First, let me say that I went with my German partner. Her endorsement of the exhibition is praise indeed, knowing all too well that the English, particularly, focus on the country’s Nazi past. This exhibition has something else important to say about the German Nation’s history.
Okay, now to a few quibbles. First, normally I expect to be able to take photographs in an exhibition, not least to upload to this blog. But, here, photography is not allowed. And it is enforced. One assumes this is to protect the value of the accompanying products that one can buy in the shop including Neil MacGregor’s thick tome (right).
Second, the British Museum is huge. For some reason, the powers that be at the Museum have located this exhibition in, what amounts to, a cupboard. The space is far too small not only for the numbers of visitors, but also the exhibits themselves. And for some inexplicable reason, the British Museum does not seem to have learned too much about exhibiting.
For example, in the years of German hyperinflation, German towns produced their own currencies -they being as valuable as the national currency. Such is the nature of hyperinflation. The towns printed their own bank notes. They were often colourfully printed with very particular designs. In essence, they demanded a very close scrutiny. But the museum has made it virtually impossible to scrutinise these artefacts. They are locked in a glass case set against a wall. They are three or four abreast. Unless one is 2 metres tall, inspecting the detail is impossible.
And even those artefacts that are not in glass cases (most seem to be), they are not exhibited at the height that best suits most of us. Take, for example, the exquisite Strasbourg Clock (left). This image features Neil MacGregor, the boss of the British Museum and the author of the book and presenter of the 30-part BBC radio series accompanying the exhibition. The clock enjoys amazing detail in terms of figures and engravings over-and-above the feat of timekeeping technology that makes it work. And rest assured, it is amazing. But actually, I saw more of it on the BBC website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p028bdxq) than I did at the exhibition. I’m just not tall enough.
The European Space Agency has, in the last 10 minutes, landed a probe (left) on the surface of a comet for the first time. This is important as it may help explain the origins of life on Earth as comets were there at the formation of the solar system. Notwithstanding the technical feat associated with achieving a landing on a rocky object travelling at 18km/s and is 510 million kilometers away (it takes over 30 minutes to get a signal back to Earth from the craft).
There is a real UK political dimension to this captured brilliantly in a tweet:
The UK Conservatives now argue that too many people – cast out on to the Mediterranean Sea in unsuitable boats by unscrupulous traffickers – have been saved by benevolent Europeans. So much so that it generates an incentive for more people to try it, safe in the knowledge that they will be rescued when the vessel capsizes.
Even if this were true – and no hard evidence to my knowledge has been presented to back it up – it is immoral. Knowingly ignoring victims of traffickers, fleeing from wars, economic crises and penuary caused largely by us is criminal.
And again, leading the way is the Home Secretary, Theresa May (above left). I used to think that these illiberal and racist policies were a response to UKIP. Now, however, I sense that UKIP is merely an excuse. The Conservatives really do believe in these policies.
The new boss of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, this week wrote a much-reported article in the Financial Times arguing that in order to stay safe we must give up our [right to] privacy. We must accept blanket surveillance of our online communications. He is frustrated that the large US tech firms that dominate the social media world are uncooperative. Consequently they are the ‘command and control networks of choice’ of international terrorists and paedophiles.
Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? Here is a man whose job it is to do communication surveillance. In recent years – and certainly since Snowden – its legitimacy has been questioned. We may have asked, ‘in whose interests is this surveillance’? And if it is for us – citizens – then how would we know? We are never given the data that would tell us how effective it is in preventing attacks or the abuse of children.
Now, Mr Hannigan (right) has asserted that all of CGHQ’s surveillance is undertaken to protect us against attack from whomever or whatever. Again, there is no evidence that surveillance protects us, but the security services remain powerful arms of the state. The more surveillance they do, the more money they get. The more they convince us that only more surveillance can protect us – and we believe it – the more resources they will command and the less free we will be. And bearing in mind they tell us that surveillance is needed to keep us free, one wonders what kind of freedom they have in mind.
Naturally, the ‘if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear’ argument still resonates. But as Martha Lane Fox – one time government-appointed Tsar for digital inclusion and founder of lastminute.com - and anything but a crazy libertarian - said through a number of new and old media yesterday, “I would not want GCHQ to come and rummage in my front room and that is how I feel about whatever device I am using”. Moreover, the security services already have significant powers to investigate communication, not least through DRIP which a subservient UK Parliament rushed into law before the summer recess in 2014. Again, at the behest of the security services.
But what these people really dislike is the idea that ordinary people can encrypt their own communication. On the whole, our communication is unencrypted. The devices that we use are easily accessible to outside forces (with a few exceptions, notably Blackberry handsets). When we download an app we invariable sign away privacy in order to use it. But I do feel that I – and others – have a right to privacy and that the security services have enough power already to investigate any wrongdoing on my part. But they do need, first, to have sufficient evidence to get the warrant to invade my privacy. They are not the rights holders. We are.
Picture: GCHQ – MoD; Robert Hannigan – gov.uk
The Rochester and Strood by-election was caused by the resignation of the incumbent Conservative, Mark Reckless, as a result of his defection to UKIP. The by-election is an opportunity for any number of disgruntled people to stand for election. By-elections – particularly towards the end of a parliamentary period – often throw up surprises. Probably not enough to elect Britain First’s candidate, Jayda Fransen. Never mind, she seems quite friendly with UKIPers if this happy photo is anything to go by. Might they have much in common?
