Saturday, December 27, 2008

Woolworths: Zero Hour

Our local Woolworths closed today. You would need to have a heart of stone not to feel some sadness walking round the battered shelves knowing that all those who worked there would be without a job at 5.30pm. What began over 99 year ago is now ending. A shop that in its prime was valued by millions of Britons. Although it declined since then and no longer offered anything that other shops couldn't offer better, it is still part of the fabric of the British town with branches in over 800 towns.

Over two hundered Woolworth branches closed today. The remainder will follow in the next week or so.

The atmosphere in our local Woolworths was both sad but resigned. The staff seems remarkably cheery. It is good that they seem to be able to keep things in perspective. One can only hope that they are offered a job by another shop or go onto better things. Our local Woolworths like many others occupies a "prime" location on the High Street.

When Napoleon dismissed Britain as a "nation of shopkeepers" it was meant as an insult. What he failed to realise was that many Britons saw it as a compliment. A shop, amongst other things, is a place of service and community.

The photos below were all taken today and record the passing of a British retail institution:
By the end prices were 90 % off everything. However there was little to buy.
Battered shelves

Empty shelves


A scene of desolation in the heart of a British retail institution



Even the shelves are all fittings were for sale





Everything has been sold






There is not much left apart from the notices





Prime retail real estate on the High Street








A cold dreary day just after Christmas sees the end of Woolworths







Last orders








The day started with 70 % reductions. By the end it was 90 % off everything














The shelves that have sold greetings cards marking occasions for most of the last century are finally empty







Woolworths just missed it's 100th birthday. It goes after 99 years on the British High Street.













Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas with the Ahmadinejads

Just when you thought there was a limit to political correctness, Channel 4 (the Channel that gave the world such delights as Big Brother and Celebrity Big Brother) goes and proves you wrong.

Channel 4 consider the Queen's Christmas message to be far too conventional. So, as a change, they have decided to invite an overseas Head of State to give a Christmas talk. That in itself may be unusual but we're not talking President Sarkozy, Chancellor Merkel or even Prime Minister Putin here. Viewers in the UK will tomorrow be addressed by President Ahmadinejad, the same one who wants to wipe Israel off the map. There will apparently be an independent explanation before President A speaks. I am not sure that one will be needed.

Not for the first time, you really couldn't make it up !

Monday, December 22, 2008

An Englishman's home is no longer his castle

When I read stories like this (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article5375668.ece), I think I have had my eye off the ball for too long. Liberty seems to be being eroded so fast and in so many areas that we are in danger of only realising when it is far too late.

Not only do we live in an over-regulated, over-taxed country but it seems that one of the last areas of freedom, your own home, is no longer free. The old cliche of an Englishman's home is his castle is sadly wrong.

The threat is that private bailiffs will be able to break into a house and "use reasonable force" to recover private debts. Up until now, as far as I knew, such action could only be taken with police support and court orders.

Several risks come immediately to mind, even for those who do not build up debts they cannot pay:

1) The bailiffs may simply get the wrong address. Who pays for a new door when the mistake is realised ? (not to mention the distress of it happening).

2) Identity fraud, previous occupants and other members of the same family all offer routes by which an "innocent" could be targeted at the "correct address" for the debts of others.

3) What is "reasonable force" ? English case law has taken centuries to determine this. I doubt a hired thug would be able to grasp the precise boundaries too quickly.

4) What happens if the alleged debtor fights back ? Deos the reasonable force escalate ?

5) What happens if the alleged debtor keels over from a heart attack or other cause ? Is using reasonable force to recover a debt a defence to manslaughter or murder ?

The Government has clearly not thought this through (not for the first time) but what is more concerning is that this is not some obscure issue. It effects everyone who lives in Britain.

Having had dealings with such delightful people as wheel clampers in my time, I dread to think that similar could be given the power to break into private houses and use force to recover parking fines, catalogue debts and similar.

This truly seems dreadful and the comments to the Times article suggest I am not alone in this.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Afghanistan: The mounting toll

Last evening, I watched the Russian film "9th Company" which portrayed a group of Soviet conscripts going to Afghanistan in 1988. As someone who has watched most of the better known Vietnam war films, the basic structure of the film was remarkably similar. A group of fresh faced conscripts with different backgrounds and personalities undergo training from a rather brutal commander before going onto the far worse horrors of the front line.

The soldiers were basically ordinary chaps in extraordinary circumstances. They were hardly driven by ideology but more a desire to survive. After all as it was noted towards the end of the film, as they battled the Mujahadeen in New Year 1989, they were fighting for a country that would not exist in 2 years.

Their political educuation was basic but one line stood out:


"In all of history, no one has ever managed to conquer Afghanistan. No one ever".


Certainly two countries failed to do so. First Britain failed in the Nineteenth century. Even Sherlock Holmes' assistant Dr. Watson was an Afghanistan veteran. Second, the Soviet Union failed, a defeat that arguably hastened its collapse in the 1980s. Both the defeat of Britain and the Soviet Union a century later followed a similar pattern. Afghanistan is quite easy to occupy but much more difficult to hold.


Now the international coalition, as always with the largest contribution coming from the US, is facing mounting casualties after a relatively easy occupation seven years ago.

It is worth noting that at present this is truly an international force with contributions from the US, UK, Canada, Australia and several European nations including France, Germany, Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands.


All those countries have paid for their contribution with lives lost.


Total allied casualties now amount to around 1,036 killed. The breakdown by nationality is shown below (courtesy of http://icasualties.org/OEF/Default.aspx) .




Although heavily weighted towards the US, it is also noticeable that the contribution in Afghanistan is significantly spread amongst other countries with around 40 % of fatalities coming from other countries.

Of greater concern is the rising trend of casualties as shown below. 2008 will be the worst year for virtually every nation involved in Afghanistan. This ties in with the Soviet experience where the worst casualties were experienced in the mid to late eighties following the 1979 invasion.




Another British casualty was announced this evening, the seventh Briton to die this month alone. Denmark and Canada are both countries that have recently suffered casualties disporportionately high compared to their total presence in Afghanistan.

I still do believe there is a fight worth fighting in Afghanistan. The alternative is withdrawal and to give a whole nation to the Taleban which would effectively create a massive training camp for global jihad. If I didn't believe that then clearly I would see no point in a war in a country that has never been successfully conquered.

As we approach Christmas, it is humbling to remember the sacrifices that troops from many nations are making in ever increasing numbers in Afghanistan. The toll started small compared to other conflicts but will be close to 300 this year with every sign of continuing to increase next year.

The battle in Afghanistan is clearly not to be under-estimated.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Saving the World

Sometimes no further comment is needed. Here is Gordon Brown making a slip of the tongue and perhaps revealling his real inflated view of his own abilities:

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The slow death of a corporation


A forlorn shelf in a forlorn shop on the brink of closure. This is not a scene from some developing country in an early stage of development. It was the scene today at our local Woolworths.

Woolworths is closing down which will leave 815 gaps in British high streets and 30,000 people without a job.
Walking around our local Woolworths today, it would have been hard not to feel a bit sad. This is a shop with a presence on British high streets for 99 years. Everyone knows Woolworths and it is known affectionately as "Woolies".

