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Showing posts from October, 2006

Golden Eagles

The move to declare the Golden Eagle as Scotland's national bird continues.

The Eagles are majestic creatures, although I have always had a soft spot for Puffins, which always strike me as rather attractive, with their clown like beaks.

I have only twice seen Golden Eagles in the wild.

Once was on the Isle of Mull. I was under a tree, taking shelter from the Atlantic showers. A rabbit appeared on a patch of grass about four metres from the tree. Suddenly the rabbit seemed almost to disappear, and in its place the Eagle. The rabbit had been killed instantly by the fell stoop of the gigantic bird. Slowly, almost lazily, it spread its wings once more and casting a contemptuous glance over its shoulder at me, its huge wings pushed it back into the sky, clutching its prey in its talons.

The whole encounter lasted only a few seconds but it was hard not to be in awe of this tremendous bird.

The other time I encountered these birds was walking up by Braemar, beyond Linn of Dee. There in the hi…

American Elections

The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it. P. J. O'Rourke

The American political class may have gerrymandered its democracy to impotence.

George W. Bush may be the most incompetent president in modern American history.

The United States may be trapped in Iraq and hobbled in the war against terror.

But, with only a week to go before the US mid term elections it does look as though the American people, united in disgust for the sleazy and useless leadership of (primarily) the Republican Party, might actually do something radical.

Throw the B**tards OUT!!

Leadership deficit

As another week trundles by in British politics, the disillusion of the British people with their leaders grows still further. After the pathetic display of John Reid on immigration- showing yet again why "Yes, Minister" really was so painfully accurate- we now have the usual Tory sex scandal.

I make no judgment as to whether a man leaving his wife for another man is any better or worse than leaving his wife for another woman. It is to be regretted either way, when there are children involved, but I will make no Jeremiad - although since he seems to have opposed a good deal of legislation to equalise the legal position of gays, so I suppose he could legitimately be accused of hypocrisy.

What tires me is that every generation of British politicians makes the same mistakes.

Meanwhile, the British people are getting frustrated with a political class that alternately talks down to them or ignores them. The political scandal is not the easy-to-understand sexual shenanigans of obscur…

Arms Sales

This, alleged to have been posted on McDonnell Douglas' website, made me laugh:

Thank you for purchasing a McDonnell Douglas military aircraft. In order to protect your new investment, please take a few moments to fill out the warranty registration card below. Answering the survey questions is not required, but the information will help us to develop new products thatbest meet your needs and desires.
[_] Mr.
[_] Mrs.
[_] Ms.
[_] Miss
[_] Lt.
[_] Gen.
[_] Comrade
[_] Classified
[_] Other
First Name: ...............................................
Initial: ........
Last Name.................................................
Password: .............................. (max. 8 char)
Code Name: ................................................
Latitude-Longitude-Altitude: ........... ............

2. Which model aircraft did you purchase?
[_] F-14 Tomcat
[_] F-15 Eagle
[_] F-16 Falcon
[ ] F-117A Stealth
[_] Classified

3. Date of purchase (Year/Month/Day): 19... /.... /.....

4. Serial Number: .......................…

John Reid's Statement Revealed

The House will wish to know what arrangements will be in place here in the UK to support the accession of Romania and Bulgaria on 1 January. = My token sop to the tabloids.

Global movement is a fact of life. In the UK we have over 90 million visitors a year. This openness ensures we have a vibrant society and a strong economy.

Over the years Europe has prospered by letting people move and trade freely. = but I will give the illusion of closing the door

But as the EU expands this poses new challenges which have to be managed properly. Here, as elsewhere, managed migration is the right approach. ="managed migration", as if...

In 2004 when 10 new countries joined the EU, we gave their people access to our labour market. But the Workers Registration Scheme ensured people came to work and not claim benefits.

This has been a success. = we opened the door and it worked.

Workers from the new member states have filled skills gaps, including in key public services such as the NHS and social…

Anti-party Politics

The proposals that Jack Straw has put forward for the reform of the House of Lords remind me why politics is too important to be left to the politicians.

