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Saturday, 24 December 2011

The town of two Christmasses

As 'banned' commented on a map of the Austro-Hungarian Empire I used to illustrate a post a couple of weeks ago "They've missed out Trans Carpathian Ruthenia. They always do that". 

It's hardly surprising. This tiny Statelet has a population that speaks four different languages, descended from fourteen distinct ethnic groups including Bogomil, Lemko, Slovak, Hutsul, Romani and Rusyn. It's spent so much of its history being owned by someone else that the canny Carpathian-Ruthenians have given up completely on the idea of independence, only seeking a certain degree of internal autonomy from whichever State at the time happens to be ruling them. At times they've even tried to hedge their bets, as in the 1920s, when they fought equally for both the Communist and anti-Communist armies around them. 

The capital is Ushorad, or Uzhhorod, Uzhgorod, Unhvar, Ongvar or Ingver. They've never really decided. They don't get much mail, being connected only by rail to the nearest noteworthy place, Chop. The city has an airport of international size, but with only one terminal and flights to just two destinations, Kiev and Budapest. But more importantly, they have two cathedrals, orthodox and Catholic, and a religious identity utterly ambivalent between the two. Thus the people of this town of Trans Carpathian Ruthenia will all celebrate Christmas twice this year, once on 25th December and once on 7th January. And such is the delicate diplomacy of maintaining such a fissured cultural identity, they all seem happy to celebrate both, whatever their personal faith. 

The snow is lying in Uzhhorad now, deep and crisp and even. Aunt Olga and Aunt Natasha are making their way across for first Christmas with gifts of knitted foot-cloths, whilst Aunt Irina and Aunt Julietta are still knitting their nose-scarves for second Christmas. All is quiet at  Uzhhorad  International Airport, the last flight having left last week, but gliding down the approach path can be heard the sound of faint bells and the glow of a ruby-nose light .....

Have a fastastic Christmas all.  

Friday, 23 December 2011

History is too important to be left to the Political Class

In a naked attempt to appeal to Metropolitan France's million voters of Armenian descent, Sarkozy is introducing a law making it illegal to deny the Armenian 'genocide'. As a result, Turkey is enraged and history is distorted. One man's genocide is another man's pogrom or massacre or internecion. It's as if Ed Balls proposed making it a crime in the UK to deny that the potato famine was a deliberate attempt at destroying the Irish. And if that, then why not the Indian famine of 1897 - 1900, when millions died as we did nothing? Of course man alone is rarely solely responsible for the scale of the greatest depridations. El Nino caused the conditions for the Indian famine, an oomycete blighted Ireland's potatoes, and Typhus, Cholera and Diptheria always claimed more victims of displacement than murder and rapine. But scholarship, balance and academic honesty have little place in the minds of politicians, crude creatures of deception and trickery that they are.

Of course our own cadre of school leavers and graduates will be unable to take part in this debate, history teaching in England for the last decade or so having been restricted to the Romans, Slavery and the Third Reich. If It's not Hitler, Hannibal or the Hottentots they won't have heard of it. But as the current spat between  France and Turkey shows, it's desperately important to understand your history. Our children should be given the opportunity to understand ours.  

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Consumption or investment?

The Speccie offers a provoking thought on why 'starving the beast' (lower tax rates) has not led to smaller government in the US; the government simply resorts to borrowing against the future. Now, it suggests, "Requiring the American people to actually pay for all of the government they receive is, as Niskanen and others have convincingly argued, the most effective way to limit its growth". 

This may be fair enough as far as government services that are consumed as soon as they are produced are concerned - policing, teaching and so on - but what about government investment? Should the costs of a new school with a 60 year life be charged wholly to taxpayers during the two years it takes to build? Should the government undertake investment at all, or leave this to the market and rent the school, so that all spending is consumption? And what of R&D at Aldermaston and GCHQ that will benefit this nation ten years hence? 'Serve the check' may seem a simple and attractive mantra for we anti-Statists, but I fear it's hardly as simple as that.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Monbiot rant

A vintage piece of Monbiot polemic in the Guardian today damns libertarianism;
Modern libertarianism is the disguise adopted by those who wish to exploit without restraint. It pretends that only the state intrudes on our liberties. It ignores the role of banks, corporations and the rich in making us less free. It denies the need for the state to curb them in order to protect the freedoms of weaker people. This bastardised, one-eyed philosophy is a con trick, whose promoters attempt to wrongfoot justice by pitching it against liberty. By this means they have turned "freedom" into an instrument of oppression.
To a point, Lord Copper. Monbiot names the TPA, the Adam Smith Institute, the IEA and Policy Exchange as leading a libertarian movement that robs the freedoms of the masses, accuses libertarians of being in bed with the big corporates, and imagines that a Big State will curb them. What trite nonsense. We've had a Big State since 1979, and since then the corporates have enjoyed an unprecedented period of growth in complete synergy with government; nothing could be more antipathetic to libertarianism than the oligopolistic corporates that smother free market capitalism, yet government over-regulation skews the advantage in favour of the corporates who can devote entire departments to complying with regulation and against SMEs and mom-and-pop businesses for whom it's an often unsustainable burden. Central Statism and Corporatism are bedfellows. 

