Thursday, 31 January 2013

City of God

"... the social etiquette required for dinner parties at Government House [in Jerusalem under the British Mandate in the 1920s] where Sir Harry Luke, John Chancellor's deputy, remembered how the toastmaster welcomed high commissioners, chief rabbis, chief judges, mayors and patriarchs: 'Your Excellency, Your Honour, Your Beatitudes, Your Eminences, Your Lord Bishops, Your Paternity, Your Reverends, Your Worship, Ladies and Gentlemen.'"

Simon Sebag Montefiore, Jerusalem, the Biography (2011)

Sunday, 20 January 2013

When the dust settles

Lives have been startlingly and numbingly lost. Yet one cannot avoid reflecting on the wider international political significance of recent violent events in Algeria. Some aspects of the incident seemed puzzling from the beginning.

Despite all the murk and lack of information everyone seemed quite confident that the person behind it was Mokhtar Belmokhtar. Yet he appeared to be a man more concerned for his own fortunes than fundamentalist religious gestures.

His men turn up at the site and find a couple of buses conveniently loaded with potential hostages. We hear this is a major site with many armed guards but nothing is heard of them. Anyone might have suggested to Belmokhtar’s men that the wise thing to do would be to blow up the installation (if that was what they wanted – they were said to have semtex) and move out quickly into the desert with a large but manageable number of hostages for future ransom - apparently their source of very large funds in recent years. They didn’t seem to have any very well formulated or negotiable demands. They seemed just to settle down and wait for the predictable arrival of the Algerian army, which of course whacked them with its usual lack of over-much concern for the lives of hostages let alone opponents. A number of people have lost their lives, but we do not know – and probably never will – how serious this whacking was by Algerian army standards. Our Foreign Secretary, William Hague, appears to understand that those standards are rather high: "Whatever people think of them, whatever has been said about the Algerian military, they are experienced." Mr Hague is renowned for his turn of phrase.

However that may be, who has gained? The Algerian government, no doubt looking east and south at Islamist or supposed Islamist uprisings against repressive governments, as well as at the general instability and lawlessness of their desert regions, and now persuaded that their political future lies more and more with western economic and strategic interests (having recently received a cordial visit from the new French president, following close on the footsteps of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), have demonstrated to their unruly subjects and neighbours that they will ruthlessly and effectively put down insurrection or incursion, and have shown western states that they are indispensible and reliable allies in the war on terror, and that international terror is what their troubles are all about (just like Mr Putin’s were). Western states can perhaps find it easier to suggest openly that west Africa needs the kind of treatment given to Yemen - or more.

However that may be, prompt to the cue, come today's remarks from Mr Cameron. First the acknowledgement of the Algerians' role:

"No one should underestimate the difficulties of responding to an attack on this scale with 30 terrorists absolutely determined to take lives, and we should recognise all the Algerians have done to work with us and to help and co-ordinate with us, and I'd like to thank them for that,"

Then the broader message:

"This is a global threat and it will require a global response. It will require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months," he said.

"It requires a response that is patient and painstaking, that is tough but also intelligent, but above all has an absolutely iron resolve and that is what we will deliver over these coming years."

There are parallels between north Africa and Pakistan/Afghanistan, he said.

"It is different in scale but there are similarities. What we face is an extremist Islamist violent al-Qaida-linked terrorist group – just as we have to deal with that in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, so the world needs to come together to deal with this threat in north Africa. It is similar because it is linked to al-Qaida, it wants to destroy our way of life, it believes in killing as many people as it can."
'The world needs to come together...' - one can only hope that the inclusive message finds more resonance than our Prime Minister's earlier claim to his own nation that we were 'all in this together', but Cameron's idea of the globalised world (that's a selective rather than an inclusive qualifier - only the globalised can act globally) coming together to sort out forcefully (or do I mean forcibly?) the problems of a people 'with a per capita gross domestic product of only around US$1,000 a year and average life expectancy of only 51 years - in a territory twice the size of France (per capital GDP $35,000 and upwards)' is more than a little disturbing. However, Cameron's remarks follow much the same script as his remarks yesterday, but focuses attention specifically on Africa as the new theatre of our endless struggle:

"We face a large and existential terrorist threat from a group of extremists based in different parts of the world who want to do the biggest possible amount of damage to our interests and way of life," he said. "Those extremists thrive when they have ungoverned spaces in which they can exist, build and plan."

