Thursday, October 27, 2011

Euro crisis: and yet more talk of fairies at the bottom of the garden

I can’t think of anyone who likes being treated as a moron, yet apparently several of the most important bods in the European Commission seem to believe we’re not that fussed. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has declared that Europe is ‘closer to resolving the eurozone crisis’. Oh no it’s not. The shit is deep and getting deeper by the day.

Last night various heads of government and finance minister got together and cobbled up some deal or other - suitably obscure on the principle that if the public don’t understand it, they won’t worry so much - then gathered, all smiles, for a photo opportunity and buggered off home. I would like to give you the details, but they are meaningless. The eurozone crisis - or rather the underlying shambles which is the eurozone - has not been resolved. All that has happened is that another layer of sticking plaster has been imposed on a festering wound in the hope that ‘the markets’ can be ‘calmed’. Yes, that’s the name of the game. Bugger that Greece still owes more money than it can make in one year, that Italy and Spain are also in the shit; that everyone assumes Greece’s creditors will be quite happy to settle for getting back less than half of what they lent; that both Ireland and Portugal are getting very fucking annoyed indeed that Greece should be let off half of its debts while they diligently and honestly imposed horrible austerity on their folk to pay off their debts; that when all is said and done the Greeks are still retiring far earlier and getting larger pensions than the folk who are paying of their bills; that the whole sunshine scenario of ‘resolving the crisis’ depends on steady economic growth in Europe, which absolutely no one believes will happen; and that the utterly stupid arrangements which lead to this shambles are still in place.

Bugger all that: at least ‘the markets are being calmed’.
Ten years ago when every bloody left-of-centre trendy in Europe was toasting the EU’s new currency as though it were the Second Coming, others were warning that unless there were fiscal union - taxes imposed from the centre - it would all end in tears. And that is exactly what happened. So now our esteemed leaders - well, as a Brit, not mine - are urging just that: a fiscal union. And given the mutual suspicion in the eurozone, cobbling that together has as much chance as making a snowman in hell. But that doesn't dampen all the brave talk of the 17 eurozone members about forming a fiscal union and imposing the necessary uniform taxes throughout the eurozone area. This is certainly what eurosceptics pointed out ten years ago - and were proved right - that unless the eurozone area was a fiscal union, the whole bunfeast would end in disaster.

Given that among the 17 at present tax raters vary widely, that Ireland has always done well and attracted investment because of its low corporation tax and would do badly if this were raised to the level prevalent in other countries, and that in Italy and Greece tax evasion is the order of the day, successfully establishing such a fiscal union is the pipedream to end all pipedreams. Here's just one brief scenario: uniform taxes are imposed, the traditional tax evasion in Italy and Greece (and elsewhere for all I know) carries on, the protestant, fair-haired, hardworking Northern Europe members of that fiscal union, who are diligently paying their taxes as the Bible demands, get terminally fed up and their voters tell their leaders that unless the fiscal union is ended, they will vote in folk who will end it. Result: end of fiscal union, end of the eurozone and, most probably, end of the EU as we know it at present. So why wait? Why not bite the bullet?
Then there is the ‘one trillion’ euros which will boost the stability fund. Where exactly is that coming from? Because it is most certainly not coming from the banks, who will soon be out of pocket to the tune of half of everything they lent Greece.

There is brave talk of getting the Chinese to cough up on the grounds that if the eurozone goes phut, the world’s economy will go phut and the Chinese will be just as badly hit as the rest of us. True enough, but I can’t see the Chinese putting any faith in a gang of eurozone finance minsters who have so far shown themselves to be economically illiterate. So that leaves you and me - well only up to a point me as Britain stayed well clear of the eurozone despite Tony Blair’s best efforts to involve us (I believe he described it as ‘our destiny’). Welcome to higher and heavier taxes over these next few years.

. . .

What is left entirely out of the equation, of course, is that an electorate utterly fed up with the halfwits that got them into the mess in the first place might well - with apparently nothing to lose - put their faith in the kind of political gangsters who operate on the fringes. Let me see: Hungary, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Austria, France, Italy, the Baltic states and The Netherland all have parties which tend to the far right waiting in the wings. Given an economic depression and attendant widespread unemployment, they might feel Lady Luck is finally shining the light their way.

