Thursday, September 29, 2005
Apparently a lot of people are unhappy with the quality of tea being served in Britain. No really? How long did it take to discover this? Strangely, leaving aside the odd traditional tea room in the countryside, this has been a well known fact for years. Or at least to me it has. But you know, the solution is fairly simple: don’t drink the stuff. Myself, I love tea, preferable black, so I am not bashing tea drinking here. But there is little point in trying to ignore reality and insist on drinking tea when being out and about. As a coffee hater, I always turn to hot chocolate or fruit juices when I go to cafes. So if you don’t want to be disappointed, just follow my example and keep your tea drinking at home. Or alternatively, if you have the time and the drive, open your own proper tea shop. Or, if you’re really ambitious, why not set up a whole chain? A sort of Starbucks for tea?
Also, pretty dispiriting is the spread of herbal and fruit “teas”. Yes, I know their healthy, but come on, not that healthy and they taste weakly. Not the stuff the Empire was built on, I say ;)
Though I have to say actual consumption of tea looks pretty strong to me:
On average every person in Britain drinks three cups of tea a day
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
It seems I am spared nothing. After it has become apparent that Germany will be with a grand coalition, here comes another stupidity: Gerhard Schroeder for foreign minister. Oh dear. Given that may main argument against him was foreign policy that could mean Germany would end up with a sort fo worst case scenario, in which domestic policy remains in blockage while Schroeder can grand stand on the world stage and continue his wrongheaded foreign policy. He probably won't be able to swallow his pride though to take that step. Given that the world views of Schroeder and Merkel diverge significantly I can't see how it could work. Given (again!) that I have based all my previous predictions on this sort of reasoning I am not sure I shoudl make such bold statements any more.
So, welcome foreign minister Schroder! ;)
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
(As a blogger it should of course be my duty to rap the msm over the knuckles noe and then, and this is certainly a duty I have neglected. But betterment begins today.)
The Times reports today on a study which claims that Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side':
RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.
According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.
The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.
. . .
“The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”
Her story doesn’t show up the possible causal connections between atheism and a good society made by the academic Gregory Paul. Equally she doesn’t ask or query what his statistics show or don’t show. Undoubtedly on a lot of indicators such as murder and abortion, the comparatively secular European societies perform better than the more religious US. At the moment that is. What I would need to know as a reader though is, what the rates of change are. That is what really matters. Religion has rebounded in America in the past two decades, while it has kept floundering in Europe. How have the indicators developed in that period? Did Paul make a difference between people in the US who (re)embraced religion and those who didn’t? Did the study look at differences between people who believe in the existence of God and people of a religious mentality? The two are not the same, certainly not for me. Did the study take into account other factors that would influence society’s wellbeing, such as character and extent of a welfare state?
I only mention these factors, not to disparage Paul’s research which may have serious political, social and cultural implications, but simply to question the quality of the Times’ report. Without taking stock in any way of the issues about methodology I raise above the article is clearly of little informative value. Additionally I wonder why Gledhill reports no criticism of the article which there surely is. Was there no time? Surely this news story was not such a priority that it couldn’t incorporate different views on the subject due to time constraints.
The disappointing conclusion is that the Times shouldn’t have run the article. Instead of enlightening its readers, it simply provides a possibly misleading first impression, and thus makes its readers less well informed than if the page had been left blank.
(More to follow when I have done my homework and actually read the study. . . )
Well, despite my objections and doubts, the idea of a grand coalition has been gaining traction in Berlin. It is laready being talked up by the media as the only possible solution to the current troubles. While I remain opposed and think a minority coalition would be preferable, there have been signs that a grand coalition might be achieveable after all. In the SPD some people are obviously becoming a little fed-up with Schroeder's insitence that he remain in charge. As compromise some have even suggested that there could be a shared Chancellorship, with Schroder handing over to Merkel in two years time. But this has been dismissed by the Christian-democrats and it's not going to happen. As a grand coalion is not going to be possible with Schroeder, the question now is: will he go?
Actually it might happen. Schroeder has already said he will do everything to make the grand coalition work. Given the unrest in his own ranks and the strong backing of Merkel in the CDU/CSU, that can only mean he is willing to consider stepping down.
