Thursday 21 March 2013

Budget time thoughts: the economy

Whole sections of the 'west' are in recession or near zero growth. This was not caused by some kind of mass activity by working people. It wasn't caused by governments in one or several countries spending too much. What has caused the recession in the first instance is that the financial sector ran up huge debts, far, far in excess of public debts and deficits, as it went in for some wild speculative behaviour - a good deal of which involved them selling debts to each other!

We might ask why did they do that? They did it because one of the problems that capitalism has, is that it is locked into making profits. That's what it does. That's what it's for. However, when it makes profits, its bosses know that they have to do things with those profits over and beyond spending them on luxury goods for themselves. If they don't,  their own firms will start to be not sufficiently modern and the surplus money that they have will decrease in value. So, part of the capitalists' drive is what they call 'investment'. They hunt for places to put the money. However, they will only do this if certain conditions are met, most of which revolve around the idea that the money they invest must bring them more money in return ie be profitable. Any other kind of investment is charity or bad business.

So, the speculative bubble which burst in 2010, was in essence an attempt by financial capitalists to find  more and more profitable opportunities. In the anarchic lunacy which is called 'good business', more and more of them borrowed money to buy debts which they thought would be profitable for them. (If I buy a debt from a moneylender I will collect the payments people pay him for having borrowed money from him. Nice. But if the people who are supposed to pay the interest are unable to pay, not so nice.) They did this because the returns on putting that capital into other ventures were lower and/or slower. Capitalism doesn't act for the general good. It would have been better if capitalists had invested in housing, hospitals, alternative energy but in a 'free' society, no one tells capitalists to do this, so instead they cook up crackpot schemes like hedgefunds and the like. 

One of the underlying reasons for the crisis happening at that time was that at the end of the line of debt were people who were being laid off from work. They were being laid off from work because, capitalists don't fix their rate of production according to planning, they do it by projecting sales. However, this works according to boom and bust: produce more and more until there is saturation of the market, then sack as many people as you can ('cutting costs') who immediately become less able to pay their mortgages, their insurance or buy things. So the economy goes into slump, bottoms out, until wages, rents and primary goods get so cheap, more and more capitalists start to think they can take the risk to produce stuff and try to flog it.

What has happened this time round in the boom bust cycle is that the capitalists have a huge great brake on the system: their own debts. However, as you know, the big lie - no The Big Lie - that has been put about for the last two years is that the big brake is government debts, ie the money and the interest payments that are paid out for our benefit on education, health, welfare - and, though I don't agree with it - defence, because theoretically it's there to defend us. 

We are meant to believe that the reason why the economy won't or can't 'grow' is because Labour ran up a deficit ie its outgoings per year on money borrowed was too high. And we aren't supposed to think that capitalists are unwilling to 'grow' (ie invest, employ people and sell more goods) because the finance sector in particular is in the worst indebtedness it has ever, ever been in. So, though its managers and owners pay themselves salaries and bonuses worth millions, they can't and won't lend money at a sufficiently fast and high rate for manufacturing and service industry capitalists to be able to invest in plant, new machinery, or start-up funds to take on workers. Meanwhile, the global take home pay for workers continues to go down in real terms (ie in relation to people's bills) and go down in relation to the amount of money we can call profits. So simply put, the vast majority of people have less money to buy the goods that the capitalists would make and try to sell, if they could. The main pressure downwards on pay comes from government initiated pay freezes, unemployment, part-time, short-term employment and lack of union organisation to resist this pressure.

So there is a double squeeze on capitalists - banks who won't lend them money at a low enough rate because they are scared stiff that they (the banks) will crash; workers with not enough money in their pockets for capitalists to think it's worth trying to make stuff for workers to buy.  

In my dream world, Labour would be saying all this. They would be spelling it out with diagrams, films, and leaflets. They would be showing that a tiny group of people held and are still holding the world to ransom on account of their speculative lunacy and greed. They would be showing that each time Osborne and all the press pals say that it's the deficit that's the problem they would say, Oh no it isn't, it's the private debt. Every time Iain Duncan Smith and his press pals point the finger at this or that 'benefit cheat' or 'welfare dependent underclass', Labour would point the finger at the vast debts seizing up the system causing much more damage than a few people working a small time racket. They would point the finger at the vast millions people earn who manage these debts and who are of no productive use whatsoever. They are parasites. And they would talk about the greed-dependent overclass who got us into this fix. 