There is this touchingly naive belief that just because a touchy-feely hug-your-neighbour liberalism has been the order of the day for the past 30 years, that it is well ensconced in our psyche, and that anyone predicting that several nasty would-be hard men might step into the limelight over the coming decades is a Mauser short of a right-wing coup. I wonder. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany no less rather than some hack blogger with time on his hands - that’s me - has warned as much. The reasoning might go thus, to be soaked up eagerly by das Lumpenfolk who always makes such adventures possible: you jobless, homeless, you have no future and a great many darker-skinned foreigners are taking the bread out of our mouth: look where our precious democracy has got you. The trouble is that after a few beers and a row with the wife, quite a few too many might be tempted to agree, especially in those ‘former Soviet bloc’ states where democratic instincts are what you read about in textbooks. Mahlzeit.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Double standards: an explanation (with an example) for those who are still unfamiliar with the notion. And the MP and the blonde spy. Or is she really just a lass with loose knickers?

There often seems to be a rather disturbing broken link between what many would like the world to be and what is actually the case. Here is a good example: Gaddafi tried to escape from Sirte, but the convoy in which he was travelling was shot up by Nato planes. He hid in a drainage pipe where he was discovered by Libyan rebels (although now they are no longer rebels). He was hauled out, roundly abused, then at some point shot at point blank range. There are now calls for an inquiry into what happened, accusation that the Libyans engaged in an 'extrajudicial exection' and generally those who like to think they are the conscience of the world are thoroughly outraged and even considering an official complaint God.

Now let me take you back several months to the beginning of May. A gang of U.S. marines (who we, in deference, are obliged to call 'Seals') flew in by helicopter to a villa in Pakistan which they invaded and went from room to room searching for a chap called Osama Bin Laden. Once they had found a him, they shot him dead. At first there were claims of a 'gunfight' but that was bollocks, then there were claims that he used his wife as a human shield, but that was later admitted also to be bollocks. Oh, and the whole raid, including the killing, was watched live by Barack Obama and his staff sitting comfortably in the White House, courtesy of a camera fixed to the helmet of one of the marines. There was general admiration by the world of how smoothly the marines carried out the raid and murder, there were no calls into an inquiry into what might also have been regarded as an 'extrajudicial execution', and, crucially, there were no calls to consider an official complaint to God.

How, I ask myself, except in detail, do these two killings - call them murder for all I care - differ? Well, I don't believe they do. Both Bin Laden and Gaddafi were thorough wrong 'uns and not the sort you would have in for a glass or two of sherry after Sunday service (and, yes, I know both were muslim, but you will have gathered I have merely chosen to make a point) and their deaths have been welcomed by many who suffered because of them. One relevant detail, of course, is that although the gang of Libyans who captured Gaddafi were split over whether to keep him alive or kill him, his death seems to have been the result of anger and passion. Bin Laden's death, on the other hand, came after years of intelligence work and weeks of meticulous planning, and was done in cold blood. Oh, and it was done by our allies and highly trained soldiers who were to a man honourable types and undoubtedly brush their teeth every night. Those who saw off Gaddafi, on the other hand, were a bunch of unshaven Libyan louts who make an awful racket firing their guns into the air at random whenever they are pleased and Lord knows what they get up to on a Saturday night. As for 'brushing their teeth' . . . well, I'll let you decide.

So there we have it: the murder of Bin Laden did us all a favour, the guys who did it were marvellous chaps and let's hear no more of any nonsense about whether or not it was legal. The murder of Gaddafi, on the other hand, was done by a bunch of uncontrolled hooligans and it is high time we put a stop to this kind of behaviour: holding a full-blown inquiry into exactly what went on. So the next time your young son or daughter asks you: 'Mummy/Daddy, what do they mean by "double standards"', here is a rather good example to help you set your offspring safely off on the road to a life of moral probity.

. . .

