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Showing posts from April, 2006

Off broadening my mind..

Travel broadens the mind, so they say. So I am off to the bosom of my family in Aberdeenshire for a family wedding. Can't say I am being very green as far as travel is concerned: Last week Warsaw, this week Aberdeen, next week Japan- via the UAE-, then Zagreb, Tirana, Warsaw again and then the Viljandi Folk festival in Estonia. Lots of CO2 emissions, must remember to buy the carbon bank equivalent to off-set. I wonder, did David Cameron plant a forest for his emissions on his trip to Norway- hmm hmm- possibly not a good idea to dwell on DC's emissions... though it is hardly likely that you would beleive them anyway.

Judge a man by his friends

I have just returned from Warsaw. I have always found Warsaw a slightly extreme city- the mementoes of the appalling destruction of the city during the second world war are on every street corner. The serenity of the old town -the Stare miasto - is marred by the fact of it having been rebuilt in toto. It seems strangely artificial- beautiful, but almost like a mask- and the reality underneath is, like much of the rest of the city actually pretty ugly. Yet Warsaw is a city of broad shoulders, and talking with friends in my rather rusty Polish, I begin to see the new identity of Poland. As Pawel- a good friend- points out, Poland has become like the mid-west of the USA. Bland, but fairly conservative. When I first went to Poland, Warsaw had three skyscrapers, and dominating them all was the Stalinist wedding cake of the Palac nauki i kultury - now there are over thirty skyscrapers, by my count. In the end we have it- not Chicago, but Cleveland, Ohio. Yet amongst this evidence of rapid

Zero Sum Game

The government of the Russian Federation continues to act as though there is no such thing as a win-win solution. The country continues to through its weight around in almost every sphere: the seizure of Georgian mineral water (see link) is just the latest in a series of heavy handed restrictions on trade with countries that the regime in Moscow doesn't like. Essentially Russia continues to believe that if someone wins in a negotiation with Moscow, then by definition the Russians must have lost. Economics has become a continuance of politics, or even war, by financial means. This one eyed view in Moscow has led to some extraordinary situations. For example the gold collar of office of the pre-war President of Estonia remains in the Kremlin, despite the fact that the Russian Federation can have no earthly claim over it. Russia therefore still retains the treasures that their Soviet predecessors looted from other countries- whether these are jewels or, for example, the library of the


In common with most of her subjects I tend to wish Elizabeth II well- so congratulations to her on the occasion of her 80th Birthday. Also today is Good Friday in the Orthodox church. I therefore wish a Happy Easter to my orthodox friends.

The Constitution of Liberty

I posted the preamble of the Liberal Democrats constitution on As I read through it, it struck me as rather a woolly document, especially when compared with the old Liberal Party constitution (and my own recollection of it). It occurred to me that it could do with a rewrite, so here is my thoughts on what we should say about our key principles: The Liberal Democrats exist to build an open society in which every citizen shall possess liberty, property and security, and none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. Its first principle is freedom. It seeks to secure the rights and opportunities of the individual in all spheres. We believe that each generation is the steward of the Earth and is responsible for protecting the balance of nature. We believe that each state and nation is interdependent and that, irrespective of national boundaries, the cultures of humanity are worthy of respect without racial, religious or national prejudice. We believe that

Colour by Numbers

So David Cameron suggests that we could "Vote Blue and get Green". I am not really sure how this squares with any actual policies that the Conservatives have put forward. Indeed the only policy in the environmental field I have heard them offer at all is a proposal to release some green belt land for development. Even if it may be a sensible policy- a dubious prospect- it is not what is conventionally thought of as a green policy. The mention of colours does rather open the Conservatives to the accusation that they are just a bunch of political chameleons. In the blogosphere, there has been much consideration of the prospects for the Conservatives. Many of the more partisan Tories put forward the view that they can sweep aside the Liberal Democrats and position themselves to seize power once more. Of course, we are still not very clear what the Conservatives would actually do in office- whether they intend to cut taxes or hold them, and exactly what their spending priorities

10 Liberal Texts

Iain Dale put down some thoughts on his blog as to what the 10 key texts of Conservatism were. I was interested to see that several Conservatives tried to claim Liberal thinkers, such as JS Mill, as Conservative. My own choice for Liberalism would be (in no particular order): JS Mill: On Liberty FA Hayek: The Constitution of Liberty Karl Popper: The Open Society and its Enemies John Locke: Second Treatise on Civil Government Voltaire: Essay on the Manner and Spirit of Nations and on the Principal Occurrences in History Rousseau: The Social Contract von Humboldt: On the limits of State Action Isaiah Berlin: Two concepts of Liberty James Madision/Alexander Hamilton: The Federalist Papers David Hume: A Treatise on Human Nature Probably various others such as Aristotle's Politics or Joseph Steiglitz' Globalisation and its Discontents, should be included- please leave your ideas...