But why is he waiting so long? There is a danger here. I am not exactly sure about the time-frame, but if memory serves the politicians have two weeks to form a new government. Given the pending election in Dresden this Sunday, might count towards granting extra time, which would mean there are another three weeks to go. But that is unclear. Otherwise it will be the president's decision to either determine the chancellor, or, more likely, order renewed elections. Although I endorsed the idea of another round of voting a while ago, I am not sure this is a good idea after all. As I reported on Friday, people would vote exactly the same way again. Either way, this is all constitutional mine-field territory, and constitutions are not for playing around with.
So what explains Schroder's behaviour? It is true that he doesn't have a very cautious and restrictive approach towards the German constitution. Leaving that aside, it may be his desire to ensure a further personal victory, by taking Merkel down with him. His current manouvering could well mean that the two big parties get tired of their leaders' ego and drop both of them. Given the CDU/CSU's strong backing for Merkel however, Schroeder might thus have been moved to soften his position. The other alternative is that he is playing hard to get for his party. Though not known as particularly attached to the SPD, he could still be trying to ensure they get as good a deal as possible in coalition talks.
The bottom line of this is that if Merkel gets through this, which it currently seems she will, then she will clearly emerge as a strong leader. Given her professed desire to alter Germany's foreign policy, it seems unlikely she will give too much power to a possible SPD foreign minister. That scenario may not be as attractive as a coalition with the right-liberals, but it certainly improves the options for Britain in working together with Germany. And for that a strong Merkel would seem indispensable.
Monday, September 26, 2005
I will flag this up, when it's released, but there's news that Richard North's paper on EU defence integration will be published soon. And this is not before time. EU Referendum blog has been tracking how the development of new military technolgies and doctrines is putting the UK in a position, where one day we will have lost all ability for independent military operations and planning. While it has become almost a cliche to say that Britain sort of stands between the US and Europe, in this instance the Government has pretty clearly made the decision to throw our lot in with the EU. North shows, how the changes in military operations, coupled with the industrial policy of EU-over-US procurement, will mean that in the near future it will become impossible for British forces to fight alongside US forces. So, whatever happens diplomatically, we can only fight together with EU forces, and increasingly only with the permission of other EU governments. The possible consequences of this could be catastrophic for the future of our country. To be clear, this process of EU defence integration, as it is now, will determine Britain's future. Full credit to North and the CPS for taking this issue up and providing a proper study. Perhaps this will wake up the otherwise sleepy UK media to pay some attention to this development, which they have so far ignored (stories on Kate Moss are sooooo much more important, or more lurid tales on how Bush bungled teh Katrina-response, hardly a vital issue for Britain's national interest and future, etc.). Undoubtedly this is caused by a pretty ramshakle defence reporting, in itself an oddity, given the British public's large appetite for military-related stuff. The papers, at least the serious ones, really need to get their act together on this.
Friday, September 23, 2005
The indecisive election results of Sunday have largely left the political scene in Germany in a situation of mild confusion. Coalition talks have been ongoing, but son far there is little that can be regarded as established fact. After Schroeder announced his intention to remain in power, the whole business was made rather more complicated, because this rules out a grand coalition with the Christian-democrats (CDU/CSU). The only way this could have happened is if the gang of West-German men who run the party decided to oust the uppity Eastern gal Angela Merkel so as to circumvent her determination not to compromise with the ruling social-democrats (SPD). But as it goes they obviously support her because she was confirmed as party leader, increased her support from 92.6% to 98.6%. This is gives her a good base from which to take measures that may become necessary.
