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Showing posts from August, 2007

10 Years On

OK, so an attractive woman was tragically killed in a road accident. The astonishing outpouring of public grief, even at the time, I found rather disturbing. It seemed to be more about society's guilt at our conflicted feelings about this dramatic, disturbed and damaged woman, than any real feeling for someone that most of us had never met. The fact that every anniversary has been marked with tabloid gush, to me just shows the breathtaking hypocrisy of the dead tree press as they continue to defy their falling readership numbers. This latest wheeze, after the Diana memorial fountain, playground, walk, charity, stain glass window and for all I know no few tattoos, is the Concert, where the fight to get on the guest list has descended into black farce. How Paul Burrell can think that the Royal family hold him in higher esteem than pond life scum is beyond me. So another year of mawkish mourning for dead Diana.. Its creepy.

Making Predictions

" Making predictions is difficult, especially about the future "- Yogi Berra (but maybe Nils Bohr) Let us think about the great unknown: the future, after all we can not be too sure about anything beyond now. Nassim Nicolas Taleb has written at length about the scale of the problem that human brains encounter- our brains are hard wired to see patterns, even where none exist: he calls this epistemological arrogance, because humans very rarely say "I don't know". The "profession" of politics sometimes seems to particularly attract humans who are less likely to admit uncertainty, still less ignorance. Yet the rest of us still invest our hope into such imperfect figures. Although much of politics is merely a matter of orderly administration: getting the drains emptied or the roads filled in, yet still we look for more from our political leaders we invest something of the best in ourselves into our leaders- whether or not they deserve it. I don't know

Vladimir Putin and the 1984 All Stars

I suppose it is just possible that Vladimir Putin's regime might have lost its marbles, or maybe they just think that foreigners are stupid, but the latest drivel from Moscow truly defies belief: The murder of Anna Politkovskaya was plotted by foreigners . Yeah, course it was Vlad, just like we are also responsible for the Kursk disaster , the Ostankino Fire, the fact that Russians drink themselves to death , and that the Rothschild's plotted the Russian Revolution in the first place (Oh no, wait a minute that is an American conspiracy theory). We have actually read 1984 you know Vlad- it has never been a banned book over here. Creating fictional Goldsteins is easy for Chekists on home ground, but in a free country it is far easier to spot the lie. Soviet Socialism killed tens of millions. The fact that Putin eulogises it and uses many of the same brutal methods should turn his government into a pariah. He is unquestionably our enemy.

Another generation...

I see that the former President of the European Commission and Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Gaston Thorn has died. A business minded Liberal, in many ways he represented many good things about the drive for European Integration. Doubtless the Anti-Europeans will describe him as precisely the kind of Euro-fanatic that seeks to destroy the nation states of Europe. However, as his obituary makes clear, he was a very proud patriot for his own country- fighting so strongly for the national idea of Luxembourg against the Nazis that he put his own life on the line, and indeed ended up in a German concentration camp. His generation did not see the European Union as a way of ending Luxembourgish, or any other European national identity, but rather as a tool to serve the ultimate national interest. Partly this was by reducing the risk of future war, and though I see that Lepidus has already decried this (and Chris at DK would probably choke!), that certainly was a major influence on the think

Devil's Advocate

Just before I left for my break I left a post pointing out that the Tories were trying to condemn a treaty that they were highly unlikely to have even read. I felt that this sold the whole idea of "Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition" down the river, since they had simply opposed without even thinking. Chris at Devil's Kitchen then had a good old go at me - as is his want, and why people read him- in words of one syllable and four letters, for having the temerity to, even tentatively, support the idea that a reform treaty of the the EU was necessary. Chris, as a UKIP member, but also many Tories, believe in British withdrawal from the European Union. Anyone can criticise the European Union- like many things that have grown up organically, it includes contradictions and absurdities. So does the British Constitution (which, being unwritten, is even worse and can mean contradictory things to different people). His point, which he left in a posting here was : "Let's n

Danish Town

Back again in Tallinn where I am due to speak at a conference tomorrow - hope that I can come up with something that makes sense to the notoriously well informed and generally unresponsive Estonian audience. A real pleasure to escape the vile weather in London (only a week back and hating it already!). At least the summer still continus here, although it is in fact somewhat humid- unheardof in this generally quite chilly climate. Mind you I shall be going on to Aberdeen on Saturday, so that is set to be somewhat bracing!

The value of Mr. Micawber

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery." An awful lot of Americans have just worked out that they are at the wrong end of Mr. Micawber's recipe for happiness, in fact the number of Home repossessions has jumped 93% in the last year . Despite the respite of the Fed's emergency rate cut on Friday, the markets are growing ever more nervous. The grouping of risk into complicated bundles like CDOs has made it a lot harder to identify where the potential credit losses might be. Although Banks had thought that they had sold their credit risk, hedge funds which they also own have bought these risks, with the consequence that first Bear Sterns and now Goldman Sachs and many others have been forced to take dramatic hits. In the giant game of pass the parcel in the credit markets, some unfortunate bankers have discovered that their parcel

True Colours

Having returned to the UK, I take up my reading on the newspapers, with rather limited enthusiasm- I find less and less of interest, and am tempted to limit my dead tree exposure to the Economist weekly round up. However, in my absence, I notice the Conservatives finally seemed to be launching some policies. Well, I actually thought they were and then realised that these were just the usual flyers . So still no actual agreed manifesto is in sight. Nevertheless, it was interesting to take look at what straws are in the wind. The usual bromides about government waste are always valid, but as usual with too many politicians, they identify the problem and decree that it will be solved, without actually telling anyone how- a classic result of a lack of management education, sadly. So while it is clear that government is still incredibly wasteful, and I have very little doubt that savings ought to be made, the unerring accuracy of Parkinson's law seems to apply with extra virulence a

All quiet on the Western Front

I returned to Britain through the back roads of Northern France. Instead of the speed of the uncluttered motorways, I took it slowly on smaller roads. Just South of Arras I found the first Commonwealth cemetery. Then another, then another, on the outskirts of this unprepossessing northern French town. The winding road from Amiens made Arras seem a long distance, but I suspect that for the Tommys moving up to the front, the sight of each sign post was knell bringing them another mile closer to the mincing machine of the Arras salient. North from Arras lies a ridge that dominates the low ground, and from here the Germans pinned down the Imperial army- for such was the British army of the time. Eventually after a horrific bloodbath, the Canadians, who had become the shock troops in the salient- were able to storm the concrete trenches on Vimy Ridge on April 12th 1917. The artillery barrage that proceeded the storming of the ridge is said to ave been the most intense in history- and th

En Vacances

The beautiful weather in the South of France is making blogging sparse, but it is certainly interesting and fun talking with people here. I think I will take Chris of Devil's Kitchen up on his offer of a beer too, when I return. I will update some more when the sun goes in...

When the facts change...

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir? — John M. Keynes The English version of the European Union reform treaty was published this morning, a few days later than the French version which came out last week. The Constitutional treaty is a dead letter. Is the Reform treaty just an attempt to impose the controversial "constitution" by a more roundabout way? Well, the UK Conservatives certainly seem to think so and demand an immediate referendum on the new treaty. Their reasons for asking for this are dressed in the language of principle, but as so often with the use of referenda, high principle is more like low politics. The Conservatives are highly sceptical of British membership of the European Union. Many of them advocate complete withdrawal, and they believe- indeed hope- that the British would certainly reject any treaty, no matter what. I do not share their view. Firstly, upon a close examination of the text of the new treaty, it is radically differ