They would and they should say that this government everyday blames and punishes the victims of the bankers' and financiers' greed. And they would show that it is the system of basing everything we do, need, eat and drink on profit that caused the problem in the first place. As I said, capitalists base all their actions on profitability. They don't base it on general need or for the general good. That's why the financiers went off thinking that they had created a new alternative world where money could create money and there would be no consequences. 

We have to think of other ways in which we can create a society that is not based on profitability, otherwise all that will happen is that we will go on and on destroying people's lives through unemployment, poverty, lack of welfare and permanent small wars - which one day might burgeon into even bigger ones. 

Thursday 14 March 2013


I am writing this because for many years I've been 'fraternal' with the SWP without ever being a member. This goes back to the late 60s and the 'student revolt'. This was a time when the left in this country and all round the world became convulsed with discussion, debate, schism and re-alignment. I was part of that as my parents had been in the Communist Party, left in 1957 but went on working and thinking with socialist and marxist ideas. What emerged out of those times was a continuation of the CP (as it was called) and a bunch of groups, parties and tendencies, one of which was IS, the International Socialists who had the slogan 'Neither Washington or Moscow'. I was attracted to some of these ideas in particular by people I knew, including Christopher Hitchens!

On leaving university I worked with Ewan MacColl, who also came from the tradition of the CP but had taken a strong turn towards Maoism, a set of ideas which didn't interest me at all. I went on talking with people from IS, supported some of the campaigns they were involved with, including the defence of the Shrewsbury Pickets. One of the ways I did this was to make a film with someone who was at the time in the CP. I felt quite strongly that I didn't want to be in a position where I could or could not work with people, even though there were some who said that, say, the Stalinists had blood on their hands because they had justified and collaborated with the Russian regime. The issue was the defence of the Shrewsbury pickets. End of.

Without going into details, the IS turned into the SWP, crucial for them, as it turned them from being a 'group' into a Leninist Party. I knew for certain that I didn't want to belong to this, I didn't then and don't now think that Leninism is appropriate for the present environment.  However, I accepted then and now that the organisation they had created enabled them to organise well, and to produce an atmosphere that developed ideas or 'theory' as it gets called or 'the line' as it is also called. I didn't ever think they were the only group capable of doing this, and I was also aware that in the left, there were critiques of the SWP in the way that it behaved in umbrella organisations.

Between then (early 70s) and up to very recently I became involved in writing, performing or campaigning on an issue by issue basis, while trying to read and learn from as wide a range of sources as possible, including of course, work produced by the SWP. So, I have performed and spoken at the annual SWP-organised Marxism events, written for Socialist Worker and Socialist Review many times. In that time I have also written for left or liberal journals which are absolutely nothing to do with the SWP: Red Pepper, Jewish Socialist, New Statesman and more recently, the Morning Star. In terms of meetings, these tend to be those involved with anti-racism, anti-war and education so have involved several of the umbrella groups like Stop the War, the Anti-Nazi League, Palestine Solidarity and trade unions like the NUT and others.. I also stood on the Respect Party ticket in the Greater London Authority elections immediately after the Iraq War demo. I'm happy to talk about the why's and wherefores of that at another time. Let it be said, that I was very optimistic about  a federation of left groups.

The first I heard of the present crisis in the SWP was two years ago and what I thought was a malicious rumour put on the Socialist Unity website. I replied with a flip joke, precisely because I thought it was a kind of libellous sneer. I couldn't have been more wrong. Then everything - as far as I knew- went quiet. I have never been privy to internal discussions and debates in the SWP, I don't know about internal party resolutions, who is on which committee and the like. My dealings have always been with individuals on an assignment by assignment or campaign by campaign basis.

The issue at hand has been written about in the mainstream media by Nick Cohen and Laurie Penny whilst some of the left blogs, facebook and twitter have been full of it too. I've followed some but not all of this and have mostly refrained from commenting directly, for the following reasons: 1. I'm not and never have been a member and a good deal of the debate going on was only relevant to members ie who was going to stay, who was going to leave etc. 2. I thought that the SWP would get to see that they could not and should not have set themselves up as any kind of quasi-judicial court.

