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Showing posts from December, 2005

The turn of the year

Cicero has enjoyed the season of Saturnalia turned into Christmas- although the feasting and revelry have been kept to the statutory minimum, as Cicero wishes to fit his clothes in the new year- and not just the baggy ones. In this quiet time before the turn of the year, the news flow is small and the media in Britain concentrate on the surprising fact that winter comes in December. This, together with the annual release of government papers under the thirty, fifty, seventy, or two hundred year rule (ever get the feeling that civil servants take government secrecy a bit too seriously?) comprises the bulk of the news. All this and Bob Geldof making a fool of himself with Tories.

So, even though Cicero knows that the future is essentially unknowable, and that the limits to human knowledge make it entirely random as to whether predictions are accurate or not, he is tempted to think about what things might happen in 2006.

Even for events which are highly likely and highly disruptive, the de…

"Adam and Steve"

Cicero has just returned from a lightening trip to Aberdeen. The Granite City is very close to my heart- as Iain Crichton Smith says "Places that have been good to us we love, the rest we are resigned to". Although it was a pleasure to see friends and family and indulge in a little nostalgia for a place that was certainly good to me, in fact amidst the gentle lanes of Old Aberdeen a small revolution was taking place.

In the clear low sunshine of a crisp December morning two old friends of mine were committing themselves each to the other. The trappings were traditional- a service of blessing in the mediaeval chapel of Kings College, followed by a champagne reception and large lunch, whilst in the evening a traditional Scottish ceilidh took place. Old friends, children playing- all the traditions of a wedding- without actually being one.

In fact it was the registration of a civil partnership. Neil and John have been a couple for longer than many marriages last- for over a decad…

Last laugh?

In July, just prior to the announcement of the Olympic Games venue for 2012, one of those occasional delightful, frothy stories broke. Three European leaders: Chirac of France, Putin of Russia and Schroeder of Germany were sitting outside, enjoying a drink at a small summit that Putin was hosting. Unbeknownst to M Chirac, his remarks were being recorded. Famously, he declared British cuisine to be so bad that no-one could trust them. Only Finnish cuisine, he said, was worse.

It was therefore with particular satisfaction that we saw, a few days after this story broke, the two Finnish votes making the crucial difference in a four vote victory of London over Paris for the 2012 Olympics. "Hubris", we smiled, "before Nemesis".

However, we can now see that the mini-summit was of greater and more sinister importance. As the scandal of Schroeder becoming chairman of the shareholder representatives of the controversial Baltic gas pipeline company unfolds, more and people are …

Headbanger

Ken Clarke says in public that his new leader is "the most extreme Eurosceptic ever to lead the [Conservative] Party"

What????

More extreme than Michael Howard- leader of the Cabinet opposition to much European legislation under John Major? More extreme than William "seven days to save the Pound"Hague?? Even more extreme than the swivel eyed IDS???

Yep.

Guess what, the leader of the "opus Dave" has just restarted the European dispute inside his party. The Buncefield level explosion that he is risking will lead several, perhaps even the majority, of the Tory MEPs to defy his edict that they leave the moderate EPP and sit with the smaller, weaker and substantially madder Independents.

I think that we are beginning to get the measure of Mr. Cameron, and aside from a certain breezy charm, I detect some interesting limitations. OK he could not help the fact that he went to Eton, nor Oxford. However, He certainly could help the fact that he joined the braying Hurray…

Without sin?

Sometime ago, around the signing of the agreement between Russia and Germany to build a pipeline, there was a rumour that this was part of a personal deal to benefit Gerhard Schroder. The fact that Mr. Schroder, within days of leaving office, has in fact joined the gas pipeline company as the leader of the shareholder committee rather suggests that these rumours were true.

Bluntly, the move is so brazen as to suggest that the relationship between Schroder and Russian President Putin was as improper as the rumours alleged. Of course corruption is nothing new - not even for Germany, after many allegations concerning former Chancellor Kohl's relationship with the French Government- it is, however, highly corrosive.