However Woolies has lost its way of late so although sad, its demise cannot be seen as wholy unexpected. Twenty years ago Woolworths was the place a lot of people would go to buy nails, a tin of paint or a new lamp. In fact its strength was that it really stocked most things. Of late it has focused on confectionery, CDs and DVDs, toys and children's clothes. These are all areas in demand but they are also areas that other shops do a lot better. There was no special reason to go to Woolworths. It had no area of particular strength.

It was a tired old giant trading on its name and former glories. However in the face of the gathering storm it has crashed to the ground, like a rotten tree in a forest.
I actually heard someone in my office this week, saying they hoped the government would "bail out Woolies". The mania for bail outs seems to know no limits.
While it is sad that an old chain of department stores is closing, that is not reason enough for the government to commit more millions (and probably billions) to support a business that has failed to supply anything that anyone really wants anymore. Of course those that lose their jobs may feel differently but that is to overlook the thousands who have gained jobs in Woolworths' competitors over recent year. In a free market, the price of failure has to be closure or it would cease to be a free market. If badly managed businesses cannot be allowed to fail, then there is much less hope for well managed businesses.
On a similar theme, but a much bigger scale, the fate of the "big 3" American auto companies should ultimately be determined on the basis of whether they are capable of providing products that people would really want to buy in a free market. While I would feel tremendously sad if any of the three companies failed (I once worked for the European operations of one and my Father worked for another), they should not be bailed out to postpone the inevitable. Otherwise money is being wasted that could be invested in other businesses with futures.

The free market is hard on failure but it is the free market that has allowed businesses such a Woolworths to flourish for so long. If they fail now, they are not failing solely as a result of the recession. They are failing after years of decline. Their death is not sudden but has been slow. They are only actually dying now because the recession is the wind in the forest that gets rid of the rotten trees. Only if we allow that wind to work its course will there be a fair chance of strong new trees growing in years to come.

This weekend I felt like I was bidding a sad farewell to a shop I have known all my life. The gloomy shelves scattered with rubbish and tacky products are a sad shadow of the Woolworths that once was so relied upon by millions of Britons. There is no pleasure in its demise but its management have been the authors of its decline. Where business is concerned we should not seek to protect failures but focus on how best to encourage future successes.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Suburban winter


Just to note that I am still here, despite rather busy times in the run up to Christmas.

London is cold and frosty with a northern wind. This was the rather frosty and slightly desolate scene in the outer suburbs of London this morning.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Global Jihad: Why is Britain a net exporter ?

Signs of the times: Just another speculative headline about the role of Britons in Global Jihad



As some of the facts surrounding the terrorist attacks in Mumbai become a little clearer, it seems doubtful whether any of the terrorists were British citizens or had significant connections with Britain.





That a connection with Britain could be assumed following a terrorist attrocity in India, says something about the role of Britain in Global Jihad. No one would jump to that conclusion about many other western countries. Any country can suffer terrorism but Britain is one of the few countries to be a net exporter of islamic terrorism and possibly unique amongst western nations in that respect. What I mean by "net exporter" is that Britain plays a role in more overseas terrorist incidents than are carried out on its own soil by foreigners or by its own citizens.

How did Britain reach this unenviable status ?

There are many reasons but I will try to summarise what I see as the main causes:


1) A long history of political tolerance. Britain and especially London has long been a place where disidents and radicals could come and express their views freely. A walk round London's Speakers' Corner will show that Islamic fundementalists, Zionists, cocmmunists, fascists and just about any lunatic who wants to speak can be heard speaking at some time or another. Everyone from Karl Marx to "out of favour" contemporary Russian oligachs has found London a good place to come and speak and operate freely, something that wouldn't be possible in many other countries. Free speech is something that has seemed somewhat threatened lately but it is something I am always keen to defend. On its own Britain's openess and valuing of freedom has not resulted in its role in Jihad, but it is a necessary condition.




2) Britain's colonial history. The fact that Britain colonised somewhere on every continent at various times in its history has resulted in people from every continent coming to Britain. A much repeated line, that I couldn't prove, is that 300 languages are spoken in London. There are certainly a lot. Again, widescale immigration could not alone account for Britain's status as a centre for Jihad, but it is a necessary condition.


3) Britain's "multicultural" approach. Since major immigration began in the 1950's Britain has general taken a multicultural approach. This means it does not expect all its immigrants to become like native Brits but that each nationality and religion should be respected for their differences. Putting it like that it sounds harmless enough and probably started for sincere enough reasons. Until recently Britain had no oath of allegiance, we are rather embarrased by too much flag waiving and we argue amongst ourselves about how European we should become.


The smaller nations of the UK, notably Scotland and Wales have in contrast always been very proud and patriotic. England as by far the largest nation has always been more reticent about its merits. Northern Ireland was divided, but that is another issue.


Multiculturalism in practise meant that schools celebrated Eid or Diwali alongside Christmas. This is despite Britain having an established Church and offiicially being a Christian country. All religions were celebrated in schools which generally meant that they were seen as equally important or unimportant as the case may be. Britain as a whole has long been on a secular route in contrast to some of its minority groups who are as devout as ever. Therefore Britain was an officially Christian country, secular in reality but recognising all religions as equally valid while smaller groups, Muslims and Catholics included, became more numerous than the number of practising Christians in the Church of England. The great majority are not athiests but keep their religion and spirituality to something that could be found on the "Mind, Body Spirit" shelves of WH Smith.


The worst example of bland, embarrased multiculturalism was Birmingham City Council's decision to abolish Christmas in favour of "Winterval" a festival that celebrated all major religious festivals from Eid, to Hannakah to Diwali. Thankfully this has since been reversed but it gives an indication of the cultural and spiritual state of the nation.



Multiculturism made everything it touched bland and meaningless. Is it therefore surprising that with Britain's long history of free speech, its wide ethnic mix especially of peoples from the Indian sub-continent, that other forces were able to inhabit the vacuum left where British national pride and Christianity had given up ?


The City that gave us Winterval ultimately gave the world Rashif Rauf, a 27 year-old implicated in the 2006 plot to bring down many transatlantic airliners between London and North America using liquid explosives in soft drink bottles. Rashid Rauf was recently killed by an American airstrike in north west Pakistan.


The 2005 London Bomb attacks (both 7/7 which killed 52 people and the failed 21st July attacks) were perpetrated by home grown jihadis. The suicide bomber, a phenomenon thought limited to Israel, Iraq and similar places suffering the extremes of terrorism was brought to the streets of London by British passport holders. The leader of the 7/7 attacks , Mohammed Sidique Khan was himself an example of multiculturalism. He worked with recent immigrant school children, as a "learning mentor". He visited the House of Commons with his school and his Mother-in-Law attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace in recognition of her work with the muslim community.


Other British Jihadis have included:



Richard Reid, from Bromley, failed shoe bomber of an American Airlines flight between Paris and Miami in December 2001.



Asif Mohammed Hanif, from London, who killed three people by blowing himself up in a pub in Tel Aviv in 2003.



Moutaz Almallah Dabas who was arrested in Berkshire for his alleged role in planning the Madrid train bombings of 2004 that killed 191 people.



Abu Hamza, who openly preached Jihad in London.


Nicky Reiley, a low level muslim convert, who attempted a rather amateurish and failed suicide bomb attack on a restaurant in Exeter in May 2008.


