attackers away from the base of your walls. Otherwise a bunch of guys with sledgehammers can just stand there and pound a hole in it. Note that a moat doesn’t have to be filled with water. Any sort of defensive ditch will do. In some parts of the world they’d just fill it with lots of large polished boulders ( or dragon’s teeth or wooden stakes), the whole point is to stop the enemy approaching your walls in any sort of organised formation.

And this becomes doubly important when we are in a high fantasy setting with magical beasts, wizards or giants. You absolutely want to keep such creatures as far away from your castle walls as possible, given the enormous damage they could inflict if they get close enough. If anything, the likely response (if, as noted, we still bother to build castles at all) would be to make moats even larger or wider. Or add further layers of defence (as was the case once cannons appeared).

Perhaps the worse offender of these rules is “the wall” in the North. Without any sort of a moat or defensive ditch all the Wildlings (or undead) need to do is basically pile timber at the bottom of it and light a fire. The Night’s watch, 300ft up on top of the wall could not effectively target them or defend the wall from such a distance. So in addition to a moat, you’d want a second set of battlements further down, close enough that they could target the attackers below.

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The undefendable wall

Also the gate out of the wall into the north, the obvious weak point, has no gatehouse or barbican. Normally in a medieval castle you’d include such a structure, as this creates an additional set of barriers between an attacker and the gate. They now have to overcome a moat and at least two sets of gates and portcullises, all the while they’ll be coming under fire from the troops inside the supporting towers and on the walls above.

Oh and when winter does come, Winterfell is screwed.

Anti-dragon defences

In GoT large crossbow’s are used to defend against dragons (in the novel’s this is how the Dornish were initially able to hold off against the Targaryen’s). Now if we were to put several of those on the tops of a castle, in well reinforced positions, where they could mutually support one another (i.e. provide covering fire while one or other is being reloaded) then that could work, as they’d effectively function much like a flak tower from World War II, creating a zone of immunity from dragons, or flying enemies, around the castle.

However in an open field its not going to work as well, as there’s various way’s it can be countered. Simple combined arms tactics (where dragons and ground forces mutually support one another) is one option. In world war II pilots would fly a figure of eight attack pattern over targets, often pairing up with a wing man. It was hard enough to defend against such tactics with anti-aircraft guns, with a crossbow (which is going to require a crew sometime to reload after each shot) it would likely be impossible (unless, as noted they were built into a well reinforced structure). So in short, Bronn should have gotten fried.

…And since we’re talking about Jamie should have drowned (while armour isn’t as restrictive to movement as many think, the one thing you can’t easily do is swim in armour)….. And also since we’re talking about it, how is Daenerys supposed to be able to hang on to a dragon while its cruising along in a 60 mph jet stream? Or is one of those Targaryen superpowers having Velcro like skin? Presumably she should be using a saddle.

Jokes aside, in any high fantasy setting this would drastically change how battles would be fought. Unless an army had its own magic users (or dragons) to counter the enemies, they would not engage in large field battles, preferring instead to fight from well defended keeps (with moats presumably!).

And in a high fantasy setting with magic users, defending against flying enemies does become a lot easier, as those magic users will be able to sling spells at a dragon at a considerably longer range than it can engage them. One of the most effective tactics probably being to use mind effecting spells to confuse, stun or paralyse the dragon while its in flight, hopefully causing it to crash.

Just one guy

A common trope in high fantasy which isn’t realistic is where you have one guy who is so hugely strong or so brilliant in battle that they can single handedly take on an entire army. Now while this might apply for someone with an unnatural advantage (e.g. a dragon rider with three two large dragons or a very powerful wizard, etc.), otherwise its a bit silly. One guy is still one guy. I would argue the D&D gaming system is mostly to blame for this (and I suspect you’ll find a large number of high fantasy writers have played this system before), as its possible under the game’s rules to create ubra powerful Munchkin’s, which wouldn’t be realistic, even in the context of a high fantasy setting.