European Decadence

Hilmar Kopper, the President of Deutsche Bank has shrewdly identified a key problem with Europe as follows: "To agree on keeping a status quo that can't be kept has nothing to do with consensus. It's decadence". The scale of our problems in Europe is now enormous. Demographically, Europeans are not even replacing themselves. The steady decline in the economic significance of Europe is becoming a collapse, as India and China emerge as modern economies. As economic power flows elsewhere, the political and cultural influence of Europe ebbs too. Still the leaders of Europe do not admit, even to themselves, that the point of crisis is now upon us. Listless and nervous, the voters do not know where to turn. A succession of elections in Portugal, Germany, Italy, and Poland have demonstrated confusion as to how to face up to the scale of the problems. The institutions that have guided Europe through the years of recovery after the two world wars are now seen a shaky and no l

"The Long War" against?

The Pentagon has announced a rebranding exercise. The War formerly known as the War against Terror" will now be known as "The Long War". Usually in a war it is helpful to know three things: who you are fighting, what you are fighting for and when you know whether you have won or lost. We are given to understand that our enemy, the shadowy and evil people associated with Al-Q'aida could appear in any place and commit any crime up to and including using nuclear weapons against population centres. The definition of success is that such crimes do not take place. Repeatedly those authority figures with access to the highest grade of intelligence tell us that many attacks have been thwarted, but "if you knew what we knew" then we would be pretty scared, indeed terrified out of our wits. In the name of the War on Terror, the US-led coalition have gone to war in Afghanistan to remove the Taliban regime that undoubtedly sponsored Bin Laden and his close personal man

Fruitcakes and Loonies

No, this has gone beyond a joke- a perfectly nice Conservative twin-setted lady called Joan Howarth has revealed that she is not too keen on the ethnics... It is hard to believe that the Almighty has such a fabulously extreme sense of irony. So you see Mr. Cameron, when you rounded on UKIP as "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists mostly", we could not help thinking that it was actually the Tory party you were talking about. If Mrs Howarth is in the "wrong party", then you may have a bit of a problem: there just aren't enough Notting Hillbillies for you to get elected. While Zac, Ed and George (and doubtless many a Crispin, Josh and Tristan) are all on your side- your party really isn't. Excuse me, I just need to nip outside to cynically laugh my head off...


OK, OK I'll do the wikimeme: August 31st Three Events 1980 - The Solidarity trade union is formed in Poland. 1920 - Polish-Bolshevik War : A decisive Polish victory in the Battle of Komarów . 1997 - Diana , Princess of Wales , dies in a car crash in Paris . Two Births 12 - Gaius Caligula , Roman Emperor (d. 41 ) 1945 - Itzhak Perlman , Israeli violinist One Death 651 - Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne , Irish bishop and missionary

A Cliche in the Hand

Watching David Cameron rallying the twinsets in Manchester was an unexpectedly amusing use of weekend time. "We must not put our foot on the brake", he said, "but the accelerator". A bit ho-hum as a line, but not as vacuous as "we must become the party of aspiration once again". "We must lead the debate on pensions". Well, looking round the conference hall, one could certainly see why the Tories would want to lead that debate. Exactly how, ah well, that was not on offer- this was a policy free zone. "Forward, not back". Oh wait a minute, that was a Labour cliche. In fact, although it seemed that most of the conference was a rehash of CJ's lines from the Reggie Perrin scripts of the Seventies, it was hard not to feel a sense of amusement at the cascade of empty cliches: "a cliche to me is like a red rag to a bull, I avoid them like the plague...". Someone once said that over use of cliche was a sign of a befuddled mind, and