The two doctors who attempted the Central London and Glasgow Airport car bombings in June 2007 had both been working in the UK and one was British born.


It seems that Britain is punching above its weight in terms of Jihad.

When I was at university in London in the mid-90s, organisations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir were just another student society. To be perfectly honest, I never gave them a second thought. They were clearly quite serious muslims and used to advertise discussions on subjects like Kashmir and the Palestinians. However university is a place for free speech and many views and nothing seemed unusual. It was only when the leader of Hizb-ut-Tahir, Omar Bakri Mohammed, praised the 9/11 hikackers as the "magnificent 19" that people began to take notice. In 2005, after 7/7, the organisation was banned in the UK. However in the 10-15 years before many UK students had been members. It is likely that many of those former students will hold views sympathetic to Islamic terrorism.

It will be interesting to see if there are any British links with the Mumbai attacks.

Britain has taken an unfortunate lead in the supply of participants in Global Jihad. British forces have reported hearing Yorkshire and Midlands accents when intercepting Taleban radio messages in Afghanistan. Multiculturism has not lead to inclusiveness. It has lead to ghettoisation. Within some of those cultural ghettoes some pretty extreme ideologies have developed. Since 9/11 we have begun to see the fruits of some rather unpleasant seeds start to emerge.

While not wanting everyone to be the same, we would do well to encourage the acceptance of some fundemental values in this country. Without them we may go on exporting Jihad for some time to come.

Friday, November 28, 2008

British Jihadis ?

The Telegraph is reporting:

"As Indian troops cleared the last terrorists from buildings across Mumbai this morning, UK authorities were following up reports on local news channel NDTV that the terrorists included 'British citizens of Pakistani origin' ".

I have been meaning to write about the phenomenon of the "British Jihadi" for a little while. If there was "British" involvement in these attacks, it is certainly not the first time.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Every Year

I was thinking today that terrorism is pretty much a fact of life the world over.

Understandably people focus on 9/11 due to its sheer scale and horror. However since 2001 there have been numerous terrorist attrocities like the one in Mumbai overnight, often involving British victims:

October 2002- Bali- 202 deaths including 24 Brits

November 2003- Istanbul- a branch of HSBC Bank and the British High Commission were bombed killing 30 people including the British Consul General and a number of other Brits.

March 2004- Madrid- 190 deaths in an attrocity that arguably changed the result of the subsequent Spanish general election.
2004 also saw a dreadful upsurge in Iraqi terrorism including the kidnapping and beheading of Ken Bigley and Margaret Hassan, English and Irish respectively.

July 2005- the "7/7" bombings in London resulting in 52 deaths on the underground and a London bus. A subsequent plot on 21st July 2005 failed resulting in no serious injuries.

August 2006- the plot to bring down numerous transatlantic flights between London and the USA was uncovered and stopped. A plot to bomb German trains also failed.

June 2007- failed car bombings in central London and an attack on Glasgow Airport by terrorists who also happened to be qualified doctors. Fortunately the only death was one of the perpetrators.

May 2008- a failed suicide attack on a restaurant in Exeter, a more typically English town it is hard to imagine. The perpetrator was a muslim convert called Nicky Reilly.

November 2008- Mumbai attacks targeting Indians but also singling out Brits and Americans. At least one British man has been killed.

This is but a snapshot of all the attacks accross the globe and the numerous attempts that are prevented each year.

In relation to terrorism it is more a question of "when" rather than "if".....

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Global Scourge

It has been a busy time at work. The VAT changes have caused a big headache due to the very short time available to implement them. I have had no real time to devote to this blog.

However such issues are surely put in perspective when events such as those in Mumbai this evening occur.

As fate would have it one of the senior partners of the firm I work for was visiting Mumbai with two colleagues. They were staying in one of the hotels attacked this evening but good fortune was smiling on them as they checked out this morning and flew to Dehli.

The reality is that terrorism can strike anywhere. It certainly has in London.

I have been meaning to write for sometime about the fact that so many of the terrorist attacks on British soil (whether successful or attempted) have been perpetrated by people "born and bred" in this country. Time has been against me but for now I am just thinking of all those caught up by events in India.

Brits are certainly always a desirable target for terrorists and there are reports this evening of British and American passport holders being looked for by the terrorists.

The style of the attack, using guns in multiple locations, is a new development and shows the dreadful creativity of terrorism to evolve as security evolves.

Whereever we are it seems terrorism is a global scourge.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chaos

To change the rate of VAT in less than a week is, quite simply going to cause chaos for many businesses accross the country.

Of course, a tax cut should be welcome but the changes announced today do not seem at all well thought out.

Worse still are the dreadful borrowing figures with figures next year set to reach £118 billion.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Déjà vu ?

Does this weekend's almost confirmed appointment mean a Clinton will once again be leading the "Free World" ? If nothing else, they appear to be getting closer.

The cartoon below is from the Times (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/cartoon/) . With apologies to those who feel this blog is rather more transatlantic than its title suggests.........


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Being Prepared ?

It is perhaps my recent viewing of "Spooks", the lightweight but highly entertaining BBC drama on the British security services that has heightened my imagination when walking about London. Most of the plot in the latest series of Spooks has been around the security services battling to stop various Al Quaeda plots in London.

Like millions of people, my journey to work was interrupted during the last major terrorist attack in London on July 7th, 2005. I count myself fortunate to have been nowhere near any of the four bombs that day. However even nearly 3 and a half years on, I find myself edgy on my thankfully infrequent underground journeys around anyone who looks both to be obviously muslim and carrying significant baggage. Of course it is prejudice but I don't feel it is entirely irrational. For instance, I would be completely at ease sharing a tube carriage with a sikh carrying a large rucksack or indeed a muslim carrying nothing more than the morning paper. My unease is very specific and depends upon at least 2 conditions being met.

On Friday, I took a lunchtime walk out to Bishopsgate in the City. A large group of school children were blocking access to the pedestrian crossing I wanted to use and then an arab looking man, complete with full beard apppeared with a large black "hold-all" bag which he proceeded to rummage in. Despite being out in the open, the fact I was stuck waiting for the school party to clear while a man with the "right" criteria started rummaging in a large bag immediately put me into an episode of "Spooks". The stupidity of the situation was that I was not sufficiently convinced of my fears to:

a) Do anything towards the arab looking man
b) try to move the school group along more quickly or
c) get out of the way myself.

In reality I knew that, despite my fear, this man was unlikely to pose a threat. Nonetheless I was slightly alerted. When the school group cleared, I crossed the road and saw the same arab looking man crossing with me, still fiddling in his bag. I made a beeline into Tescos where I was aiming to go all along and was relieved the man did not come in too.

At the last minute, I saw his rummage rewarded, and he produced a bottle of Lucozade from the bag. My fears, such as they were, being proved misguided. However I doubt I am the only Londoner who thinks like that.

It is stories like this which warn of the potential for a major terrorist incident in the "Obama transition" period that keep the fear levels bubbling away. Three and a bit years ago, before I started this blog London suffered significant terrorism. There is every reason to think that it could happen again sometime. Therefore, tolerant as most Londoners are, I think many people in this city still get a bit nervous when stuck next people that fit their personal mental image of what a terrorist looks like. Spooks isn't helping either !

Suffer the little children

If the media coverage this week could be seen as in any way representative of how children get treated in Britain, it could only be concluded that this is a dreadful country.

