Friday, December 28, 2007

The Small Has To Justify Everything

Language sparks debate in Kerry

By Diarmaid Fleming

BBC NI Dublin correspondent

The status of the Irish language in Northern Ireland has prompted bitter debate in the assembly after Culture Minister Edwin Poots said he would not introduce an Irish Language Act.
But in one of the few remaining Irish-speaking areas in Ireland, there's another debate, this time demanding that more English and less Irish be spoken in a new secondary school in Dingle.
The Kerry Gaeltacht, or Irish-speaking area, is one of the few places left where Irish can be heard in the street.
But in the capital, Dingle, or in its official Irish title, Daingean Ui Chuis, English is widely used.
Two secondary schools recently merged into a new one, Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne.
But the school's policy of teaching all lessons through Irish has led to protests by some students who say they cannot understand what they are being taught.
Sam Spinn was one of the students who left classes to protest against the all-Irish policy.
"A lot of students can't learn through all Irish - there are some who can but a lot of them can't and it's just not acceptable that people have to go through school in which they don't understand the classes at all," he said.
"People just begin to hate a language if it's forced on them so it will flourish under encouragement, but if it's forced on people, people will just reject it and they'll go against it."


But speaking in Irish is fundamental to an Irish-speaking area.
Here, a group of fluent speakers meet to bring on others keen to improve.
Some who have come from outside or abroad say they have learned Irish out of respect for the Gaeltacht tradition and its people, and want their children to learn it too.
Lone Ui Raghallaigh comes from Denmark. Married and living in the Kerry Gaeltacht, she has learned to speak Irish.
"When we moved here we knew we were moving into a Gaeltacht and to me it is very important not to water down the beautiful language they have in this area," she said.
"So we are very conscious of trying to do the best ourselves to learn the language and of course we took it for granted that the children would be taught through Irish.

"It's part of living in a Gaeltacht."

Maire Ui Shithigh and her family speak Irish at home.
She argues that if English is introduced into the school, then Irish will end up not being used.
"If you have Irish and English, then everything moves over to English because English is the global language," she said.


"English is the language of youth and minority languages are dying out all over the world and unless we take very serious steps to prevent it, the Irish will be gone and I think we will hugely regret it."
But parents of students without fluent Irish, say that it's an educational rather than a language issue.
Cyril Harrington, from a group calling itself the Concerned Parents for Education, moved into the area from Dublin, and feels strongly that Irish should not be imposed in the school.
"This is not about language - this is about every student's constitutional right to a viable education," he said.
"For the last 20-odd years, the medium was through Irish and English.
"Suddenly pupils who've done four years of secondary school like this are now having all-Irish imposed on them.
"There are people sitting in classrooms and they don't know what's being said and that is unfair and unacceptable and it cannot go on."
But for others, replacing Irish with English would have a disastrous impact on the language in the Gaeltacht.
Native speaker and former Kerry All-Ireland gaelic football winning captain Dara O Cinneide is on the board of management of the new school.
He says extra help in Irish for those needing it - rather than abandoning it for English in the classroom - is the solution.
The school is looking for further help provided under a scheme by the Ireland's Department of Education to give assistance to students needing help in the language.
"We are aware that there are challenges being posed to a certain group of students in the school," Mr O Cinneide said.
"We have put extra supports in place to counteract this challenge and we are looking for even more again, so I think anybody who will have a difficulty learning their subjects through Irish will be catered for."
He says it is accepted that some older students in the school who may not have learned Irish from a young age may need help, but said that throwing out Irish as the spoken language in the area's secondary and replacing it with English would be devastating for the future of the language in the Kerry Gaeltacht.
He added that the children of many new immigrants coming into the area have little difficulty learning Irish, and have no issue with it.
"We just have a love of the language, we feel it's very important for us and for the next generation and generations to come to have that language preserved as well as educating our children to the highest possible standards."
With English the dominant world language, those fostering the Irish language in Kerry say that like other minority languages, it is threatened, even in the area where it should be strongest.

But just as north of the border, the Irish language seems to provoke plenty of debate - in English.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ryszard Kapuscinski

I discovered Kapuscinski just when I saw his obituary in The Economist. I didn't have a clue who he was so tried to find something written by him and I ended up with a book called "The Shadow of the Sun - My African Life" in my hands and... I discovered an entire new world.

