Friday, August 31, 2012

A small step in the right direction

August 23, the anniversary of the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which divided Eastern Europe into the two spheres of influence and agreed the double invasion of Poland, has been designated by the European Parliament as one on which the EU and its member states "formally remember the victims of mass deportations and exterminations".

Admittedly, "deportations and exterminations" is an odd way of putting it but, presumably, they needed a short and all-encompassing phrase.

This action on the part of the European Parliament, made entirely under pressure from the East European members in 2008, is a small step in the right direction.

There are a couple of problems with it: one is that nobody really knows about this day, which, like so many big historic events, occurs when most people are on holiday. Nor is it officially announced so it is not entirely correct to say that European Union member states are marking the day.

An even bigger problem, is that Nazism is equated with Stalinism, rather than Communism as a whole. That ignores the crimes committed under Lenin, after Stalin's death, in other Communist countries and, most importantly, lets the existing Communist parties off the hook who never have to justify their continuing support for a murderous system. After all, they can say, Stalinism is a thing of the past just as Nazism is, except that, according to the EU propaganda machine and various left-wing sock puppets we need to be constantly vigilant against neo-Nazism but not against neo-Stalinism or real-time Communism.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Curioser and curioser

This blog has mentioned before the curious occurrences in Finland where criminal charges are being pressed against a university professor who wanted to imitate the Pussy Riot punk prayer. Well, to be quite precise, he and his associates wanted to stage a protest rally outside the Cathedral of Assumption in Helsinki. Let us be fair minded about this and say that this was probably not a good idea. Staging a protest against a corrupt and authoritarian political system in which the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church gleefully participates in Russia is one thing. A protest in Helsinki would be more appropriate outside the Russian Embassy or Consulate.
Criminal charges that might result in extensive imprisonment, however, seem a little excessive and unexpected in a democratic country.

As I pointed out in my posting,
What is particularly interesting about the criminal charges is that they were laid by, among others, human right activist Johan Baeckman, who represents the Anti-Fascist Committee of Finland.
A number of people became interested enough to follow up the career of Johan Baeckman and one reader of this blog from across the Pond directed my attention to the man's Wikipedia entry and quite interesting it is, too. There is too much to quote but it is fair to say that Johan Baekman's main political preoccupation is to support Russia in every way, to try to prove that Finland was the real aggressor in 1941 (Continuation War) whereas the original conflict (Winter War) did not really happen, that Finland has planned ethnic cleansing of Karelia and, possibly, other parts of Russia and other interesting historical counter-factuals.

More recently, he has written about a "conspiracy" to smear Vladimir Putin through the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya, carried out by those conspirators.

He has also denied that there was any Soviet occupation of Estonia in 1940 - 41 (and, for all I know, at any time at all) and has, as part of his "anti-fascist" activity staged joint demonstrations and anti-Estonian protests with the thuggish Nashi, the Putinite youth movement.

The story has now been taken up by the St Petersburg Times. [The English is not mine but the website's]
Several Russian news outlets reported that Teivo Teivainen, a professor of world politics at the University of Helsinki, faces up to five years in prison for trying to break into a Russian Orthodox Cathedral in the Finnish capital with a canister full of urine. 
Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, Finnish YLE radio and the University of Helsinki have all exposed the accusations as false, but Russian media seem to be in no hurry to publish corrections of their earlier reports.

The “canister of urine” fiction became a national story in Russia when it was reported by Interfax, the major news agency, and picked up by other news agencies, websites, newspapers and major television channels on August 15, two days ahead of the verdict in the Pussy Riot trial.
Unsurprisingly, the source for this and various other factual inaccuracies is our friend, the anti-fascist (how that title takes one back) Johan Baeckman, "Finland's best-known supporter of the Putin regime".
Many of Bäckman’s previous statements have been readily and uncritically reprinted in the Russian press, leading Helsingin Sanomat to dub Bäckman “the Russian media’s favorite Finn.”
In an article titled “Criminal proceedings launched against organizer of attempt to repeat the Pussy Riot performance in Helsinki,” Interfax reported on Aug. 15 that Bäckman and several other people had signed a complaint to the police.
“Criminal proceedings have been initiated under two Finnish Criminal Code articles concerning the violation of rules on religious tolerance,” Bäckman was quoted as saying.
A paragraph containing a reference to the “canister full of urine,” although technically unattributed, was inserted between quotations from Bäckman.
It seems that the reality was slightly different:
The University of Helsinki published a statement the following day in which it asked the media to correct the information and denied the accusations against Teivainen, who had spoken in support of Pussy Riot during one in a series of walking tours organized by the university and Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art.
During these tours, Teivainen stops at different sites and discusses international political issues with his audience. During the walk on August 3, he stopped near the Bank of Finland, where he spoke about the global economic crisis. During the stop near Uspenski Cathedral, he spoke about the human rights situation in Russia.
“The walking tours included several vivifying pieces of performance art, one of which was held in front of the cathedral,” the University of Helsinki’s statement said.
“In it, two masked women expressed their support for the group Pussy Riot. The performance did not constitute a crime.”
It seems that other signatories of the criminal charges have now realized that they have been somewhat misled and have "retracted their signatures from Bäckman’s petition to the University of Helsinki, in which he demanded that the university fire Teivainen" though their signatures are still there on Bäckman’s site.