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Munchkins….complete with a +12 chainsaw

The mountain”, or whatever he’s called these days, would be a good example of this. The thing is, its easy to overcome such an enemy. Just have a dozen guys rush him all at once, knock him off his feet and then basically sit on him. Its essentially how prison officers deal with some out of control crack head and how the whole sport of rugby works. Okay, unless they catch him off guard, he might get his sword out and maybe take down one or two of them, but that’s about the best he could hope for. A suitably determined bunch of attackers (e.g. the faith’s militant) would still be able to overcome him. Its certainly a better strategy than attacking him one by one while the rest hop around him in a vaguely threatening manner.

Indeed, the D&D system compensates for itself by including overbearing” rules to counter this very problem, giving a mob of relatively weaker attackers an opportunity to rugby tackle an stronger individual and pin him down.

Undead are kind of crap at fighting

It worries me that series 8 seems like it will be entirely based upon the fight against the undead attacking from the North. If GoT hasn’t already jumped the shark, this certainly suggests it will in series 8. And that’s even before we consider the debacle of episode 6 of series 7 (okay, so you want to lead a banzai charge north with the goal of abducting an undead creature made of ice and take him south to somewhere warmer, hope he doesn’t wind up as a glass of water on the way, to convince a queen, who by all rights is wholly untrustworthy and cannot be relied upon, to send her army north, hoping that said undead doesn’t break free in the process and create more undead out of the 500,0000 people in King’s Landing, I mean what could possibly go wrong!).

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Episode 6 season 7 in a nutshell

The reality is that while undead might seem scary, but even in the context of a high fantasy setting, they are kind of crap. The key feature that has led us humans to dominate this earth is our intelligence. The idea that undead, who share all the essential features of a human except our intelligence are going to someone win is just plain silly. In fact, even within the confines of the D&D gaming rules its not going to happen. Indeed back during my DM’ing days I’ve saw one or two scenarios where large hordes of undead got beaten fairly easily, usually because those fighting them adopted clever tactics (e.g. such as those deployed by the Romans used during the battle of Watling street) or took advantage of any known weakness or vulnerability they had.

Okay, having the Night King on a dragon does kind of change things (of course he only has one of those because of “banzai” Jon’s charge up north), but not by much (one guy is still one guy, indeed, it suggests a strategy of throwing the kitchen sink at him, a combined attack with dragonglass crossbow bolts & two dragons, take him out and then his army is literally toast).

Breaking the wheel

Daenerys (Ms Velcro) & Tyrion spend quite a bit of time talking about “breaking the wheel, essentially breaking the feudal system. Reading between the plot lines the implication is that of having some sort of democratic system afterwards. However, that would be a bit implausible, democracy won’t really work in a feudal world where most people can’t even read or write. The likelihood is the people would vote for some Trump like figure, who promise to rebuild the wall (and make the night king pay for it), then blame liberal bleeding hearts like Jon Snow or Wildling migrants for it falling down in the first place.

As I discussed in a prior post, one of Plato and Scorates arguments against democracy was that it only works if the voters are well educated and put some serious thought into their decisions. The minute voters start voting for someone “for a laugh” or start using ballot boxes as a urinal in which to vent their personal frustrations (e.g. voting for brexit to get back at Tories for austerity), you quickly end up with a system which isn’t much better. Indeed, given that kings are two a penny and can be easily overthrown, while a president with a democratic mandate is a lot harder to overthrow (even if the public now realise they were lied too and hate his guts), you could end up with something worse (as Trump may well be in the process of proving).

And worse still, in a high fantasy setting where magic can be used to influence the outcome of an election (and inevitably the greedy and corrupt will do so), democracy could become downright dangerous. Furthermore, if you are familiar with the novels there’s already a system in Westeros to deal with a succession crisis democratically, by calling a great council and the lords electing a new king.

Looking back at human history, one would argue that a far more effective strategy would be to create an independent judiciary. Once the law is out of the hands of nobles and in the hands of magistrates it means the days of fighting and pillaging are over (because the aggrieved party will just go to a magistrate, get a court order, the property will have to be handed back and the perpetrator gets a to serve time at his majesty’s pleasure for his trouble). Promoting education, science and medicine will generally better society, but it also means the more people who can read, the more know about their rights and how to exploit them.