The idea of moving on to Africa after the highly dubious success in Afghanistan has freed up our military resources is interesting, as is the thought of the possible long-term conflicts between the different styles of western and Chinese involvement in a continent that is seen as so important in terms of natural resources. Apart from the natural gas in question here, uranium for French nuclear electricity generating plants is only one concern - though a nearby one. The US has long had its eye on this problem:

And in a presentation by Vice Admiral Moeller at an Africom conference held at Fort McNair on February 18, 2008 and subsequently posted on the web by the Pentagon, he declared that protecting "the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market" was one of Africom's "guiding principles" and specifically cited "oil disruption," "terrorism," and the "growing influence" of China as major "challenges" to U.S. interests in Africa.

Undoubtedly there are 'extremist Islamist' groups deeply hostile to our 'way of life' but, ironically, they are most conspicuous (and have the deepest pockets) amongst the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia, as Thomas Mountain explains. Elsewhere such extremists are found in the territory of our other ally, Pakistan, and missionaries have been despatched to the Sahel from both quarters. 

Our habit of referring to "Al Qaida 3", as if it were the latest release of a familiar computer program, or to "the Al Qaida franchise in north Africa" (Vicki Huddlestone, herself not always as discerning as some might wish as to which foreign governments to support) encourages us to think that by labelling a thing, and preferably labelling it as a new version of something we tell ourselves we have encountered and understood before, we have got to grips with it, without the wearisome necessity actually to understand the people through whose lives it is currently manifested. Similarly, I find little assurance in Sir Jeremy Greenstock's advice that what the west must do to eliminate the danger to our 'way of life', and to the individual lives of some of us, is to locate and fill 'ungoverned spaces', as if there were nothing there (apart from the well-known enemy) to understand, and just filling the 'space' with any working government is the solution - not the former Libyan government of course, or even the currently toppling Syrian one, but apparently Algeria's would do.

However that may be, perhaps Mr Cameron finds it convenient to be able to issue such stirring words when western military involvement in north Africa is apparently more advanced than is generally acknowledged. Why Mr Cameron should take centre stage in this scene is a little more puzzling but perhaps it is only another aspect of the US 'leading from behind'.

As the man said, those of us who liked Afghanistan are going to love Africa. Apart from anything else, it's so much larger. It all makes Suez look so innocent, a foreign military episode that destroyed a British Prime Minister and saw the United States strong-arm Britain, France and Israel, but Britain especially, into abandonning its military coercion of Egypt - autres temps, autres mÅ“urs - not that it did the US the slightest good in the Arab world.

Weep for England



The air in their tires

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Background reading

I am no expert on north Africa or on any of the groups that our Prime Minister refers to:

"We face a large and existential terrorist threat from a group of extremists based in different parts of the world who want to do the biggest possible amount of damage to our interests and way of life," he said. "Those extremists thrive when they have ungoverned spaces in which they can exist, build and plan."

Yet I can glean enough information to see that the version of events in Algeria presented to us by our politicians and most of our press is largely a mixture of simplification and falsification.

The Algerian government and military are presented to us simply as a tough act with great experience of dealing with terrorism, who might nevertheless have benefitted from British 'intelligence' about illegal and terrorist activity in north Africa. The region (now that the west is adandonning Afghanistan to its fate) is presented to us as a kind of vacuum. Because it does not have a functioning national state government of the type we are accustomed to in the west, there can be no social or economic structure worth taking account of. Yet,

Smuggling has been around in the southern Sahara for as long as trans-Saharan caravan trading has existed, in other words, since time immemorial. The transport of goods from north to south across the Sahara and vice versa is the prerogative of desert people, most notably the Arabs, or Moors, and the Touareg. Members of certain families and clans are caravan traders almost by birthright, and the desert road is in their blood. Nice distinctions between the legality and illegality of different types of cargo matter less to these traders than to the distant governments under whose authority they are supposed to operate. ...

