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Showing posts from April, 2007

The delusions of Alex Salmond

I see that in the last few days of the campaign for Holyrood Alex Salmond has claimed that " Independence is not a One Way street" . Apparently what he means is that having become independent, Scotland could then somehow become un-independent and rejoin some form of a reconstituted UK. What a load of crap! Independence is a one shot- and there really is no going back on separatism. The fact that Salmond has to invent this spurious line shows how few people are truly convinced about Scottish separatism- only 32% of Scots currently support a wholly independent Scotland. The fact that Scottish independence is currently supported by a higher number of English voters than Scots, should show "Wee Eck" Salmond that he is talking drivel. There is still time to avoid having this shallow and dishonest politician as Scotland's First Minister, and I, for one, am far from convinced that the SNP will do as well as the current polls seem to suggest. Such arrant nonsense should

Man of Steel, Man of Bronze

In modern Russia there are groups that are essentially Fascist. The British Ambassador to Moscow has been harried for months by "Nashi" . Essentially Nashi is a pro-Putin group that behaves with considerable brutality- they have rightly been compared with the Nazi SA thugs that helped bully Germany into allowing Hitler into power. These thugs have now come to Tallinn. Violence and looting broke out as the government of Estonia sought to move the controversial statue of the "Bronze Man"- a Soviet era memorial to Soviet troops, sometimes known to the bitter Estonians as the "Tomb of the unknown Rapist". At present the statue is next to a tram stop in front of the National Library, but after increasingly bitter demonstrations by Soviet die-hards and Estonian nationalists the decision was taken to relocate the statue to a military cemetery. This violence was planned by the Kremlin. Russia has used this essentially minor issue of the statue as leverage against

The possibilities of Ukraine

Ukraine seems to acquire notice only as a place of shifting and unstable politics these days. The euphoria of the Orange revolution seems to have given way to a war of attrition between the different Ukrainian political blocs. Many are dispirited by this constant bickering and the political merry-go-round in K'yiv. However it seems to me that the situation in Ukraine is drastically better than in neighbouring Russia, despite the negative parallels that some have wished to draw. Firstly the political problems reflect the fact that Ukraine has a political system. The various regional and economic interests in the country are balanced against each other, and therefore no single group can enforce its will alone- a sharp contrast to the dogmatic authoritarianism in Moscow. Secondly the inability of the centre to impose its sill is a distinct advantage in a country which contains significant diversity. The Eastern, more Russian speaking part of the country does not fear the possibility

Local News

The British political world is more uncertain than for many years- the end of Blairism raises many questions, but what remains surprising is the the fact that so few are convinced that the Conservatives are the inevitable answer to a decade of Labourism. Will David Cameron be able to make enough progress to get into number Ten? Will Gordon Brown turn out to be triumph or disaster for Labour? Are the Liberal Democrats poised to advance or decline? No one really knows. So, political pundits cast around for any event which can shed light upon the darkness. The latest local elections give some pointers, but I suspect that the results will end up being ambiguous. The Conservatives seem poised to make substantial advances- after all they are up in the opinion polls- yet these advances may not be enough to show sufficient momentum to put them into power across the country, and in Scotland they may well hit a new low in support. Labour may do better in Scotland than many expect. The Nationalis

Blatant BBC Bias!

I have listened with irritated boredom to the Conservatives endlessly banging on about bias against them in the BBC. *yawn* However this story on the BBC website about David Cameron makes me think they might be right. One single paragraph heading summed up Cameron's performance on the Today Programme and on television. Quite rude to point it out so clearly though.

I'm not looking for a New England

"This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi -paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,-- This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England." These are the words that Shakespeare gives John of Gaunt to describe England. Of course not strictly accurate, since England has always had to share the island with other lands and peoples. Yet now, 412 years after Richard II was first performed, the question of England is now recurring. England seems to be nervous and defensive about changes in the British state. As Wales and especially Scotland, have asserted more individual identities, the English, who perhaps subsumed their national identity more completely in the