Since the 1960s politics has lost its sense of vocation and become a profession. MPs are now paid a professional salary and there are recognised career paths that lead into the House of Commons: "lobbyist", "researcher", "campaigner" and so on. The number of people with either business or Union experience in the House of Commons has fallen sharply, while the number of MPs who were previously public sector workers has increased. Lawyers continue to be a large part of the legislature.

However, MPs have ceased to be real representatives of their constituencies and have become solely delegates of their party, on which they are entirely dependent to get elected. The independent MP remains a very rare beast- only four in the current Parliament. The number of seats under FPTP that are genuinely competitive is rea…

Warning signs

October 23rd is a date that has great resonance in Hungarian history- it is the anniversary of the Hungarian uprising of 1956. This year- the 50th anniversary- has proven to be far more contentious that previous years. Partly this is because this is one of the last major commemorations where many of those who took part are still alive. Partly, though it is a function of the political dispute that has wracked the country since the leftist Prime Minister admitted that he had "lied and lied" about government policy.

Many of the insurrectionists are fiercely opposed to the government, which they see as the successor to the old Communist Party. Many will refuse to acknowledge the Prime Minister or to shake his hand. The legacy of bitterness has continued even to generations that were not alive in 1956. Hungarian politics- fifty years on- remain fractured and immature.

Worse still is the political position of Bulgaria- which is set to join the European Union in two months time. The …

The media's distorting lens

I wonder how many times when one of us gets a story on the radio or television about a subject we know about, we go "that is not very accurate". I paraphrase here.

For me, I find it happens more and more often and in stranger ways.

The noise of the media was drowning out information anyway, but here is an example for you.

The BBC thinks that a story about a film about a Norwegian film about gay penguins is more important than

1) Russia, under new tyranny, is killing far more than just prominent journalists
2) North Korea will detonate a second nuclear bomb- according to local sources
3) Several more countries are pulling troops out of Iraq
4) The Queen is having a successful tour in the Baltics, and condemns Russian brutality
5) Segolene Royal is more likely than ever to be the first woman President of France
6) "Borat"- a fictional character gets an invitation to Kazakhstan.

OK, OK. Gay penguins it is... You silly twisted boys.

Down with Kaftans

Initially I thought that Jack Straw's thoughts on the veil were a personal view. I certainly hoped so. I do not believe that any government should have a position on what people should wear!

Where do you stop? "Sorry, wearing a kaftan marks you out as a dangerous, pot smoking radical, we will pass a law forbidding the wearing of kaftans". Er... Shouldn't you be fighting the dangerous behaviour, and not the supposed symbol of the behaviour? After all Mr. Straws crimes were only against fashion and not usually the law, apparently.

I have problems with veils- I wonder whether women are being somehow forced to wear them. If there is no force, and if indeed women are choosing to wear the veil, then they should have perfect freedom to do so.

Now Labour is scaring me- they seriously can not tell the difference between a woman in a veil and a murderer.

This is serious- it is hard not to come to the conclusion that Labour does not even care about promoting violence and oppression…

A Family visit

Cicero is visiting the Baltic States again this week.

It is a good week to be going- as H.M. The Queen has been showing. Her speech to the Lithuanian Seimas had just the right balance- and reminded both Lithuanians and Brits how much we have in common.

Like many people in Britain I have slightly mixed feelings about the idea of monarchy. However when I see the wonderful response of the peoples of the Baltic to Queen Elizabeth I find it hard not to be moved.

The Queen represents a bloodline traceable to Kenneth MacAlpin of Scotland and Cerdic the West Saxon- who first arrived on these shores just after the fall of the Roman Empire. The fact that the Lithuanians have also discovered that the Queen is a direct descendent of the mediaeval ruler of Lithuania, Mindaugas, has reminded me that sometimes the Queen has a truly personal relationship with History.

I am moved too, because the visit of Queen Elizabeth would have seemed like a fantasy only a few years ago. After everything- the brutal o…

Free to Choose

If a government minister came in to your house in the morning and told you that you should not wear whatever clothes you had set out for the day, it is quite likely that at the least, you would tell the minister to get out of your house.

What people choose to wear- whether it is a mohican and safety pins, a worsted suit, jeans or anything else is not a matter for the government.

