Friday, August 30, 2013

Sorry Syria

Well, in the last dregs of summer's freetime I have given a little time to listening to the debate on Syria. I managed to see something of the Parliamentary debate, the relentless drumbeat of retreat from action which emanated from the back benches, but I hadn't heard Cameron's contribution until today. Meantime I had listened to John Kerry's rationalisation of the case for action against Assad, specifically his chemical weapons use.

First of all I must say that Kerry clarified the claim- 1429 dead, he said, at least, as a result of the attack. Until tonight I hadn't heard it so unequivocally put. Yesterday there was barely a mention except when Cameron briefly claimed 300 and something as a number drawn from Medecin sans Frontieres hospitals. That was always (I considered) going to be a fraction of the real number, assuming that the hospitals which treated the victims weren't all run by a French charity. 1429 is a different ball park- it's mass murder rather than warfare.

The number of dead leads necessarily to reflections on the scale of the attack.

What Kerry also added very clearly was the data on launch points of the attack, and targets. He said clearly, again and again- the launch points were multiple and all in areas controlled by the Assad regime. The targets were multiple but all were either in the hands of the rebels or of disputed control. The attacks had launch points in Assad territory (they were delivered by shelling) and targets which were rebel or disputed. The scale was massive and multiple in origin and target.

Did I mention 1429 people were killed in the assault?

What Kerry did that Cameron didn't was put together a sustained argument with key details which were repeated for emphasis and to allow them to sink in.

One aspect that he emphasised was the sheer number of videos of the aftermath which had come to light. So multi-sourced and spontaneous its as if ordinary people in Damascus might have smart phones with video capability. Oh.

Kerry spoke consistently and methodically, Cameron kept adding listed factlets in between interruptions from the House during which he repeatedly simply said 'I want to make some progress'- and then took another interruption. It all sounded very Parliamentary but for the 'ínformation poor' House of Commons there was no chance to let key facts sink in. Moreover, Cameron was at such pains to point out that he was doing things differently from Blair, he didn't permit the facts to speak for themselves.
,
It was almost as if Cameron wanted to lose- he was so gentlemanly to opponents and sceptics that he felt it indecent to even try to bend their ears with facts.

Well, it's early days in this particular conflagration in the ME. There will be time,

'There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;                               
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.' 


But I still wish that Cameron had made a proper speech.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Mick Philpott, existentialist, rascal

Far as I am from the UK, I find that the story of Mick Philpott, guilty of killing six of his children, somehow encapsulates all that is wrong with the sceptered isle. His appearances on daytime tv, his status as archetypal layabout, with an origin intriguingly including a period spent as a soldier in the army; his previous convictions being of such serious crimes as aggravated attempted murder, but so underpunished as to teach him all he needed to know about the malleability of the values of the society he leeched from; all these and more suggest, in a kind of odiferous compot, the precise elemental excretia of the body politic in the era in which we live. 

In fact Philpott's life history suggests a man who acted entirely on his desires and behaved with an almost poetic sense of freedom, insofar as whatever he could get away with, he did. He may well have known what good behaviour was, in the abstract- he could certainly impersonate it when he wanted to-, but in reality he was committed to doing whatever he was able to get away with at the given moment, and in the process imposing a Philpott-shaped indentation on the society through which his antics cut a swathe.

The details are oh-so-very tabloid, to such an extent that it's clear Philpott understood and even lusted after placing himself within the tableaux of selfish extremity which is their constant emanation. We learn, for instance, that Mick Philpott and his wife Mauraid went to a karioke evening in the days after they had caused the death of six of Philpott's children, and that he sang 'Suspicous Mind' by Elvis Presley, including the lyric 'caught in a trap'. The macabre dark humour of the Philpotts is an element of the artist of the moment trying to impose his will on reality.

Murder, as Dostoyevsky illustrated in his work Crime and Punishment, is the ultimate assertion of the will. Thus did Philpott consider the deaths of his children: as the assertion of his will. He considered himself, and forced others to admire him as, one of life's winners, one of life's survivors. He considered it his role to dominate: women, children, even society itself. He dominates the headlines today, and that itself is a form of continuing victory. For this, Philpott can be considered one of the world's great existentialists. Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov would have agreed, and this latter day rascal shows how the world has advanced since those times.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

D'Ancona

Matthew D'Ancona:

'Ukip is not a party but a state of mind. It recoils not from Europe specifically but from change generally. It fuses the twitching of the suburban net curtain with the anti-everything spirit of Screaming Lord Sutch: the party of Monster Raving Rotarians. The rise of Ukip reflects not Conservative failure so much as the hectic pace of contemporary life. This is a bad era in which to live if you like uniformity, continuity and predictability. '

This statement makes me rather angry, which either self-identifies me as one of the no-change brigade, or suggests that D'Ancona's blanket smears are infuriatingly smug.