Insular thinking

I must confess a certain degree of irritation at the bluster with which the ignorant will try to put forward half baked ideas as though they were gospel truth. The media are often guilty of this: often, when I have been close to a subject that was being reported in the press or on television, I have heard statements that were misleading, partial or just plain wrong. As a result I have learned to read or listen to even our more distinguished commentators with one ear cocked for misrepresentation and inaccuracy. The pity of it is that on quite a few issues the media have helped to create "conventional wisdom" that is simply wrong. For example, on a excellent website which I read fairly avidly- I see posters regurgitating statements that are completely wrong. These errors are not just of opinion, but of fact. For example, Conservatives, determined to prove that the Euro is a failure, try to blame wholly unrelated problems in the European Union entirely on t

Crise de nerf

Three million people on the streets of Paris. All protesting about the most minor of changes to labour laws that would probably have a slightly positive effect on the high rates of French unemployment. This seems to be another waymark in the decline of France into political and economic irrelevance. President Jacques Chirac, himself re-elected for his second term only in preference to the extreme and thuggish Jean-Marie Le Pen, continues to brazen out a leadership that has utterly run out of ideas. The narrow elite of the French Republic, educated in the Grandes Ecoles, seems gripped with doubt. The confidence of Charles de Gaulle or Jean Monnet in a certaine idee de La France has given way to a defensive and querulous determination to resist change. Now around 200,000 French citizens have come to Britain- French schools in London are massively over subscribed, and the streets of South Kensington now echo to the language of Voltaire on a scale not seen ever before. Could anything dem

Window on the World

It is always interesting checking through the viewing stats for this blog. I see the IP address of several friends- Steve G, Steve T, Simon M and Andy W know who they are! Tristan has left several interesting comments, as has Andrew Montford- apologies for the delay in posting some of these, I had failed to notice that they were not being e-mailed automatically for review. On the other hand I see IP addresses from all over the place- those from the Baltic Countries are especially welcome- notably my old friend Igor, who I look forward to sharing a drink with the next time I am in Tallinn. The latest set is particularly interesting: many from Latin America with Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Mexico and Colombia all being represented. I have regular readers in the US, Canada (a country close to my heart as a former student there) Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Germany, Poland, Italy, Luxembourg, Finland, the Netherlands and Belgium. In the UK I see readers from Parliament and several

Words of Wisdom...

I first encountered "Chase Me Ladies, I'm in the Cavalry" in a quiet office and laughed so loudly that problems ensued... they asked me to leave. Click on link for more, but the following made me fall off my chair giggling: "Every adult must at some point have paused during some slapstick piece of debauchery and thought, "Christ, this is ridiculous". Having testicles is like being chained to the village idiot. Sad, but there it is. And when we have solved every racial, political and economic problem, we will still be stuck with that one."

What works...

Last Friday Cicero was speaking at the two-yearly seminar on the Baltic countries held at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at UCL. Two years ago we were celebrating the entry of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the European Union and NATO. This year the atmosphere is more muted. The reforming zeal of the region continues, but a greater sense of tiredness is evident- the politicians are clearly finding that keeping focused on the complexity of change is now more difficult with the goal of EU entry now achieved. Yet as a Liberal I am heartened. The key note speaker, Mart Laar, was the Prime Minister during the implementation of the shock therapy programme and continues to lead the most right wing faction, Isamaaliit, in the Estonian Parliament. Meanwhile another speaker, Professor Marju Lauristin retains her membership of the Social Democrats (although she herself was a minister in Mart Laar's government). What strikes me, however, is that there is a large body of

Ending in Failure

Reading through the headlines, it seems that the majority of us would very much like to see the end of Tony Blair's political career. However (we are told), Mr. Blair intends to stay for a while yet, and now rather regrets his statement that he would not stand again as Prime Minister. I think it was the Empress Theodora who urged her husband, Justinian, not to flee from Constantinople arguing that "Imperial Purple makes the best burial sheet". Certainly the reality of power does seem strangely addictive to those who hold it. Despite the old adage, attributed to Enoch Powell, that "all political careers end in failure", the fact is that few politicians set out a definite measure of success of failure. What does Tony Blair do now? He probably did not not expect in 1997 that his premiership would be defined by terror amid war but what would be a success or a failure at this point, nine years later? He can not control the exit from Iraq or Afghanistan, he can not de