Now, Schroeder and his pals aren’t stupid of course, so they’ve been roaming around for some way to remain in power. As a background it is necessary to explain that the German Christian-democrats are actually made up of two parties, the CSU which only exists in Bavaria, and the CDU which exists everywhere else. But they count as one Fraktion in parliament. So this week some people in the SPD have decided that breaking up this Fraktion would make the SPD the strongest single force in parliament and would automatically confer the status of Chancellor-maker. In order to do so, they proposed to change the parliamentary rules of business to ban parties from forming common fractions. Although they have retracted from this since one help but agree with one conservative politician, who complained that this was the methodology of a “banana republic”. Certainly this sorry episode is another argument against the SPD.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
The Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) Berlin is having a fare-well do for its director Christopher Bertram (formerly also at the IISS). He served the outfit which is an independent, though publicly funded, academic think-tank quite well, easily making it one, if not the most influential body to advise on German foreign and security affairs. Bertram himself caught my attention back in 1990/1991 at the beginning of the Iraq war when he argued for a full-scale German military involvement, not exactly a popular position to take back then. That said, he opposed taking up arms again in 2003, hardly unpopular(!), but he has by and large been a quite fair commentator on broader global affairs and is quite a nice guy, which sort of helps overlook his excessive enthusiasm for the EU. As I was saying,it's his leaving do today and he is soon to be replaced with the Middle East expert Volker Perthes. There are several points to make about the nomination. The first and most obvious one is the shift from Bertram's Anglohpile background and emphasis on security, to the Orientalism of Perthes, which clearly shows a greater interest in the Middle East. I don't think there is anything wrong about that shift in emphasis, it simply goes to show that the problems German foreign policy faces have changed.
The problem I see with Perthes is his ideology and the often irritating, snide anti-Americanism he often shows in interviews, if not always in his written work. I will write some more on this one day, but it is a disappointing development for an Atlanticist like me who would like to see stronger British-German cooperation.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Monday, September 19, 2005
The old joke about us used to be that the Church of England was the Tory Party at prayer. Given current news, wouldn't it be more accurate to say the C of E is the LibDems at prayer? Oh dear. I despair of this good Church sometimes.
Updated: Although an older post and not related to the current happenings, LimeyPundity has a great post about pacifism and Christianity. Other commentary so far seems to share my negative first impression. Via Stephen Pollard, she doesn't seem very impressed, as does Laban Tall, who links to Thinking Anglicans, a sort of news weblog about C of E affairs (looks good), who have a round up of related news stories.
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Unfortunately it has happened, the possible coalition between the Christian-democrats and right-liberals doesn't have enough votes to be the clear winner. In fact Schröder is even claiming victory for himself. Too early right now to say anything else, but so far the right-liberals (FDP) have said they will not enter into coalition talks with the Red-Green government. We shall see. A grand colaition seems likely, but remains a bad option. If she can get enough backing in her party, Merkel might now have to resort to the "nuclear" option that was dismissed only days ago and go for another round of elections. That would be my personal choice. But let's wait and see the results are not final yet. The only positive thing so far has been the particularly strong showing with 10% of the FDP, my fave amongst the German parties. Also extra points to my own prescience, as I wrote back in May:
I am not entirely sure though, whether this will actually see the Red-Green coalition government removed from office in Berlin. The key opposition, the Christian Democratic parties (CDU/CSU) are not currently clear enough about their leadership yet. On the plus side that may mean that the right-liberal FDP may profit most from an electoral swing away from the ruling parties. Well I’m hoping, though they lost a little in this election.
Let’s see, but I fear that a defeat of Schroeder in September/October is not guaranteed.
Given that it may have been her party colleagues' lacklustre support that reduced Merkels' credibilty as a leader I do see a bumpy and ugly ride ahead.
Saturday, September 17, 2005
Now I am not going to write anything about the actual events, who is responsible and the predictable Bush-and-America-bashing by the European media, as I have nothing useful to contribute and American domestic policies is not really my area of interest (though I will urge you to read this, by the former editor of the Portadown News, which is both insightful and very funny). The problem that I do see is the question of accountability and responsibility of government levels. I have for many years been arguing that the UK needs to decentralise its state machinery. I have to admit that the situation in New Orleans has raised some doubts for me. Nobody seems to have sole responsibility and all levels of bureaucracy interacted woefully with each other. Isn't that automatically written into such a system? In fact the Katrina catastrophe exhibits all teh same problems with federalism that can be seen in Germany, where the system stifles reforms and makes politicians highly unaccountable - whenever anything goes wrong they can always blame a different level of government. (Incidentally, this is of course one of the big problems with the EU.) I guess one condition for a more decentralised governing structure in Britain would have to be sole responsibility. There should be no óverlapping of areas of administration. For example, if local councils are responsible for waste desposal, there should be no interference via regulations or framework laws or such by higher levels of government. I don't know if that could be workable at all, but it is clear that the lines of authority have to be clear if we want accountable, efficient and democratic local government. (There is of course a problem with contemporary political culture, where it has become sheer unimagineable that anybody but the person at the top carries any responsibilty, as Simon Jenkins has argued.)