That last seems to me to be the bottom line (apologies for the cliche). The only proper and decent way for the organisation to have behaved was to offer help to the person who came forwards as a victim, whilst saying that dealing with it in any judgemental way was utterly beyond the remit of the organisation. Or to use the lingo - 'not in its terms of reference'.

So, the position that I'm in now is that I guess it's a matter of waiting (for the time being) for the organisation to declare that a) it got this one completely wrong  b) it got it wrong precisely because it acted beyond its terms of reference and c) in the event of anything like this happening again, they would behave in a completely different way and that in society, 'out there', in unions, rape crisis centres and the like, people have worked out better ways of dealing with such things and that the SWP could and should learn from that experience.

In the meantime, some of the people I respect seem to have left the organisation, so again, I wonder what kinds of re-shaping, what kinds of new alliances and organisations will emerge. I'll rephrase that: ever since the 70s people I've respected have left IS or the SWP. Sometimes they have stayed interested in campaigning for peace and justice for all and I'll always work with that...

Sunday 3 March 2013

Interpretation and Invention: necessities

Continuing from previous blog:


This is part of what makes us human. In spite of efforts by education to prevent us from interpreting what we see and hear and feel, humans cannot stop thinking about or 'reflecting on' what we perceive from 'out there' and - to make it more complicated - we can't stop reflecting on these reflections! We are in a permanent state of 'inner speech' doing this. It's said, that the process starts from the day we're born, if not before. Watch a new born baby and you can see that it is figuring. Almost immediately it starts to make choices: accepting, rejecting, trying, not-trying, testing, not-testing while we immediately start affirming and not-affirming its demands and actions.Though the new born baby doesn't have speech, we do and immediately start talking in different ways which again the baby starts to 'interpret': tone, rhythm, volume, sequence (like music).

For reasons, which one can only think of as political, we have developed an education system that puts interpretation as an occasional activity. Or, to put it another way, a good deal of educational activity assumes that there is no interpretation to do, it's been done for us already: these are the facts, this is the knowledge. In fact, to think that and enact that on children and students is itself a form of interpretation and inflicted interpretation owing its origins to the top-down view of society and education and is of course highly suspicious of dissent, scepticism, nuance and multiple views of things.

Throughout education, past and present, there are teachers and researchers working with the alternative model, trying out ways in which children and students in structured talk and discussion give voice to their interpretative powers - and that this is itself a generator or vehicle for learning and understanding. There will be people reading this who are doing this, who have the results to show that it works, that it's powerful, that it matters. What is significant about the last twenty years or so in education is the way in which these people and projects have been sidelined, on occasions rubbished, and squeezed out by the test-crazy, league-table-led education system.

In literature, interpretation can be factored in through one fundamental principle: only asking questions that we the teachers do not know the answers to. These include such questions as: does this text (or moment, or scene or person in the text) remind you of anything you (or someone you know) have ever experienced? does this text (part, scene or person) remind you of anything you've ever read or seen (ie another text)? Why and how is this? What would you do if you were that person in the text in that situation? Why? What do you think will happen next in this text? What do you think that person in the text might say if he or she met you at this moment? What happened before this text?

You can ask 'technique' questions in the same way by asking about how the child or student would write the next bit of the text, or the bit they've just read - and asking them to give it a go. You can invite them to go inside the head of protagonists (characters) through freeze-framing and hot-seating or through talk-partner discussion.

For a reference to this approach look at 'Tell Me' by Aidan Chambers (Thimble Press). For people who are interested this owes its origins to the body of theory known as 'Reader-response' and if you google that or put it into google scholar and/or google books, you can see the body of work that gives rise to this approach. Again, a good deal of the UKLA work with pupils arises out of this approach first given full voice in the 1930s by Louise Rosenblatt.

Finally, in reply to the knowledge-skills school of thought, I would say that interpretation is itself both a form of knowledge and a skill. It is another form of know-how and the more you do it alongside your peers and in the company of informed and experienced people, the more powerful an interpreter you become.


That said, there is another range of human activity which complements all this. Human beings are not only interpreters. We are inventors. We constantly plan, create, predict, try out, test, experiment and make. Again, education works quite hard for a lot of time to restrict children and students in the amount of time they can do this, or in the amount of freedom that children and students have in the ways in which they might invent, create, plan, predict, try out, test and experiment.