Here in Britain we are having a lot of fun - oh yes - following an appeal brought by a Russian woman the authorities would like to see the back of and are trying to deport. The story is spiced up by the involvement of an old codger called Mike Hancock, who is not just a Lib Dem MP who sits on an important defence committee, but who also has a great deal of trouble keepin his dick in his trousers. From whichever angle you view this one, it is rather odd, so I trust my account won't be too confusing.
The woman is a twentysomething blonde called Ekaterina Zatuliveter who is not adverse to jumping into bed with whichever chap takes her fancy. Nothing wrong with that, you'll say, except that our stalwarts at MI5 aren't too sure she doesn't do so more at the behest of the Russian secret service rather than because she simply likes a decent amount of sex. Katia, as everyone likes to call her, studied languages at St Petersburg university and worked as a chaperone of Europeans visiting conferences in the city. She screwed quite a few of them, including a chap from Nato. Somehow she ended up in Britain and somehow she found herself a position working as an intern for Hancock, who issued her with a pass to come and go from the House of Commons without being bothered by coppers on duty and that kind of thing.
As far as the ladies are concerned, Hancock has form. Most recently he was accused of 'sexual harrassment' by a constituent who came to him to discuss a problem she had with noisy neighbours, but no charges were brought. Katia is halfway pretty so it is no suprise that she caught Mike's eye, and they went on to have a four-year affair. At one point they even lived together.
The problem MI5 had was that Hancock is an MP for Portsmouth which has quite a few sensitive defence establishments, is an outspoken pro-Russian and, crucially, until recently sat on the Commons defence committee and would have had access to quite a few secrets. And he was shacked up with a Russian they believed might well be in the pay of the Russian secret service. What will have spooked them was the case of Anna Chapman, who really was a spy, and who used her charms to wheedle quite a few secrets out of guys smitten with her. MI5 didn't want anothe such case on its hands and so decided to deport young Katia.
Hancock insists that Katia never had access to sensitive documents. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper: if she did and if she is a spy, she wasn't exactly going to tell him, was she?
What puzzles me is that all this is coming out at an appeal against deportation at which a certain ZZ (MI5 officers don't have real names in court) insists Katia was employed by the Russian secret services. But if that was the case, why didn't they arrest her on spying charges and put her on trial? That they haven't would indicate that they haven't got any evidence to do so. On the other hand, just because they haven't got any evidence doesn't necessarily mean she is telling the truth when she claims she and Hancock were in love and that she is not a spy.
Another, rather bizarre aspect is that she is 26 and quite pretty, but he is 65 and looks like an outtake from Planet Of The Apes. What's the phrase? Oh yes: he ain't no bloody picture book. So would it be too cynical of me to suggest that we should take with a large pinch of salt her claim that theirs was a love affair?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A whinge, and I go out on a limb and come clean. Will it end in tears?

Not written here for a week or two because quite simply I have nothing to write about and I don't feel in the mood for waffling or bullshitting (not even for fun). I thoroughly enjoyed my break with Mark in France and, as usual, was just getting into the swing of it when we had to come home again. And what then? Before my holiday, I was looking forward to it, but now there ain't really much on the horizon which is exciting me. About the only thing is that by Christmas I shall, for the first time I shall be out of debt. I shan't owe anyone a penny. I was once in that position a few years ago when, for one or two reasons I shan't go into here, my stepmother sold the shares she inherited from my father and gave all of use four stepchildren a sum of money. I shan't say how much, as I feel embarrassed that I more or less frittered it all away. But how exciting is 'looking forward to not owing anyone a penny'? Not a great deal, really.

I am sitting outside a pub near Mark's on this Sunday night enjoying a pint or two of cider and a cigar or two. I can connect to the net courtesy of the pub (The Atlas in Fulham, which begins just a few hundred yards from Mark's flat in Kensington and Chelsea) and have been trying to download a pdf manual for a piece of music creation software (a lite version) which came with a midi keyboard I bought earlier today at Maplin's. Trouble is that for some reason I can't download the manual. I have also been eavesdropping on some dickhead or other who is so full of it that it makes me laugh.

