Monday April 15th, 2013. Posted by Alex:
I am a free citizen of the United Kingdom. The police have no business whatsoever telling me whether and when to stand to attention, sit, wave, smile, salute, two-finger salute, hiss or boo. And they certainly have no business at all telling me which way I should face.
This has nothing to do with “respect for the dead”. If it were about that, Mrs Thatcher would have had a funeral with family and old friends, some of whom of course would have been her political allies. In that case it would have been quite wrong to show disrespect. We, who disrespect her legacy, would have been right to simply stay away and let her survivors mourn in peace.
But that is not what’s going on here. This is a huge piece of political theatre, exploiting her final departure to trumpet the Thatcherite legacy. As such, it begs for a theatrical response. Those who decided to stage a quasi-state funeral are the ones who took this out of the realm of respect for the dead, and into the realm of demonstration. The demonstration might be one of power in the form of gun-carriages and other military pomp, or it might be one of objection, through turning the back.
And it is the right of any one of us to do so – the idea that permission is required is appalling.
Friday March 29th, 2013. Posted by Alex:
Probably a relatively low proportion of the people that I know would have voted for the Tories at the last election, although, given the train-wreck that Labour had become, I could understand the temptation. So perhaps I am preaching to the converted.
The thing is, that Polly Toynbee, always well worth reading, has summarised with frightening clarity how hard he UK government is now grinding down on the disadvantaged. Whether or not you agree, it is not a bad idea to keep your eyes open by reading what she has to say.
And that’s without getting onto the dismantling of the NHS, the wrecking-ball that Gove is taking to the education system, or the government’s attempts to ignore the legal protections of one of the country’s own citizens just because it doesn’t like the man.
Wednesday March 20th, 2013. Posted by Alex:
So Cyprus has rejected the so-called bail-out. Well done, I say. Perhaps they will default, and perhaps it will be a disaster, but at least they are being honest about the fact that their finances are already a disaster.
When someone who is not very well off has difficulty keeping up the payments on a loan, the idea might occur of taking out another loan at high interest to “help” with the payments. “I can help you with that,” says the loan shark. “I can help you with that,” says the central bank.
Under European rules, the savings of small depositors are supposed to be guaranteed. We read that, “Officials in Brussels insist the Cyprus savings tax will be a one-off and the guarantee stands across the rest of the EU.” (Guardian) Which means, I think, that they are guaranteed until the IMF and the ECB want to expropriate our funds. Then they are not guaranteed.
Nevertheless, “Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister and chair of the eurogroup, issued a terse statement demanding that the Cypriot pledge at the weekend be honoured.” And that, I think, means that, in his eyes at least, something said to him is a pledge that must be honoured, whereas all the noise from Brussels and from the Cypriot government about people’s bank deposits being safe is merely provisional.
Angela Merkel has said, so I believe, that if the euro fails, it’s the end of Europe. Now I am not a trained economist, but since that is no bar to becoming, for instance, Chancellor of the Exchequer, I venture my opinion: she is just wrong. It is the euro that is strangling Europe.
As a big supporter of the whole European ideal, I was quite excited and enthusiastic when the euro came in. But the truth is now obvious: it has been badly thought out, mismanaged, fudged and was possibly even a bad idea from the beginning. The sooner we realise that the eurozone can unravel, the less damage it will do to the still glittering dream of Europe itself.
Tuesday March 19th, 2013. Posted by Alex:
So if we didn’t know it before, we know it now: the financial system has become too important for the health of our society.
Without so much as a by-your-leave, without warning, in the face of repeated assurances to the contrary, and in conflict with the EU’s own market rules, money is being taken from all sorts of people. All you need is to have money in a bank in Cyprus, and the Cypriot government will help itself to some. Not the slightest regard is being given to what is fair, or to whether the victims can afford to lose their money. Money for which they may have worked hard, with which they might have been about to buy a house, which might be their total life savings, and on which in many cases they will already have paid tax.
For one, brief, naive moment one might dream that the banks themselves would say, “Hey, that’s our customers’ money, you can’t just take it.” But that would require believing that banks have the interests of their retail customers at heart. My imagination doesn’t stretch that far.
If I may quote from the Guardian:
Sharon Bowles MEP, chair of the European parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee, said she was appalled by the savings levy, saying it “robs smaller investors of the protection they were promised”.
Bowles added: “If this were a bank, they would be in court for mis-selling.”
“The lesson here is that the EU’s single market rules will be flouted when the eurozone, ECB and IMF say so. At a time when many are greatly concerned that the creation of the ‘banking union’, giving the ECB unprecedented power, will demote the priorities of the single market, we see it here in action.”
And if the precedent is set, how many more governments will decide that the way out of a tight corner is simply to raid the bank accounts of their citizens?
So perhaps it is time to dust off that old cake tin, fill it with your spare cash and put it back under the floorboards. The risk of fire or of (conventional) robbery may not be so much greater than the risk that your government will one day simply decide to help itself.
At the time of writing, debates are still going on, and it is possible that the Cypriot government will in the end reject this deal and go some other way. That makes damn all difference: the fact is that they thought of it.
It may even turn out that the proposal comes to be regarded as unbelievably stupid and insensitive but again: they did think of it. Those in charge at the EC, IMF and the ECB looked at bank accounts, the small bank accounts of the young, the old and the poor, and all they saw were a few numbers. They never saw the people who worked, who saved and who trusted the banks to at least keep the money safe. It turns out that it really is safer under your mattress.
Those of us who have options to keep even small amounts of money in different countries will need to consider where we put it. Germany? Sure. The UK? I think so. Italy, Portugal, Spain? Better not. There are thieves about.
Wednesday February 6th, 2013. Posted by Alex:
For 8 or ten days Bertie bore the nickname “Conehead Stumpybum”:
The picture shows what “Conehead” is about. Not a lot of fun – you can’t lick yourself anywhere, and you can’t wash your face or ears. Plus, even with the improved jumping, the cone sometimes catches on things, and it gets food on the edge, and
Read more… Getting better
Monday February 4th, 2013. Posted by Alex:
This is just unedited mobile phone footage, but it does give you an impression of the size of the thing. You can skip the first minute if
Read more… Lighting the San Giminiano falò (bonfire) Pontremoli 2013-01-31
Thursday January 17th, 2013. Posted by Alex:
Taking his ease while he still had a tail.
Spare a thought if you have a minute, cat lovers, for Number Three Cat Bertie, also known as “Beefy Boy”, “Destructo-Cat” and so forth. Having fallen into our lives out of a kiwi vine on the very day in the middle of last October on which Felix
Read more… For cat lovers
Saturday December 1st, 2012. Posted by Alex:
Thursday October 4th, 2012. Posted by Alex:
It is well known that the story of Pinocchio is said to have been written by Carlo Collodi when he was living in Pontremoli. Is it possible that he was inspired by the story of the dancing dolls of Castagnetoli?
Castagnetoli is supposed to have 40 regular inhabitants – it is one of those places that has become
Read more… The Dancing Dolls of Castagnetoli
Thursday August 16th, 2012. Posted by Alex:
I did struggle with the flute – honest I did. And I made real progress, I swear. But I never managed to make it sing.
I’m lucky enough to have a nice guitar – it sings to me. So although I haven’t abandoned the flute entirely, I’ve started to strum again. Like so many guitarists, I used
Read more… Picking up the guitar again