Category Archives: Current Affairs

A Poetic Valediction

I’m sure some people think that The Economist must be a boring and staid publication, but this final paragraph from the magazine’s departing Bagehot columnist is sheer poetry:

Beyond the headlines and TV studios, Britain’s everyday impressions are mostly those of a homely and mingled place, not a bitter and binary one. The blare of pop songs on shop radios, the church bell across the marshes, the simian whoops and cackles on market-town high streets of a Friday night. The shared shrugs and sighs after a train has waited too long at a station for some misery-unleashing fault not to have materialised. The vinegar-haddock-urine smell of seaside towns; the perfume-booze-sweat crush of commuters travelling home from booming cities. The saris, shiny suits and waxed jackets, the hipster moustaches and old-school mullets. The emergence from a car park or railway station to be confronted with a scene of architectural horror—or unprepossessing and unexpected gorgeousness.

How Brexit damaged Britain’s democracy

Elections Compared 

There’s a general election tomorrow in the UK, and for some reason I haven’t received a poll card. It’s no big deal. It’s not required to vote. However it did make me look up the location of my nearest polling station.

At the same time, I checked the candidates standing for election in my constituency (Brentford and Isleworth). One of the interesting changes from 2010 is the total number of candidates running for office — it’s exactly half. There were 10 candidates five years ago, and only five this time (see the screen shot from Wikipedia).

I’m not certain what this decrease implies about the state of political ambition in the country, but perhaps it’s indicative of the widespread political apathy that gets reported so often in the press.

Screen shot from Wikipedia showing the Brentford and Isleworth candidates for election in 2010 and 2015.
Brentford and Isleworth candidates for election in 2010 and 2015.

By far the most interesting difference between these elections, however, is the absence of anyone standing on behalf of the British National Party (aka BNP). The BNP is a far-right political party that according to Wikipedia advocates “voluntary resettlement whereby immigrants and their descendants are afforded the opportunity to return to their lands of ethnic origin”. As well as anti-immigration policies, the party advocates the reintroduction of capital punishment and opposes same-sex marriage, multiculturalism and what it perceives as the Islamification of the UK. The BNP’s ideology has been described as fascist or neo-fascist by political scientists, and in the years leading up to 2010 it gained a reputation for racist, skinhead violence.

Five years ago, the BNP was perceived as a viable threat to the political status quo and was often compared to France’s Front national, despite never having anywhere near the same degree of popular support. In 2010 it stood 338 candidates for election across the UK. This year there are eight. That’s a decline of more than 97% and, although immigration is still an important election issue for many, the demise of the extremist BNP can only be considered a significant change for the better in an increasingly fragmented “United” Kingdom.

Katrina comments

Hummingbird hovers above a bird feeder
Incoming!

The NPR web site has an interesting page of comments from the public about Hurricane Katrina. Here’s one example from Marybeth Lima of Baton Rouge, Louisiana:

As a survivor of the outskirts of Hurricane Katrina, right now, this is what I know:

  • that in Baton Rouge, La., the winds hit 110 miles per hour, and the hummingbirds navigated this wind, which picked up 200 ton blocks of concrete in Mississippi, like a breeze;– that a tree frog successfully rode out the storm on the leeward side of a Mexican fan palm that battered our dining room window;
  • that though the wind thrashed the web of a writing spider and her egg sac, all three sailed through the storm without damage.

I am in awe of these micro miracles in the face of such macro devastation: trees down, power lines live, flooding, storm surge and death, even in our fair city.

Read more at NPR : Affected by Katrina? Listeners Write In

Anything goes

The BBC is reporting that John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, has topped the US dance chart at the age of 71 with a song supporting gay marriage (see Yoko’s gay wedding song is US hit).

I can’t understand how George W. Bush can argue that he’s in favour of greater freedom for people when he “wants to change the US constitution to specify that marriage can only take place between a man and a woman”.

Thirty-seven years ago while Justice Minister, a famous Canadian communist declared There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation. The left-wing Liberal Pierre Trudeau was in favour of freedoms that the current “leader of the western world” is unwilling to give his own nation.

Whenever I hear the Bush Administration arguing rhetorically about freeing foreign peoples, I can’t help thinking of Cole Porter (an active homosexual, but at least he married a woman!). Porter hit the nail on the head when he wrote Anything Goes:

The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today,
When most guys today
That women prize today
Are just silly gigolos
And though I’m not a great romancer
I know that I’m bound to answer
When you propose,
Anything goes

It seems to me that the people who talk most about freedom, are really opportunistic control freaks who disguise themselves as liberals (i.e. freedom fighters) whenever it helps their selfish cause. Things are not what they seem, and anything goes!

PS – Is dancing allowed in Texas?

Burberry buddies

What does Tony Blair have in common with Britain’s football hooligans? Well, a taste for the luxury clothing brand Burberry, apparently.

tonyblair.jpg

The pri’minster, init?

The Prime Minister has once again been spotted wearing Burberry; this time while on holiday in Italy. But as today’s Guardian reports in I don’t care if you are Tony Blair… he may have to rethink his wardrobe when he next visits the Midlands:

Drinkers wearing Burberry have been banned from two pubs in the city centre [of Leicester] because it is one of the favourite designers of a group of thugs.