Why should a government minister tell Muslim women what to wear? Once you start down that road where do you stop? Now, apparently the Jewish yarmulke or Sikh turban or visible crosses on necklaces are no longer acceptable.

The minister's lack of tolerance reduces freedom for everyone.

I do not feel entirely comfortable with heavily veiled Muslim women, but then I did not feel that comfortable with punks- or the kaftans that Mr. Straw himself famously used to wear.

It is not up to the government to tell anyone what to wear- that way lies towards intolerance and a lack of respect that will alienate Muslims in our…

Munich 2006

It was not just the spying.

The four Russian officials who were arrested in Georgia were plotting to assassinate senior members of the Georgian government. To destabilize the country and close the only way for the West to get access to the Central Asian and Caspian oilfields that does not go through Russia, China or Iran.

These are terrifyingly high stakes. As Edward Lucas says in his article- the fall of this "faraway country of which we know nothing" would allow the KGB-led government of Russia to have complete control over the European energy market. Given the practice of Russia to be extremely aggressive in the use of energy as a political lever, this must not be allowed to happen.

Russia is a rogue power- and one that has not abandoned Soviet Imperial dreams. By being blind to the danger, the West could lose the new cold war without a shot being fired.

Yet another reason for the UK to reduce our use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible- as if the natural balance of the Pl…

Context is everything

The comments of General Sir Richard Dannatt calling for the early withdrawal of British Forces from Iraq are probably right. I too tend to think that British troops would be better used in Afghanistan and, as I have written recently, I believe that the British mission in Iraq needs to be given an exit timetable as soon as practical.

However it is one thing for me, as a private citizen, to call for these courses of action. It is quite another for the most senior General in the British Army to enter the political arena.

The General does not have that liberty to speak out. He should retract his remarks and not repeat them.

Generals work for politicians and if they disagree with them they should do so privately.

Sir Richard may well be right, but in our democratic system, Generals should be seen and not heard.

UPDATE: Tony Blair has said that he agrees with every word the General said.

Hmm... Two-nil to the General - who I suppose will be in office after the PM has left it. Not the first time t…

The Cancer of Iraq

The Lancet has reported an estimated civilian death toll in Iraq of 650,000.

I think the situation in Iraq cuts to the heart of the really big issues.

What is a just war?

What level of violence can democracies allow themselves to inflict?

What is a civilian in a civil war?

In my heart of hearts I did wonder whether the Liberal Democrats were doing the right thing when we opposed launching the war. By all accounts, Charles Kennedy stood up in the whips office of the House of Commons and explained why the party was going to vote en bloc to oppose the launching of attacks and was actually rather inspiring. It was, I think, a real example of political courage.

I think now that Blair did the worst thing that a PM can do - he prosecuted an unnecessary and unjustified war. What we do now is not clear to me, but all the time the image of the helicopters in Saigon is in my mind. Blair is now unlikely to be Prime Minister for much longer, I hope that he can live with his conscience in his "retir…

Asian Conundrum

30 years ago today the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (then Hua Guofeng) announced the arrest of the Gang of Four.

The arrest of these most senior figures in the Chinese Communist Party (including the widow of Chairman Mao Zhedong himself) is popularly thought of as being the end of the bloody turmoil of Mao's catastrophic "cultural revolution".

Certainly the installation of Deng Xiaoping as the new moderate and reforming leader in 1977 turned the People's Republic of China into something much less murderous.

China remains under the control of Communists that have not repudiated Mao, even while they now acknowledge "mistakes". "Mistakes"? No one knows how many people died during the famines and massacres of the cultural revolution nor the equally catastrophic "Great Leap Forward" that proceeded it. The death toll is certainly tens of millions; it may even be over a hundred million- a number that is higher than Hitler and Stalin com…

Energy security

On the day of the funeral of Anna Politkovskaya it hardly seems necessary to point out the failings of the Russian Federation. The narrow view of the Russian regime about its own national interest marks them out as a country that does not believe in the benefits of free trade. The Kremlin sees power as a zero sum game, in every case there must be winners and losers. The idea that a given course of action could lead to winners on all sides is pretty alien to thinking that was conditioned by the brutalities of the KGB.