At least four separate and unrelated cases stand out within the last week:

1) A mother is on trial for faking the kidnap of and drugging her own daughter which lead to one of the biggest ever police investigations in the country.

2) Two very young boys were killed by their mentally disturbed mother in Manchester.

3) The investigation into abuse at a Jersey children's home continues, albeit with some positive news suggest no murders occured in the "home".

4) Receiving most media coverage and political attention is the dreadful killing of "baby P" a 17 month old baby tortured and killed at the hands of his mother, her "boyfriend" and a lodger at their home in Haringey, North London. Tabloid coverage seems to consist of a competion to describe ever more depraved aspects of the people involved.

It is difficult to understand if these cases are symptomatic of some wider malaise in society (one common thread is that all the children involved did not have their natural father featuring actively in their lives) or if they are just uniquely awful cases that happen to reported around the same time.

The failure of the authorities to prevent the baby's death has rightly received much attention but one cannot overlook the responsibility of those directly involved in the baby's death. Due to the destruction of evidence and the difficulties of proving who in the house ultimately killed the baby, all three have been found guildty of "causing the death" of the baby rather than murder. It is a legal technicality but in reality means a much lighter sentence.

It seems like they have got away with murder. However they must surely face justice for what they have done to an innocent. As the words of Jesus speaking about children are written in the Bible:

"Whoever harms one of these little ones that believes in me, it would be better for him if a millstone were tied around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the ocean." Matthew 18:6

There is no denying the evil of those who seek to harm children. Our laws and our society would do well to recognise that further than it does at the moment. I do not believe these cases are representative of the country in general but for each case that such horrors do occur in, the country is shamed nonetheless.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/7706598.stm

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Remembrance Sunday

Today is Remembrance Sunday and Tuesday will mark 90 years since the end of the First World War, the war in which Britain suffered its worst ever casualties (significantly worse than the Second World War).

Remarkably there are still a tiny band of surviving veterans from the First World War and I understand three were at the march past at the Cenotaph in London today.

The fields of northern France and Belgium are scattered with British cemeteries and these always make moving places to visit. Some are even visible from the speeding Eurostar train between London and Paris. I once visited the forests around Verdun in France and found the rusting shell of a hand grenade from the First World War. That physical link made the war all seem very real. I wondered if anyone had been killed or injured by the hand grenade that I held in my hand.

In that war the British were also in action in Turkey which was an ally of Germany. The plan was to attack a German ally to the south and end the stalemate to the north in Europe. The British forces together with very significant numbers of Australian and New Zealander forces landed on the end of the Gallipoli penninsular.

The history of the Gallipoli landings is the subject of countless books and a number of films. Put simply, it was a military diaster for the British and their allies. In 9 months of occupation the allies lost over 40,000 men with with 100,000 injured. The never gained significant ground and were eventually forced to withdraw. The military strength of the Turks was a great surprise to the British and their commander Mustafa Kemal (later known as Atatürk) went onto lead his nation a few years later. The British First Lord of the Admirality, one Winston Churchill, ended up being demoted for the disaster. History went on to show that he did also have some strengths !

We visited Gallipoli two years ago and it is beautiful, haunting strip of land overlooking the Dardenelles. Below is a photo we took at Helles Point, the initial site for the allied landings. A British memorial and cemetery can be found there today.



Helles Point Gallipoli, Turkey




For anyone interested in the Gallipoli campaign, a 2005 film based on the letters of soldiers from all sides is strongly recommended. The trailer below gives a flavour although do not be put off by the Hollywood tones. The film is better and more subtle than the trailer suggests. (There are several films with the title Gallipoli but the one I am recommending was made in 2005 and is factually based).




Today with the British and others still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and the commitment of further forces to the latter being an overlooked aspect of the Obama manifesto (overlooked at least for the most "luvvie" of his supporters. I doubt Oprah , Dimbleby et al will be volunteering for the front line !), it seems sadly certain that we will will have more troops to remember next year.

We remember all those who have died for our freedoms.


The bodies of 5 British soldiers preparing to return home from Afghanistan in June this year having paid the highest price. (photo from Daily Telegraph website)



Saturday, November 08, 2008

Remember, remember

video

well, it seems to be the eighth of November this year.

All over London it sounds like a war has broken out as fireworks explode everywhere.

As the nearest Saturday to November 5th most people and most official firework displays are taking place today. For anyone reading who is unfamiliar with this festival this is how we remember the failed attempt by Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators to blow up Parliament in 1605. He was apprehended on November 5th.

We are in essence celebrating the saving of Parliament. I guess that is still something worth celebrating (just about :-)).

The short clip is our own very modest bonfire. Bonfires and one year olds don't really mix. The fireworks exploding all of south London tonight should be audible in the background.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Of Mutts and Living Presidents

This is the great hope of the world (according to the media at least).

Sometimes you just couldn't make it up :-)


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Helping Yourself

I wanted to use a quote from Janet Daley in my last post but I couldn't find somewhere that it fitted well.

Therefore I will post it on its own. I think it is of relevance both to those who feel very fearful at the election of an unknown quantity and also to those with unrealistically high expectations of Obama. We should not expect too much from Obama and if we expect the worst we can still do some things about it. In the end, we may just need to help ourselves.

After all Obama is just a man and just a poltician:

"..........Little wonder that his candidacy is being mistaken for the Second Coming.

What will this mean for the future? What if, as will almost certainly be the case, the great deliverance fails to deliver? The disillusion and sense of betrayal may create divisions in American society that will be greater and deeper than any we have seen for a generation. The sense of hopelessness and bitter disappointment may well be - as Americans say - toxic. Then again, maybe American politics will simply get the grown-up message that no one mortal is the final answer: that the fulfilment of the American dream must always lie within the individual and not with the government. To be fair, Obama himself suggests this when he tells the crowds, "It's not about me - it's about you."

The full article can be found here.

President Obama


Not superman but for better or worse he is American President



A few final thoughts on the election of Barack Obama, before we start turning to "real life" again:

1) Whatever one thinks of him, he appears to have won a genuine mandate from the majority of American people. This was no "landslide" as some are calling it. At least 52 % to 47 % is not a landslide in my book. You don't have to look far back to find bigger margins in the popular vote. 1996 saw 49 % to 40 % in Clinton against Dole. Nonetheless the margin was sufficient to make all reported cases of local incidents of intimidation and fraud (as I noted yesterday) not relevant to the overall final result.

2) It is a significant milestone to have a black President (in not wishing to totally forget that he happened to have a white mother !). America leads the world in opportunities for its minority groups. A black Democrat president follows on from two black Republican Secretaries of State. This is the culmination of a wider trend. This shows to be a myth the allegation that America is a particularly "racist country". Instead we should reflect that America is unique in having a minority ethnic group leader. It is difficult to see the same happening in other countries with significant minority groups. There is no sign this will happen anytime soon in Brazil, Canada, France, Australia or Britain to name just a few.

3) His biggest obvious strength by a mile is oratory. His other talents are unproven.

4) His policies are vague and tend towards the "redistribution of wealth" rather than the creation of wealth. He has made trade protectionist noises. If these two traits are reflected in the reality of his policy it would be bad news for the American and world economies.