Counting Chickens

Last night I made another one of what seem to be becoming regular appearances on The audience for these political shows is doubtless vanishingly small, but they are grateful to a Liberal Democrat for providing a little leavening to their otherwise Conservative bias- several people in row all nodding agreement does not make for riveting telly, even for those few actually watching. The atmosphere in the building reminds me vaguely of a Senior Common Room- slightly divorced from reality (not to mention extremely untidy!)- and some of the ancillary groups that also function from the headquarters of "Tory television" are a bit odd. Last night the "Britain and America project" aired an attack advert against the BBC. I do recognise that our national broadcaster is not above criticism, but to attempt to stir up American antipathy against the BBC seems pointless and perhaps slightly petty. Frankly, I would have thought that the expansion of the BBC's ope

U and Non-U

Class is to the British what Race is to the Americans. It is not really discussed, and if it is, it is usually dismissed to foreigners as "not really important, these days". And of course, by and large it should not be that important- the braying Piers' and Tobys have mostly been expelled from the city for being really quite bad at sums, and now content themselves being estate agents, whether in Belgravia or Bulgaria- much more appropriate for someone educated at Cirencester's Agricultural College. However amongst the more insecure and driven Middle Classes the fight for good schooling has managed to distort and twist the housing market as well as the University entry system. More than for some time it is wealth and social background that determines academic attainment rather than aptitude and intelligence. Our society continues to neglect talent because it is from the "wrong background". The acres of trash journalism concerning the putative relationship bet

Too much information

Which country has the largest records of genetic information ? You might have thought China, or India since they have the largest populations. In fact, the United Kingdom keeps more genetic information about its citizens than any other state on the Planet. There is more DNA from British citizens in laboratories than in any other country on Earth. The sources for this material is not just the criminal justice system, where DNA from people that is taken to eliminate them from police inquiries is not routinely destroyed. It is also the health care system, and insurance. It is even collected from school children! A large amount of genetic information is now under institutional control. There are no clear guidelines under legislation as to who may have access to this information. The statutory body that was set up to supervise this has now been split, after too many members objected to the routine dissemination of DNA information. Let us just recall that this is material that we see more sc


Bruce Chatwin is such an elusive figure. His elegant prose style is easy to read, yet the truths that he writes about are partial truths or even not true as he has put them down. He is a storyteller, and reading Nicholas Shakespeare's compendious biography one senses that there were few parts of Chatwin's own life that were not embellished. The writer of unvarnished, spare prose, lived a life where he found it difficult to speak many fundamental truths about himself. The result was great restlessness. A traveller to difficult and inaccessible places: Patagonia, Afghanistan, the Australian desert, Chatwin developed a passion for the nomadic. His books express an idea that wandering is natural and healthy both for the human spirit and indeed the human body. In the "Songlines" he develops this thesis based on a extraordinary range of different sources. His contention that the walkabout of the Australian Aboriginal peoples reflects a sacred connection both to the land

Credit Failure

Few people in the UK are aware of the problems of the US sub-prime credit market. Even if people are aware of the fact that the market there has dramatically tightened, not many from outside the industry are aware about what that means. It means that in a period of about six weeks, credit has suddenly become very difficult to find- people who were financially stretched are now being forced to sell up, and the consequence is a serious down turn in real estate prices. The over extended US credit market is facing the consequences of the bankruptcy of sub prime lenders and in their struggle to survive the remaining lenders are now lending "by the book". So, although interest rate rises have been relatively modest, the available liquidity has fallen sharply. Finally the US consumer faces serious pressure, and the decline of the US housing market is headed towards a rout. Although the UK consumer lending market has not become as over extended overall as the US market; compared wit

The demise of "Society"?

I have been extraordinarily busy, and therefore finding even a few minutes to comment on things that catch my eye has been difficult, and though the next two days give the prospect of a bit of relief for Easter, it may still be that my blogging remains a bit sparse . I spent the last two days in Slovenia, meeting people in Ljubljana and on the coast in Koper . Driving through the majestic scenery of this mountain enclave is always a pleasant experience, and although Slovenia's political and economic environment is, well, slow, the country remains for the moment the richest in Central Europe. The process of change is slower than the Baltic, but the fact is that life is pretty good here. Like many small countries, you are struck by the very human scale of the way things are done- in the business community, there are virtually no strangers- everyone knows everyone else, or at least knows of them. Thus It is hard to keep any secrets- many were speculating as to the reasons for my own