And science means developing new technologies to increase productivity, meaning more can be spared from work in the fields to take up the increasing number of new jobs which require an education, which means you’re starting to create a whole new class of people between the nobles and the peasants. Democracy and elections would presumably come much later.

And sooner or later in such a society one of these newly educated people is going to invent a printing press and then its game over, because now every new idea can be copied and distributed thousands of times over in the space of a day. The process from this point onwards becomes unstoppable, any attempt by the nobility to push back would likely result in a violent revolution. Not unlike the French revolution, which was started not so much by the peasants, but by the third estate (i.e. the educated, merchants, minor nobles, etc.) who had done rather well out of earlier reforms and worried about the nobles rowing things back.

Running out of steam

In short, GoT started off well but they’ve painted themselves into a corner by killing off characters who were kind of important to the plot and its thrashed their storyline. A situation not helped by missing out key characters from the books (e.g. Arianne Martell, Quentyn Martell, Aegon (who didn’t die in the novels, oh that might be a spoiler) or Victarion Greyjoy) meaning the story doesn’t really tie together very well.

And other characters, who probably should have been killed off, are still in play, generally because there’s nobody left alive to replace them. Case in point we have Qyburn acting as a regular Mr Haney from Green Acres effectively running multiple government departments and being Cersei’s doctor, spy master & general sidekick/ass licker in his spare time.

I remember reading that originally J.J. R Martin considered making dragons very different more akin to Wyvern’s with all the fire breathing just being Targaryen trickery or smoke and mirrors. That might not have actually been a bad idea, because giving Daenerys an exclusive monopoly on such a powerful resource massively unbalances things, as in effect we are introducing high fantasy elements into what is a low fantasy setting.

Many of the implausibilities and absurd plot holes seen in season 7 are largely borne of the need to get around the issue of an overpowered Daenerys and the fact that so many of the original characters critical to the story are dead.

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The libertarian slavery paradox

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The Political compass as libertarians see it

I happened to be watching the remake of the TV series Roots recently (based on the Alex Haley novel) and it did occur to me how it creates a bit of a troubling problem for libertarians. They like to see themselves as the ultimate liberals at the opposite end of the political compass to nazi’s and authoritarians. However I would argue that logic would dictate that any libertarian society would inevitably eventually become a slave owning society.

Think about it, in a libertarian society if someone owes you money or compensation for something, how do you get them to pay? Let’s suppose someone did a shoddy job tiling your roof, or he ran over your 6 year old kid and she’s now paralysed for life and needs expensive treatment, or someone simply defaults on their loans to a bank without paying (which is bad news for savers, recall there will be no federal insurance on banks under libertarianism, if enough borrowers default the bank goes under). Without a government, in a libertarian society with lax law enforcement and little to no regulations means that courts will be toothless. And without some sort of authority to enforce the law people, in particular the wealthy with their vast fortunes and private armies, can simply ignore the law. And those at the very bottom, can simply shrug their shoulders and say, well I’m broke, I’ve got nothing to pay with, I own no property, so your screwed, now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go get drunk, then drive to the park and fire my gun at squirrels near where your children play.

And the thing is that this wouldn’t only be allowed in a libertarian society, it would be considered a perfectly moral act. Libertarians often claim to follow the philosophy of Objectivism, which basically amounts to saying that its okay to be a selfish jerk and that being a kind and caring person who gives the slightest thought for others is morally wrong. In such a society, it would be considered okay to default on debts and basically screw everyone else over. This will be normal. But if everyone did that, society would quickly fall apart. Banks won’t lend money to anybody, even those with good credit. Doctors would refuse treatment without payment up front (and patients with any sense would refuse to pay until the treatment was completed). Without some sort of a system (let’s call it “a government”) to make sure people honour their obligations, the whole economy would unravel.

Now libertarians would say, oh but we’ll just have this code of honour whereby if anyone does something bad we’ll give them a terrible review on Facebook or something. Ya, and is that actually going to help? Donald Trump went bankrupt four times, you’d think after the 2nd time people would have learnt the lesson not to lend him money. You’d think nobody, least of all libertarians would have voted for him, but here we are. There are a host of well known scams around, many of them simply modern takes on old con tricks, yet thousands still fall for them every day.