5) His promises to reduce military expenditure are unfortunate in their timing when the world needs a stronger American military more than ever. Which other nation can stand up to oppressors on the continent of Obama's father ?(Congo and Somalia are pressing issues with the latter a base for Islamic militants so presenting security as well as humanitarian concerns). Which other nation can subdue potential threats from Iran,keep the lids on Iraq and Afghanistan and prevent total collapse in Pakistan ? Which other nation can act as a counter weight to a resurgent Russia that today announced it was moving missiles to the Polish border ? Which other country will deter any crazy actions from North Korea under its ailing leader ?
All these issues are threats to people around the world and ultimately to us all. We would do well to think a little more widely before cheering in a leader promising "Change" and not much else.


6) His regime will be strong but not completely unfettered. The Republicans will control over 40 seats in the Senate so may have some chance of delaying or curbing any plans that are too damaging.

7) He has two years to prove himself before America's next major vote in the mid-term elections in 2010.

Finally, he is not the candidate I preferred but this is not the first time I have supported the losing side in an election (I suspect it won't be the last either !). For now he is President Elect of the USA and there is nothing else to do than wish him success and hope he proves his doubters' worst fears wrong. He has two years with an enviably free hand to achieve something great for his country and the world. What he does in that time will prove his real character and motives once and for all.

I hope my worst doubts on Obama are proved wrong

There is a lot of detail still to come but the numbers look like Obama has won.

I am not putting up with Dimblebore on the BBC anymore !

I just hope his powers are not completely unfettered by the Senate.

There will no doubt be a lot of froth in the press tomorrow. Give it two years and I think we will have a more realistic picture.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Night Shift

I am staying up for a while to follow the US results. I have work in the morning but these seem times and events of sufficient importance to warrant a bit of lost sleep.

I am not sure if I can face a smug "Dimblebore" on the BBC so I am following events online for now. It is actually possible to get a wider more balanced picture by switching between various mainstream news providers and other blogs etc.

I will turn in either once the result becomes clear or if it all gets too depressing !

Will Rove be proved right ?

The architect of the Bush election victories, Karl Rove is predicting a clear if not landslide Obama win.

I think my views on Obama are fairly clear from previous entries. There are some ludicrously inflated expectations of what his election will bring. That will mean a lot of very disappointed people within a year or so.

Obama's own policies, such as they are, are all about redistribution of wealth by raising taxes. If he sticks to this, it can only be bad news for the US and by extension world economy.

Any reduction in the US military will be a green light to aggressors and tyrants the world over. I certainly don't see any candidates from Europe for the role of world policeman.

All in all, I find the prospect of Obama bad news. A dangerous cocktail of wildly inflated expectations coupled with policies that may weaken the last superpower do not inspire me. I am therefore struggling to understand why so many welcome the election of Obama.

In fact I hope that this time Mr. Rove will be wrong !

Free and Fair Election ?

Maybe not in Philadelphia. A side the BBC and CNN may not show. Here a couple of Black Panthers "stand guard" outside a polling station. They are challenged by a rather brave concerned citizen complete with his camera phone:

Naive and Delusional

If Obama wins tonight, here is one of his many supporters who will experience a dose of reality in the coming months.

She believes that Barack Obama will help her pay for her "gas and mortgage".

How do people manage to get so deluded ?!


Monday, November 03, 2008

Turkeys voting for Christmas ?

That is the simplest analogy I can think of.

America's strength has in the past been based on a low tax, deregulated economy where those who work hard are rewarded while those who don't may struggle.

Obama's policies, such as they are, all seem aimed at rolling back these areas of strength , not to mention weakening the military and in the process giving a freer hand to potential tyrrants the world over. Who else will challenge them ?

If Obama wins tomorrow, I can sincerely say that I hope my worst fears will be proved wrong. There is no pride in being right when predicting disaster.

America needs a socialist-based,redistribution of wealth model like a hole in the head.

Whatever Obama's strengths of oratory and the potential to make history, his lack of experience combined with notions of wealth redistribution make a vote for him like a turkey voting for Christmas.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Terminator and a glimmer of hope

At the eleventh hour there is a glimmer of hope that America can avoid some of the European diseases like mass ranks of welfare recipients living as clients of an ever growing state. Despite the silver tongued words of Barak Obama, that is in essence what he seems to promise: higher taxes, a scaled down military and a much enlarged welfare state dedicated to "the redistribution of wealth".

While all serious commentators seem to agree on the result of the Presidential election, the polls do seem to be narrowing. Now at the eleventh hour a poll gives John McCain a lead in Ohio. This is signifcant as this state has been won by the winning side in every election since 1960.

If McCain wins Ohio on Tuesday (and if he also wins the presidency as well) I feel that in no small part will he owe something to "the Terminator" or Arnold Schwarzenegger. He gave a good humoured, uplifting speech with clear reasons why Obama will be bad news for America (and by extension the world). There is a chance, albeit far from certain that a corner has been turned. His speech can be seen below:


Monday, October 27, 2008

Will President Obama be a disaster or just a disappointment to his own supporters ?

With many commentators now predicting that the election of President Obama, is a foregone conclusion, it is probably worth noting a few points about the man who could effectively be "the most powerful man on the planet" from next week.



Nothing I have read, and I have read fairly widely, gives me a serious idea about what policies he is proposing other than some broad outlines. The broad outlines, I frankly find disturbing especially in the troubled times we live in.


My summary of the broad outlines Obama has revealed are as follows:



1) Raise taxes and increase spending. Hardly inspirational in times like these when the economies of the world are so fragile. The Wall Street Jounal summarised his tax plans like this:






2) Introduce trade protectionism- not a particularly positive plan at a time of world recession.

3) Withdraw US troops from Iraq. On examination this amounts to a little more than a discussion over timing so is hardly a radical proposal, whether right or wrong.

Obama's only clear message is "change" without any definition of what this change really is. Worse still, most of his supporters do not seem to have any clear idea what this change is about except that it must be something good. This is to imagine that change in itself is always good which seems very dangerous. Surely the leaders who have caused the most change were the most revolutionary or brutal. Hitler and Stalin certainly brought about a lot of change.

Obama's most obvious skill is his ability to speak. This seems unarguable to me. By extension this could be seen as an ability to inspire. However without clear plans or with some undesirable broad outlines, this seems no reason to elect him.

Perhaps most telling is a story being reported by today's Telegraph referring to a 2001 radio interview Obama gave when he spoke positively of the need for "redistributive change". That can mean many things but what he seemed to be saying was that it was not enough for the courts to do this but that legislation would be required.

Here are some extracts from the interview:









So one possibility is that Obama will be elected on the basis of some vague emotional notion of "change" to introduce redistributive based legislation and taxation at a time of global recession. That seems a recipe for disaster.

The other option is for him to be another Tony Blair and be elected to the cheering screams of his most extreme supporters only to be remarkably unradical and in the process alienate most the people who first supported him. This may also be possible and certainly has its precedent ! It is possible to imagine in that scenario that in 4 years he is viewed as little different from a black CEO of a major corporation and the most ardent critics will be the signifcant number of black voters who supported him but feel nothing has changed for them.

However the option to be most worried about is an increase in taxation and legislation to support redistribution of wealth (as described in his radio interview). At a time of global recession not even the Liberal Democrats are proposing that.

