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Showing posts from January, 2009

Happy New Year... again

As the Chinese Year of the Ox begins, I suppose it is a second chance to revamp all those new years resolutions that may require a further injection of effort. If that doesn't work, well then you may have to wait until the Jewish new year comes around in September. I notice that the Year of the Ox is supposed to be a fairly steady year overall- after the challenging times that last year- the year of the Rat apparently- laid upon us, I don't suppose that anyone will complain about that. Strangely the three Baltic countries are said to be Ox countries- so perhaps this may be a good year for Estonia- I certainly hope so. Incidentally Britain, like China itself is said to be a Dragon country, self centred but glorious... hmm. While I have no real belief in the impact of horoscopes, Chinese no less than Western, I am nevertheless still quite happy to wish all my Chinese friends a very happy and prosperous new year!

The drunk man looks at Simon Heffer

Today is the 250th aniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, but in response to this tosh from Simon Heffer, I prefer to use the style of Hugh McDairmid: Nae fie in times a war an' financial exigency tae hear yon scunner roar oot his ain bile. Ilka the fear marks oot the cauf forby The mistakes a' his ain fowk he seeks to force upon anither. By fit richt hae he to talk? For aye his quine, the blessed Margeret, Presumed tae lecture Scots? An' that impiety took place wi'in a Kirk! In fit miekle mind can aye hatred o' five million hide? Fae meikle nonesense fit muckle rang and richt may find. An' a' we ken the guineas stamp wiz but the rank forby the gaud hae gone awry. An' aye the list is muckle lang fae a' hae trod on Scotland's dignity fae England's metropolitan toon. Noo we ken the truth: Yon portly scunner hae nicht ony word tae say Scots a' nae sicht rustic fowk

All must be changed, changed utterly

Britain may only now have entered recession, but the trajectory remains relentlessly down. A huge part of our national wealth and prestige, the City of London, is massively weakened. This matters hugely because so much of our innovation, so much of our best talent was invested in the financial services sector. Now a great part of the attraction of London as a global city has gone. The impact of fewer and lesser international connections will reduce the capacity of all of the British economy to enrich our citizens. All of us are going to get a lot poorer. Yet the mass of the political class- Conservative as well as Labour- are still speaking in terms of the past. While it is understandable that Mr. Brown would want to keep flogging the dead horse of his policies, it is very worrying to see how little thought or imagination is being shown on the opposition benches. Yet there has been one small straw in the wind about how our country might restore some of its lost wealth and pride. The at

Not even the end of the beginning

It is natural at the beginning of a new year to think about the future. After a well-nigh disastrous economic performance in 2008, it is also tempting to believe that things will improve in 2009. Yet there is now plenty of evidence that we are now entering completely new economic conditions and that these conditions may prevail for several years to come. Over the past two months, economic activity has fallen off a cliff. Advertising revenues at Britain's Channel 5 have fallen 30% in January alone . International trade is diminishing at a rate that has never been seen outside of war and plague: Container shipping prices from Asia to Europe have collapsed an average of 42% and in some cases the rates have even fallen to zero. These key trends are not being changed in any way by the actions of governments. Investors in almost every single asset class are nursing substantial losses and the focus is on capital preservation and reconstruction: there is simply not the money to put into

Deflation, Inflation, Reflation

While I suppose I should be writing ponderous sentences about the importance of inauguration day, the fact is that it will be many hours before we can judge Barack Obama's speech and on a perfect day to bury bad news there is a great deal of bad news. The latest inflation numbers, although above expectations still show a sharp fall and the trend is now firmly downwards. the problem is that the trend is so firmly downwards that it looks pretty likely that there will be several months of deflation later in the year. Such deflation is a measure of the scale of the bust which is now only beginning to afflict the wider economy. Depression 2.0 will be long and deep. Those confidently forecasting recovery in 2010 may simply be whistling in the dark. Deflation is incredibly damaging to peoples well being: it undermines the whole economic mechanism because the time value of money becomes negative. Governments will do almost anything to avoid it. What the British government now seems th

Germany moves Liberal

The grand coalition in Berlin was an expedient response to the electoral maths which the German voters delivered to their politicians. It allowed orderly administration but did not allow either party to change the political weather, given the closeness of the election result, one might well say fair enough to that. However the grand coalition has also limited much of the freedom of action of the administration. The controversial Nordstream gas pipeline project continues, despite serious concerns about security, largely because the former SPD Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, has carved himself a role as the Kremlin's international emissary- which the current Chancellor, Angela Merkel is known to have concerns about, though she has felt unable to say so in public. Although the government has been able to put together a credible set of core policies to face the credit collapse, and is still held in generally high regard, the more dramatic policy prescriptions have not been adopted, simpl

