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Showing posts from August, 2006

Birthday Blog

As it is my birthday, I am not feeling particularly energetic so I will answer the Inner West boys quiz instead:

Hitchens: Christopher or Peter?- Christopher for calling out Galloway
2. Blair: Anthony Lynton Charles or Eric Arthur?- Orwell every time
3. Bush, George: W. or H.W.? - Gooseberry
4. Clinton: Bill or Hillary? Bill- he isn't dangerous any more
5. Testament: Old or New? New- never been a fan of burning bushes
6. Rugby: League or Union? Union- Scotland sometimes win
7. Do you owe more to Athens or Jerusalem? Athens
8. Pete ‘n’ Dud or Derek and Clive? Pete n' Dud
Name your favourite...
9. Novel- Tess of the D'Urbervilles
10. Short-story/novella - Heart of Darkness
11. Poem - Adlestrop
12. Play - Copenhagen
13. Work of non-fiction- The Captive Mind, Czeslaw Milosz
14. Religious text (can include specific books) Psalm 121
15. Song - A Mas a Man for a' that
16. Piece of classical music (including Opera)- Beethoven 9th symphony
17. English language film- The Hours
18. Non-English lang…

Another bloody meme

OK Simon and James at Inner West

1. Name one book that changed your life.

The Captive Mind By Czeslaw Milosz - Made me see the real nature of Communism when I read it at 14.

2. One book you've read more than once.

I re-read books quite regularly- I recently went back to The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula K. LeGuin- a slightly guilty pleasure, but fun nevertheless.

3. One book you'd want on a desert island.

Encyclopedia Britannica - especially the beautifully written 1911 edition- at least I would learn a lot of practical stuff.

4. One book that made you laugh.

The first time I read Spike Milligan's Puckoon I laughed like a drain, but Round the Horne scripts also have the same effect

5. One book that made you cry.

I do love Thomas Hardy- Probably The Mayor of Casterbridge might have had this effect, but the only thing I truly remember doing so is Psalm 121:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.
He will…

Fear itself

What is the very worst that the people so far questioned in the UK could have inflicted against us?

OK, let us assume that they could have seized control of ten aeroplanes- say Jumbos- carrying about 450 passengers. Let us further assume that each mission was "successful"- so they kill a maximum of 4,500 people over the Atlantic. Horrific.

I think we should view this in context: last year the death toll on British roads was 3221. In the USA the death toll from road accidents in 2005 was 43,443.

Now, according to New Republic, the USA regards the UK as a hornet's nest of terrorism- Pontiac, I notice, gets off without censure.

At the end of the day, Osama Bin Laden lives in a cave. He is not an evil genius- he is a delusional maniac- a poor little rich boy who was sent round the bend by seeing the violence of the Anti-Soviet Afghan war.

His follwers are delusional "Islamic" nobodies- they may be mad or bad or both, but mostly they are just sad- losers in the lottery o…

DTi goes from useless to malign

I see an interesting story in the Telegraph- The Department for Trade and Industry- DTi- apparently has "doubts" about globalization.

This government department should have already been abolished (as the Lib Dems proposed at the last election).

This ministry is a giant make work project for civil servants and a bureaucratic job killer for everyone else. The fact that they even contemplate rowing back from free trade suggests that the case of total abolition is now more urgent than ever.

Connections

During the 1970s the BBC produced some of the most interesting and challenging series. Jacob Bronowski's Ascent of Man, David Attenborough'sLife on Earth and Kenneth Clark'sCivilization were all thoughtful televisual essays and many of them continue to have a resonance to this day.

In the same mould was a series that focused on complexity theory in history. James Burke, the BBC's science correspondent created a series called Connections .

To a great degree, Burke, by talking about the random walk of historical progress underlined the fact that few, if any, could truly understand the path that their actions would lead to. The interconnectedness of science, politics and culture reflected Burke's view of history as being driven by isolated events, which by circumstances become connected. This increase in possible connections causes the process of innovation to not only continue, but to accelerate. Burke poses the question of what happens when this rate of innovation, or…

Terror and Hope

August 23rd is the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. This was a secret and criminal treaty that divided Eastern and Central Europe between Hitler and Stalin. It allowed Hitler to invade Poland a week later, without any fear that the USSR would intervene, and it allowed Stalin to crush the independence of the Baltic Countries and to seize half of the corpse of Poland for itself. Stalin also had a free hand to seize Bessarabia and turn that Romanian speaking land into a Soviet satrapy. Thus this monstrous bargain inflicted occupation and slavery on millions. All of course secret, since the Soviet authorities denied that any secret protocols existed- even when the German treaty text was published after the war.