So unless there is a surprise next week I will not be joining the majority view in cheering the result. I will be quietly worried as to what Obama change really means. I will be watching with concerned interest.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hard Times ?

I am noticing a trend amongst colleagues, friends and the public in general to be not only talking down the state of the economy and emphasising the hard times in which we are entering but almost relishing the prospect too.

I find the relishing aspect a little short sighted as if the downturn does become really bad we could all be effected far more than we are expecting. However in London and the south of England despite the news, nothing (for most people at least) has really changed just yet.

People who seem to be relishing aspects of the downturn all believe it will actually have a positive effect on them or their outlook. Examples I can think of include:

- a colleague who predicted (or hoped) that harder times would mean the abolition of the Firm's "Diversity" department accompanied by the bundling out into the street of the "Head of Diversity". I am a little nervous about these sort of thoughts myself. While I would also question the value of such departments as "Diversity", to wish someone out of a job seems slightly unethical as well as tempting fate for one's own position.

- at least one person has mentioned the economic downturn as grounds for buying a reduced value of Christmas presents this year. This is irrespective of the fact of them personally being no worse off than last year !

- Another person mentions that the downturn may mothball or stop altogether a planned development of "luxury apartments" or similar on a school playing field. I guess every cloud does have a silver lining in this case.

In some ways a downturn can have positive effects. In a materialistic time and a materialistic city, anything that stops of the conveyor belt of consumption and consumerism (however briefly) and gives cause for thought about the wider purpose of life, may have unexpectedly positive outcomes.

That is not to forget the suffering of those who lose jobs and struggle to support their families. This is bad. It is just that good can also come out of bad sometimes.

At this stage however, I would question how far these really are "hard times".

A walk around our local town centre this weekend suggested we are still a long way from really hard times. Charles Dickens would not be impressed !

For example, while walking around I observed:

1) A nail salon staffed by a team of thai ladies seemed to be doing a roaring trade in synthetic nails.

2) Boots the Chemist, was promoting such essential items as digital picture frames at £54.99.

3) The same shops was selling bucket loads of aftershave and perfume in advance of Christmas.

4) The pavements were clogged with shoppers.

5) Our local Asdas had horrendous queues. I must have waited a good 10 minutes as a long line of trolleys groaning with produce shuffled sullenly to the checkout. The often obese bodies, sometimes complete with visible tatoos, of those pushing the trolleys suggested we are really far from the breadline just yet. Spare cash for tatoos is also not a sign of outright poverty. (Note to self- try and go to Sainsbury's next time. The shoppers are slightly less obese and have slightly fewer tatoos !)

6) The roads are clogged with mainly new cars using our recently reduced price petrol.

True there are a few more Primark bagsvisible as shoppers economise. However let us not pretend that we are really suffering just yet as it is insulting to those in this world who really are.

As for those who relish aspects of downturn, I would caution in being careful what you wish for.
We could really end up in hard times. However from the looks of things this weekend, we are not there yet.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Returning

It has been a busy few weeks since our return from Turkey and I had not planned to post as little as I have done.

However a busy time at work and a PC failure at home have taken their toll on my internet time. Thankfully the PC is sorted, even complete with an upgrade to a wireless router. As the weekend is here, I am posting a couple of photos from Turkey.

These are the ancient ruins of Heraklia on the shores of Lake Bafa. A wording of warning to anyone who ventures this way. The present day settlement at Heraklia is inhabited by some of the most pushy people in Turkey (and that's saying something !!).

On entering the village we were sold "tickets" by two men in what looked like a garden shed. The tickets were for "the site". As the remains are scattered amongst the contemporary settlement, these tickets were essentially to the modern village.

While tickets to the site were reasonable (if dubious in authenticity) it was unclear where to park. While deciding, a reddish haired fat boy emerged who could have easily passed for a German or north European. He turned out to be Turkish but in a high voice and broken English offered a "tour" of the ancient sites. A polite "maybe later" was definitely the wrong thing to say as we were quickly surrounded by a small group of children and a larger group of old women trying to sell linen, beads and even soap. One even tried to exchange Euros with me.

While a bit of enterprise is not to be denigrated, it was really too much as we were followed every step of the way by this group.

I was shown a "Roman Theatre" and then asked for money. With our son in a buggy, the smell of manure everywhere and harrassed by a group of locals at every turn we decided to beat a retreat. A French couple looked similarly fed up and also left. That was a pity as the Greek and Roman history of the site deserved more attention. If the locals were slightly less pushy I am sure they would do more business.

Lake Bafa is spectacular with a ruined monastery on an island in the lake. The rocks around the site make it almost look like another planet. I can recommend it but be careful if you drive into Heraklia !

Below are two photos that in order to take I needed to pay two liras to fob off a group of local children who were bugging me !

The locals in Heraklia were unusually pushy. It is not typical at all. Normally they politely leave you alone when it is clear you are not interested in buying anything.




Wednesday, October 22, 2008

R

Almost in the blink of an eye, life in the City of London seems transformed.

As little as six weeks ago it seemed a hub of the global free market, bristling with brave hope that all would be well.

Now there is a distinctly gloomy atmosphere and the City the centre of a quasi nationalised economy. The R word (recession) is out of the bag and there is real concern for personal prosperity as well as corporate survival.

All parts of the City seem effected and my own employers are no exception. Turnover is down and this year will be a tough year. I am working (or seem to be) harder than ever hence the lack of recent posts.

Hopefully back with something more cheerful and enlightening soon........

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Finance for Industry

A young Gordon Brown looks like a disciple of Michael Foot. Both Gordon Brown and Tony Blair were elected on the Foot Manifesto of 1983. (note the signs of the times- an ashtray was openly on display on the table)
The irony of this week is that 25 years after Foot's annihalation in the 1983 General Election, a key plank of his manifesto (described by Gerald Kauffman as "the longest suicide note in history") has been implemented.
One section of the manifesto included a section called "Finance for industry". This proposed creating a National Investment Bank, controlling the banks much more closely and if necessary nationalising one or more of the existing banks.
The 1983 manifesto was widely seen as a disaster leading to Labour's worst defeat since it became a governing party and Margaret Thatcher's greatest victory. Every Labour action up to and including the Blair Years has been aimed at learning from the mistakes of 1983 and adopting a more business friendly approach. With the arrival of Gordon Brown this clearly reached its limits but few could have thought we would be returning to the Foot Manifesto so soon.

More amazing still is that partial nationalisation of the banks is now on the global agenda. Who would have thought that the Foot manifesto could even be applied in America.

These are clearly difficult times and extraordinary measures are required. However I remain unconvinced that nationalisation of banks is a good move even in desperate times. The £500bn set aside for supporting the banks could be used in so many other ways to stimulate the economy. How about a suspension of corporation tax and income tax for a whole year ? The spending power that would give to ordinary people and businesses would be huge. What's more with Corporation tax bringing in £51 bn and income tax raising £155 bn (2007 figures) , the cost to the nation would be less.
I do not pretend to propose all the answers but if you are going to spend £500 bn on something there are probably a few more options to consider !
There would also seem to be cause for thought before the whole world "turns Foot" as Gordon Brown requested this week.
Below is an extract from the "longest suicide note in history" which is starting to be implemented after 25 years. For the record, Michael Foot is still with us at 95 years of age. He at least must have cause for a smile this week.....

