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22 May 2014

Wrong word, Chris!

In today’s Moscow Times, one of the paper’s best and most civilized columnists, Chris Weafer (who writes about economics), makes an uncharacteristic mistake. In the course of an interesting article about the long-run primacy of economics over politics for politicians who wish to stay popular, he writes:
“The IMF has so far dispersed $3.2 billion of the promised $17 billion aid deal [to the Ukraine], with the balance to be dispersed over the next two years on the condition that the Kiev government meets the austerity measures agreed.
     “Dispersed”? Ouch! It should have been “disbursed”. You disperse your forces in order to avoid undue concentration; and a team disperses after the season ends, when everyone goes home to celebrate the triumphs of the summer.
     Money, however, is disbursed when it is handed out, just as when it is wrongly disbursed the payer might ask that he or she be reimbursed by the payees.
     A small point, but a surprise. Because I know him slightly, I am prepared to credit Chris with the suspicion that this was a mistake by the often less-than-expert proof-readers at the Moscow Times, and that he remains blameless. 
     Slainte, old boy!


02 May 2014

The Queen knights a historian (after Philip hands her the sword)

Grand Central Station
It was north American railways which undermined
the fortunes of the family of one of the Queen's
most powerful enemies, Lady Diana Spencer
Let me recommend a programme to listen to over the holiday from one of my favourite historians, the great Sir David Cannadine, who is talking on Radio 4 tonight about Grand Central Station, New York. Dont miss it.  
     And look out for anything else by Professor Cannadine, husband of another great historian, Linda Colley. He is the author of The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy and many other fine works. He is an expert and unconventional researcher and a good story-teller with the dry wit that is one of the essential qualities needed for a great historian. Life is bizarre, and history should reflect that. If the material is not enjoyable to read, there is little point in writing it downand none at all in publishing it. I presume that is why he was knighted in 2009. 
     I presume from that gesture that Her Majesty now understands the causes of the agricultural crisis in the 1870s which undermined aristocratic finance in Britain and therefore the fortunes of most landowners, except a lucky few who had coal under their ground or factories on top of it, or who owned large parts of London, like the Duke of Westminster.
     I picture the Queen sitting in the sunlit upstairs sitting-room at Balmoral on a clear autumn evening, a tiny, dry sherry at her elbow, when in walks Prince Philip, sweaty and peat-covered from the hill, with mud on his brogues and stags blood on his tweed jacket. 
     She looks up and says, “Did you realise, Philip, that it was north American railways bringing cheap grain to the Atlantic trade, and refrigerated shipping conveying Argentine beef to this country, that were the main factors in the impoverishment of families like the Spensers?”
     “No my dear, I did not. The bloody Spensers, eh! Serves em right!”
     “Well this Professor Cannadine says so, and he sounds awfully plausible. Comes from Birmingham, according to the dust-jacket. Funny place to come from, but at least he has no Spenser blood in him. Pass me my sword, will you, the ceremonial one hanging there over the mantelpiece. I think Im going to give him the tap!”  
     Russians may be surprised to learn that that is how things are done in all countries in which the rulers still understand the true value of history to their eternal war with powerful competitors for the loyalty of the people.