So Farewell Then... George W. Bush

The list of lasts for George W. Bush is diminishing steadily and we are now down to four days before he leaves office. His final press conference was of a piece with his conduct in office- no regrets and no explanations. However in in his valedictory he continues to demonstrate just how unfit a President he has been. His comment on upholding the moral authority of the United States was surely designed to do no more than raise a cynical laugh: this was after all the President who presided over Abu Graib and Guantanamo, who prosecuted an illegal war and who- more than any single one of his predecessors- governed in a politicised and highly partisan manner. I notice Andrew Roberts has written that he believes that George W. Bush was a " Good President ". Frankly it seems to me that this is just another of journalistic contrariness: taking a position in order to make the story. The fact is that, at home just as much as abroad, the popularity of this President could not be lower.

Cosmology... Wow! its like so.... Cosmic

Cicero has a fairly humanities driven brain. Although I enjoyed science as a kid, I had to make a choice fairly early on, and thus while I kept on with Physics, I had to drop Chemistry and Biology as subjects at 14 in favour of subjects like History and of course Latin, which I was frankly much better at. Nevertheless, though I do not feel that I have an intuitive feel for Maths, I have always enjoyed reading popular science books and reading through the occasional copy of New Scientist . The latest book I have been reading is written by the Cosmology consultant of New Scientist , Marcus Chown. The title, " The never-ending days of being dead " is perhaps a clue that the ideas in modern Cosmology are beginning to ask some very fundamental questions about the nature of the Universe. In the end the questions that Cosmologists are asking end up sounding very much like the Question that was posed to the Deep Thought Computer in Douglas Adam's "The Hitchhikers Guide to th

Fellow Travellers

I hold no brief for the Israeli attack on Gaza, it strikes me that the conventional wisdom on the incursion: "worse than a crime, it is a blunder" seems about right. The attacks seem to have more to do with the Israeli electoral calender than with any real determination to solve the long term problem of Hamas control over Gaza and the Arab-Israeli conflict. That being noted, we should also be quite clear that the immediate resumption of rocket attacks from Gaza by Hamas after the end of a six month ceasefire was a quite deliberate provocation- in the full expectation of this Israeli response. The demonstrations close to the Israeli Embassy in London have reinforced my concerns about the European response to the current violence. That so many of the large crowd were waving Communist Hammer and Sickle flags I find deeply offensive- as offensive as I would find the public display of the Nazi swastika. For me the only difference between National Socialism and Soviet Socialism is

Mr. Putin's words... and deeds

27th April 2006 " Mr. Putin assured Chancellor Merkel that "Russia will always be a reliable energy supplier ". Mr. Putin was speaking as he launced a campaign to be allowed to control all the downstream gas networks in Western Europe. 7th January 2009 Slovakia declares a state of emergency as no gas at all has come through the pipe from Russia. All of South East Europe reports complete shut-down - no gas at all being shipped. Poland reports 85% fall in supply, Italy, Austria over 90% and Germany "Significant disruption". Happy Orthodox Christmas.

"Because they are hard"

My brief return to the UK has made me notice a few significant changes. Though possibly the dose of the flu has made me feel bad enough to listen to Quentin Letts and other right-wing blowhards. The traditional British Christmas over the last forty years has tended to be focused around the television- the nights are dark, and many channels put out special programmes "for the festive season". This year, I notice what I feel is a certain coarsening of Christmas. The novelty songs of my youth: Slade's "Merry Christmas Everyone", Wizard's "I wish it could be Christmas Everyday", Jona Lewie's "Stop the Cavalry", John Lennon's "Happy Christmas, War is over" were not taken to be serious songs when i was a kid in the 1970s, yet now they seem to be regarded as somehow "classics". Indeed the Slade song is played absolutely everywhere- to the point of massive overkill. Meanwhile the real Christmas songs- the carols- of

Can the Worm turn in Russia?

Much has been made of the unrest in the Russian Far East. That a relatively minor taxation change could create riots in Vladivostok has come as a surprise to everyone. However, as I have noted in the past, the Putinistas are on increasingly thin ice. The emergence of a new, more coherent opposition grouping interestingly named "Solidarity" is obviously a welcome step, given how the factionalism of Russian democrats has been their principal downfall. That it comes at a time when the global economic crisis is placing increasing pressure on the post-Soviet government of United Russia and may help to articulate a real reform programme. Yet, we can not underestimate the scale of repression that Putin is able to deploy against his own people. The regime is well prepared for a period of violent discontent. Yet the extremely rapid depletion of the long hoarded foreign currency reserves indicate that United Russia my run out of money before the bottom of the economic crisis is reach