I shall tell you what I have gathered so far: he must be in his mid to late 20s, is married to someone he refers to as Masser, which probably means her name is Mary or Maria, sounds as though he went to public school, is sitting with a friend but, as my father used to say (about me, if you have to know) permanently on transmission. His friend isn't really getting a word in edgeways. He is a qualified accountant and 'financial analyst', hopes in the future to start his own firm, once lived in Newcastle and has more opinions than you can shake a stick at. He and his wife are going to get the builders in to extend their house, he lives next to a woman whose house was once a council house, which means his probably was, too. He thinks Britain should cancel all foreign aid, cut taxes drastically, cancel national insurance for firms, feels democracy in Britain is a sham ('we're no more democratic than China'), wonders why 'stupid people' also have the vote and is generally a pain in the butt. At some point in the future he wants to live and work in Ireland ('when all this nonsense is over') and his friend works there now. His friend wonders whether or not he should move back to London: out in Ireland he is one of a few in his firm's branch, back here in London he will only be one of many. He has spent the past ten minutes outlining why almost all the civil service are useless and should be sacked.

. . .

What else? Nothing, really. Not feeling fed up or anything, but I'm wondering what there is to look forward to.
OK, so I'll come clean. I have in my head a novel I want to write. I have the mood, the 'attack', the style, the setting but I don't have a fucking story. Nothing. One central character is Simon Smugg and his wife Sian, who are childless as yet. You will gather their personalities from their surname. He works in a juniorexecutive position for a newspaper. The newspaper is where I want to have my fun. There is one angle I want to use, but I don't want to use it quite yet. (Pain in the arse: 'We should never have bailed out the banks.') It will consist more of dialogue than description (a trick - I shan't call it a technique because that would be too high falutin') I shall crib from Armistead Maupin. It worked for him, so why shouldn't it work for me. I gather some would-be writers simply take off and see where they are taken, but there are great dangers doing that, and I want to have some kind of basic structure on which to build and to keep it all in shape. Hence the need for a 'story'.

I'm afraid that as it deals with newspaper people, it won't have many attractive characters, although I dare not take the risk of making everyone a bastard (the technical word is 'a cunt') because that will - actually, I'd better play safe and say 'would' - put people off. ('Would' rather than 'will' because if you didn't know it you'll find out now, there must be a million and one would-be writers out there of whom something like one-thousandths actually finish 'my novel', and of those less than one-thousandth find a publisher and of those novels less than one per cent is any good. And of those that are published - not necessarily the good ones - about one in a million is read and makes any money. (BTW I subscribe to the unfashionable view that payment is the sincerest form of flattery and a writer who doesn't write for money is wasting his or her time. So, in the the grandest way possible I am setting myself up for pissing in the wind big time.
. . .

There is also another piece I want to write which, oddly, as far as the thinking is concerned, is further down the line in that I do have a four well-defined characters (in my head), a story and - hey - a 'theme'. But that is a little more 'serious' in that I want to do it well and don't want to go off half-cock. A teaser: central to it is the following limerick:

An ambitious young poet named Hinds,
wrote limericks with the usual five lines.
Then a change in the law,
made the maximum four.

It's not by me but by a former flatmate and fellow hack I used to keep up with every so often. Haven't been in touch for years. He last worked for the Daily Mirror, which is called The Mirror now, I think.

The point about that particular limerick is that, strictly, it isn't a limerick: it doesn't have the accepted form of a limerick - only four lines. Yet because of its content - read it again - I am prepared to argue that it is a limerick, though a very unusual one. And from that I have drawn my theme: 'description' and 'prescription'. When does 'description' evolve into 'prescription'? Or how does 'what we do' evolve into 'what we should do'? The problem I face with my 'story' is how to mesh together that train of thought and illuminate it with the 'story' I have thought up? Answer: I still don't know. And that is why I want to leave it on the back-burner until I do know and can do it as best I can.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Let’s hear it for amorality, the only truly ethical position I know of. And a death to rival that of Di — St Steve has passed on