They have this TV programme on UK TV called “Rogue Traders” where they set up a sting operation and catch various con-artists, dodgy used car salesmen, telemarketing fraudsters, cowboy builders and rogue tradesmen and then essentially name and shame them. Thing is, very few end up out of business. Some of them keep appearing in multiple episodes, sometimes under a new name or sometimes openly trading under the same name (one even put “as seen on rogue traders” on the side of his van!). Generally what’s stopped these people becoming season regulars is that the authorities eventually caught up with them and put them out of business.

But in a libertarian society there’s no authority and no social safety net. So how do you enforce any sort of law or civil suit? My guess is that what will happen is when the repo men arrive to cart away someone’s stuff, if they don’t find enough stuff to pay the debt, they’ll take away the debtor and his family and force them to work off the debt. This is pretty much how slavery worked in a number of society’s throughout history and how the practice of bonded labour works to this day.

Now libertarians will no doubt say, no we’ll outlaw slavery. But its going to be impossible to enforce that when the rich and the powerful have their own private goon squad. And unfortunately even in this day and age there’s several parts of the world where bonded labour is still practised, despite laws outlawing the practice. And it tends to occur in places where the government’s authority is weak or corrupt. For example in Somalia and Libya, countries with little in the way of government and lots of guns (as close to a libertarian society as you’ll find!) there are active slave markets.

And there’s the second problem for libertarians, democracy would collapse pretty quickly in a libertarian society. Taking objectivism to its logical conclusion, the easiest way to win an election is to bribe election officials and intimidate voters. e.g. the wealthy landowner threatens mass evictions, the billionaire says his goons will go on the rampage if they don’t win the election. This is how African dictators can win elections with margins of +90%. And even if the wealthy lose the election, they can simply ignore anything the government does that they don’t like, as they are essentially untouchable in a libertarian society.

In a society whereby the wealthy can grow their fortunes unchecked and utilise the power it gives them without any checks or balances, then it becomes essentially impossible to have a democratic and free society. Take for example Rockfeller or the other billionaire’s of the “robber baron” era. With no government to break up his monopoly (and an Objectivist philosophy that basically said it would be morally wrong for him to give anything away to charity) his fortune would have grown even larger, his descendants would now not only control 90% of the US oil supply, but probably 90% of the US energy supply as well as many public utilities (e.g. internet access, water, hospitals, police, fire services, etc.). At this point, they become the defacto ruling royal family of the US, emperors in all but name, with the role of US president essentially becoming “ass kisser in chief” (you can just see the debate with Hilary and Trump demonstrating their butt kissing techniques).

Now libertarians will say, oh that would never happen, we’d just boycott the business of those we don’t like (in which case you need to go look up the meaning of the word “monopoly” cos that’s sort of the problem, you can’t boycott a monopoly!). Or they’ll argue that sooner or later another billionaire will build up an even vaster fortune and take over. Oh great, so because one rich asshole is better at screwing us over than some other rich asshole, he gets to be emperor instead. Ya, that sound way better than our current system of government!

The sad fact is that libertarianism only works if you ignore the last thousand years of history. A libertarian society would quickly become a feudal society, where the rich will grow vast fortunes unchecked and abuse their power without limit. Where the poor, if they are unable to pay the vastly overinflated prices the rich with their monopolies charge, will be at risk of being sold into slavery. Where speaking out will be impossible, as the press and internet are controlled by the rich. And those who do a Robin hood and fight back will be derided as socialists and terrorists.

In truth, if there’s anything that libertarianism is at the oppose end of the political spectrum to it is democracy and free markets.

Trouble at the Mill

Channel 4 viewers may have caught the gritty drama “The Mill” in recent weeks. Apparently it is based on accounts and records held by the Quarry Mill (now owned by the National Trust) of its workers, although one assumes its inevitably been spiced up for TV somewhat. I mean look at the mess on BBC “the White Queen” which is less historical drama and more mediaeval fantasy (i.e. about as historically accurate as Braveheart).