On the contrary, I would say, first of all, plus ca change, plus ca meme chose. Generally speaking those who menace for 'change' are those who suck like leaches from the status quo. 'Change' as a mantra is unchanging among the movers and shakers, of whom Ancona is a notable example. This is the same D'Ancona who was far up the New Labour posterior and is further up the Cameroonian one. This D'Ancona seems to be a Vicar of Bray minus the challenging era, needlessly and gratuitously ever-present. In the devil's words one wishes that he would just F-off.

D'Ancona mistakes imposition for change. Change, when it is authentic, comes from below. It comes in waves from the positions of lives coordinating spontaneously. Imposition imitates change but only superficially and its effects are like interference rather than waves. It comes sporadically, when conditions are permissive, imposed by will and vanity.

Change is always happening, and the challenge for all people of whatever age and place is to adapt to it. Therefore it helps if you are free from the imposition of fantasists. Such are political obsessives, currency fanatics, opinion-leader writers and european politicians.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Greece on the slide

Nothing can contain my disgust with the EU at their complicity and indeed authorship of the continued stresses in Greece, among other southern countries. Paul Mason offers a telling account of the Greek predicament:


On the walls somebody has spray-canned "Love or Nothing". Right now there is a heck of a lot of nothing: shops closed, stripped, barred, graffitied, the fascias chipped off as ammunition in riots, burned out, gone.

I am no fan of Mason, but like all true socialists he takes things seriously. Only he cannot- one assumes because he has other kinds of revolutionary solution in mind- come to the only sensible conclusion that will help Greece out of its hole: leaving the Euro. The only argument I could ever see in favour of the European Union was that it helped less-developed nations to integrate into the developed core. Now that process is reversing, and far from despairing over it, the Euro elite, from Germany to Spain, actually rejoices that 'necessary' 'reforms' are underway. As Mason illustrates, this is not reform any more than punishment beatings are justice. It's just beyond belief that the pols of Europe, so used to pivoting whole elections around a couple of percent of unemployment and a couple of percent of benefits or taxes, are merrily going along with changes in the tens of percent- unemployment, benefits, taxes. All the while it is verboten to consider the essential ground of currency which is normally a powerful tool available to the politicians who have been voted by their electorate. Mason's sense of foreboding is wise, even if the socialist in him cannot bring himself to undermine the essentially socialist construct of the Euro.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

and the key metric is...

No, not the bond yields for Spain, or the value of the Euro, or how the markets have risen on the news of Mario Draghi's promise of unlimited bond buying. No, the fact that matters is this - Greek unemployment rose by 1% in July. In July. In July alone! At 24.4% it's 7% higher than it was this time last year. It hasn't surpassed Spain's, but you can see the trend. Quantitative easing has decoupled the markets from the economy; government debt shielded by this has decoupled the populace from economic reality. Nevertheless the real weight of the economic uncertainty is being felt by the economic decisionmakers on the high street, in manufacturing and construction, and reality bites as the taxman goes hungry.

The big emphasis of Mario Draghi's announcement was 'conditionality' ie. the PIIGS can have the money IF they cut Government spending. This emphasis was for Merkel. The trouble is, that puts the population of Greece ever more into the position of rabbits in the EU headlights- pensioners paralysed, students pessimistic, everyone in between grasping for everything they can hold on to. It's not reform any more than the surgeons in the Middle Ages were carers. It's blood-letting, and the patient merely blanches ever whiter.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Crazy Rajoy

This summer I spent my holidays in Spain. My moderate Spanish was tested and exposed from time to time, but travelling the country as I did from North to South was a great experience. Everywhere people were glad to see tourists; everywhere there were plenty of rooms available. Most areas it was very quiet, not at all like the highest of high seasons. On getting back I read that Spain had enjoyed a record-breaking number of tourists, according to official figures. Mmmm. I wonder how they are compiled?

Here's a great article on the current situation of Spain on ZeroHedge. What it emphasises is the relative difference of Spain,, especially that they evolved for themselves a special kind of finance model called 'dynamic provisioning' which basically allows them to fix the asset values of banks until favourable. This means that, according to ZeroHedge, the banks in Spain have their solvency underwritten by assets which are 40% overvalued. Perhaps a better word for the system could be 'static provisioning', maybe 'price fixing' or simply just 'fraud'.