Friday, September 16, 2005
. . . if a quiz says so:
Based on your answers, you are most likely a neoconservative
Not so sure about that. Also note that the CSM completely ignores any domestic policy issue, on which there are a number of vital differences between me and neoconservative positions. A common oversight that reduces the value, in light of the domestic agenda’s defining importance.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Well, the temporary election result will be released on Sunday night after all. Despite some objections about the results influencing the voting in Dresden, I think this was the right decision. Newspapers and tv are going to do polling anyway, and that way the temporary result would become known anyway.
The problem at the moment is the looming grand coalition. This situation of deadlock in the polls at the moment is already having negative effects on the markets. Despite some speculations I have heard, I see no benefit in a grand coalition that the current polling situation would suggest is the only viable option. I heard on the radio earlier that the most up-to-date polling has seen a slight upsurge for the opposition parties and I certainly hope that trend continues. The other, and rather drastic step would be for the Christian-democrats to push for another round of elections. Unfortunately the reports that there are plans for this are being denied by Merkel's spokespeople. That is a shame. Nonetheless, even if there is a grand coalition, Britain can rest assured that there will be a gradual shift in foreign policy. More Atlanticist for starters, and less knee-jerk anti-American.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Although the campaigning here in Berlin is in its decidedly hot phase, I've been somewhat distracted by other stuff including the piece on Middle East democratisation and a review of a book on EU enlargement. The essay I had started about the German elections is shelved as the results now look entirely open. In conversation last night -ok, not the most reliable sourcing here ;)- I learned that the polls had shifted so much that only a grand coalition would be possible. Given that all concerned parties are ruling this out categorically I'm not sure what to make of the possible developments. I still think a grand coalition would be a bad solution, though it's hard to see it going any other way at the moment. That said, we may not even know the result on the polling day, i.e. this Sunday, because, due to the death of a Neo-Nazi candidate, Dresden will not be voting until two weeks after. Even if the interim results are released on Sunday, it may be so close that the Dresden vote might be decisive. All in all that means that the previous certainty about the next German government is gone. I was actually going to use this space to sketch out future prospects for British-German cooperation, but given the circumstnaces and my limited time resources I will obviously limit this for now, especially given that these politicians are all pigs really . . .
Sunday, September 11, 2005
To get you started here's a presentation of the events of four years ago. Despite all the arguments about al Quaeda's exact shape or form, I think it helps to understand the threat we face in perhaps more general terms. Brink Lindsey wrote a three-piece for NRO about three years ago which still remains a good read (part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here). I'm summarising some of thoughts about the democracy against terrorism debate, which should be finished this evening. Otherwise the only thing that remains to be said is that the struggle continues. Onward to the business I say!
Friday, September 09, 2005
It is good to see that Germany has equivalents to our likes of the Monster Raving Loony Party or the Forward to Mars Party and their like. Perhaps I missed it, but during the General Election I didn’t see any election broadcast by the loonies, so at least some fun is provided here:
In Germany, all parties are given prime time television slots for their campaign ads -- even the fringe anarchist party, which aimed for maximum controversy with its contribution.
. . .
A video montage of drug- and booze-induced chaos involving semi-naked revellers who smash furniture, eat dog food, and pour beer over each other is typically not the kind of content German viewers expect in a political ad.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
Following on from the recent story about Iranian meddling into the British zone in Iraq, it seems that insurgent violence in the south is beginning to increase:
At least 16 people have been killed and 20 injured in a car bomb attack in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.
. . .
The attack follows the killing of four US security guards and two British soldiers in separate incidents near Basra earlier this week.
. . .
A BBC correspondent in Baghdad, Jon Brain, says the increase in violence in southern Iraq, which is under British control, suggests the insurgents are beginning to gain a foothold in the area, which has been relatively peaceful.