Meanwhile, the leading Finnish supporter of Putin's regime anti-fascist is having some trouble explaining where some of the stories have originated and whether there are, indeed, criminal charges being pressed against Professor Teivainen.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ructions, ructions

The truth is that the EU has reached a point at which no agreement between the various colleagues is possible. It was easy enough in the past to go along vaguely with that much vaunted "ever closer union of the peoples" (which was there in the Treaty of Rome, let me remind everyone) and talk equally vaguely about European values, peace and brotherhood, apple pie and motherhood but what with one thing and another, the time has come when some decision needs to be taken as to what exactly all that means.

We have a fiscal pact, possibly, depending on the forthcoming Karlsruhe court decision and we really need to create a much more centralized economic government if we want the euro to survive beyond the next couple of years in some form or another but is that really what the leaders of the various member state want?

Chancellor Merkel thinks we should have another treaty and is going to call for a convention to draft the pact to be convened before the end of the year. The convention will, if called, spend a good many months drafting a new treaty, which will then have to be discussed with all the member states and an IGC called when there is a vague chance of an agreement. (In parenthesis, let me remind readers of this blog that instead of pretending to have vetoed a non-existent treaty, that is precisely what Mr Cameron should have done last December: demand a convention that would draft a new treaty etc etc. That would have given him plenty of time to decide what it is he wants to achieve if, indeed, there is anything he wants to achieve beyond hanging on to his position as PM of this country.)

However, there seems to be severe disagreement between the other member states.
So far, though, the German proposal has found few supporters in the other EU member states. During a meeting of the so-called Future Group, an informal gathering of 10 foreign ministers from EU countries, the majority opposed a call by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle for a new treaty convention. Other countries, including Ireland, do not want to take the risk of a national referendum, which a new EU treaty would entail in some member states. Poland, a close partner of Berlin, also believes there is currently little chance of finding a compromise among the 27 member states.
Even France is no longer on side with President Hollande busy trying to wreck that country's economy and, therefore, having less time to negotiate with his German counterpart.

One possibility Chancellor Merkel seems to have been thinking about is a new treaty that would be only for the eurozone. But would that be an EU treaty? Certainly, its legality under the EU rules has been questioned from the moment the idea had been proposed. What to do? The one thing we can be reasonably certain of is that the UK government is not likely to play a major part in the ensuing deliberations. Mr Cameron has ensured that in his terrible fear of having to debate a new treaty in Parliament and, perhaps, putting one to a referendum.

It will reopen as a museum

It seems that the rodents are a problem in the Palace of Westminster. We are not told whether the beasties in question are four-legged or two-legged and whether they are to be found under ground and behind the plaster of those fine walls or actually in the offices and on the benches. But, wherever they are, they may force Parliament to close down, according to this news story.

Would that be such a terrible thing, I hear my readers (well, some of them) ask. After all, what on earth is Parliament for these days? We do not, however, speak of the institution, which has been somewhat lacklustre in the last few decades, but of the building.
The Houses of Parliament may close for up to five years for refurbishment, under plans being discussed by MPs. Parliament could be convened in a replica chamber or a conference centre for the duration of the repair work, which could start in 2015.
2015, incidentally, is when the next elections is scheduled and the elected House of Commons will sit for the five years of the repair work, assuming that this is agreed to and assuming that those builders will break all the rules of the trade and complete their work on time (and, perhaps, within budget).

It seems to me that many problems could be solved in these circumstances. First of all, do we actually have to have Parliament assembling while the building works are being carried out? Why not simply go through the election, a process that is dear to the heart of all who is interested in politics in this country and then suspend the sitting for five years or until such time that the Palace of Westminster is functioning again.

