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Showing posts from November, 2007

Barbaric Sudan

For those who might be interested, the address of the Embassy of Sudan in London is:

Embassy of the Republic of the Sudan
3 Cleveland Row
St. James’s
London
SW1A 1DD

Should you feel that the violent and unpleasant regime might need reminding that civilised states do not jail teachers on trumped up charges under a kangeroo court for allowing their class to name a teddy bear, my suggestion is that you let them know that the people of the United Kingdom hold them in the most abject contempt.

After all it is merely the latest crime from a regime that is racist, fanatical, despotic and evil.

I think that the man who represents this disgusting regime in London, Omer Siddig, can leave as soon as he likes, and I do not think that our woman in Khartoum, Dr Rosalind Marsden, need detain herself further in attendance to these vermin.

The Liberal Democrat Leader

The role of the Leader of the Liberal Democrats is one of the most difficult in British politics.

Unlike the Leader of HM Opposition, there is no specific financial support for the leader of the party, neither, except at election time, does the Liberal Democrat Leader have Police security protection.

Yet despite the reduced official support, the role of the leader is, if anything, even more difficult than that of the Leader of the official Opposition. In a system explicitly designed to divide only two ways, the Leader of the party must overcome the structure of the constitution as well as the efforts of the other parties. Defining the position of the party in the face of the indifference or hostility of most of the media is equally difficult. The position of most journalists is that whatever the Liberal Democrats say or do, they are irrelevant: and as a result the party rarely receives the coverage that its ideas and support deserve. Although gaining the support of around one in five vo…

Cultural Relativism

I know that in today's world we can not generally sit in judgement over the matter of cultural differences. However there is currently a very clear example of where we are entitled to make a comment. The arrest of a British school teacher who allowed her class to name a teddy bear after the name of one of the kids in her class- Mohammad- is extremely simple.

Those who accuse her of a crime are evil.

Were they to succeed in inflicting punishment upon her, particularly the whipping that is suggested, then they would be barbarians.

I see that the Sudanese Ambassador has been summoned for the dubious pleasure of a dressing down by our boyish Foreign Secretary. I sincerely hope that this wrist slapping is backed up with a concrete message: No free citizen should endure arrest and charges for such an absurd offence, and that if the Government of Sudan proceeds with this case it will be labeled "evil" "barbaric" and will be severely punished.

Browning on Brown

One task more declined, one more foot-path untrod,
One more devils'-triumph and sorrow for angels,
One wrong more to man, one more insult to God!
Life's night begins: let him never come back to us!
There would be doubt, hesitation and pain,
Forced praise on our part--the glimmer of twilight,
Never glad confident morning again!


The last lines of Robert Browning's poem, The Lost Leader have been widely quoted against politicians, especially since they were used so effectively against the declining Harold Macmillan during the Profumo scandal.

It does not look good- the government seems accident prone and whereas Tony Blair was a lucky leader, Brown, with his volcanic intensity seems too brooding and driven to be likable. He clearly is a bright and thoughtful man, but his angry motivation is alienating and difficult. His secretive and mistrustful nature has isolated him in his party and in Parliament; and all of this has become apparent in only six weeks.

In hindsight, the decision to …

Checking In (again)

Just back from a couple of days in rather foggy Ljubljana.

The car crash of the Brown government seems now to be spininng down the cliff with the flames about to burst from the petrol tank... what fun!

The challenges that the next Liberal Democrat leader must address

I believe that there are several key challenges that Britain now faces and which the Liberal Democrats must address.

The role and power of the State has grown substantially over the course of the past two decades at a time when those who control the state apparatus are coming from an ever smaller pool of career politicians who lack the management skills required to administer the increasingly complex mechanisms that are supposed to deliver the promises that they make.

The result has been increasing disillusionment from an electorate that has learned that politicians can not deliver what they say. Furthermore, despite their manifest failures, the political class has largely escaped from personal responsibility for the mistakes that they make. A cosy consensus between the civil servants and successive governments has created a powerful, secretive and unaccountable State. Local government, dependent on Whitehall for its finances, has been eviscerated, and yet the legal responsibilities of …

The Lesson of HMRC and UK Treasury incompetence

This is the central problem of modern British politics: too many kid politicians who have never had any experience outside of politics. Both Brown and Cameron and most of their respective front benches are people who have no understanding of even the first principles of management. They literally know nothing about it. The professionalisation of politics has created machine pols with limited life experience and poor administration skills.

