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Benin treasures photo: update

Fireplace with antique Benin leopards, bust, faces and altar piece. Congolese ivory. Unidentified location. Probably London.

I can hardly believe how much fun I have had with this photograph I bought in a flea market for £2, which turned out to be the only existing photographic record of a particular stage in the history of treasure looted from Benin City in 1897 which was subsequently dispersed and acquired by museums around the world. Earlier this year a Swedish PhD student asked to use it in his new book on the topic. Today the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge emailed me also wanting to reproduce it for an exhibition and asking if they could buy it for their archive. I told them they could have it for nothing because, frankly, it cost me nothing and it isn't going to last long squashed in a shoebox full of hundreds of cartes-des-visites on my top shelf. I stood in the long Christmas post office queue today and finally bade it farewell. I look forward to seeing it in their public on-line archive next year with my name under it as the 'donor'. 

Private Eye Magazine - 'Revolving Doors'

Brilliant, solid non-partisan journalism in the current issue of Private Eye magazine. See the full article under the cut.

"The beauty of the revolving door is that it obviates the need for anything so grubby [as corruption]. In place of brown envelopes come quiet, even subconscious, thoughts in a minister's or mandarin's head. The revolving door removes all tension between the state and private sector with which it should deal objectively. Both sectors end up employing the same people and they think in the same way. No part of government now questions the market in public services such as health, for example. Perhaps even more than lobbying and hospitality, the revolving door creates the uniformity of thinking between gamekeeper and poacher, purchaser and provider or even regulator and the regulated, that invariably ends in disasters, up to and including the financial crisis"

I'm afraid this is the sort of complex social structural issue that any real radical left politics in Britain is going to have to address. It's corruption which transcends anything illegal, and which is now so culturally embedded that even its perpetrators often do not understand themselves as morally compromised. To say we want to save the NHS, create cost-efficient public transport, good-value defence procurement and so on is one thing, but to do so simply will not be in the long-term career interests of the very same ambitious and capable individuals (explicitly selected for these qualities) who will be charged with the task of bringing about these changes. If selfless devotion to 'the public good' is not expected or required (e.g. the Hippocratic oath) and, more importantly, not socially rewarded, then it's not going to happen. Raging at a 'parasite elite' may be an understandable left-wing reaction, but it doesn't alter that fact that this is the elite which mainstream society, which largely approves of all legal money-seeking behaviour, has itself created, holds up as a model and aspires to join.

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Dream Width

If you are on Dream Width I have started duplicating this blog there. Just look for benicek. 


Ticket splurge

Going to see Mark Steel this weekend and Yanis Varoufakis in May :)


Catch of the Day

There's a single retired man who lives on our road and is always smiling and happy. He knows that I have a passing interest in sea fishing, which is a big hobby of his, and so he always stops me and relates his latest angling adventures. These are never 'the one that got away' stories, oh no. He always hooks an enormous abundance of fish. The English Channel is a like an endless magic food locker for him. He catches so much he doesn't know what to do with them all. One day he turned up at our door and gave us a bucket of Dover soles and a massive sea bass. They were delicious.

He stopped me in the road today with his usual gleeful expression and said "I had a bit of luck yesterday". I enquired how many he'd caught this time, but no, he explained, he hadn't caught a thing. In fact, he'd given up fishing for the day, packed up his rods and went and had a look in a nearby charity shop where he saw a nice teapot for sale for £3.50. So, he bought it and, on a whim, took it to an auctioneers to see if it would sell for more. It sold for £850. Some internet bidders in China recognised it as one of a set of which only six exist in the world.

"So, that's a nice present for Christmas!" he observed, cheerily. Nice for the charity shop too, because he went straight back there and shared his profit with them.

Selective war on terror

President Assad must be the luckiest mass murderer who ever lived. Not only Russia but now the US, France and Britain waging war for him too. Not so long ago it looked like he was going to end up with a bayonet up his rectum like Gaddafi. He must feel like he's won the lottery.



Hever Castle

Knights at Hever Castle.

Four glorious nutters hamming it up for the crowd at Hever Castle last weekend.

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