The pattern that Russia is establishing in developing its hydro carbon reserves demonstrates that no non-Russian company will be allowed to benefit in any way from these reserves. Energy, for the Putin regime, is a weapon that can be used to pressure, influence and threaten. Ukraine, Georgia and other countries have felt the use of the Russian energy weapon. Soon it will be the turn of the European Union, unless we can successfully diversify our energy supplies away from r…

Anna Politkovskaya RIP

I have hesitated to write about the brutal murder of Anna Politkovskaya.

She was a close friend of friends and I know many people who will be simply stunned at this senseless crime.

Politkovskaya was in a very real sense the conscience of modern Russia. A voice speaking up for tolerance and mutual respect. She was scathing about the failings of the Putin regime, and in Chechnya she had seen the crimes of that regime up close. Her life had been threatened several times, but she had the courage and determination not to give in to the thugs and crooks who now dominate political and economic life in Russia, and especially in the North Caucasus.

Several hundred protestors gathered in Pushkin Square in Moscow to mourn her death. The setting was significant, for it is where dissidents protested during Soviet times.

It is hard not to despair of modern Russia. The casual - and unsolved- killings of Galina Starovoitova and Andrei Kozlov have shown that any independent voice in Russia risks their li…

Trust but verify

A recent survey has shown that people in Britain are moderately happy with their lives. All in all a happy society is to be welcomed.

One area where the survey showed particular dissatisfaction was with politics. The Brits don't trust their leaders- any of them. They are not even sure about the institutions. The findings are striking, and very distinctive.

Personally I think that it shows the good sense of most of the British people- the fact is that a healthy scepticism is much to be preferred compared to the slavishness of the citizens of a tyranny.

However it also shows the corrosive effect of the image and spin obsession of the Government and now of Cameron's Conservatives. People do not have trust in the institutions because they do not feel ownership or connection with the political system. There is a great divorce between an increasingly professionalised political system and an alienated population. The fact is that a single vote every few years in a rigged electoral syste…

Scandal-gate

I see that the rather hilariously juicy scandal unfolding around the American Republicans has- inevitably- been given the suffix -gate, just to demote that it is a real scandal.

After the dodgy IMs and e-mails to the teenage pages it might have been e-gate or page-gate but no...

it's "Mastur-gate".

Somehow I can't see this being adopted by the headline writers...

National Poetry Day

My favourite poem or poet varies from day to day, though Keats, Hardy and especially Eliot are always amongst the front runners. Sometimes Burns, sometimes Derek Walcott or Ted Hughes.

However, in honour of the perennial Estonian theme of this blog, I thought I would post the translation of a work by the Estonian poet, Jaan Kaplinski, whose work I have always enjoyed, but who not be so well known to readers here.

THE EAST-WEST BORDER is always wandering
sometimes eastward, sometimes west,
and we do not know exactly where it is just now: in Gaugamela, in the Urals,
or maybe in ourselves,
so that one ear, one eye, one nostril, one hand, one foot,
one lung and one testicle or one ovary is on the one, another on the other side.
Only the heart, only the heart is always on one side:
if we are looking northward, in the West;
if we are looking southward, in the East;
and the mouth doesn´t know on behalf of which or both it has to speak.

Havel na Hrad!

Today is Vaclav Havel's seventieth birthday.

During the 1980s I was an active supporter of the dissident movements in Central and Eastern Europe. Over the years I met with Hungarians from FIDESZ- while they were still libertarian and not conservative, and with Poles from Solidarnosc. Already in those days the opposition was semi legal, although both Poland and Hungary saw many people arrested, imprisoned and otherwise denied their civil rights.

Though other places, like Romania or Albania were more brutally governed, there was nonetheless a particular horror about the "Czechoslovak Socialist Republic". The crushing of the Prague Spring led to the deadening hand of "normalization". Utterly grey, utterly conformist.