Naturally, in the meantime, honourable members of the House of Commons will not be paid or given expenses as they will not have to appear in Parliament so they will have to think of some way of earning money. That can have a very good effect and their minds will be concentrated.

Moreover, I am not convinced that the newly refurbished Palace of Westminster needs to see the present-day activities resumed in it. Why not re-open it as a Museum of Democracy with actors performing debates of the past when such things mattered and visitors paying entrance fees to watch it all, to wander through rooms where, in the past, important decisions had been taken and important events had occurred and to take refreshment in the various bars, cafes and restaurants. Menus of former days could be reproduced and, at a price, dinners of past politicians could be prepared and consumed.

Think about the income that would generate.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Some more entertainment

My friend John O'Sullivan, whom I mentioned in my previous posting, has produced a hilariously funny account of the American presidential election in the form of a new Bond film. How can anyone resist the title: You Only Vote Twice. Enjoy the fun.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Revenons a nos moutons

Having spent a good deal of time on the Pussy Riot story, aware that there are other stories around, not least in Russia, that may well be of interest I had not intended to return to it quite so soon. Needs, however, must be. What prompted me to change my intentions was the extraordinary amount of ignorant and rather venomous nonsense that has been written about the rather courageous young women. I am talking about ignorance here, rather than deliberate propaganda that is being spread by the Russian authorities, though clearly it has been quite effective with some unexpected people.

The nonsense and the ignorance revolve round some people's inability or reluctance to understand or even try to understand what really goes on in Russia and their equal reluctance to accept that not everything is exactly like their own rather limited experience in life. Thus I have been told by people who have, one assumes, never been near the country or spoken to many Russians that they know exactly how "the Russian people" as a whole feel about the punk prayer. For someone who has studied British attitudes to Russia at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this is all rather old hat. An extraordinary number of people then thought they knew exactly what "the Russian" was like. Those who lived long enough were stunned when "the Russian" started to behave somewhat differently from the way he or she was supposed to, according to the people who knew with such certainty.

Opinion polls show that many people are against Pussy Riot's actions though a number of them distrust the legal case and think the sentence is too harsh, a much smaller number support them and a very large number have no opinion or, much more likely, prefer not to stick their necks out or think too much about a dangerous subject, especially as it is summer and time for berry picking (soon it will be mushroom picking) as well as jam making and salting of cucumbers and tomatoes.

Somewhat belatedly, perhaps mindful of the possibility that the accusations levelled by the young women at the Orthodox Church hierarchy might be looked at by people more seriously, the Church has called for clemency. It is not clear what that might mean at this stage of the proceedings: they should have called for the clemency before sentence was passed not after. Which brings me to some of the silliest comments I have seen on the subject and the suggestions that they should have carried out their protests in a mosque. That, say such commentators with a self-satisfied smirk (it is there in the written words) would have shown them. They would have had considerably worse treatment.

Setting aside the possible psychopathology of people who smirk mentally at the thought of young women (and pretty young women at that) being harshly treated and abused physically, one must ask the question why on earth should they have gone to a mosque? How does a mosque come into the picture? This was not "edgy comedy" as one person described it to me disdainfully of the kind one sees on TV or at Edinburgh, which annoys me considerably as well. This was a political protest. A real political protest against a very nasty authoritarian regime and against the Orthodox Church hierarchy that is the real defiler of the churches and cathedrals, even of the one that was built in the nineties. What would be the point of protesting against their venality, corruption and closeness to the Putin regime in a mosque?

The point that all these people who rush into making comments miss is that the young women of Pussy Riot are Christians and approach the subject from a Christian point of view. Possibly that has become a little hard to understand in the West though I don't think so.

Allow me to link to two excellent pieces on the subject, both published on the other side of the Pond by two people who have actually looked at what the three defendants said in their closing statements. Having read some of their letter from prison and translated one of them into English I can see that the statements confirm what was said in the letters. Here is Charles Cameron on Zenpundit, one of the best sites around and John O'Sullivan, a man who has been quoted several times on this blog, in the NRO Corner.

Oh, and here is another fun story some people might like to read. It tells a few possibly unpalatable truths about the Church hierarchy and, especially, about Patriarch Kirill. I must say I rather like the moniker "Patriarch of Switzerland and all Watches".

Sunday, August 19, 2012

By the way ...