Observers of popular culture noticed the hooligan penchant for Burberry some time ago, but if Britain’s police and publicans are acting on this trend it must now really be official.

Seven years ago Tony Blair said “The new Britain is a meritocracy where we break down the barriers of class, religion, race and culture” (see 1997 Commonwealth Address), and it’s good to see the Prime Minister making such an effective personal contribution to this social transformation.

Let’s call the whole thing off

With apologies to Ira Gershwin…

You say Al-KAY-da
And I say Al-KEYE-da
You say Osama
And I say Obama
Al-KAY-da, Al-KEYE-da
Osama, Obama
Let’s call the whole thing off.

The “whole thing” could be defined in numerous ways I suppose, but I prefer to think of it as a reference to the conflict in Iraq.

“Obama” is, of course, Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for the US Senate from Illinois who spoke so eloquently at the Democratic convention last week. Even the Financial Times published an article about him this weekend under the headline A Democrat star is born.

You can find out more about this new star in an article published in The New Yorker in May (see The Candidate by William Finnegan) and it seems I wasn’t the only one to notice a certain similiarity in his last name:

[Democratic Congresswoman] Jan Schakowsky told me about a recent visit she had made to the White House with a congressional delegation. On her way out, she said, President Bush noticed her “obama” button. “He jumped back, almost literally,” she said. “And I knew what he was thinking. So I reassured him it was Obama, with a ‘b.’ And I explained who he was. The President said, ‘Well, I don’t know him.’ So I just said, ‘You will.’”

Looks like Schakowsky was right.

It’s the way that you do it

Yet another example appears in this weekend’s FT to suggest that “it ‘aint what you do, but the way that you do it” that counts. Except this time the context is political (see Tales show a president need not be smart).

Writing about the similarities in three recent books on George W. Bush’s administration, Peter Spiegel wondered:

How is it, then, that senior aides are ignored on their areas of expertise? Much of this dysfunction, it emerges, is due to the old Washington adage “process is policy” – in other words, how decisions are made profoundly effects [sic] which decisions are made. In this administration, the “how” is at the core of the dysfunction.

I wonder if they’re any fans of Jimmie Lunceford at the White House?

Obese City

Obesity has become a hot topic in recent months. The latest fat news came yesterday and again today when the UK media reported extensively on the recommendations of the House of Commons Health Select Committee, which has just published its concerns about the increasing number of obese children in Britain.

This change seems like yet another about-turn from the situation 20 years ago. When I graduated from university (the first time) the fashionable eating disorders of the day where those that made you thin: anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Remember all the fuss surrounding Princess Diana’s and the Duchess of York’s weight/eating problems? These days the disadvantages of fat are à la mode.

Head and shoulders shot of a fat Ronald McDonald

So Morgan Spurlock’s award-winning movie Super Size Me is perfectly timed. Spurlock filmed the effects of eating all his meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner — for 30 consequtive days at McDonald’s. He gained 25 pounds — that’s not far off a pound a day — but luckily he lived to tell the tale.

I’m looking forward to seeing the film when it opens in the UK, but in the meantime I can’t help thinking that with people like Michael Moore and Spurlock around, it’s not a good time to be running anything big in the USA. No wonder Krispy Kreme has just reported its first loss.

Lastminute Martha

The UK’s best-known Martha is Miss Martha Lane Fox, the co-founder of Lastminute.com, an internet travel agency that has prospered despite the IT crash. Earlier this week the 30 year-old doyenne of Britain’s dot com boom made the news yet again for selling two million of her Lastminute.com shares, worth 4.6 million pounds. Apparently, she suggested it might be time to buy a new home (amongst other things).

To-Let signs on a residential street in London

London is flooded with rental properties

The experts increasingly think otherwise. Almost a year ago the Economist was predicting a property crash, and since then more and more pundits have agreed that the time for a correction must be near. On Monday even Stephen Nickell, a member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee (which sets the country’s prime interest rate) warned of the increasing risk of a dramatic fall in property prices.

I couldn’t help wondering about this latest boom last night as I watched the usual Wednesday night litany of property-buying and house-decorating programmes on television. What will the TV producers do once the market turns? Switch from how-to-buy to how-to-sell I suppose, but that’s not likely to be as much fun.

The Financial Times thinks the property programmes are similar to hemlines:

The anecdotal evidence for a bubble is also striking; TV channels are swamped with house-related programmes and there is a good business in seminars offering punters swift riches via the housing market.

But any sell-off needs a catalyst. Higher rates are an obvious trigger but, as Mr [Stephen] Nickell’s remarks show, the Bank is well aware of the dangers and is treading cautiously. Higher unemployment is another potential pitfall, but looks unlikely to be a problem this year. But the catalyst will eventually appear and when it does, the sell-off could be swift; as those buy-to-let investors, desperate to plug a cashflow shortfall, unload their surplus properties on a falling market.

So Martha may have timed her dot com business perfectly, but if she buys a new home soon it may turn out to be rather “last minute”.