But I digress, the one thing “The Mill” does get right, is its portrayal of the sorts of working conditions many toiled under in the 1830’s, a time when even children were expected to put in over 12 hours a day worth of back breaking and often highly dangerous labour. And even adult workers faced working long hours for starvation wages. Many workers lived (when not working) in slum like conditions, two families to a room sort of thing. The series also shows who workers began to unite and get organised and lobby to see things changed, and of course the resistance of the upper classes to such changes.

Indeed the arguments against the Factory Acts or the 10 hour rule (with management saying, oh what’s wrong with a child working for 12 hrs? why they’ll be so fit and healthy after just 10, they’ll go off and do another night job with someone else and then never get any school or rest! :crazy:) sounds remarkably similar to the sort of spin that comes out these days, such as when, for example, its suggested the Starbucks & Amazon’s of this world actually pay some tax. Or that the rich pay a bit more (even just a one off payment from the $21 trillion cash pile they’ve stashed away). We’re led to believe that they will abandon their plush multi-million pound houses and billion pound a year turn-over businesses and flee abroad…and if you believe that then you probably also believe in this big jolly guy dressed in in red.

But going back to the Mill. The 1800’s wasn’t just a period which gave us the Industrial revolution, railways, industry, the labour movement and the middle classes but also it was the era that communism began to evolve. And when I say communism, I’m not talking about what comes out of David Miliband’s mouth (if he was around in 1830 he won’t have even been allowed to join a labour union on grounds of being too posh and right wing! ;D) but the Karl Marx (who was living in England at the time) “workers of the world unite” variety. Never mind taxing the rich a little bit, no take away everything they’ve got and put them on a train to Siberia sort of stuff.

Such notions (a belief that capitalism is institutionally corrupt and that democracy will always work in favour of those who can afford to buy elections) can strike the modern person, even those who are left wing leaning, as being a tad extreme. But seen through the prism of an oppressed worker in a British cotton mill or a downtrodden peasant farmer of the 1800’s or 1900’s it made perfect sense. It is really no big surprise that Russia was the first country in the world to go communist. The term “serf” for the working class of Russia has entered the dictionary as a word to describe extremes of social oppression.

Leaving Cert and A-level history papers often ask the question “why did Russia become communist?”. I’m tempted to reply “like Dah!”. Perhaps the real question is “why didn’t Britain become communist?”

And I would reply that what prevented the communist root taking seed in the UK was the actions of progressive reformers and politicians who sought to find a middle ground. Thanks to people such as Robert Peel, John Russell, Keir Hardie, Lloyd George, Gladstone and Attlee, gradually laws were brought in that protected workers rights, recognised trade unions, improved workers pay and living conditions (which ultimately led to the creation of what we now call the middle class), while at the same time effectively saving the capitalists from they’re greedy selves.

The rich were also made to first pay some tax (traditionally since feudal times the upper classes have never been expected to pay much, that’s the job of the workers and peasants!) but gradually more and more tax, in order to help meet the costs of an expanding welfare state.

Now the problem of course is that since Thatcher there’s been a gradual erosion of these hard won laws and freedoms. I mean where not far off the situation in the 1800’s when strikes were practically illegal…and of course as a consequence back then in lieu of a strike disgruntled workers often sabotaged production or burnt down their factory / bosses house….often with him still in it! (how long before this carry on happens again?).

Also in the UK, US and other Western countries the proportion of taxes paid by the top 1% peaked in the 1970’s, even thought since then many have seen their incomes skyrocket. Indeed many more of the very top earners pay no tax at all, as compared to previous generations.

And of course the Tories under Cameron have accelerated these trends, by cutting away yet more regulations, slashing benefits, tax cuts that benefit the wealthy and increasingly the privatisation of public services like the Royal Mail, NHS, Prisons and policing.

And there are some, notably libertarians who say we should go even further, getting rid of most if not all laws and taxes.