.. and a propos of nothing at all, I have not thanked all the people who sent encouraging messages on the subject of my blogging. Many thanks for your good wishes. For the moment, clearly, I have taken your advice.

On the other hand, I am rather puzzled by the number of people who comment on a blog called Your Freedom and Ours without having the slightest interest in freedom, in fact, without really believing in it. They are, of course, free to comment (within the usual parameters) but others, including the owner of this blog, are free to tell them what they think of them.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Moscow courts on a roll

Straight after the drama and comedy of the Pussy Riot trial, verdict and sentence (at least they had it the right way round) comes the news that another Russian court has banned Gay Pride for 100 years. Now that is what I call long-term planning.

A Pussy Riot trial in Finland?

Word comes that
Criminal charges have been pressed against a Finnish university professor who attempted to imitate a “punk prayer” by the Russian feminist group Pussy Riot.
Here is the story in Russian.
Teivo Teivanen, professor and head of the Political Science Department at the University of Helsinki, and a group of masked girls, was prevented from staging a protest rally and a performance near the Cathedral of Assumption in Helsinki.
What is particularly interesting about the criminal charges is that they were laid by, among others,human right activist Johan Baeckman, who represents the Anti-Fascist Committee of Finland. Ahem!

Pussy Riot verdict and sentence

15.28: Defence lawyers have announced that they will appeal the sentence, going to the European Court of Human Rights, if necessary.

15.13: Sentence will start from day of arrest, that is March 3, 2012 for Alekhina and Tolokonnikova and March 15 for Samusevitch.

15.04: Again from the Guardian "The judge has said they are sane and should be punished in accordance with the law.

 She has listed attenuating circumstances including children (of two defendants), a lack of previous crime and positive character profiles.

 The court concludes that it is not possible to change the charges and make them less grave, "there are no exclusive circumstances to do that".

 And at the same time the motives of the crime and the attitude, the court deems that to restore social justices if they serve a real jail sentence.

 And... they will serve jail sentence in prison, the judge has said." The BBC Russian Service implies that they will be serving their sentence in a penal colony.

14.57: Finally the sentence - two years in ordinary regime camps. Could have been a good deal worse.

14.46: From the Guardian update: "The judge has outlined three specific elements for finding guilt:

 1. The choice and timing of venue

 2. Their continued performance and resistance to be taken outside by security and cathedral parishioners

 3. And the defendant's conduct and their accomplices afterwards." In fact, they left when asked to do so and were not arrested till a week afterwards.

14.39: From the Guardian update: "Posting of the video was proof of the band trying to gain publicity by their hooligan actions, the judge has said adding,"They have deliberately placed themselves against Orthodox believers." She's also said that the "jerking of limbs" during the performance was further proof of hatred towards Christians.

14.33: From the judges summing up: feminism is not a crime in the Russian federation. (That's a relief.) On the other hand, the girls of Pussy Riot did undermine the state's constitutional structures. Also, while one cannot deny the shock and pain experienced by those who were there and who have provided the testimony against the girls, the defence argument that Pussy Riot were not motivated by religious hatred cannot be accepted. Looks bad.

14.17: The judge has been reading the verdict for two hours and everyone has to stand while listening to it in a hot and stuffy court room. Goodness knows what it must be like in that glass cage.

14.12: Oh this is priceless: apparently during his arrest Kasparov bit a police officer who has now gone to seek medical assistance.

UPDATE 13.51: More arrests outside the court though it is not clear what people are being arrested for. As the old NKVD saying had it: give us a man and we shall have a case. Or for my Russian readers: Был- бо человек, дело найдётся.

UPDATE 13.45: One of the defence lawyers, Nikolay Polozov, had tweeted that the judge seems to have read about a third of the papers in front of her. This can run and run. It is 16.45 in Moscow.

UPDATE 13.39: Guardian: "In summing up the prosecution case, the judge is saying that prayers in a Russian cathedral can only be offered by a priest and not by ordinary members of the public so making their protest-as-prayer against church rules anyway."

UPDATE 13.30: Arrests are continuing. Three carloads have been taken away. Garry Kasparov's Facebook page confirms his arrest and publishes picture.

UPDATE 13.25:One anti-Pussy Riot twitter has demanded that they should be punished according to their deserts. It's a pity, the tweet continued, that the sponsors and organizers will not be punished. Because young women would never, never have been able to think of a political action.