By the time of Cicero, the values of the Roman Republic were undermined by increasingly cynical politics and corruption. The eventual result was the collapse of the Roman political ideal of cives Romanum sum into decadent brutality. From the self indulgence of Mark Anthony a…

Unlikely Virtues

"A little government and a little luck are necessary in life, but only a fool trusts either of them." P.J. O'Rourke.

The love fest that the British media are indulging in over the new Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, is reaching ever higher levels of hyperbole. It is certainly true that Mr. Cameron appears to have a cardinal virtue in a politician- he is lucky. The way he has risen without trace (or any real organisational experience) is a testament to luck. The fact of his coming to the leadership when Gordon Brown is facing the first breath of the storm that his policies have created is also lucky. Even the fact that Lady Thatcher has been taken ill on the second day of his leadership may also be considered to be lucky- at least there is no chance of "backseat driving" now.

However, I view the drooling of the British media over Mr. Cameron with a jaundiced eye. Sure, he does not look actively sinister as his predecessor, Michael Howard, does. True too,…

New Nations

The website newnations.com is an interesting project. The trenchant and honest views that it promotes are increasingly refreshing in a world that seems ever more committed to weasel words on powerful subjects like torture and oppression. What is shocking is that, having started off as a documentation of the criminal acts of regimes in such places as Russia or Azerbaijan, it increasingly finds that the actions of the USA are coming into question.

The latest vile euphemism for torture by the United States is, apparently, "harsh questioning".

Well worth a read- click on the heading for the link.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

In the arcane British political system, nothing is called by its right name. So the fact that the Minister of Finance is given the rather abstruse moniker "The Chancellor of the Exchequer" should surprise no one. The current incumbent, Gordon Brown, is a humourless and driven man who contains all of the self righteousness of the son of the Manse that he is, with little of the humility.

His approach to the finances of the United Kingdom is to micro manage. His fervent belief is that taxation can be used as an effective agent to create social justice. Now around half the population of the UK receives different tax credits or support payments. Mr. Brown is, however, oblivious to the cost. The huge bureaucracy that his collection and payments system supports is enormously expensive. The British tax code is now vastly complicated- with even the most simple tax return requiring an accountant to arrange it. As the Chancellor ties himself in ever greater knots moving payments around …

The limits to knowledge

Cicero attended a very important discussion last night. In the rather stuffy surroundings of the Travelers Club, he heard a revolutionary: Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Taleb has a profound insight: that humans perceive their behaviour as part of a symmetrical world. In fact it is highly non symmetrical. Partly as a result, humans are extremely bad at making accurate predictions and the more detailed the prediction, the more likely it is to fail. The implications of this are very profound indeed.

Taleb rails against the "scandal of prediction"- and is particularly fierce in his denunciation of politicians. Politicians draw up detailed plans for conditions that are inherently unpredictable- he suggests that this is little better than a fraud against the electorate. He is right. Cicero does not believe that detailed government policies can change outcomes in predictable ways. Macmillan's famous comment on the primary challenge to political leaders being "events" refers t…

Boiled Frog

Over the past few months it has become conventional wisdom that Iraq is of diminishing importance in the political world viewed from Westminster. Yet I notice that Sir Menzies Campbell QC MP has been receiving more than usual coverage in his protests.

Since George W. Bush declared on the deck of an Aircraft carrier that as far as the United States was concerned Iraq was "Mission accomplished", we have learned a great deal about Iraq and about the United States.

We have learned that Saddam Hussein had rendered his "weapons of mass destruction" unusable, so that the ostensible case for the war was entirely wrong. We have learned that there was considerable scepticism amongst British and American intelligence experts that Saddam indeed had such weapons at the time that war was launched, but that such doubts were edited out in order to support a political case for military action. In other words that the supporting documentation had in fact been "sexed up". We …