Finance for industry


It is essential that industry has the finance it needs to support our plans for increased investment. Our proposals are set out in full in our Conference statement, The Financial Institutions. We will:


Establish a National Investment Bank to put new resources from private institutions and from the government - including North Sea oil revenues - on a large scale into our industrial priorities. The bank will attract and channel savings, by agreement, in a way that guarantees these savings and improves the quality of investment in the UK.


Exercise, through the Bank of England, much closer direct control over bank lending. Agreed development plans will be concluded with the banks and other financial institutions.


Create a public bank operating through post offices, by merging the National Girobank, National Savings Bank and the Paymaster General's Office.


Set up a Securities Commission to regulate the institutions and markets of the City, including Lloyds, within a clear statutory framework.


Introduce a new Pension Schemes Act to strengthen members' rights in occupational pension schemes, clarify the role of trustees, and give members a right to equal representation, through their trade unions, on controlling bodies of the schemes.


Set up a tripartite investment monitoring agency to advise trustees and encourage improvements in investment practices and strategies.


We expect the major clearing banks to co operate with us fully on these reforms, in the national interest. However, should they fail to do so, we shall stand ready to take one or more of them into public ownership. This will not in any way affect the integrity of customers' deposits.
It is interesting to note that the Foot manifesto also foresaw the arrival of broadband. I can't imagine they foresaw the internet. However all this was to be under "firm public control":



Telecommunications

A national cable system will make possible a wide range of new telecommunications services, greater variety in the provision of television, and a major stimulus to British technology and industry. But it must be under firm public control. A publicly-owned British Telecommunications will thus be given the sole responsibility to create a national, broadband network (including Mercury, the new privately-owned telecommunications system for business), which integrates telecommunications and broadcasting.
The full Labour Party manifesto from 1983 can be found here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Oil and Petrol

As the oil price continues to fall (today it virtually collapsed below $80 a barrel) the stubbornly high price of petrol seems ever less justifiable.

I know there is a time lag but funny how the time lag is very short when oil rises but very long when oil falls !

Oil is now little more than half the price of its peak (at $147 a barrel). In London at least you are doing well to find petrol that has fallen more than 10 % from its peak (currently around the £1.06/£1.07 a litre mark).

It's interesting to note that earlier this year the potential for $200 a barrel oil was discussed. This all seems quite a way off now.

At least one economic reason to be cheerful....

All form is impermanent


These is the the remains of the Library of Celsus in Ephesus (now part of modern Turkey). Around 100 AD, Ephesus was a major port, a Roman regional capital and with up to 500,000 people then one of the largest cities in the world.

As the sea gradually moved out and after waves of attacks from Barbarians and then Arabs, the city entered a terminal decline. It was finally abandoned altogether by the Turkish population in the 15th Century.

The ruins seen are as the result of restoration work.

It is a wonderful place steeped in history both religious and political.

This abandoned city now thronged with tourists from every continent of the world which we recently visited, is a sombre reminder that history shows no civilisation lasts forever.

While London is someway off collapse and abandonment (!), the same fate of Ephesus may one day touch London.

A global financial centre that until last year seemed ever growing and invincible, now feels slightly rocked by the waves of crisis running accross the globe. I still remain confident that this can be resolved in the way other troubles have (after all the fact we are all here shows life continued after 1929).

However the ruins of Ephesus remind us that even great cities, of which London is one, do not last forever and all physical form is impermanent.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The hour before dawn ?

It is stating the obvious to say these are extraordinary times in both in London and across the world.

It is far less obvious whether this current crisis is ending or just beginning.

Yesterday the Royal Bank of Scotland Group lost 40 % of its value. Today at one point it regained much of this while HBOS rose 60 % before falling back later. That banks with stable Scottish heritage should be fluctuating in price like fruit in a wholesale greengrocer underlines the depths of this crisis.

The solution from London at least is to "part nationalise" (in the words of the FT) all the major banks. While that may bring some relief to share holders and those seeking to borrow money it is doubtful that this is a real solution. Not least it represents a suspension of free market principles and as this crisis is now largely about confidence it does little to inspire that. It also increases the tax payer's exposure. While the banks seem more than happy to accept state support it seems more doubtful that they will accept the other aspects of state ownership. The tabloids are already rumbling with calls for cuts to bonuses, control over penalty charges and cuts to mortgage rate. Whether the banks will find the taste of a public bail out so sweet in the long term seems doubtful.

A temporary suspension of taxation would have cost less and would have been better for the real economy than throwing "good money after bad" in the banking system.

Like any crisis the hour before dawn is always the darkest of the night. What is unclear to me today is whether this is a dawn or just a flickering candle lit at enormous expense.

That the city which has one of the oldest stock markets in the world is today "celebrating" a partial nationalisation of its banks suggests the coming of dawn is uncertain. London is where Karl Marx is buried. I hope it does not prove to be the grave of contemporary free market capitalism which despite its many faults has brought prosperity and benefits to so many around the world.

A part of me remains optimistic. Even at its worst this is another 1929. Even 1929 passed and a dawn came. Let us at least hope the dawn to this crisis comes a little quicker than then.

Monday, September 29, 2008

In the land of Atatürk

This will be a short post from Turkey where my family and I are spending a fortnight's holiday. An internet cafe and a Turkish keyboard are not condusive to a long note.

However I just wanted to record what a wonderful but contradictory country Turkey can seem to the visitor. Aside from the hassling street traders who shout 'yes please!' at anyone looking remotely like a visitor, the people are extremely warm and welcoming. Travelling with a baby boy seems to bring out the best in people and I have lost count of how many warm words and smiles we have received in the last week.

Turkey is 99 % muslim yet the state is strongly secular, a conflict that persists to this day. Despite being in the middle of Ramadam the cafes and restaurants on the Agean coast where we are staying are still thronged with diners, Turk and foreigner alike.

This does not seem a completely free country. The army is very strong with a visible garrison in most towns and rather bizarrely the BBC and Times websites are both censored in this internet cafe (a website with a picture of Atatürk appears when typing those web addresses). However CNN, the Telegraph and many others are freely available. I fail to understand what is going on here.

Another point is this is a much fought over land. What is now Turkey was once Greek or Roman. I will not attempt to summarise the history but historic sites such as Ephesus and the seven churches of the revelation are all to be found close to the Agean coast.

Overlooking all this is Atatürk who founded the modern state of Turkey in 1923. His portrait, often complete with cigarette, can be found in every cafe, shop or establishment you visit.

Superficially at least, this is first and foremost the land of Atatürk and everything else (whether Islam, commerce, terrorism, tourism,nationalism and a range of unstable neighbours) is less apparent in a host of inconsistencies.

Hopefully back with some photos of this interest country next week.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Putting the "Free" back into the Free Market

A hard day in the office for some in London today



Although the collapse of Lehman Brothers is clearly a bit of a disaster for all concerned, including the 5,000 or so London-based workers who will probably loose their jobs, I do think this is one of the most sensible things to happen in the financial markets in the last year.





Until today, the emphasis has been on saving and bailing out every institution that failed. There did seem to be a limit to how much longer this could have gone on, regardless of whether it was right to do so or not. In the end there is even a limit to what the government can prop up and it seems that limit may at last be reached. (In this instance the limit has been reached by the US government but hopefully the principle will apply in the UK too).