Interestingly, this too, like interpretation is not seen as a form of knowledge or affecting how knowledge is acquired. Quite the contrary, the experience of inventing or 'being creative' is itself a knowledge and affects how we perceive knowledge or 'the facts'. If we conduct activities that are akin to those who have produced knowledge (eg real experiments, inventing paper airplanes that can fly, trying to paint like Picasso etc etc) we start to be informed about the processes involved in producing science, art, technology, design, history, geography ie knowledge.)

Either deliberately or 'just the way it turns out', this runs counter to much of what we do in education ie we think of the passing on of knowledge as an altogether different process to, say, being artistic, or inventing things. We've compartmentalised knowledge transmission off from being creative. I'm deeply suspicious of this.I have always believed that one of the most important ways to get a grip on the 'what' of a subject, topic, process etc, is to experiment and play with the 'how'....

I can think of many justifications for the arts, but within education this seems to me extremely important.

I could add: the arts have a power to investigate the world by marrying ideas and feelings and attaching them to beings or materials we come to care about. As we experience this 'caring' we start to speculate and interpret about outcomes, reflect on our feelings and move to and fro between these feelings towards ideas about ourselves as individuals, ourselves in relation to the artist, in relation to others - whether around the artist or around ourselves.

This is not trivial. It's not a superfluous add-on to the 'real stuff' of knowledge. This is essential to our survival. If we separate off ideas and feelings so much that the feelings side doesn't matter, we develop ideas that are ultimately anti-human. If we simply sit with feelings, we withdraw from the world of ideas which enable us to be social and progress. It is vital in the arts to explore these processes of feelings and ideas so that we retain the human in the philosophical and the philosophical in the human.

There are strong moves in education to marginalise the arts by making them 'not count' in the evaluation of school 'success'. This will guarantee that in many areas or phases of education children and students will be deprived of the right to reflect through this 'ideas-and-feelings' process on who they are and how they act in the world. This is a restriction on rights and will ultimately increase frustration, anxiety and stress or, to put it in a utilitarian way, to make children and students less effective learners.

Saturday 2 March 2013

Knowledge and skills? Isn't there more?

A good deal of talk in education divides it up into 'knowledge' and 'skills' as if a) these apparently different concepts really are different and b) these are two halves of a whole and that covers everything education needs to do.

a) Knowledge and skills are different?

Apparently so. Knowledge seems to sit in books, worksheets and websites. It's the 'what' of the curriculum. OK, the 'when' and 'where' as well! Where is Delhi? When did Henry VIII die? What is the  name of the process by which water flows from a weaker solution to a stronger solution through a semi-permeable membrane? etc etc. Skills are the tools, people say. These are the 'means' by which we get at the stacks of knowledge, they say: learning by rote, fair tests in science, comparing and contrasting, collecting evidence and the like.

From this division of education, develops the notion that you can't develop skills unless you have knowledge, so we have to work very hard throughout education passing over knowledge to children and students so that they can use the skills. The argument goes can't have the skills unless you have the knowledge. Then, still flowing from this, you can't find out if the children and students have got the knowledge unless you test them. You can't find out if they're ready to go to the next level of knowledge absorption or skills acquisition unless you test their 'knowledge-base'.

First of all, I think the division or dichotomy is false. There is no division between what we call knowledge and what we call skills. So, on the knowledge side: however we acquire knowledge requires us to be using some kind of skill, whether that's listening, discussing, researching, investigating, comparing, contrasting, drawing conclusions. If you sit in a lecture and make notes while a lecturer hands out knowledge, this is a skill. What's more, the very process by which you try to take on the knowledge is itself affecting the nature of that knowledge. So, if you are taking notes - little headings, and one, two, three bullet points underneath, that of itself becomes how the knowledge is yours. Knowledge isn't of itself naturally or essentially a heading and three bullet points. The neat display of 'facts' about a subject like the 'rise of Napoleon' or 'photosynthesis' or Gerard Manley Hopkins idea of 'inscape' may well be what is restricting finding out the truth about it.

Now, from the skills side: let's say that there are skills called 'taking notes', or a skill called 'listening and remembering' or 'coming to a conclusion'. Surely, if the word 'knowledge' has any meaning, these skills are a form of knowledge. They are the know-how, the 'savour-faire'. I might say that I have the skill to translate a good deal of French, or I have the knowledge how to translate a good deal of French.