Anyhow, with my Spanish and a little free time, I watched Mariano Rajoy and Herman Van Rompuoy face the press today. Once upon a time I had hopes that Rajoy, unencumbered by the burden of responsibility which was Zapatero's, would be able to take a fresh approach. Uh oh. Rajoy's a gung-ho Charge of the Light Brigade type. He ranted in practically every single answer, despite the questions being far from challenging. No-one wanted to ask something simple like 'how much unemployment is unbearable for a country?' No, they knew that practically the only thing Rajoy would say is 'the Euro is forever''. Much like love. And we know how that usually turns out. The more you have to say it, the less it means and the more it signifies. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

balls



Thinking about the Libor scandal and the possible role of Ed Balls in this fiasco today, I reminisced a little in writing, as follows...

I was standing on some steps in London, not far from Grey's Inn- the legal college. It had been a fairly eventful visit to a friend who was just starting his career in the Foreign Office. It was about 2002. His fiancee had just given me a tour of the Inn where she was pupilled. At least, I think that's how it was. It's funny that when you say aloud to someone that you both should remember this moment and what was said and where, it should become so hazy. Yet in my mind at the time there was a sort of desperate certainty that made this act of conscious marking both necessary and seemingly futile. By saying 'remember this moment' I made the moment a haze, but I remember the content of what I wanted to say; it was a nice round package then and remains so now, as dumb as an improvised explosive device.

The content of it was not related directly either to law or to foreign affairs. Inapt was a word I could use for it. It was a statement out of synchronization with the times we were living in or the people we then were. I was criticising bankers; I was criticising Gordon Brown. I said that together they would make a disaster from the City and bring the country to economic catastrophe. House prices were pumped, interest rates sedated, profits on steroids and bonuses on Red Bull. It was all a word which I didn't yet know- a FUBAR. If I had known the word FUBAR in the sense of understanding what it meant I would have applied it to Brown's Britain, which was led by Blair but underwritten by the crazy gold selling interest rate calming end of boom and bust great moderation nonsense espoused most notably by Gordon Brown, Chancellor and master doom-distiller from Kirkaldy.

And I was right. The End.

Monday, June 11, 2012

we are all swivel-eyed xenophobic extremist anti-Maastricht bastards now

Love the intro from Norman Tebbit's lovely blogpost:

I post just as the first Spailout is being digested (and pretty thin stuff it seems). We've moved on from Grexit to Spailout, in terms of the latest flutterings. Germany is still growing, looking suspiciously like an undertaker booming as the front-line casualties mount. I'm also learning German (true, actually, but unrelated- I think).

Sunday, January 01, 2012

 Eurofail#

Ok, it's been a while. Mostly I've been observing rather than commenting anywhere- just the occasional tweet from me - @Edtho in case you'd  like to follow. But what a lot to observe. From where I sit the view of the Eurocrisis is just fascinating. It's all a question of to what extent anyone's in control and whether this is a "beneficial crisis" or a crisis of real proportions.

As I see it now it's a bit of both. Germany's Merkel clearly is in the best position and looks like the director, but it suddenly occurred to me that she's like Elsa in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The ground opens up and the grail slips down and lodges on a ledge below. That's German Euro-hegemony, in my analogy. Elsa (Alison Doody- Mrs Merkel) is reaching down for the Grail- stretching, stretching and she just can't reach while holding firmly to the floor above her. Well, the Germans don't actually have what it takes to solve the crisis without help, do they? They can bail out Greece but how about Spain? However, the idea of German virtue conquering all in Europe is so attractive to Elsa (Merkel) that she defies reality and keeps on stretching. Meanwhile, Indiana Jones (Cameron- ha) would like to dissuade her from the unrealistic over-reach. In the end, the grail is more attactive than the solid ground and Elsa's grasp of the latter slips as she pursues the former. And there you have it- a prediction for 2012, I suppose.

The divergence from the analogy is that it isn't Elsa (Merkel) who is lowering herself over the abyss for the grail, but the PIIGS who are being lowered- that's why the grail is so overwhelmingly attractive- because Germany doesn't appear to be in the forefront of risk. I think that could be somewhat illusory though, which is the exciting twist in the tail. To be continued....