UPDATE 13.18: One twitter comment refers to the vocabulary of the verdict - references to satanism, people being filled with spiritual pain, being mesmerized, etc. "We are waiting for the fire to be lit in the centre of the court."

UPDATE 13.06 "For Honest Elections" has tweeted a summons to all who can to come to the court as soon as they can finish work in order to support the girls. Moscow is three hours ahead of us.

Apologies for not timing the previous updates. I knew there was something wrong.

UPDATE 12.55: More arrests outside the court among supporters of the group. Some of the police inside have now come out.

UPDATE: The judge summed up with the following words, which are surprisingly accurate though she obviously does not think so:
It was a small act but maybe not a very elegant act but they consider that it is the country which is sick. For them, individuals are not important, they consider that education in Russia is still in the Soviet mould. And that there is still cruelty in the country and that prison is a miniature of Russia itself.
UPDATE: More police outside the court and more arrests are reported. Everything is still uncertain.

UPDATE: The judge seems to be heading towards a stiff sentence in her emphasis on the conspiracy and thorough planning of the punk event. The police has closed round the glass cage in which the defendants are sitting.

I am trying hard to follow what is going on in Moscow inside and outside the Khamovnichesky court. The verdict is still being delivered but the girls have been found guilty of hooliganism, which is not a surprise.

Outside there are scuffles between supporters and opponents while the police seems to be arresting various supporters of the group. Already gone is Left Front opposition leader Sergey Udaltsov and, apparently, Garry Kasparov.

What a great idea

According to [in Russian] President Putin has come up with a great idea in his discussions with regional ombudsmen (региональными омбудсменами): there needs to be a new concept created that would consolidate the peoples of the country. As it happens, there was an example he could cite: the Soviet Union in which, he admitted, some bad things happened but one of the good things was the invention of the concept of the "Soviet people". Something along those lines was needed.

President Putin did not explain whether the sort of destruction of various ethnic groups that the Soviet Union specialized in was to be part of the new concept.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Clearly the Hungarians are unhappy

Otherwise why would the Commission need to be spending 125,000 euros ($154,000) on very special propaganda in that country that is targeted at households, whatever that might mean. (Could there be propaganda targeted at gardens or gnomes therein?)

The Wall Street Journal article is not terribly coherent on the subject and, much more to the point, has abandoned all notion of fair-mindedness.
Hungary, a member of the European Union since 2004, has profited enormously from the bloc membership, having received 15.5 billion euros of subsidies for the EU’s less affluent members by 2010, latest EU data shows, while paying just 5.2 billion euros into the EU’s budget. Hungary, a small economy, is heavily dependent on exports to fellow EU members in the western part of the continent, mainly Germany.
It seems unlikely that the pros and cons of membership would be discussed in those terms about a country, like Britain or Germany, who are net contributors, for instance, as on this basis they would be better off out.

The question of exports, as we know, is irrelevant though it is true that back in those interim years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and before the East Europeans' membership of the EU, the latter, in the interests of freedom and democracy no doubt, put as many obstacles in the way of trade with the countries in question as it could and made it quite clear that it was membership with all the rules or nothing.
Certainly, the Hungarians are unhappy and have been so for a little while:
Despite receiving from the EU more than the nation paid in, the majority of Hungarians think the EU has been bad for them, a July poll by Szonda Ipsos shows. In the poll, 56% of Hungarians said the European Union membership brought more disadvantages, and some 34% said they considered the membership advantageous. This is somewhat worse than the 61%-26% ratio in April but is an improvement versus 60%-30% in January, the pollster said.
Will they change their minds as the result of the propaganda that is aimed at all the households? It's possible but only a very foolhardy person will make definite predictions.

It's show time

We haven't had a good musical clip for some time. Here is one of my favourites from Astaire and Rogers's last film together (and their first after a ten year break as well as their only one in colour), The Barkleys of Broadway:

All eyes on Pussy Riot

The sentence is expected tomorrow but it is noticeable that the prosecution has reduced its demands to three years' imprisonment instead of the original seven. Of course, it is still too much for what they did. We shall see what will happen tomorrow and also what the subsequent events in Russia might show about the mood.

In the meantime, we must remember people who were arrested on May 6 on Bolotnaya for holding a peaceful demonstration and various other people who are under arrest or investigation for conducting political activity that is peaceful though inimical to the authorities.