So, I think we have arrived at a very 'mechanistic' view of how the mind works. That there is a big pile of inanimate 'stuff' called knowledge. And we have some tools to dig that stuff up and shovel it into our brains. Why would something so wonderful and complex as the human mind behave according to how we dig earth? My starting point would be to remind ourselves that we are just that: 'ourselves'. That's to say we are social creatures. At the core of all our activity is social existence. Even at what seems our most individual thought and feeling is social existence. I'll elaborate. Take language. Every word and expression we use has been shaped and re-shaped millions of times by social use. Though we are very used to the idea of looking for and finding what is individual and distinctive about great writers' language, in actual fact that language was explicitly (sometimes) and inherently acquired through those writers' social interactions (hanging out with other people and other books) and, just as importantly, produced for social purposes (audiences, friends etc).

Everything we do is affected by or affects language. This is not just a matter of how we describe things - though it is that. It is also a matter of how we plan, how we make things happen, how we relate to each other how we feel, what our intentions and needs are, how we are going to satisfy those needs, how we are frustrated by not achieving those needs and much, much more. In other words, our needs and feelings (seemingly private matters) are created and recreated in that social medium of language - words and expressions.

When it comes to what I regard as the false dichotomy between knowledge and skills, then I would suggest that we need a 'social' model for how we acquire the means of knowing and doing. That's to say, we should dump the idea of shovelling earth, and think instead of what are the best circumstances by which children (well, all of us actually) can acquire these means of knowing and doing. Following from my 'social' model of language and activity, I would say, then, that how we organise ourselves socially in classrooms, study places, laboratories is a key to acquiring the means of knowing and doing. We have to put at the core of it, the social acquisition of the language required to understand and interpret. Most of this will come through 'talk' ie discussion and debate. Some of it will come through the reading of how people argue 'on the page' ie through the routines and procedures developed over time in 'theory' ie the books where people have developed ideas or put arguments for and against things, or shown how this or that can be proved to be true. Clearly, talk is social, but so is the reading of the page where an argument is made or an idea presented. That's to say, sitting reading is a socially acquired process, the making of books, the production of ideas comes about because of our social needs and has developed in history as socially approved or proved activity. Libraries, labs, internet sites are all socially created institutions and we find our places in them, or our roles to play in them according to how we make ourselves socially ie with and alongside others, influenced by others, influencing others.

All this, I believe, has a fundamental part to play in education. It means recognising that a classroom is a social place which will not simply be a place that requires of students to receive knowledge but that it is a place that makes knowledge and makes it socially between all its participants. And this knowledge does of itself include what are called 'skills'. The 'how' of acquiring the 'stuff' is part of what we come to know, the means of learning how to think and do.

b) talking about 'knowledge and skills' says it all.

I think there are two problems with this 1) it prevents us from seeing that knowledge and skills (if that's what we're going to call them) are debatable and 2) some activities cannot be reduced to either. More specifically, what we call 'the arts'.

1. We have created an education system that has elevated 'retrieval' and 'inference' to the be-all and end-all. We repeat over and over again the process: 'Bobby has a blue hat. What colour was his hat?' The child who says 'blue' is right. The child who doesn't know is wrong. Then we say, 'It was raining. Why was he wearing a hat?' The child who says, 'Because it was raining' is right. The child who says,'Because Bobby supports Chelsea' is wrong. That's because the child is 'interpreting'. He or she is using previously acquired knowledge and using it to interpret this presentation of 'facts' according to possible principles and observations. But that child is 'wrong'.

I would suggest that if we are serious about education then we need to put 'interpretation' at the heart of it. This involves retrieval and inference but moves on to dealing with why we need to retrieve and infer to the point where we are debating what is feasible, appropriate, 'seaworthy', viable, verifiable and so on. It engages with our most fundamental need: to find out what we need in order to survive and flourish. That's to say, finding what will work or won't work. And it does this through being sceptical, through wondering about several possibilities. It engages with trial and error. These are all processes by which science and art have created the world we live in.

2. The arts. If we reduce the arts to 'knowledge' and 'skills' we won't get very good art and we won't get very good discussion and interpretation of the arts. Unless we engage with how and why we feel the way we do, then the arts won't have the power to engage us, make us care, take us to new possibilities in what we think and do. I'll return to this in another blog.