My response to that is to suggest they (and the Tories) read a history book. Because nine times out of ten you’ll find there was a perfectly good reason for said regulation being put in place or that social benefit being offered and thus good reasons to maintain it. Its equivalent to arguing that a building which hasn’t burnt down for decades doesn’t need a fire escape anymore, even though the last time it did catch fire, decades ago, the records show that everyone inside was burnt to a crisp.

In short, we tried unregulated turbo capitalism (then known as Lassie-faire) back in the Georgian & Victorian era and it didn’t work out so well. As anyone whose ever even read a Charles Dickens novel will know, Lassie-faire certainly did allow a small number of very greedy people to acquire (and then ultimately squander) vast fortunes, but it also led to enormous hardship and poverty for the majority (back then it was not unusual to have to step over dead bodies on the streets of London), actual famines within the UK (in Ireland and Scotland), violent crime rates that would make Baghdad look safe (back then the better off needed armed body guards or have a pistol handy whenever they went out and about) and nearly led to a communist revolution. Thus trying again is not recommended.

As for “The Mill” I’m still waiting for someone in it to say that line “there’s trouble at ‘t Mill” so they can do the Monty Python sketch, although I presume in this case the guys in red who burst in will be a bunch of Trade Unionists ;b.

Telly Addicts

As I’ve no TV at home, I’ve been catching up on my TV in Ireland. Saw a few interesting programs. I finally got to saw the end of the series “Pillars of the Earth”. While I wasn’t too keen on the Scooby Doo style ending to the series (let’s see who this Bishop Waleran really is.…why it’s the old man from scene 34!) I did like how they portrayed the ad-hoc nature of how things were built in those days. The Engineers and builders of the era literally made up the design of structures as they went along. The roof starts to crack due to heavy loading? Used a ribbed vault, and/or pointed arches (all based on the mathematics invented by the Ancient Greeks). The wind load in a storm causes more cracks? Flying buttresses get installed. It does make you realise that when you look at a historic building how much effort, both intellectual, artistic and physical brute force, went into building these things.

Given that it could take generations of builders to finish a cathedral or castle it also shows you how forward thinking people were back then. In order to meet our future energy needs for example there are a whole host of things we should be building right now, arrays of wind/wave/solar energy systems, deep underground repositories for spent nuclear fuel, new mines to extract rare Earth metals (so we don’t have to rely solely on China for them), new recycling facilities, large scale tree farming of hard wood trees (absorb more carbon dioxide & provides excellent building materials), building a HVDC network or a hydrogen distribution network, I could go on all day. But no, none of this is being built because if you try to get any of the above approved and you get questions about cost (and how costly will it be when the lights go out?), or it will spoil the view…etc. you have to conclude that are not as forward thinking as people in the middle ages. I also liked all those olde English Trade names, Tom Builder was a builder, the Butcher was called Mr Butcher, Mr Potter made pots….I don’t want to know what the Crapper’s, Nutter’s, Hoare’s or Cockers did!

Another interesting programme was strangely enough Upstairs/downstairs. Wha? Well I thought it was interesting in that they hinted at what I always assumed was a taboo subject in Britain – the “coup” of 1936. I don’t know if you, like me, have ever been entirely satisfied with the explanation for the resignation of King Edward VIII, i.e that the government blocked his marriage to an American Divorcee. While yes, I’m sure images of some ghastly American on the throne in the future (King Homer Simpson? Queen Sarah Palin?) probably filled the establishment at the time with dread, I think this was pretty minor compared to the concerns of them about the new King’s (and his future wife’s) overt closeness to certain goose stepping foreigners. In 1936 it was becoming clear (reoccupation of the Rhineland, invasion of Ethiopia, Spanish civil war) that the fascist regimes would probably have to be confronted in some way in the future, and it wouldn’t do for the UK to have a King friendly with the Gerry’s while they’re bombing the shite out of us (especially after the fiasco at the start of the 1st world war when the official name of the Royal family was still Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, they changed it to “Windsor” during the war….thought Mark Thomas wants it changed now to “lower Slough”).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Saxe-Coburg_and_Gotha

http://www.sloughobserver.co.uk/news/roundup/articles/2009/05/29/38841-will-windsor-soon-become-lower-slough/