In bygone colonial and pre-colonial times, trans-Saharan trading was often dominated by large Arab families and clans, especially the Cha’ambi from the Tidikelt, the Ahl Azzi of the Touat, the Berabiche clans who lived in the deserts north of Timbuktu and the Kounta who lived on the eastern shores of the Niger bend, north of Gao. These families would trade across the desert with each other, turning the Sahara into one unified economic, social and cultural space. Their activity created links and ties that have survived and gradually mutated into the trading or smuggling networks of today. ... Not only trade goods, but politics, religion, tribal loyalty, power and influence are determined by those ties, making the Sahara one of the most complex regions in the world to understand. This economic and social unity of the Saharan space also explains why the borders imposed on the region at the end of the colonial era were so problematic to livelihoods and connections and so often despised by desert people.

Into this empty space, it is assumed, a distinct transnational corporation, known to us as Al Qaida, inserts itself, rather as a western corporation might move in to exploit and trade in newly discovered natural resources. This intruder is capable of directing, controlling and 'radicalising' the previously inchoate forces of the region (which hitherto had been harmlessly engrossed in killing and robbing each other) so that they become an 'existential threat' to our western civilisation and way of life, and thus the new targets of the 'war on terror'.

The Americans were convinced that the Sahel was becoming a crucible for anti-western terror groups inspired by Islam. Pondering the anti-american topography of the globe, they noticed that a huge contiguous swathe of central Asia, east and west Africa was becoming ‘radicalised’, from Afghanistan, through Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Palestine and Yemen, into Africa via Somalia, the Sudan and across finally to Niger, Mali, Algeria and Mauritania. With that strategic and remote point of view so favoured by intelligence analysts and their political clients, this banana shaped chunk of earth was seen as a homogenous battleground, with each territory within it linked to the others by dark and hostile forces.

Of course it is undeniable that many of the progenitors of these anti-western terror groups inspired by Islam had been brought together in the mujahideen struggle against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, which the west had so assiduously encouraged:

Reagan was determined to make Afghanistan the Soviet Vietnam. Therefore in 1986 he decided to provide the mujahideen with portable surface-to-air Stinger missiles, which proved devastatingly effective in increasing Soviet air losses (particularly helicopters). The war in Afghanistan cost the United States about $1 billion per annum in aid to the mujahideen; it cost the Soviet Union eight times as much, helping bankrupt its economy.

Yet now they should "be on notice they will find no sanctuary, no refuge, not in Algeria or anywhere else, not in North Africa, not anywhere … they will have no place to hide". This is a world seen not as a collection of societies, habitats, communities, but as a battleground, a global chessboard on which pieces are moved, and taken, at will.

At the level of overt policy and action our governments seldom if ever engage with the world as it is and as those involved in its daily social or economic activities actually experience it. They engage instead with a convenient construct, to which all experience and analysis must be fitted. (It is not of course a failing unique to governments: citizens struggling to understand economic and social disintegration in the west may create in their minds a similar monolith and come almost to welcome each new confirmation of gloom and despair: the illusion of understanding is all that is left.) At the same time governments, directly and indirectly, employ vast and varied companies of actors pulling levers and triggers to create events in supposed pursuit or destruction of those political and economic constructs.

Events, dear boy, events; but somehow they have become more malign. No more 'ungoverned spaces' is what we apparently need: never mind how unadept we have shown ourselves in governing spaces on our own doorstep. Perhaps the Algerians, who of course owe much to European colonial history, can show us how to do it.

