Recently I’ve gone to some lectures. Two were part of the excellent Edinburgh Lectures series. High quality free public lectures are a sign of a first rate cultural and intellectual environment so I consider it my duty to go to them.
The first was from Kim Winser who runs Pringle the borders knitwear company (Pringle invented and trademarked the term knitware a century ago). She has done a very impressive job of turning Pringle from a tacky golf clothes company into a leading fashion and luxury brand worn by a-class stars and appearing on the cat walk in London and Milan. Its an impressive business feat but I found the industry very sad, their use of stick thin models and the way marketing is so much more important than products is very depressing.
The other Edinburgh Lecture was from Stuart Cosgrove “Head of Nations and Regions, Channel 4” the job that should be called “fulfilling the licence requirement to have 30% of programmes made outside London”, which is a tragicly low number. He argued that Scotland is a vibrant and successful country stuck with a cultural attitude towards poverty and industrialism. Almost any film and TV to have come out of Scotland is based on schemies and criminals. Our media should celebrate the great achievements and history we have not the declined industry of the 20th century. Which is a fair point. Someone called Patricia Ferguson gave the closing thanks, apparently she is minister for culture or something.
The other lecture I went to was a computing science MSc presentation of a paper on hierarchical sorting. Two students presented the paper not very well and summed up saying that it was a useful paper. Except it wasn’t and I said as much, sorting by hierarchies is rarely any use, look at Yahoo or how easy it is to loose files on your hard disk. The course organising lecturer agreed with me. So here were these intelligent post-graduate people who had chosen to do this course persumably because they were so interested in the subject they wanted more of it after their first degree and yet they still can’t think for themselves. You would be better off going to a real conference like FOSDEM this weekend where people care and know about the subject matter than doing a university course. We scarpered quickly at the end before anyone realised we weren’t actually students at all.
In other new my favourite musician Martyn Bannett has died, his music is great.
The last part of my notes from The Scottish Enlightenment
Africa was the final continent to be explored and colonised by Europeans. Malaria was the main reason why it was impossible to discover its hidden depths. Journeys up the Congo usually ended in death for most of the crew. David Livingstone was a mill worker from Strathclyde who was part of a mid-19th century religious revival in Scotland. In 1840 he went to the British colony of Cape Town to join a missionary 600 miles north in the Kalahari desert but discovered it had only found some 40 converts. The next year he travelled to any remote village he could find, learning the local languages and culture. He was the first to use a drug called quinine which kept him from malaria but not from a lion attack which stopped the use of his right arm. By 1856 he had become the first European to cross Africa and discovered that its interior had a rich rainforest, not the desert which had been supposed. He returned to Britain a hero. He made two later trips to Africa and, as had happened in India, tried to promote an attitude of imperialism for civilisation. He was strongly against the slave trade which Britain had abolished but continued with Arabs buying and selling Africans. On a trip to Egypt he went missing for two years until found by an investigative journalist who discovered him sick in a remote village. His body was brought back to Europe and buried in Westminster Abbey.
Towards the end of the 19th century the rest of the western world had caught up with Scotland’s education system. Scotlands aristocrats now had an attitude of being British and Scotland’s culture became more of a self-parody. The Edinburgh Review and similar journals died and instead publishing innovation came from tabloids, Alfred Harmsworth set up the Daily Mirror in 1896 which was followed by many imitators. Scottish industry has had successes including the Singer Sewing machine factory in Glasgow, the biggest in the world in its time. A rise in serious Scottish Nationalism politics was caused by an increase in poverty and the view that British governments were working against the interests of Scotland which led to the rise of the SNP as a serious political force and eventually devolution. Devolution was first proposed by the Liberal government of William Gladstone in 1885 but it failed in Ireland due to religious divide and after the fall of the Liberals the idea was not taken up by the new Labour party which could not afford to loose Scotland. It came eventually but how well that fares is yet to be seen.