While the excuse may well have been the wedding to a divorcee, I suspect that the real reason for the pressure on the King to resign was the concern about his politics. In essence it wasn’t so much an abdication but more of a coup, but a very British coup (“You’re Highness, you would mind doing us this small favour old chappy?…. Could you be so kind as to resign at once and fuck off to France, as we can’t have a goose stepping b@$t@rd on the throne at the same time we’re fighting the chap’s in Europe, now… can we?….And while I hate to impose on you, old fellow, but if you aren’t a good sport on this…I’m afraid I shall have to ask some of my Eton chums from GCHQ to push down some stairs….so if you’d be so kind, you’re majesty, what! What!”).

For comedy, I watched Fox news or Sky news. Well, its funny so long as you don’t take anything they say seriously, i.e treat it like people did Pravda in its day (the soviet newspaper called “truth” even thought it was well known for being essential absent of any). My favourite quote? They talked at one point of bringing back fox hunting “…due to a spate of fox attacks on people in recent years….” Wha?…..far as I’m aware there’s only been one confirmed case of a fox attack against a person in the last few decades, that being the juvenile fox that got into a kids bedroom last year (and it’s scratching the kid was likely accidental or an instinct of self defence). One “attack” hardly constitutes a “spate” of attacks.

There are plenty of reasons to hunt foxes, lets not start inventing them. And something tells me letting the horse & hound’s loose in the middle of a city centre (to go after urban foxes) would be a tad impractical (the Neds will be inventing a new sport of “toff hunting” chasing after the toffs in they’re Honda Civics with their Pit Bull terriers in tow). Personally, my objection to fox hunting is on the basis of efficiency: why does it take 50 dogs and twenty people on horses to do a job, that can be done equally as well by 2 dogs and a guy with a gun and a flash light? There is a recession on you know! Furthermore, the only reason why foxes are a problem is because the natural predators of foxes (birds of prey, lynx) have been eliminated and there is a surplus of prey species for them to feed on (birds, rabbits, voles, rats, mice, etc.) largely because of our elimination of predators, land use choices and in cities plenty of food waste for them to scavenge. People screwing around with the environment inevitably creates problems – go ask the Aussie’s or Kiwi’s. For example city centre litter means we now also have a problem in most cities with Seagulls…of course it used to be the same thing but with Starlings, city authorities launched a war on starlings…and the pigeons took over…. We got rid of the pigeons….and the seagulls took over! What next? We get rid of the Seagulls and have golden Eagles swooping down and lifting kids out of they’re prams? Get rid of the foxes and will we be overrun with rats? Better to deal with the source of the problem, i.e excessive litter and a lack of recycling of waste, then worry about the foxes.

Then there was 4 rooms, the Tarantino film that got all those bad reviews. Okay, it wasn’t a great film, but it certainly wasn’t a bad film. Don’t believe what you hear in the reviews. For example the latest Tarantino/Rodriquez outing, Machete, got also pretty rotten reviews. I think what the critics didn’t realise is it’s supposed to be a deliberate effort to imitate a bad 80’s B movie. Its sort of a case of rather than a film being good despite being so cheesy, its good, because its so cheesy & full of plot holes.

There was a documentary on Bill Hicks, some excellent quotes from him:

He was heckled by this guy after a joke he made about Flag burning “…Guy said to me: My daddy died fightin the Chinese in Korea to protect that flag….I [Bill] goes, we’ll that’s funny, cos you turn my flag over here and its say’s: Made in China..”

Or “what is it with Christians and crucifix, if Jesus comes back you guys are all screwed, cos I reckon after what he went thro the last thing he wants to see is a load of damn crosses…..be sort of like going up to Jacqueline Onassis with a little symbol of a sniper rifle around you’re neck…”

“These guys came up to me after a show and said “we’re Christians and we don’t like what you’ve been sayin about Christ-ian-aty”…so I goes, well then forgive me!”

Any of ye familiar with the Downfall internet Meme, here Hitler is informed he will have to fly Ryanair for his Christmas Skiing holiday

And here’s the new Ryanair safety video