In the meantime, as you can see from the above, I think that 'interpretation' is one of the key processes that we should be focussing on in education and the acquisition of useful and important knowledge and skills (though I wouldn't call them that) flow from putting it at the centre of learning.

Friday 1 March 2013

Q. Gove is Napoleon. Discuss.

When politicians start talking about the history curriculum, you know that this is when their megalomaniac delusions start to take flight. They start to imagine themselves talking to the mass of teachers and pupils, telling them what's great about 'this country', what's important about the institution they are part of, government, parliament, the monarchy - the ruling elite. It's the gas they run on, the justification for their lives so of course they are going to come up with a model of history that justifies themselves. After all, very few other people will. As they swill around in the trough of scandals, laughing as they and their even richer colleagues cut the subsistence earnings of the very poor, they will be hard put to find people rushing to say how worthy and important they are as individuals.

So, they come with a curriculum.

It's easy to critique a history curriculum. You offer an alternative view of history. The problem with this is that it misses out the key part of the process: the students. People engaged in this debate keep missing out the 'how' of learning and teaching.  Put it this way, I could come up with a history curriculum where I thought that this or that was a good thing to teach. I could then stand in front of a group of children or students and demand that they listen to me, punish those that aren't listening, test them at the end of every lesson, week and month and make myself and the subject unpleasant and unlikeable. I would have made history, my take on history an area that that child or student wouldn't want to be part of ever again.

So, my view of this whole debate about the history curriculum as being skewed by the dominant model of education: a teacher should tell a child what the knowledge is. A child should just receive this knowledge. Those that do, pass. Those that don't, fail. History becomes the slave of a wider objective: the need of education to pass and fail people.

So what are the alternatives?

At the primary school level I would argue that it hardly matters at all which particular aspect or topic or subject of history is the piece of knowledge or slice of history being talked about. The key matter is how is the child going to learn about it? Doing worksheets? Reading pages in a text book? Or do we find ways in which young children can investigate and discover things about history? Are there things that they want to find out about? And is it the job of a teacher to enable and facilitate those journeys of investigation and discovery?

Two stories: I observed a truly original research project by a group of Year 6 pupils who discovered that very near to them some early aviation pioneers had tried out their prototype planes. In the end, their discoveries were so important they were the cause for a blue plaque being put up on the site. Second story: a teacher asked first what topic of history or geography (or both) would the children most like to know more about. They narrowed it down to what at that stage they called 'Red Indians'. The teacher then asked them to get into pairs and groups to come up with some questions they wanted answers to. The class gathered together all the questions, set themselves up into small groups to find answers to the questions. After a spell of investigation and research they came back to discuss the answers and what they might want to do with the answers, who to tell and how.

Both of these processes seem to raise fundamental questions about learning and as you might guess, I regard the 'how' they worked as much more important than the 'what' - or at least much more important than Michael Gove deciding the 'what'. These two stories show teachers giving children a good deal of control over their learning.

At secondary level, I can concede that it's probably a good idea to start talking more abstractly about historical processes and - most importantly - these processes are up for debate.  There is no universal agreement about cause and effect in history. There is no universal agreement about how power is created, maintained and lost. There is no universal agreement about whether society is good for all. There is no universal agreement about what 'this country' is let alone what 'this country's history' is!

So, as I always maintain, this can only be resolved by turning away from the ludicrous top-down, the-secretary-of-state-knows-all way of running schools. The best way to develop a history curriculum - or several curricula from which schools could choose, perhaps - would be to enable teachers, researchers, historians and interested parties to talk about the pedagogy of history ie how history can be taught and learned, what kind of history can be taught and learned and why. This could emerge out of true discussion based on observation, research and experience, showing how different kinds of students enjoy and run with different kinds of historical material.

This is not utopian. This is how a literacy curriculum was developing in education at the end of the 80s before it was squashed by government.

To demand or request that we should have this or that kind of history curriculum cedes to the Sec of State the right to be the final arbiter and determiner. Ironically, this in itself is a product of a kind of history which has kept ceding power to the centre as if the centre holds wisdom and morality, or is in some way better able to decide and run things than we are.

Aha, I've just thought of the topic I would most like to investigate, Miss. Can I investigate how and why Mr Gove thinks that he has the right to have the kind of power that he has? Where does this come from in history? Napoleon? Cromwell?