The good news for some might have been that a certain Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-borm al Qaeda leader has been killed in a drone attack, for which read assassinated in a drone attack. Well, it might be good news for some, but I can’t raise even one cheer let alone three. When is this kind of assassination acceptable? Or, to put it another way, when is murder acceptable? I’m not about to engage in a pro or anti capital punishment rant, for although I am against it, I think at least the arguments put forward by supporters are, at least, intellectually respectable. But the recent killings of al Qaeda leaders, which began a few months ago with that of Osama bin Laden (whose killing was watched live in the White House, we are told), really can’t go unchallenged. And before I go on, I hope that whoever is reading this will agree that I am not some tree-hugging, wishy-washy liberal.
To put it bluntly, I would be far happier if, after the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S. had come out and said: ‘He was against us, so we killed him.’ But they are not doing that and they didn’t do that when they bumped off bin Laden. Instead, they resorted to various means in order to try to justify and legitimise what, to my eyes at least, was simply a murder. And even were I to agree that the world is better off without bin Laden, I simply refuse to accept that ‘their murders’ are evil and despicable, whereas ‘our murders’ - although we don’t call them that - are justified because we have ‘right on our side’. I can’t remember
anyone coming out and putting it as crassly, but that is what we are all being asked to believe. Well, it does’t wash, squire. For if that argument is good enough for us, it is good enough for al Qaeda and anyone else who opposes the West and can be used to justify ‘their murders’, too. But they, too, believe they have ‘right on their side’ and that is exactly the argument they use, although, oddly we don’t accept it. Note, that who actually has ‘right on their side’ can never be established in this world or any other. At the end of the day it comes down to what we chose to believe. And they chose to believe one thing and we another.
So it comes down to this: an argument is respectable if we use it and complete nonsense if our enemies us it. And you don’t need a college degree to see what utter nonsense that position is.
As I said before: I would be far happier if Washington had simply announced that Anwar al-Awlaki, one of its enemies, had been killed because without him alive it believed its enemy would be weaker. And Washington should have left it at that. Naturally, there would have been uproar around the world, and it would have been far from pretty but it would, at least, have been honest.
The danger is, of course, that were China to use the same argument to take out someone who it no longer wanted alive, we would be outraged, most certainly, but we would not have a leg to stand on. They are reasonably entitled to ask: ‘If you do it, why can’t we?’ To that we always reply: because we live in the free West in which free and fair elections are the norm and where we have the rule of law. And to that they might reply: ‘Well, if you have the rule of law, why was Anwar al-Awlaki killed without judicial process? And if you have the rule of law, why were several hundred people detained by the U.S. without charge at Guantanamo Bay specifically because the establishment was outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts? And they might add that if you feel it is acceptable to detain without charge those you believe to be a threat to your state, why is it not acceptable that we detain those without charge who we feel are a threat to our state?
What makes it all the worse for us is that we are too ready to take the high moral ground. We are all too ready to convince ourselves and anyone who will listen that ‘right is on our side’ and that because ‘right is on our side’ our actions, or rather those actions which are intended to strengthen that right, are somehow sancitifed. But, of course, it’s all complete nonsense.
Kill Anwar al-Awlaki, kill Osama bin Laden, kill anyone else you want to kill but please, please, please don’t pretend it is anything else but murder.

. . .

The essence of the dilemma is that hoary old problem which manifests itself in a variety of different ways but which is, essentially, the same old problem. One might call up the ‘is/ought’ gap to try to describe it. One might refer to the problem of relativism. One could tackle that same dilemma by examining arguments for and against the existence of God or, if someone feels uncomfortable doing that, arguments for and against the possibility of the absolute in the world. But I’m not going to go into it here, even if I could. Which I can’t. Another time, squire.

. . .

Call me a cynical old bastard but the bizarre outburst of sentimental guff which is marking the passing of Apple Steve Jobs merely goes to show that we here in the West have too much time on our hands. But then I would expect nothing less from the ‘Mac community’ who see themselves as the very definition of cool, sophisticated, enlightened, informed and generally only to be wholeheartedly admired by us lesser folk. For Jobs’s family his death is sad, especially as it came at the very early age of 56 and his children are still relatively young. But I do wish the rest of the world would get a sense of proportion.
The arrangement of candles shaped like an Apple apple (above) was set up in China. But that is just a mere detail. The outbreak of utterly over-the-top geek grief is universal.