Picture: Britain First website
This is Spectacle Hut in Hastings, UK. Nothing special, just one of those high-street opticians. They are open 7 days a week and there are eyesight test appointments available on Sundays. And how do we know this? Well through a crass poster (right).
Now I’m an atheist and certainly no friend of the Catholic Church; but this is just insulting. Put a fully made-up model in a nun’s habit and hey presto, point made. Spectacle Hut, if you are going to stoop this low, at least use a real nun.
Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party said, in the aftermath of his party’s victory in the Clacton bi-election (remind me not to go there), that we should prevent people with HIV (as a proxy for all people with an illness) from coming to the country. Clearly they will make a huge call on the NHS and we should exclude them.
I find these opinions reprehensible. However, I found it ironic that on the very same day (10 October 2014), the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Malala Yousafzai, the young woman who was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan for standing up for her right to an education. After her condition stabilised she came to the UK for specialist treatment in Birmingham (and where eventually she continued her education). Now I do not know if she had private health insurance…
Pall Mall’s Autumn campaign is not really anything to write home about. The packs (left) basically say, “look at me”. But what does it really mean to be a limited edition cigarette; and more bizarrely, to have unlimited taste? Surely they mean lots of carcinogenic burnt tobacco taste that burns one’s tongue and lingers longer than rivals’ brands? Or some such.
Marlboro’s Endurance Man campaign is a little clearer after the arrival of the new poster (right). Endurance Man here has a motorbike, though he remains inexplicably riding across the desert in search of a tobacconist.
It does not take long for an awful reality to reassert itself after the summer tandem riding holiday, even if it was un-summerly and not everyone’s idea of a holiday. For example, what on earth happened in Scotland? Why did the Scots vote to stay dependent on the English elite establishment, fronted by David Cameron. One wonders whether the result would have been different had the Tory Party conference occurred before the vote rather than after it.
It was, of course, at that conference that Chris Grayling, the UK (in)Justice Secretary, announced that should the Tories win outright the next UK election, they will knowingly take us out of the European Convention on Human Rights so as to free the country from those pesky European judges who so often tell us to do things that we do not want to do, such as give votes to prisoners, allow foreign criminals into the country, prevent the extradition of undesirables (especially those with hooks as substitutes for hands) and a ban whole-life sentences for grave crimes. It does, of course, none of these things; the Strasbourg Court merely highlights incompatibilities between UK law and the Convention. See: http://www.tinyurl.com/pszhdky
But instead, we will have a UK Bill of Rights, subject to the whim of the Tory elite to decide whether any citizen’s claims of a breach of human rights is valid or not. Not independent judges, but the likes of Grayling himself. Moreover, this elite used their conference to inform us that we have to allow ourselves to be subjugated, monitored and pacified to maintain security against the threat of terrorists that the elite has created for us through innumerable foreign wars, murder, incarceration and expropriation. The Home Secretary, Theresa May (right), told the conference that the ‘snoopers’ charter’ will be reintroduced to Parliament and passed when there is a Tory majority; but of course one has nothing to fear if one has nothing to hide.
The European Convention is not an EU institution, however. The Convention was scripted by European human rights lawyers, many of them British, in the early 1950s in the aftermath of WWII. To withdraw is to align ourselves with some of the least liberal states in the world; for example, Belarus.
Such a move will precipitate a response from the Council of Europe – which is an EU institution. Ultimately, adherence to the Convention is a reasonable condition for membership of the European Union, if not the United Nations. Of course, getting out of the EU is precisely what Tories want and these arguments play well with their illiberal supporters. It is always gratifying to hear that the Prime Minister is generously giving our European partners one more chance to see sense and allow the UK to contravene the founding treaties that enshrine the concept of the free movement of people across European borders. A right that millions of UK citizens have exploited over the years.
European Court Strasbourg: CherryX, Wikipedia
This is a ride for people who like flirting with national borders; in this case between Belgium and the Netherlands. It is rural and navigated by long avenues and canals. The route takes riders across the border, I presume, in order to visit the historic town of Thorn (below right). It is called “the White Town”; seemingly, there are 105 protected white houses in the town. The church is also impressive. It is a good place for lunch, too.
After Thorn, it is back into Belgium and due south towards Maastrict. En route riders pass through Maaseik. Maaseik boasts a large central square (below, left) a museum and a couple of churches. It is the birthplace of Flemish painters Jan and Hubert van Eyck whose statues are in the central square.
It was late afternoon when we left Maaseik. We refuelled with ice-cream and burned it off along the Zuid Wilemsvaart (canal) and crossed the border again at Smeermaas. In search of hotels on the approach, we ended up in the main square, Vrijthof, that was hosting the annual raucous food festival. The raucousness came from the huge volumes of alcohol being consumed after the eating. Despite that, we found a quiet room in the adjacent Hotel Du Casque.
Maastricht is busy. The shopping streets on the western side of the river are largely car free. There is not much that is unique from any other significant town across Europe with the possible exception of the Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen (bookshop) in an ancient (1294) Dominican church (right).
The east side, however, is modern but conversely more eclectic. It is home to the fantastic ceramic centre (left; when staying in Maastricht, visitors pay tax on hotel rooms for all of the museums and some public buildings like this one). There is some exquisite pottery inside to view. There is also some peculiar items like the tank teapot (right).
It is also home to the ‘drogerie’ with the most wonderful window display and a vegetarian restaurant as good as any (left). And not forgetting the railway station with its ceramic sphinx (below right).