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Derb’s Geography


So that’s why Grandad was so attached to his pipe!

Quagmire Watch


From today’s New York Times:

“Expecting a warm tribal welcome when they marched into Iraq to toss out the Ottomans, the British instead were met with hostility from the [local] tribes, which united to massacre tens of thousands of British soldiers.”

I’m no expert on Britain’s World War One campaign in Mesopotamia (roughly today’s Iraq), but, hard fought though it was, to talk of the “massacre” of tens of thousands of British troops is, I suspect, a wild exaggeration. The worst massacre was in the aftermath of the fall of Kut, a disaster that saw the capture of 12,000 British and Indian troops. They were sent north to Anatolia by the Turks on a Bataan-style death march in which 1,750 British and 2,500 Indians perished.

When it came to fighting the Brits, it was the Turks who showed the most enthusiasm. The attitude of the local Arabs (today’s Iraqis) towards defending their Ottoman overlords was more ambivalent.

As to the response to the inhabitants of Baghdad when the British finally arrived, one British historian (AJ Barker) writing in the 1960s described the scene as follows:

“It was a bewildering reception. Persians dressed like Joseph in long silken coats of many colours; red-fezzed oriental Jews in misfit European clothing; handsome Armenian refugees who had spent the night huddled in Christian churches, fearful of their fate if any of the fleeing Turks learned of their existence; lordly turbaned Muslims in black flowing robes – all turned out to cheer them as [the British] tramped through the Southern Gate. It was a gala display, a fiesta…”

Of course, assuming that the welcome would be like that this time would be to invite overconfidence and thus disaster, but, let’s just say that the historical precedents are not as bleak as that article might suggest.

Re-read too that description of that wonderful polyglot, multi-faith Baghdad and mourn its loss.


More Geography


Is the Corner in Middle Earth? I don’t know, Kathryn, that seem likes an example of Derb-style geography to me. Mind you, I’ve no idea where exactly the Corner is. I’m sure that not a few detractors would locate it somewhere deep in the Twilight Zone.

Web Briefing: September 22, 2014

“The Four Yorkshiremen”


For the Monty Python sketch Prof. Dr. Stuttaford refers to below, go here. It’s one of their all-time best (which is saying a lot).


Edwards Loves Stone


Senator Edwards may not be able to name his favorite philosopher, but he could name his favorite book: The Trial of Socrates by I.F. Stone.

Philosophy Philistines


Pundits mocked President Bush when, during the campaign, he named Jesus Christ as his favorite philosopher. This morning on ABC’s “This Week” Senator, and presidential hopeful, John Edwards was asked the same question and came up blank.

Edwards V. Cook


That is what CWA’s Tom Jipping predicts. This would be predictable, and very unfortunate. Whatever her faults, Justice Cook stands head and shoulders above her colleagues on the Ohio Supreme Court, and would be a welcome addition to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Fortunately for her, she has the enthusiastic support of both Senators Voinovich and DeWine.



Between the weird British infighting and the Louisiana dispatches…where am I again, oh, yeah, Middle Earth, right? Thank goodness I’m in the middle of the greatest city in the world, the one that never sleeps, ’cause I need a drink. Enough snippy posting for now.

Derb’s Geography


The Fens, Ely, Wisbech? That’s Cambridgeshire – miles to the west.

But, John, while we’re on the topic of those naughty poppies, here’s what Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote (in 1808) about your native territory:

“I shall deem it a sacred Duty to publish my Case, tho’ without my name — for the practice of taking Opium is dreadfully spread. — Throughout Lancashire & Yorkshire it is the common Dram of the lower orders of People — in the small Town of Thorpe the Druggist informed me, that he commonly sold on market days two or three Pound of Opium, & a Gallon of Laudanum — all among the labouring Classes.” (CL, iii 125-6)

Medgar Flowers Is a Great American


In Louisiana, if somebody invades your house, you can shoot their sorry butt dead, and the police don’t care. It’s the law. And it’s a good law, too.

Stuttaford Roots


East Norfolk, hmmm? Let’s see…. “In the Fens, where suffering from
rheumatism was universal and opium was a sovereign remedy, most people grew
it in their gradens… Ely was known as ‘the opium-eating city’… Women
and children were the biggest consumers, but everyone seems to have taken it
occasionally. In Wisbech, you went into a shop, put a penny on the counter,
the shopkeeper asked ‘The best?’ you nodded, and a package of opium was
handed over…” (Paul Johnson, The Birth of the Modern)

Blast From The Past


There’s an intriguing story in today’s New York Times about Dr. Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s new minister of defense. Her father was an air force general who worked with the Allende government. He died in prison under the Pinochet regime. Appallingly, General Bachelet was tortured, torture that apparently contributed to his death. His daughter too was jailed for a few months and, disgracefully, tortured, “beaten and blindfolded”, herself. To that extent, her new appointment represents a satisfying turn of events, especially as (at least as portrayed by the always suspect New York Times) she appears a rather sympathetic character.