Meanwhile the machinery of government is being required to do more and more difficult and complex things. The result is a recipe for disaster. Without major simplification of administration and the constitution it is hard to avoid the idea that government will grow more alienated from the people it purports to represent and that administration will deliver more and more foul ups on this scale.

This is a disaster for Labour, but the implications are as much constitutional as they are party political, in my view. The fact is that a Minister, from whateve…

Continuing qualms about Clegg

I don't have much to say about the Politics Show battle, but the "outrage" amongst the Lib Dem bloggers for Clegg feels a bit manufactured to me, and I am not sure that Nick was well advised to formally complain.

I did think that Huhne coped well with the obvious ambush though.

I have still not decided on this one, but I do not see that Nick Clegg is the great communicator that is backers have suggested. I do see that Chris Huhne has put forward some interesting and challenging ideas.

I like the idea of a leader with real life experience, (unlike Cameron or Brown), but also see that Nick Clegg does have considerable talent.

Mind you, I think one man who has come out from all of this looking like a complete star is Vince Cable- I am tempted to start a write in campaign to get him to stay on as leader!

UK Media now a provincial backwater

I have been wondering about the British media recently.

The constant coverage of "Slebs" and "infotainment" has got to have a price.

I finally see that it it does.

Did you know that a large demonstration took place yesterday in Brussels protesting the delay in forming a government and supporting Belgian unity?

One might have thought that such a significant event might warrant a story on the BBC. In fact I got the story from Al Jazeera. On the British media, neither press nor the BBC seems to have reported this at all- not even as a five line story.

Now some will find the very idea of Belgium faintly comical. The Economist has recently called for the country to be dissolved. However the fact that the majority of Belgians still rather like their country and thousands are prepared to demonstrate this support will presumably come as a surprise to British commentators.

If we are so ignorant of the affairs of a country which is practically our closest neighbour, it can hardly …

Galina Starovoitova RIP

It is now nine years to the day since Galina Starovoitovawas shot dead in cold blood.
Hers was just one of the more brutal murders of political figures in Russia over the past few years. Before her death she established a prize for the promotion of Human Rights in Russia. One of the recipients was AntolySobczak, the former mayor of St. Petersburg.
He too died in suspicious circumstances- of a heart attack.
Why suspicious? Because two other people in the room also had heart attacks at the same time.

Is this the shape of the Universe?

This is the E8 pattern, the most intricate shape known to mathematics. It is an eight-dimensional mathematical pattern with 248 points first found in 1887, but only fully understood by mathematicians this year after workings, that, if written out in small print, would cover an area "the size of Manhattan".
E8 encapsulates the symmetries of a geometric object that is 57-dimensional and is itself is 248-dimensional. Garrett Lisi, a scientist who rather splendidly seems to spend most of his time surfing or snowboarding, reckons that the mathematics of particle physics conforms to the same pattern, and he predicts that a further twenty particles will be discovered when the Large Hadron Collider comes online next year. Exciting times to be a physicist!

Happy Birthday PJ!

Today is the sixtieth birthday of the great American satirist and Libertarian, PJ O'Rourke.

One could hardly let the day go by without quoting my current top ten all time great PJ quotes:

10. I'm a registered Republican and consider socialism a violation of the American principle that you shouldn't stick your nose in other people's business except to make a buck.

9. The larger the German body, the smaller the German bathing suit and the louder the German voice issuing German demands and German orders to everybody who doesn't speak German. For this, and several other reasons, Germany is known as 'the land where Israelis learned their manners'.

8. 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 get elected and prove it.

7. Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.

The Tories are the Enemy of the UK

I see the corpulent Simon Heffer has outdone himself in ranting this morning.

He essentially demands that the Union that links England and Scotland should be dissolved because England and Scotland are different nations and that the Scots have too much power over England even though the whinging Jocks are just a bunch of subsidy junkies (I paraphrase lightly).

I have warned about the Conservatives' attitude to the Union in the past, and it is now quite clear what the agenda of much of the right wing press has become: to "big up" Alex Salmond and drive Scotland out of the United Kingdom.

I think that it will fail.

I think those who play fast and loose with the Union should be treated with utter contempt.

(and incidentally at $100 bbl oil prices, the idea that Scotland is dependent on the Union is simply barking)

"Archer, Aitken, Ashcroft..."

It was a real blast from the past this morning, hearing Jonathan Aitken, the ex-con Conservative, who is apparently being considered as an advisor on prisoner conditions. I know we are supposed to be a bit forgiving he has, after all, "paid his debt to society", but there was still just a whisper of the old arrogance in his interview on Radio 4. It was hard to avoid the contrast with another disgraced ex-minister John Profumo, who genuinely did serve a penance for his behaviour. Of course the political opponents of the Conservatives will make hay- it is a misjudgement by Iain Duncan Smith that only serves to remind us of the sleaze of the last Conservative administration. As Lord Ashcroft struggles to answer questions about the assurances that he is alleged to have given concerning his tax status upon being ennobled, the old taint fills the air once more.