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

 A rare insight:

“Substance,” here, is beside the point, and this enrages a certain spectrum of the intelligentsia. As for Barbara Bush, her husband had not one iota of star power; her son had a little, but his qualities—non-eloquence, an Everyman outlook, a red-state appeal—are Sarah Palin’s, too… a closeness that may embarrass Barbara Bush more than a little, and really sting.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Two Ideas... (that work for me)

Calling Gordon and the BBC

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The importance of options: no need to BRIC it (part deux)

Liam Halligan comments on currency games in Japan. The Japanese have been trying to reduce the overblown value of their currency to help exporters. The reason it has strengthened is because currency investors wanted to find a currency outside the Euro or Dollar in which to hedge. The upside of the strengthening might be the ability of Japanese firms to make investments abroad. It is an old game which is being played with a new intensity in the modern era. 

(click timestamp below to read more)



Sunday, September 05, 2010

No need to BRIC it yet...

A year ago for some wee wee publication I wrote:

"more than a third of the world's population lives in... China, Brazil and India. Together with Russia... they have been called the „BRICs“ (Brazil, Russia, India, China) by many economists. The problem is that the world is not used to an economy which is built on the BRICs. People question whether the BRICs can continue growing without US and EU economic leadership."

(click the timestamp below for more; I haven't got this "read more" feature sorted yet. PS I've been considering matters economic in recent times, so this is something I might be adding to the content here, which sad to say I neglected)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Woolmer again back in the spotlight:

Following up my latest post, see this remarkable blog from Jamie Pandaram of the Sydney Morning Herald where says:

"There still remains deep suspicion in Pakistan - despite no proof - that former coach Bob Woolmer was murdered by mafia types because he was set to expose match-fixing within his own team. The most sinister characters are linked to illegal bookmaking in the sub-continent, most notably Dawood Ibrahim, one of the world's most wanted terrorists, who has close links to Osama bin Laden. Some have suggested Ibrahim uses profits from his various gambling operations to fund butcher operations by al-Qaeda. Bookmakers are said to organise fixes with players, then place large bets with rival bookies to collect major winnings. One Indian bookmaker who believed he had been stung by a fix refused to pay up, and, fearing for his life, fled to South Africa. He was recently found chopped into seven pieces."

Those crooked Pakistanis: the world around us

I was interested rather than shocked to learn of the fixing scam being carried out by at least a number of Pakistani cricketers, and it reminded me of a few things; not least how unusual a game cricket is. In some ways it might be considered the most popular game in the world, enthralling as it does 1.4 million asians plus a hundred million or so of other ethnicities. It could certainly be bigger than soccer when all is said and done. In addition, it's a sport of the Empire association which we know as the Commonwealth. Yet I suppose it's played internationally by only about 200 or so players, estimating generously. So, across India and in a couple of rich Western countries you have many thousands of bets on a game controlled by 22 players, or rather, by 11 players should they decide to play a certain way. In Pakistan gambling is officially banned. Playing a certain way with a certain objective is so much a part of cricket that it's regarded as a skill to get the result you want- usually considered to be a win or a draw depending on circumstances. It lends itself perfectly to corruption and no more so than when played by the 11 prima donnas elected for elevation by a teeming asian nation. With many players never having had access to such money as the game offers, but that money swamped by its gambling action, the temptations are massive.

Yet Pakistan, rather than India, is the country with the bad reputation. Why is that I wonder? It may be because the Pakistani players are paid much less than their international counterparts. I suspect it might also be to do with the fact that gambling is a non-Islamic tradition, and therefore the players can enrich themselves at the expense of dhimmis in their "ill-conceived" "favourite" activities. Apparently key players and the captain were in on the scam- and as former cricketer myself I can say that it would be difficult for ordinary players not to know about such activities.

Was the whole match fixed, or just parts of it? According to Michael Slater here, cricket holds the most money in betting outside of horseracing. He says that "spread betting" was the approach that the Pakistanis were playing to. What you can bet on in a cricket match I can't exactly say, but I know the potential is endless. However it does seem that the Pakistanis were also at times playing to the biggest gambling topic of all- the result.

In all this there is another thing this reminded me of: the death of Bob Woolmer in suspicious circumstances during Pakistan's world cup campaign of 2007. There was talk then that Woolmer had confronted players over possible corruption. This would be at about the same period as the man arrested over fixing, Mazhar Majeed, claims to have been involved with the team's fixing activities. I wonder why the Pakistanis needed a new partner after Woolmer's death, since Majeed claims that he was approached by the players rather than vice versa, and this is information we know from the confidence he shared with the investigating journalists...

to whom we owe a debt of gratitude and an acknowledgement that surely someone with Pakistani origins or connections, possibly investigating journalist Mazher Mahmood, was needed to provide the insights and the contacts which led to the uncovery of the scam. If so, then Civilization 1 - the Barbarians at the gates 0 is the real result of this contest. But the darker question of the real fate of Bob Woolmer remains.

 
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