Yet the Bohemian spirit was not entirely crushed. A few very brave souls kept the spirit of freedom alive. In 1977 Charter 77 was founded. Yet amongst the 15 million Czech and Slovaks very few people actually signed it. The secret police, the StB, kept a…

Down with Butskellism

In the years between the Second World War and the advent of Thatcherism, British politics ran along a line of very cosy consensus. The era of so-called Butskellism was, however a failure. The consensus of "don't rock the boat"- of cosy agreements between militant trade unionism and incompetent management led to a precipitate decline in the economic power and political influence of the UK.

Thus I can only greet the drive by the Conservatives to enter the "centre ground" of Blairism with the sound of one hand clapping. Unlike Ming Campbell, I do not consider myself "of the centre left"- I consider myself a Liberal. Liberals have a deliberate agenda, built around personal liberty. Unlike Thatcherism, Liberalism knows that in order to preserve and reinforce liberty new political and constitutional arrangements must be established- for the old political system is worn out.

I look at the choice between Blair- an Oxford educated public schoolboy- and Cameron- …

Sto Lat Solidarnosci !

I am looking forward to seeing Tommy Sheridan facing criminal charges for perjury.

Of course, I hold no brief for the News of the World rag either, but the hypocrisy of Sheridan is a nasty infection on the Scottish body politic.

The fact that he calls his diminishing band of followers "Solidarity" is yet another example of the vanity and delusion of the man.

Solidarity was the name of the Union in Poland that defied Socialist rule.

The fact that Sheridan still uses the language and proclaims the policies of Communism mark him out as either stupid or evil. The fact that he uses the name of Solidarity is an insult to those who were tortured, imprisoned or murdered by Communists.

Fortunately the evidence for Sheridan's perjury seems quite strong.

Good- this vanity party will not be around for long.

NHS=IOU

I see in his usual attempt to out-Blair Blair, David Cameron has changed his slogan to three letters (as opposed to Blair's, three words: the irritatingly pointless "education, education, education").

The letters are N.H.S.- the National Health Service.

I am sure that all the Healthcare professionals in the country will be delighted that politicians are coming to second guess them and impose more outside controls.

I listened to Andrew Lansley, the Tory front bencher, on the Radio this morning.

Oh Dear! He was totally glib, shallow and pointless. "Yes, there must be more money". When pressed as to where and how much, no answer.- the very essence of an ignorant politician.

I have no more answers to the questions of the NHS than Andrew Lansley does.

I do, however have many questions.

The demand for Health care is growing and is particularly acute in the last months of life. We have the technology to prolong life a little- yet there are significant moral questions about w…

The strange death of the Scottish Conservatives

One of the key reasons that Cicero joined the Scottish Liberal Democrats 27 years ago was that they believe in a Federal Britain. Federalism is not, as the Separatists would argue "the Union in another form" and neither is it "Devolution" in the sense of powers handed down from Westminster to Scotland.

Federalism is based on "Home Rule"- that is to say that the Scottish People agree to share certain areas, like defence, foreign affairs, environmental policy and some finances with the rest of Britain, but otherwise control their own affairs, including most taxation.

This is not the system that we have now, which is merely democratic oversight over the former Scottish Office. Neither, however, is it complete independence. It is a distinct policy that allows Scotland the best of both worlds- the benefits of controlling affairs at the most local level, with the benefits of working with the other nations of Britain.

Once, the Conservatives stood for a distinctive…

The higher a monkey climbs...

The Conservatives do not seem set for good luck this conference.

The delays in distributing security passes have annoyed many- though you could argue that this is because of an unexpectedly large attendance. Nevertheless, it does not look too organized.

Then, when people arrived in Bournemouth- in contrast to the balmy days for the Liberal Democrats in Brighton- the Tories are greeted with tornadoes in the Channel and blustery rain. Thus the very long queues to get security passes on the day got very wet indeed.

Then there is the press: the opening of the conference has been greeted with the news that the police are questioning Conservative as well as Labour donors.

Frankly, after the disgraceful attempt by Conservatives to equate the completely open payments made to the Liberal Democrats with the secret loans and payments made to Labour and now, it turns out, the Tories themselves, it is hard to avoid schadenfreude.

And all along the growing question about Mr. Cameron... Where's the b…