The protection of the freedoms of the weak has never been on the agenda of a Big State that has consistently sought to destroy and disempower the horizontal ties of self-help, mutual support, local institutions, the family and community. It's the State that destroyed the Friendly and Provident Societies and mutual insurance by the weak, and a State fearful of the independence of the working class as an alliance of the weak that has systematically destroyed every authentic grass-roots working class movement in the country. Freedom comes through Burke's 'little platoons' , not an authoritarian Rousseau-esque central State that seeks to abolish all ties of blood and belonging in favour of a direct relationship between the State and every powerless individual. 

George, the Leviathan State is not good, is not benign. And as for Clare's Elm, no farmer ever denuded the land as much as a wartime State rapacious for timber for trench props and shell boxes and armed with the power to requisition and destroy without recourse.   

Monday, 19 December 2011

The Death of the Euro part 17

The death of the Euro could have been orchestrated by Puccini. In La Boheme, a tubercular young seamstress named Mimi dies - but her death is necessarily prolonged whilst Musetta, Schaunard and Rodolfo sing some songs. The poor ex-soprano spends a long time unconscious as the orchestra and voices around her enjoy themselves. No doubt if Angela Merkel had written the libretto, Mimi would then have risen from the sickbed four dress sizes smaller and would have embarked on a vigorous round of cleaning and cooking. 

Today, Jeff Randall in the Telegraph pulls together all the coherent seasonal predictions of the death of the Euro, terming it inevitable. And so it is. But like Mimi, it's taking an awful bloody time to get there. 

Stilton can't market, er, Stilton

For early risers, this lovely little scoop was claimed by R4's 'Farming Today' this morning. A cheesemaker in the village of Stilton is actually making the traditional cheese of that name - the creamy blue-veined Goddess of British cheese, best taken in scoops from the round with a white Port, to my mind - but cannot market it because the name is protected under EU legislation. Some half dozen dairies in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire nabbed the exclusive right to the name by registering it as a PDO; no cheesemakers in the Cambridgeshire village of Stilton were active at the time. 

Contrary to expectations, this isn't going to provoke an anti-EU rant. PDO status is a Godsend to those of us concerned more with substance than name; I can buy a hard grating cheese exactly equivalent to Parmesan for half the price, likewise for fine sparkling wines made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay and second-fermented in bottle but not called Champagne, and air cured ham not called Parma. Now I shall doubtless be able to fill the larder with a fine blue-veined cheese not called Stilton. 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Luvvies in a lather over livers

At a time of crisis, one can always rely on the nation's luvvies to rally around the cause. In response to unimaginable levels of hostility from the perfidious French following Cameron's snub, a green-room alliance including Joanna Lumley, Ricky Gervaise, Bill Oddie and Roger Moore have launched a boycott of foie gras. With an impending downgrade of French AAA status, you may think a fall in goose-liver exports will hardly register in Bercy as an economic threat, but even this minor trade spat could signal the start of the very last thing we need in Europe - a trade war. 

I urge you therefore to get your order in now for the new year; I commend Thomas Maieli's home-made foie gras terrine, best available in London through French Click (no connection). Foie gras, I am told, helps repair the damage caused to your own liver through festive good cheer, and thus can be almost classed as a medicine. Though one to be taken in the English, rather than in the French, manner.  

City thieves should have their nostrils slit

On the face of it, there was nothing wrong with the idea of an Endowment Mortgage. Instead of paying off capital directly, you diverted the same monthly sum to buying equities. Over the long term - say two or three full economic cycles - the rise in the values of equities would comfortably pay off the capital sum. Several things went wrong, most of them attributable to the greed of the fund managers. First up was a hefty commission paid to the Estate Agent who arranged the Endowment, then punitive management fees every year, and finally they managed to mis-invest the money in equities and funds that performed significantly worse than the FTSE 100. As a result, they killed-off the Endowment Mortgage. 

Now of course the Observer reveals they've been doing the same to our pension pots. A saver who made contributions of £70,000 between 1994 and 2009 would have seen the entire £46,000 profit in the rise of the FTSE 100 swallowed in fees and charges by the financial sector. The UK financial sector currently makes 3.2% a year out of our investments, most of it fat salaries and bonuses enjoyed by traders and fund managers. 

Frankly, this makes me want to see their nostrils slit with a rusty gutting knife, with ear-cropping for a second offence.