This follows gradual attempts by Paris to turn a page in its bleak relations with Algiers. Hollande visited Algeria last month, offering a qualified apology for the harm France did to the country during its 132-year rule, and calling for greater economic co-operation between the two countries. This co-operation was to include an increased emphasis on the kind of deals that allowed multinationals such as Total and BP to tap into Algeria's oil and gas riches. ...Co-operation on Mali is clearly a move by the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to respond to Hollande's hand of friendship. Despite years of relative isolationism and mistrust, Bouteflika believes his country's future lies in increased participation in a profit-driven global economy and specifically trade with western neighbours.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Alchemy in our time

It's the 3D printer and the internet. Between them they promise the new perpetual motion: perpetual knowledge and perpetual product, each feeding off itself in the new miracle of limitless creation. Never mind about the second law of thermodynamics (c.1850), look around you: it is self-evident we are headed for perpetual motion, not the heat death of the universe, in which  death is not that of Christian eschatology in which we all fry but the state in which thermodynamic differences may no longer be exploited to perform work. Not a bang; not even a whimper. Energy is the ability to perform work, as I was told in my physics lessons long ago.

But are we? Perhaps the internet is the entropy of knowledge - and the 3D printer heralds not so much the creation of everything out of nothing as the creation of nothing out of everything. An American college student has invented (and intends to market) a miniature desktop plastics recycling plant that will grind your domestic plastic rubbish and render it as cheap filament for your desktop 3D printer, thus enabling you to create for yourself all you need for survival and fulfilment from the dross in your own household - from the cradle to the cradle. The only drawback is that plastics can be reused endlessly (maybe, but maybe not, unable to survive repeated reheating) only if they are kept pure, without mixing the endless different types. So not only does 3D printing herald the end of the mixture of materials that has characterised the most sophisticated art and artifacts for generations (no bejewelled skulls here), but it must sort our plastic waste into reverse purity.

Yet meanwhile, here in my country, we find there is horsemeat in our burgers, our nationwide high-street chain for video rentals has gone into administration, Europe's most charismatic philosopher brings us less than startling news that democracy will not survive austerity as a functioning orderly political system, the most widely used insecticide has for the first time been officially labelled an "unacceptable" danger to bees feeding on flowering crops whilst its manufacturer (Bayer) warns against "over-interpretation of the precautionary principle", the head of BP announces that peak oil theories are becoming 'increasingly groundless' and that carbon dioxide emissions will continue to rise. Despite Google today celebrating the 112th aniversary of the birth of the inventer of the ice-resurfacer, it seems too early for entropy to panic.

The heat death of the universe

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Now we see it; now we don't

The view, that is; not the thing itself. We shall see the Shard for ever, day or night, until we have a return of the 1950s smog, or, as the politicians like to threaten us from time to time, the lights go out, or until the fall of the king of kings.

In a strange way, it has come to seem as if the view is the only thing that matters, as if we have so exhausted ourselves debating the unanswerable question whether the building is a remarkable thing in the wrong place or a remarkable thing in the right place that all there is left to do is to contemplate not the view of the Shard but the view from the Shard. Something of a relief if we can ignore the building itself, like M. Piano as he takes his monthly lunch in the shadow of his true flame, the Pompidou Centre.

The whole history of this building is rife with strange distinctions. Originally it was thought the developer had but a slim chance of doing what he wanted with his site, but middle eastern money came to his aid, as did the architectural kudos of Renzo Piano who, by making the building slimmer than ever, substantially beefed up its chances of seeing the light of day, and night.

Yet, rather like the Cheshire Cat's smile, all we seem to be left with is that view. There's no gainsaying the view. And, just as the cat may look at the king, anyone may look at the view, and the suggestion is half made that the view is the public benefaction: this is development with the new, magic ingredient, 'public space' (only necessary since commercial development became so large, so intrusive upon the public view and recently came increasingly to gobble up what once was public space - the new urban enclosures). You don't need to go to the expensive restaurant to enjoy this 'public space', still less inhabit one of the doubtless suitably astronomically expensive apartments. ('But the biggest factor [underlying the trend for taller development] in many cities is said to be a sharp increase in prices for luxury apartments.' Architects' Journal reporting the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.)