But the past is never straightforward and the Times’ piece contains rather more nuance than might usually be expected from that source. We read that the fact that General Bachelet was required to “work with” (“collaborate” would, I suppose, have been too loaded a word) “Cuban advisers and members of groups advocating armed revolution did nothing to endear him to his fellow officers.” Indeed. Torture, of course, is not exactly unknown in Castro’s Cuba, and we can suppose that any “armed revolution” in Chile would have been far from gentle.

Eventually, Dr. Bachelet’s mother was expelled and “the two women went into exile, first in Australia and then in East Germany.”

Australia, I can understand, but East Germany? The GDR, a grim, gray suburb of the Gulag, a country of barbed wire, political prisoners, and the Berlin Wall, was a curious choice for people (I would imagine) describing themselves as refugees from oppression.

Bachelet’s story is a reminder of the trickiness of history, that most essential of disciplines. Elsewhere in today’s paper, that point is underlined by a story (on a new museum dedicated to the British empire) concluding with this quote from Cicero:

“Not to have knowledge of what happened before you were born is to be condemned to live forever as a child.”

That’s something to remember the next time you read about dumbed-down history teaching.

When Worlds Collide


Claude Vorilhon (‘Rael’) has just announced that he wants to be ’plastinated’ after his death.

British Justice


Here’s what it boils down to. Remember that the UK is a country with a tendency to jail people who defend themselves, but if the state can’t (or, increasingly, won’t) what alternative do they have?

British Gun Control


British Blogger Michael Peach gets it.

Via Samizdata.

Dubious Dubai


This story from Dubai looks deeply disturbing, to put it mildly. A French visitor to the country accuses three men of rape. Now she is now facing possible prosecution for ‘adultery’. The French foreign ministry shows itself to be a worthy winner of today’s Tallahassee Democrat cowardice prize for saying that it “cannot make too much noise for fear of upsetting religious sensibilities over there”.



Speaking of Puritans, a number of people have written to complain that my recent post referring to the anti-smoking vigilantes of Bowdoin College as ‘Puritans’ was unfair. The original Puritans, I was told, were fun-loving folk, and one reader referred me to this website.

Is this true? I’ve no idea. In 17th Century England the Puritans were a pretty grim crowd. Perhaps they were more cheerful over here.

Left Luxury


The British Labour Party is, now, selling Champagne. There seem to be worries that this may shock some of the puritanical folk all too often found on the left of the politics. It shouldn’t. There is an entertaining (and possibly even true) story about one of the Labour grandees (either Nye Bevan or Ernest Bevin, I forget which) of the early post-war years being criticized for being seen to indulge in Champagne with rather too much gusto. Champagne, it was felt, was too elitist a choice for such a supposedly egalitarian politician.

Bevin/Bevan disagreed. “Nothing,” he said, “is too good for the working class.”

In one respect, and one respect only, Stalin seems to have felt the same way. In pre-revolutionary Russia ice cream was associated with the richer classes. In the new Soviet paradise it was decreed that this delicacy should be available for all, and that is why (it is said), up until the mid-1990s at least, it was always possible (in Moscow certainly) to buy delicious, if slightly sinister-looking, ice cream from ladies manning little vendor carts near Metro stations and similar spots all over the city. The cost? A few Kopecks. The taste – delicious, particularly in winter.

Derb De Luxe


That’s typical Derbyshire, that is, a new American always trying to claim that he was indeed one of the huddled masses. Don’t be fooled by his self-pitying depictions of a rain-lashed childhood amid the cobblestones, clogs and class resentment of Northern England. Piccalilli, indeed! The Derb was clearly brought up in conditions of sybaritic luxury. In the flatlands and marshes of East Norfolk we could only dream of such delights (it is, I somehow seem to remember – a one-off treat, doubtless – very good with ham).

For more in this vein, please see the appropriate Monty Python sketch.

Branston Pickle


Let me hasten to inform my fellow Americans that Branston Pickle is popular
only among the effete, smooth-skinned, Frenchified lotus-eaters of Southern
England. Up north, where men are men and women are glad of it, the
condiment of choice is Picalilli, a.k.a. “Lancashire kimchi.”


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