Fifty years later. Millions of Estonian, Latvians and Lithuanians formed a chain to link Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius- the Baltic Chain. This protest was one of the high points of the singing revolution.

It is a triumph of the human spirit that such terror eventually …

Meme of Three

Jonathan Calder has tagged me with this meme...

1. Things that scare me:

Conventional Wisdom
That Dubya still has two more years
Roller Coasters- absolutely hate 'em

2. People who make me laugh:

PJ O Rourke
Graeme Garden
Emo Philips

3. Things I hate the most:

Commies
Beligerent stupidity
Sprouts

4. Things I don't understand:

Hebrew
Why the West deals with a Russia that fails to show contrition
Basketball

5. Things I'm doing right now:

Writing a term sheet for a transaction in Poland
Thinking about another coffee
Thinking that I won't tag anyone else on this meme

6. Things I want to do before I die:

Make a pilgrimage to Solovetsky
Write a book that explains myself
Take a chance on someone

7. Things I can do:

Recite Estonian poetry
Speak rusty Polish
Walk long distances

8. Ways to describe my personality:

Sardonic
Serious
Surreal

9. Things I can't do:

Walk slowly
Speak Welsh
Trust Commies

10. Things I think you should listen to:

The 9th symphony of Beethoven
The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams
Most thin…

A Survey of Liberty

I finally found the survey that compiled a rating for overall liberty from a variety of other surveys, such as the Random House survey (Click on the Heading for the details).

Estonia is the freest country in the world- not a shock to those of us who know her!

Then:

Ireland
Canada
Switzerland
Iceland
Bahamas
UK
USA
Cyprus
New Zealand

Of the leading EU economies, Germany is 21st (behind Latvia), Spain is 34th (behind Cape Verde), Italy is 41st (behind Botswana) and France is astonishingly 48th (behind South Africa).

Horrifyingly, Russia is 124th- even Saudi Arabia is freer than the Russian Federation.

In last place- North Korea- 122 places behind the democratic South.

Losing Russia

It is 15 years since the beginning of the August coup which ultimately led to the breakdown of the Soviet Union. The arrest of Gorbachev which took place on August 18th 1991 triggered the immediate disintegration of the USSR as the various Republics sought to escape from the attempt by hardliners to reimpose a more centralized order upon the disintegrating state.

Since that time Russia, as the legal heir to the Soviet Union, and as the inheritor of most of its territory and all of its nuclear weapons, has struggled to come to terms with the Soviet legacy.

The Second Chechen war continues, in all its brutality. The frozen conflicts in Transnistria, In Abhazia and In South Ossetia have remained unresolved. Russia has still not ratified its border treaty with Estonia.

Domestically, the Russian army has continued the brutality of its Soviet predecessor, with hundreds of conscripts dying and thousands being horrifically mistreated. Russian demographics remain very bad, with low life expectanc…

Losing Liberty and Security

"Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both" Ben Franklin.

After traveling to Warsaw and back this week, I can honestly say that the security procedures that have been enacted are pointless and farcial.

In the name of safeguarding our security, travelers are now subject to the kind of intrusion that no free person should have to undergo. We are constantly told that "the terrorists must not change our way of life!". Apparently, they already have.

Since we know that we can never be 100% safe from terrorism, we have to decide what is an acceptable level of risk.

I believe that in their futile search for complete security, our political leaders are corroding our liberties.

I believe that this process must be stopped immediately.

The risk of any single individual being hurt or killed in a terrorist outrage is very small- the risk to our freedom from these pointless restrictions is now certain and is already una…

Time to control taxation

A few weeks ago, the Lib Dems put forward some outline ideas on taxation that involve cutting the headline rates of income tax. I welcomed those proposals then. Last week, more detailed proposals were put forward, which continue the theme. Indeed the substantive proposals are extremely well thought out.