To me at least, the whole point of a free market economy is that successful businesses flourish and failing businesses close. This may sound incredibly obvious and simple but in recent times this has been overlooked. This may not always be "fair" (especially on the many small cogs who work inside big machines) but it is an effective way of encouraging strong and well managed businesses. To prop up every failing bank seems to go against this philosophy and indirectly punish the more prudent banks who are less effected by this crisis. Why should rash instituions like Northern Rock be supported and carry on getting new business at the expense of banks who never needed state support ? This does not encourage good business in the long term if every bank knows it will be "saved" no matter what rash gambles it makes.



Therefore the failure of Lehman Bros, painful though it is, seems to be a return to reality. An old bank has sadly failed due to its more recent activities. Those who would have sought the services of Lehman Bros will now have to go elsewhere, potentially strengthening other banks. The buy-out of Merrill Lynch is another market solution that does not require taxpayers money.



Banks are now realising that the best way to save themselves is to help each other by putting money into a "lending pool". This seems to be a return to basic principles of banking and the free market and is far healthier in the long term.

The credit "cake" is shrinking at the moment and the weakest banks may struggle to survive. However the only real route to long term health is to let the market "weed out" the weakest whether by buy out or in hopefully only extreme cases bankruptcy.





Hopefully this can be a first step in turning the recent tide of "government support" in every situation from flooded houses built on flood plains, home insulation, failed holiday companies and even failed banks. These are just some of the areas attracting government "support" in the last year. In turn this must be paid for by taxes, which weaken the economy even further.

How ironic that it must fall to the Liberal Democrats to propose tax cuts and signal some end to the continued growth in state spending and the inevitable taxes that follow it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

New to the job since 1973

I have deliberately been keeping my powder fairly dry on the US elections. Ultimately, despite the importance of the result to the wider world, this is a matter for Americans to decide. Past embarrasments, notably the Guardian readers' campaign to make the voters of Clark County, Ohio vote for John Kerry in 2004, should act as a reminder against "meddling" in overseas elections. (For the record, the Guardian initiative was spectacularly unsuccessful and Clark County along with the rest of Ohio voted for Bush. See this link for some hilarious responses to the letters received from do-gooding Guardian readers !)

Nonetheless we do seem to hear more about the US elections than we sometimes do about our own elections and if nothing else they make a great spectacle and story. For one thing they last so long compared to our own which can be over in about a month since the day they are called.

Below is a short clip of the man "a heartbeat away from the Presidency" on the Democrat side, one Senator Joe Biden. A special connection with British politics is his rare distinction for plagorising a speech by Neil Kinnock. If you have to plagorise, surely it would be a good start to find someone worth plagorising !

Anyway below is Mr. Biden asking a wheelchair bound Senator to stand up. Senator Biden like his role model, Neil Kinnock has a long history of gaffes. He compounds this gaffe by giving the excuse (around 0.30 on the clip) that he is "new to this". New to what ? He's been a Senator since 1973 !!




Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seven Years Ago....

I had just started a job working for the Ford Motor Company and was visiting their Motorsport operation deep in the Cumbrian countryside. September 2001 was unusually bleak in Cumbria. It is a beautiful place full of hills and lakes and normally full of farm animals. However in 2001 a deadly outbreak of foot and mouth hit England and millions of animals were slaughtered and disposed of by burning or by burial in pits. All the fields, normally full of sheep and cows, were completely empty.

It was against the backdrop of bleak and eerie beauty of an empty Cumbrian countryside, in a converted country house, working for a giant US Corporation that I first heard of the attack on the twin towers. My colleague who I was working with did not seem to realise the enormity of what was happening but I went out to the car to listen to the news on the radio. Everyone can remember where they were that day and I am no exception.

As well as remembering that day on its seventh anniversary, it must be seen as some success that despite a brutal and determined enemy there has not been one serious terrorist attack on the US in seven years since 9/11. Bombs in Madrid, Bali and London during that time show that the risk remains real.

The images from 9/11 are all too shockingly familiar. Below is a less well known scene from London on September 12th 2001 when the Queen ordered guards outside Buckingham Palace to play the Star Spangled Banner. Many had gathered outside including a lot of Americans stranded in London and unable to return home due to the no fly order being in operation. It is a moving scene, albeit in a short clip.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Oil Falls over 30 %, shame about the petrol

I intend to come back with something more insightful in the near future, but for now time limits me to a moan about petrol prices !

With oil falling below $100 a barrel this week, this represents a near 33 % fall from its peak of $147 in July. Surely for a commodity to fall in price by a third is a massive movement even allowing for the dramatic rise beforehand ?

It is a shame that the petrol stations seem blissfully unaware where the price falls remain mediocre to say the least.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

What is going on in Mexico ?

Unlike conventional wars between nations, the "drugs war" in Mexico seems to have attracted relatively little international coverage. However the level of violence that has caused around 2,700 deaths this year alone is really extraordinary.

Some the tactics adopted by the drugs gangs are beginning to resemble the Iraqi insurgency with such horrors as mass beheadings. In fact the level of kidnapping is apparently now worse than Iraq.

My knowledge of Mexico is very limited although I did once hop accross the border during a visit with a friend to California. This was in 2002 and we took a bus from San Diego to Tijuana. Perhaps as two naive Brits we were blissfully unaware of all that was going on. Tijuana was certainly a bit dubious but during the daylight hours we visited seemed no worse than a number of other places where local traders try to sell their wares to tourists. We were aware there was a seedier side to the place but apart from a few tourist shops and an internet cafe that doubled as a dentist we didn't go in anywhere. Satisfied with a brief but presumably unrepresentative glimpse of Mexico we got the bus back, waiting several hours to cross the US border with security apparently being higher than normal on what was the 6-month anniversary of September 11th, 2001.

I don't know if we were just lucky or if things really have got a lot worse in 6 years.

Here is a side of Tijuana I didn't see on my brief visit.



Recent goings on in Mexico really seem dreadful and ordinary people have to live their lives in the midst of this. Even from a cold-blooded criminal perspective the level of violence seems utterly bewildering and I am struggling to understand what is going on there. Understandably it seems ordinary Mexicans are desperate for this to stop.

South Ossetian views

Here are two youtube videos for readers to judge for themselves.

The first purports to show Georgian troops attacking Tskhinvali before the Russians arrived. The APCs certainly have Georgian markings and the apparent pot shots taken at an unarmed shepherd are disturbing.



The second is a Fox News interview with two Ossetian Americans, a 12-year old girl and her aunt who were in South Ossetia, visiting from San Francisco when the Georgian troops attacked. Some criticism has been aimed at Fox News for "interrupting" this interview with a commercial break. I am not sure if that is too valid. They girl and her Aunt had their say and an articulate South Ossetian perspective is more than many other channels have shown, CNN and BBC to name two.

That doesn't mean I don't think ordinary Georgians have suffered greatly in this and have probably suffered the most over the course of the conflict. The reason I am not specifically showing Georgian suffering here is that it has received far more coverage in the mainstream media. There has been suffering on all sides. This is a very troubled area and the line between Ossetian and Georgian is a bit blurred. I did not know until very recently that Joseph Stalin had an Ossetian Father and a Georgian mother. Clearly this is a troubled and fiery region.