Here is an interview with the husband of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Peter Verzilov, who has finally been able to see his wife for the first time since her arrest. I love the story of their four-year old daughter's plan to rescue her mother.
My daughter tells everyone that Putin has locked her mother in a cage and that we have to find a way to get her out. She draws diagrams showing how we can go about doing this with bulldozers and buses, first by tearing down the prison walls and then by breaking open the cage.
I am a little less impressed by Madonna suddenly jumping on the bandwagon but, I suppose, Mr Verzilov has to say nice things about her.

Belatedly ...

...One London's consistent criticisms of the Olympics and predictions, all of which, including the loss to businesses, lack of tourists and even empty seats, have come true are being supported and voiced by at least one former Conservative member of the London Assembly. At the time One London was attacked for its negative attitudes.

Oh and while we are on the subject of money, would it not be a good idea to explain who exactly paid for the free Oyster cards across 9 zones issued to all Olympic event ticket holders?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

More on Pussy Riot

It is important not to forget all the other people who have been imprisoned, attacked or harassed in Russia but, for the time being, attention is focused on three young women who are stoutly defying the ever more authoritarian rule of Vladimir Putin (or Vlad the Impaler as he is sometimes known).

This article in Der Spiegel gives a good analysis of the girls' background and role as well as the Russian situation at the moment. It acknowledges the obvious fact that the opposition is not capable of waging a clear political fight at the moment. However, the case of Pussy Riot has excited a great deal of attention inside and outside the country and can be compared in dissident terms (though not, in my opinion, in artistic ones) to that of Sinyavsky and Daniel in 1966, which is seen by all as the real beginning of the dissident movement in the later years of the Soviet Union. It all ended badly for the system and President Putin should be paying attention. It would appear that at least one of the accused, Maria Alyokhina, is aware of the parallels with the dissidents of yore. In fact, the three young women seem remarkably knowledgeable and well educated.

One more point needs to be made. As the article points out, Russians do not like being lectured by the West, which is an attitude that can be understood though they have no particular compunction about lecturing others themselves. But the idea that any of this can be interpreted as the West being anxious to cut a newly strong Russia to size is preposterous and even in Russia there are people who see that. Russia under Putin is not strong either economically or politically; she has not managed to create a network of alliances that could have bolstered her international position; the economy is considerably weaker than it ought to be, given Russia's wealth; and, finally, a state that has decided to display three young women as monstrous enemies, cannot be described as strong. A bully, yes. But a terrified bully.

Lasting Legacy - part 3,765

To listen to some people, especially politicians and their acolytes but some others as well, you'd think this was an event that happens about once a century and the world has changed beyond recognition after the two weeks that have just passed.

Errm, no. Olympic Games happen every four years and each time they are claimed to be the best ever, assuming that not too many people get disqualified (the process has just begun), not too many people get killed (only one unfortunate cyclist this time) and they finish on time. The world has not changed despite so many unexpected British medals and despite the weather more or less obliging. Britain is no different from the country she was two weeks ago and the world has not suddenly noticed that this strange little group of islands exists.

Der Spiegel thinks that the Olympic Games gave Britain a much-needed boost, presumably because uniquely of all countries in the Western hemisphere Britain was in the doldrums. For some reason particular praise is extended to what sounds like a spectacularly naff and ridiculous closing ceremony which affirmed beyond any question that British culture consists of pop music and one or two TV programmes with Eric Idle of Monty Python fame representing cultural history.

The Evening Standard has been hysterical about the Games for the last two weeks, occasionally interrupting itself to bring the odd piece of bad news. What I should like to know is how its own readership has done. My impression is that far fewer people have been reading the Standard in the last two weeks and far more copies are left in piles on stations at the end of the day. But getting accurate figures from newspapers these days, especially the freebie ones, is past hoping for.

Today we were told that the rush for the Paralympic tickets is on. If true (a big if) we might find ourselves in the odd situation of having seen empty seats at Olympic events and none at the usually far less popular Paralympic ones.

Then, of course, there is the obligatory story of the Olympic afterglow that will give the West End shops a boost. They will need it in the light of the losses they must have made in the last two weeks when they were half empty. So far the rush was not very visible whereas the pre-Olympic one, which, I see, was slipped into the article in a rather sly fashion, was. We all noted how many people were in London in the weeks before the Olympics and how few during them. Will the promised £250 million "afterglow" be sufficient for that and for the undoubted emptiness during the Paralympics? We shall see when the Q3 results come out.