Sunday, September 04, 2005
The trouble is really heating up now. The shooting -quite literally too- of the new Bond flick has to start within weeks if it is to be finished for its projected launch date next autumn. However, apparently nobody wants to be the man. I can understand why many actors would turn down playing Bond. The first issue is, how serious can anybody take James Bond after Austin Powers. The other problem is of course, getting stuck in the role. I think it was Pierce Brosnan who complained that people only saw him as Bond and that that limited any further acting career moves. So, unless some actor is found who doesn't mind being the same part for the rest of his professional life, there is need for another solution. It's fairly simple really. The actors just get changed over with every film. After all, which male actor hasn't occasionally dreamed about being James Bond? By only playing it once you wouldn't become to typecast either.
The other big change that the Bond brand needs is to refocus it as a spy series, rather than an action or sci-fi flick. Do you remember "Die another Day" and the invisible car? I mean, come on . . . If it became slightly more subtle more actors might become interested, and loyal fans such as me might not be quite so tempted to abandon the next film as lost to empty action mode.
Labels: film & television
Saturday, September 03, 2005
Why on earth did anyone think this was a good idea?
Defence chiefs are fighting to prevent the Army's tanks being stopped in their tracks by the introduction of a European directive on vibration and noise at work.
Noise at work? I'm quite eager to see how they intend on keeping that one when going to war, which tends to be a rather noisy affair. Well some Health and Safety clever dick has noticed this already and pointed out that
If you are in a combat situation then clearly it will be difficult to bring in these regulations
But with a slim chance of reducing vibrations in a Challenger 2 tank and the Warrior armoured vehicles, the Ministry of Defence will be seeking an exemption from the rules by invoking an "opt-out" clause.
Friday, September 02, 2005
. . . just to state the blinding obvious; finally some sense on the doomed Euroconstituion:
But in a startling admission, José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, has said that he can see no way to bring the constitution back to life after its rejection by French and Dutch voters, and he has admitted that the EU is working well without it.
. . .
However, Senhor Barroso’s comments suggest that the pause for reflection will simply be a prelude to burying the document. He acknowledged in Rzeczpospolita: “In the foreseeable future we will not have a constitution. That’s obvious. I haven’t come across any magic formulas that would bring it back to life.”
. . .
In his interview, however, Senhor Barroso acknowledged that Europe was working without the constitution and noted that no significant Commission decisions had been blocked since enlargement to 25 countries in May last year.
Senhor Barroso said: “Instead of never-ending debates about institutions, let’s work with what we’ve got. Political will and leadership are more important than institutions.”
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Obviously being desperate in an election campaign require desperate measures. So it's time to open the German left's favourite bogeyman, America.
First up, the hopeless Left-Party's Oskar Lafontaine has found an intolerable infringement of German sovereignty:
Addressing the congress of the party, an alliance of Social Democratic dissidents and neo-Communists, in Berlin on Saturday, Mr Lafontaine said: "We are not a sovereign country; as long as the US can operate from here, we are a participant in the Iraq war."
Of course Schroeder's governing SPD doesn't want to be left out of this, so for the SPD parliamentary vice-chairman Michael Mueller the opposition's expert on finance, Paul Kirchoff, is the German representative of the US "neoconservatives". Apparently Kirchoff has a secret agenda to turn Germany into a "different republic" (a very loaded term in Germany), allied as he is with Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, who of course are responsible for the Iraq war. So there you have it. A finance expert with no public position on Iraq is given the German Left's standard "neocon!"-smear and associated with the Iraq war. (hat tip No Blood for Sauerkraut-Paul)
This obsession with Iraq continues of course with the governing Greens. On a poster which is hanging up all over Berlin, the party asks voters to "Yes! New Energy instead of oil and nuclear". It is illustrated with a picture of a desert, and you can see the shadow of three soldiers on the desert floor.
Dear oh dear. They really must be running short on ideas for the future let alone actual achievements in government if this anti-American posturing is all that they can put up. (see John Rosenthal as well.)
Iraq! Iraq! Iraq!, but hang on, they can do empty ad hominem attacks too of course, as Schroeder's wife now demonstrates:
The life of Angela Merkel "is not such that she can represent the experiences of the majority of women," Doris Schröder-Köpf told Die Zeit. "They are busy trying to juggle a family and a career, or deciding whether to spend a few years at home after having a baby or wondering how best to bring up their children. This is not Angela Merkel's world," she said.
. . .
A woman without children could not claim to be a supporter of women's rights, she said.
Mrs Merkel, 51, has deliberately avoided dwelling on her status as a woman in politics in the election campaign