There is the slightly inconvenient fact (regretted by the architect, but he tells us he was instructed to keep his nose out of it) that it will cost Joe public £24.95 (on-line advance booking - in the spirit of the latest cultural block-buster at the Royal Academy) to get to see the view, and 'also be treated to a visit to the Shard’s exclusive loos on the 68th floor, which offer dynamic [sic] views of the city' - I am reliably informed that reports that the waste products are ecologically processed at 300 metres and vapourised into the upper atmosphere are premature. Nevertheless, tickets for the first two days are already sold out, and there is always the cost of the London Eye (from £17.28) to be called in aid - conveniently ignoring the fact that the London Eye exists only to whisk people up in a scenic orbit and is not a piece of commercial real estate expecting to make vast profits from the public grant of development permission.

That indefatigable populist, supporter of the new financial capital (in both senses of capital), that mayor over the water, Ken Livingstone, has the answer and has proposed that every London schoolchild (Harrow and Eton excluded) should be given one free admission to the floor with a view, rather in the spirit I suppose in which, when I was a schoolchild, we were each given a coronation mug stuffed with sweeties in the expectation that it would make us royalists for life. 'People will feel [the Shard] belongs to them,' Ken predicted a year ago.

It's the view, stupid. Originally the planning logic was that a small number of new skyscrapers should be allowed at major London rail termini, so that presumably the drones could be trundled in on their cramped commuter trains and taken straight up to their work stations aloft without cluttering the pavements. So much for the convivial city, and maybe that's why, if you are just ambling around savouring the bustling built fabric of things and, coming upon the Shard, you decide on an impulse to go up for the view, it will cost you not £25 but £100. (Someone pointed out that if you were in a group of three or four you could hire a helicopter flight for no more expense.)

A view is a view is a view, one might say, but, ironically, on most, less than clear days, the view is a view of ourselves, or rather of the humbler built detritus below. Perhaps the developers of tall buildings will start buying that up to replace it with more picturesque scenery for the benefit of their denizens as, in Lord Foster's words, they 'ascend up into the light'. Yet for the meanwhile the view remains a less spiritual experience than it might be, and perhaps the 'exclusive loo' (that's presumably the cubicle you can lock from the inside) remains the most appropriate seat from which to contemplate it. 

Then there was a requirement that these few new skyscrapers should be of exceptional architectural distinction: there is of course an inexorable logic that the extent to which planning policy relies upon 'architectural merit' is in inverse proportion to any agreement as to what constitutes such merit (whereas we can all agree on what makes a good view - chiefly height).

Of course, despite it all, even if the powers that be cannot tell an architectural gem from a carbuncle or a pile of money, they do have a directory of starchitects in their bottom drawers. And somehow, with their noble aid (and a bit more of that oh-so-sovereign wealth), the skyscrapers have escaped from their terminal pens and are striding across London, ready for Hong Kong or King Kong - whichever gets here first.

Kong perches

For myself, I just wonder why they built it upside down.

Blairchitecture: 'Ascend up into the light'

Here's one I designed earlier: Pyramind of Peace and Accord
The Pyramid of Peace and Accord was commissioned from Lord Norman Foster by the president of Kazakhstan in Astana, to where Nursultan Nazarbayev moved the state capital in 1997.

The building was conceived to host a congress of world religious leaders. It contains an opera house in the basement. "As you ascend up the pyramid you ascend up into the light," Lord Foster said: his intention was to build a pyramid "so light that it will appear to float away".

Nazarbayev expressed anti-religious views when he was president during the Soviet period, but since the breakup of the union and his continued presidency (most recently endorsed in a 2011 election in which he received 95.54 per cent of the vote) he has stressed his Muslim beliefs and undertaken the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Kazakhstan, which has significant hydro-carbon reserves, is now sometimes referred to as 'the Singapore of the Steppes': not only has its president been lauded in a recent book by Jonathan Aitken, the former British government minister imprisoned for perjury in 1999, but it enjoys, for a reputed £13 million fee, the advice of our former prime-minster, Tony Blair, and his contacts and associates.

Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song

Along the Thames a vast linear city was built in the 2000s, without ever being officially planned, announced or publicised. Briefly interrupted by central London's historic riverside buildings, to the east it starts at the Millennium bridge, to the west at Vauxhall bridge, with the apparition of the huge, hideous and expanding St George's Wharf complex. This linear city is a buy-to-let paradise, an almost endless enfilade of green glass, terracotta and wavy roofs, the boom's most visible legacy in London, blocking and defining the river. Only a handful of structures really stand in its way and interrupt it – the largest of them by far the rotting and magnificent hulk of Battersea power station, its stock-brick solidity a remarkable contrast to the Trespa all around. Except now, it's being pulled back in, as surely as the warehouses-cum-penthouses of Shad Thames, as part of perhaps the final big riverside development. A tube extension, bizarrely considered a priority by central government, has dragged this last post-industrial waste back into service. The flats went on sale two days ago, instantly snapped up by investors undeterred by the massive price tag.

Owen Hatherley

Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.

What became clear to the London Assembly’s Planning and Spatial Development Committee is that the Thames' understandable attraction as a location for exclusive residential development not only compromises the adequate provision of a riverside path but also results in the Thames being barricaded from its immediate hinterland and the rest of London.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

A new amendment

Aaron Swartz, 8 November 1986 - 11 January 2013
Whatever else is true, Swartz was destroyed by a "justice" system that fully protects the most egregious criminals as long as they are members of or useful to the nation's most powerful factions, but punishes with incomparable mercilessness and harshness those who lack power and, most of all, those who challenge power.

Woolly liberal

Man and Nature: out of balance

For two centuries, since the Age of the Enlightenment, we assumed that whatever the advance of science, whatever the economic development, whatever the increase in human numbers, the world would go on much the same. That was progress. And that was what we wanted.

Now we know that this is no longer true.

We have become more and more aware of the growing imbalance between our species and other species, between population and resources, between humankind and the natural order of which we are part.

In recent years, we have been playing with the conditions of the life we know on the surface of our planet. We have cared too little for our seas, our forests and our land. We have treated the air and the oceans like a dustbin. We have come to realise that man's activities and numbers threaten to upset the biological balance which we have taken for granted and on which human life depends.

We must remember our duty to Nature before it is too late. That duty is constant. It is never completed. It lives on as we breathe. It endures as we eat and sleep, work and rest, as we are born and as we pass away. The duty to Nature will remain long after our own endeavours have brought peace to the Middle East. It will weigh on our shoulders for as long as we wish to dwell on a living and thriving planet, and hand it on to our children and theirs.

Margaret Thatcher, speech to the Second World Climate Conference, Geneva, November 1990

Friday, 11 January 2013

Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.

Thomas Hollis, 1720-1774, by Joseph Wilton, now in the National Portrait Gallery, London

For Thomas Hollis, libertarian, writer, bibliophile and patron of the arts, it was less than sixty years.

The London-born philosopher, radical propagandist and philanthropist Thomas Hollis was politically progressive, devoting his life to lobbying for parliamentary reform, opposing corruption and promoting democracy. Hollis's 'Great Plan' to reform public life, begun in 1754, shaped political debate in Britain and created an identity for the London Opposition, the most significant political force outside government from the 1750s to the 1770s. This group was united by their suspicion of Court and commercial influence over political life and their admiration for a classical ideal of the independent, virtuous, selfless statesman.

Hollis's programme included the anonymous publication and distribution of thousands of volumes and prints promoting the concept of liberty to public institutions in Britain, America and Europe. His patronage was extensive and he wrote articles, designed prints and commissioned coins and medals to promote his political agenda. He promoted the work of sympathetic artists, such as Robert Edge Pine and Giovanni Cipriani, and gave advice to other artists including Joseph Nollekens. He was also heavily involved in the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, now known as the Royal Society of Arts. Hollis's substantial cultural achievements and patronage ensured that the Whig concept of liberty and public service continued to have an influence on British political thought and public life.