To my mind there is not much doubt that the Labour taxation plans have got to the point of pain. The salami tactics that they have used, while less eye catching than a straight forward increase in tax rates, have substantially boosted government revenues. Unfortunately the other side of the equation- spending- has been less well judged. The government has not set in hand effective ways to control and administer spending, neither on health or welfare nor on education. Part of this is the fact that they refuse to recognise that individual circumstances make blanket spending commitments highly inefficient. The result has been a general increase in costs, but a sharp fall in overall product…

The Boy who cried Wolf

As I am caught up in yet another "critical security alert", I can not help wondering about the way that this has been reported.

All these reporters are happy to quote unnamed "security sources".

Are these the same sources whose judgment on Iraq we have so recently learned to question?

If the majority of those who were arrested last week are released as they were after the Forest Gate Police raid, I for one will be extremely critical about the way that this is being handled.

John Reid has been quick to take the credit for the work of the security services. If they are wrong- will he be so quick to take the blame?

I have to fly again tomorrow- what joy!

Dot.ee

I spent the weekend in the Estonian countryside. Firstly on the islands of Muhu and Saaremaa and then in the family summer house of some friends on the mainland.

During the inevitable saun party I start to chat with the rest of the family (even the youngest speaks English that is more than respectable for a seven year old).

The teenager of the family, despite an unhealthy obsession with the thriller film genre, turns out to have a nicely subversive sense of humour. We discuss the extraordinary pace of technological change in Estonia. I remark that I was in the first generation to grow up with colour television.

We, the post baby boomer generation seem to have struggled a little with our identity. "Generation X" grew up in the 1970s and 1980s and did not see the dramatic party of the 1960s- only the hangover from that party. However, I ask this rather poised young man what he thinks defines his generation. Immediately he responds that growing up with the internet has been part o…

Now let me get this right...

Coming through Gatwick yesterday... not a pleasent experience.

Gigantic queues to leave the country? Well, yes.

The latest moronic ukase from the Home Office- we should check everyone leaving the country so that we might just catch the odd illegal who should not have been there in the first place.

So let me get this right: tens, or even hundreds of thousands of people are going to be inconvenienced substantially and at considerable cost to the tax payer.

I ask the "border guard" how many"illegals" they have actually caught.

I will give you a clue... it is a round number.

Yep that is right- nil.

So, no cost benefit analysis, no perception of the real cost at all- just a government determined to make an empty gesture in order to be seen as doing "something" in order to tackle a "problem".

A certain occasional American visitor to our shores has the perfect word for this:

D'oh!!

51st State

Simon Heffer in today's Telegraph has a splendid rant about the woebegone figure of Margaret Beckett- our hapless Foreign Secretary. It is rare that I agree with him, but his call for her immediate resignation is something I can totally agree with. She is, quite simply, not up to the job.

Her utter lack of interest in International Affairs is obvious, but then as "Yo Blair" is his own foreign minister, there is not too much for her to do. Interesting to see the British Prime Minister on such a transparent job hunt in the United States- interesting and frankly embarrassing.

Nevertheless the Post-Blair era will be upon us soon- and the question that will loom larger in that era is "Can the UK ever have a foreign policy that is independent of the United States?".

After all, our so-called "independent nuclear deterrent" is dependent on servicing carried out in Savannah, Georgia. Our signals intelligence system, GCHQ, is essentially transparent to the US agen…

The wit of PJ O Rourke

The US occasionally throws out a great wit. Mark Twain and HL Mencken come to mind. The modern equivalent is P J O'Rourke. His ascerbic and wise comments are particularly apposite coming from a Liberal perspective, although his attacks on American Liberals (Leftists, rather than Libertarians) are pretty sharp: "People ask me if I've ever been called a Nazi. I answer that no one has ever had dreams of being tied down and sexually ravished by someone dressed as a liberal."

Other stupendous quotes from PJ:

Politicians are always interested in people. Not that this is always a virtue. Fleas are interested in dogs.

Popular culture has always been moronic. It has to be, by mathematics. I mean, one-half of the population is by definition below median intelligence.

Your money does not cause my poverty. Refusal to believe this is at the bottom of most bad economic thinking.

There's a difference between information and knowledge. It's the difference between Christy Turlingt…