I have three questions about the behaviour of other previous members of the cabinet.

As regular readers here will know, I h…

Nick Clegg will need to do better

I have refrained from commenting on the Lib Dem leadership election, partly because I am genuinely undecided and have been examining both candidates ideas. My initial reaction was to favour Nick Clegg. I had listened to his speech at Brighton and felt that he had put forward a genuinely modern, intellectually coherent and above all Liberal policy on Home affairs. Indeed on 18 Doughty St, I more or less said I would be supporting Nick Clegg. Nevertheless, I have also seen Chris Huhne put forward some genuinely radical policies- including taking the idea of Land tax seriously- which I think is a positive.

http://www.politicalbetting.com/, in something of a coup for its host Mike Smithson, has had both of the contenders on to answer questions from the large number of people who comment (not to mention the even larger number of people who read the site).

To my surprise, I must admit that Chris Huhne gave more coherent and more fully thought out answers- possibly because he was invited on a…

Georgia in the Russian cross hairs

The last few days have been difficult, even in the context of the tumultuous recent history of Georgia. Riots, and government demonstrations in Tbilisi, the declaration of a state of emergency. A familiar tale of instability in the Caucasus, would be most observers diagnosis.

Except it is not.

Georgia is a country of absolutely critical geo-strategic significance. Put simply the Baku-Tbilisi corridor is the only way that oil can get to the global markets from the vast fields of Kazakhstan and the Caspian without passing through Russia.

For the West Georgia is a vital part of global energy security: for Russia Georgia poses a defiant challenge to Russian hegemony over the central Asian energy reserves.

Constantly Russia has harried and harassed the Western oriented government of Mikheil Saakashvili- it illegally expelled thousands of Georgian traders and business people in 2006- a policy condemned by Human Rights Watch . In August of this year the repeated illegal over flights of Georgi…

A Third Mellenium Great Depression ?

Last night I attended a seminar over dinner with a group of Traders and Hedge Fund Managers.

Over the course of the evening, various theories were discussed as to "what is happening in the global economy".

The answers put forward were complicated but more or less uniformly bleak. The overnight gyrations of the dollar and the price of oil as the result of the Chinese openly talking about "diversifying" their currency holdings seems to reinforce the sense that we are not looking a a simple turn in the cycle.

Put simply, the scale of the credit losses is now so large that the United States can not avoid a prolonged period of painful adjustment. As Hans-Redeker, currency chief at BNP Paribas, puts it "Our view is that these losses are so substantial that it puts current business models at risk."

The US is now caught is a deadly trap. The price of oil and other commodities is in Dollars, so the effect of the dramatic appreciation of the Oil price is felt directly …

Grand Designs face down the NIMBYs

I must admit to being a secret fan of Grand Designs.

It puts forward an idea that is a very attractive pipe dream: the creation of a dream home, and as the subject of each programme meets the challenge of creating a home that expresses something of themselves, it allows the rest of us the fantasy that maybe, just maybe, we could do the same.

Last night I watched the programme that showed the presenter, Kevin McLeod's favourite design. It was, as is often the way with the designs selected by the programme to be filmed, highly eco-friendly. It was, unusually, built in a patch of woodland in southern England. How unusual that was was then made clear: no permissions are ever normally given in the UK to allow such construction. It was only because the builder was a Woodman who needed to be in the wood, for the sake of his livelihood, that any permission was allowed, but that he could not sell the house on, once built, and should he sell the woodland, from which he derived his living, he …

Playing with fire

There has been a lot of hot air wafted about recently on the subject of the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Despite the fact that oil is now on the brink of $100 a bbl, support for independence in Scotland is falling rapidly.

Nevertheless a certain section of the English press is stirring things up. We see resentful headlines in the London Paper about supposed extra payments being made to the Scottish government merely because the long overdue investment in London's crossrail is finally taking place. The idea that Scotland is a whining subsidy junkie - indeed little more than a parasite on England- is gaining ground in England based on these wilfully misleading headlines.

Not surprisingly, support for English independence has risen, even last year reaching 30%.

Therefore the latest proposals from the Conservatives for addressing the supposed anomaly of Scottish MPs voting on English affairs is treading on very tricky ground.

This is not to say that no action is n…