What else? Well, Amol Rajan tells us that the spirit of 2012 will revive the Big Society, an idea whose time did not come last time round and is not likely to do so now. I understand that the various embassies in London studied the PM's confused burblings on the subject and produced reports for their governments. We shall definitely need to have a look at them if the idea is to be revived.

Patience Wheatcroft thinks that the Olympic success has bolstered Britain's self-confidence enough for the country to get out and seek out new markets beyond the eurozone. This woman is supposed to be our leading economic commentator and has, for that reason, been given a peerage by the admiring Prime Minister. Yet, she appears not to have noticed that Britain has always, throughout her history, had markets beyond what might be called the countries of the eurozone.

In fact, even according to official statistics that are usually skewed by the reluctance to separate out the Rotterdam effect or to analyze lost opportunities, Britain's main export market is now outside the EU. Not just the eurozone but the EU as a whole and it was all done before the Olympics.

Incidentally, I have been told quite seriously on another site that Britain coming third in the gold medal count will mean that the world will now take us seriously. Are we not all pleased that this historically, politically and economically insignificant country has finally been placed on the map?

Never mind all that. What are the real aspects of the Lasting Legacy?

To start with, Lord Coe is getting a new and exciting job complete with his own quango, I've no doubt. Figures of how much it will all cost have not, so far as I can make out, been announced but perhaps the TPA will get on to that subject. He might even become the President of the one of the world's most corrupt organizations the IOC, which has temporarily been proclaimed by our media as the greatest of all great organizations whose aim it is to save the world from ... well, just about everything.

Meanwhile, David Cameron, obviously frustrated by the feel-good factor that has accrued to Hizonner the Mayor, called together another World Hunger Summit, which will get rid of world hunger as part of the Olympic Legacy. Well, to be absolutely precise it will squander huge amounts of taxpayers' money on more summits and meetings, transnational organizations, good will visits and aid handed over to the bloodthirsty kleptocrats who prevent the Third World from having any kind of economic development, which is the only way hunger can be overcome.

Well, that's two legacies. What are you complaining about?

Friday, August 10, 2012

No thank you

Steven Baxter who thinks of himself as a blogger but is, in fact, a clogger, as he writes a blog for the New Statesman suggests that, perhaps bloggers need a kitemark to gain their readers' trust. Apparently, not only did he discuss this with some right-on (or left-on) bloggers but the subject has also been raised by the NUJ.

Well, that's just dandy. The NUJ, one of the most discredited organizations in this country, is going to invent a scheme whereby bloggers, who try to steer clear of their political agenda, get a kitemark allegedly to gain their readers' trust.

I don't think so, comrades. Your readers might or might not trust you but my readers tell me if they disagree with me or they simply stop reading if they feel that what I write is untrustworthy. And that goes for all real bloggers.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The state that takes on female punk rockers

The fact that I have not written about Pussy Riot and their trial so far does not mean that I was not following it. Several demos and meetings, postings on various forums and translations of documents by and about them later I can say I probably know as much about these women as anyone. I can also say that this article in the New York Times by Michael Idov sums up the situation as far as they and Russian liberals (as confused as they can be) and other pop stars is concerned. It is not long and worth reading.

Apparently, President Putin, who is clearly weighing his options (should I show myself merciful or should I pretend that I have no say about the way our courts decide sentences for political crimes?) said rather crossly that in other countries the women who lip-synced to a punk song in a church for 40 seconds while wearing colourful ski masks over their faces would have fared even worse in other countries.

One wonders which countries he has in mind. In Britain, when Peter Tatchell behaved in a somewhat worse fashion in St Paul's Cathedral he was fined £18 [it's there somewhere in that self-indulgent piece]. That fine is derisory, I agree, but had it been, say, £100 it would still not be in the same category as to what these young women are going through and are possibly facing.

Let me recap on that: they have been in prison since March in large cells with serious criminals who, it would appear, have treated them well if with some disdain and lack of comprehension; they have not been allowed bail and thus have not seen their young children; they are being deprived of sleep and proper food; during the trial they are kept in ridiculous glass cages; and, should they be found guilty, they are facing sentences of seven years hard labour.

Their cause has become a celebrity cause. I am not sure what I think about that. On the one hand, it is good to keep public attention on this tragicomical performance; on the other hand, all this celebrity support (even the New Statesman!) allows the Russian authorities to proclaim that Pussy Riot are clearly foreign agents. Furthermore, focusing on just one group of victims we forget many others, such as the people who were arrested after the May 8 demonstration or the people who are in prison and labour camp already for not being obedient enough or for getting in somebody's way. We need to pay attention to all of them.