Hollis was educated at Adams Grammar School until the age of 10, and then in St. Albans until 15, before learning French, Dutch and accountancy in Amsterdam. After the death of his father in 1735, his guardian was a John Hollister. He was trained in this time in public service by John Ward of Gresham College, London. He took chambers with Lincoln's Inn from 1740 to 1748, though without ever reading law. By this time he was a man of considerable wealth having inherited from his father, grandfather and uncle.

In 1748–9 he toured Europe with Thomas Brand (later Brand Hollis) and again during 1750–53, largely on his own, meeting many leading French philosophers and several Italian painters. Back in England, he was an ardent member of the Society of Arts. He proposed Piranesi for membership of the Society of Antiquaries, gave numerous commissions to Cipriani, and, as one of Canaletto's best friends in England, commissioned six paintings from him. These paintings included Old Walton Bridge in which Hollis, his heir Thomas Brand and Hollis's manservant were depicted, also the interior of the rotunda at Ranelagh. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1757. He was well connected, knowing Francis Blackburne and Theophilus Lindsey, John Wilkes, several peers, and the elder William Pitt. He was a governor of Guy's and St Thomas's hospitals, and a guardian of the asylum and Magdalen Hospital.

Hollis's main contribution to public service was protecting and advancing English liberty by circulating appropriate books on government. From 1754, he reprinted and distributed literature from the 17th century. Including works such as Toland's Life of Milton, tracts by Marchmont Nedham, Henry Neville, and Philip Sidney, and John Locke's Two Treatises of Government; they were elegantly bound to give them greater effect and tooled with libertarian ornaments such as the liberty cap and owl. To start with the tracts were directed towards libraries throughout Britain and continental Europe; later he turned his generosity to America.

He continued his great-uncle Thomas's practice, as a great benefactor to American colleges, especially Harvard, sending donations and numerous books, often decorated with libertarian symbols. From 1755, his principal American correspondent was Jonathan Mayhew of Boston, and, after his death in 1766, Andrew Eliot. His other benefactions included substantial donations to Berne Library and to the University of Leiden Library.

Thomas Hollis died suddenly on January 1, 1774 and was buried, as he had wished, ten feet deep in a field at his Dorset farm, Urless, near Corscombe. The field was then ploughed over, also according to Hollis's instructions, leaving his grave unmarked.

As Hollis never married, his estate was left to longtime friend Thomas Brand on condition that Brand added the name of Hollis to his own name. He did, becoming Thomas Brand Hollis, and continued his friend's traditions of philanthropy and political engagement.

Urless Farm

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Wepyng and dolour out of mesure

'A, Launcelot!' he sayd, 'thou were hede of al Crysten knyghtes! And now I dare say,' sayd syr Ector, 'thou sir Launcelot, there thou lyest, that thou were never matched of erthely knyghtes hande. And thou were the curtest [most courteous] knyght that ever bare shelde! And thou were the truest frende to thy lovar that ever bestrade hors, and thou were the trewest lover of a synful man that ever loved woman, and thou were the kyndest man that ever strake wyth swerde. And thou were the godelyest persone that ever cam emonge prees of knyghtes, and thou was the mekest man and the jentyllest that ever ete in halle emonge ladyes, and thou were the sternest knyght to thy mortal foo that ever put spere in the reeste.'

Than there was wepyng and dolour out of mesure.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Nature notes - January dawn

Here, where I live, the dawn air is suffused with the delicate yet distinctly, sweetly acrid scent of slurry from the silage-fed, indoor-housed, milk-laden cows; it is filled with the low insistent hum of the milking machines and the repeated clonk-clunk-clonk of the yard scraper, as the amber fingers of the sodium lights break gently over the asbestos rooves of the industrial cattle barns, and the mist hangs low over the gently murmuring, phosphate-laden, fish-denying streams.

Elsewhere confident farmers deliver for society or ask, can we really carry on with farming as it is?