The case has come to and end and verdict and sentence are expected on August 17.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Robert Hughes 1938 - 2012 RIP

Once upon a time I had a television set and even watched a few programmes. Among them one of the most notable series was The Shock of the New written and narrated by Robert Hughes, who knew an incredible amount about modern art and seemed to like very little of it post Cezanne, an opinion I have to agree with. Nobody who could be as rude about Jeff Koons as Hughes was can be dismissed or treated with anything but profound respect.

The book that came from the series was excellent though heavier going and there were various other publications, most notably, as Nick Cohen notes, Culture of Complaint and varied books on art as well as one on the early history of Australia.

His involvement in Australian politics was not exactly successful and was, indeed, an indication of thinking that was sloppier than one would expect from his other work. Also, I have just found out that the son of his first marriage was named Danton. Hmm.

Here is an excellent obituary in the Boston Globe.

Lasting Legacy - part 2,368

One of the stupidest parts of the pro-Olympics propaganda was that it would create a "lasting legacy" of greater sporting activity in the country. I should have thought one look at many (though not all) of the spectators would suggest that maybe people who watch sport are not always the ones who do sport. As for the ones who care only about a medal count ... just don't get me onto that subject.

I am completely in favour of children and teenagers doing sport, preferably in some sort of organized fashion. Of course, many of the sports clubs for them had to close because they had been funded by the government and the money was diverted towards the Olympics. Still, there are schools or there used to be schools. Sadly they no longer do much organized sport in the state sector because teachers do not like to stay beyond their allotted "teaching hours", because teachers are afraid of being sued over possible injuries or hurt feelings when somebody's little darling fails to win something or other and because the bureaucracy around sporting activity is nightmarish.

The Cleggeron Coalition, specifically the Minister in charge, one Jeremy Hunt, last seen laughing his head off at the woes expressed by London's business community, have decided to deal with the problem. No, they are not going to ease the burden on the heads with regards to bureaucracy. Goodness me, no. That would mean shutting whole departments of civil servants down and maybe even the odd quango. Can't have that. What they have done is to say that heads, teachers and parents can now decide not to do any organized sport at school if they cannot be bothered with the bureaucracy and whatever else. That should sort it.

Maybe it is worth it

Keen observers of the blogosphere would have noted that I have not been posting on this blog for some days. While I do not aspire to the stupendous productivity of my erstwhile Boss, he of EUReferendum, this has been a longish gap at a time when I have been in London and not in the hands of the NHS.

One reason is that I have been doing other work: articles and postings on the Conservative History Journal Blog and on Fisheries - Truth and Fiction. But this is supposed to be my main blog. Right? Well, yes, right, in every sense of the word. And the time has come for me to ask myself whether there is any point in running this rather shambolic blog, which is largely though not exclusively political. Do I even care about politics nowadays? Certainly not about British politics in which the main stories have been Nick Clegg throwing his toys out of the pram (again), hacks speculating about Boris Johnson taking over the Conservative Party (you know the silly season is upon us) and the wretched Louise Mensch fulfilling everybody's prediction and abandoning her less than promising political career having learnt nothing about constitutional rules and customary practices. (I feel better for having got that off my chest.)

There is always the EU though I have more or less given up on trying to explain the reality about it to anyone in Britain. No, we are not going to get out but it will probably implode while we are still discussing how to reform it or to have a different relationship with it and calling for a referendum. (No, that does not make me feel better.)

Then there are other matters: Russia, American politics, propaganda. the lack of truth being spoken about Communism, the Middle East and so on. Is there really any point in blogging about any of it and what would that achieve beyond occasionally making me feel that I have done something useful and that feeling has not really been part of my blogging life for quite a long time.

Maybe I should abandon all those subjects and blog exclusively about the books I read, films I see and other suchlike highfalutin' matter. But who would want to read that?

So there we are, dear reader. These are the thoughts that have been revolving in my head for the last few weeks without bothering to consult anyone. My conclusions? Temporarily I have decided that maybe it is worth it as long as I keep a wary eye on my writing and see some point to it all. To be reconsidered at a future date.

ADDENDUM: If anyone is truly bored with the Olympics, they can listen to the somewhat unbalanced debate on whether Britain should stay in the European Union, recorded at the LSE some little while ago and broadcast on Radio 4 this evening. There will be some familiar names.