I saw this guy was for a while in the right place at the right time in Africa's political life. A kind of George Steer of the second half of century. And I also discovered an attitude I like and even admire: humble but curious, analitical but respectfull with local history, traditions and logic, trying all the time not being "the white man looking down to all black persons".

A hero of paper and ink.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Miss USA Doesn't Speak English?

Belgium's political tensions entered the glamour stakes after it was revealed that the new Miss Belgium does not speak Dutch.
Alizee Poulicek, who comes from the country's French-speaking region, was booed by some of the 4,000 audience when she admitted that she could not understand a question put to her in Dutch at the contest on Saturday night in the main Flemish city of Antwerp.
Poulicek, a 20-year-old language student, speaks French, Czech and English, but Flemish tabloid daily Het Laatste Niuews headlined its Monday edition with: "Miss Belgium does not speak Dutch".
The paper underlined that the "community crisis in our country" -- where there is no government six months after general elections amid bickering between leaders of the main French and Flemish parties -- "has insinuated itself into even the lightest sector."
Poulicek's victory "is not going down well," the daily said.
She said she had been taking Dutch lessons before the contest and has pledged to improve her standard in one of Belgium's three official languages, along with French and German.
The incident did not hurt her image with television viewers who voted for her, but Flemish journalists assailed her with questions at a press conference, highlighting her deficiencies in their tongue.
The Flemish community accounts for 60 percent of Belgium's 10.5 million people. A further 3.5 million live in Wallonia and one million in the largely Francophone, but officially bilingual Brussels.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Local Accents

More than half of British parents discourage their children from speaking with their local accent for fear of harming their life chances, according to a survey.

The research showed 51% actively discouraged their youngsters from using an accent while 33% encouraged them to speak "the Queen's English".

The firm Combined Insurance asked a sample of more than 2,300 parents about the importance of keeping local accents and how this impacts on the community.

The respondents were asked whether they would encourage their children to speak with their region's local accent and what impact they thought this would have on their child's future.

They also indicated which accent they would most like their child to speak with.

One in five (20%) parents were worried their children might find it harder to get a well-paid job if they spoke in their local accent and more than one in six (17%) thought their child would be perceived to have a lower level of intelligence.

Almost one in 10 (8%) feared local accents would mean they would not be taken seriously in life.

Among the regional findings of the survey were that 27% of parents living in the West Country were worried their child might be teased and bullied in their future job for having a local accent and 26% thought their child might be considered to be not very bright.

And 14% of parents living in the Midlands believe their child might not be taken seriously in life because of their accent.

Across the UK, the Birmingham accent was the one parents would least like their child to use. In Birmingham, only 8% of parents said they would encourage their children to use the local accent.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Hope Ahead

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Raymond Carver - To My Friend

October. Here in this dank, unfamiliar kitchen
I study my father's embarrassed young man's face.
Sheepish grin, he holds in one hand a string
of spiny yellow perch, in the other
a bottle of Carlsbad Beer.

In jeans and denim shirt, he leans
against the front fender of a 1934 Ford.
He would like to pose bluff and hearty for his posterity,
Wear his old hat cocked over his ear.
All his life my father wanted to be bold.

But the eyes give him away, and the hands
that limply offer the string of dead perch
and the bottle of beer. Father, I love you,
yet how can I say thank you, I who can't hold my liquor either,
and don't even know the places to fish?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tue Poem

The rain it raineth every day
Upon the just and unjust fella
But mostly on the just because
The unjust hath the just's umbrella.

by Baron Charles Bowen

Monday, December 10, 2007

Free Kosovo

Saturday, December 08, 2007

How To... Lick

by Guy Browning

The Guardian

The modern tongue is virtually a prisoner in the mouth. That's why sticking out your tongue is very rude but also rather saucy: it's a kind of entry-level flashing. Tongues are extremely sensitive and can determine thousands of different flavours, including the three used in British cooking.

What food, sex and envelopes used to have in common was that they all involved licking. With self-seal envelopes we are now down to just food and sex, which is a shame because licking a letter before you sent it added an interesting sensual angle to your correspondence with the tax authorities. Self-adhesive stamps have added to the precipitous decline in licking. To be fair, they do make sending your Christmas cards easier because in the past licking 80 stamps was an absolute nightmare unless you had a handy labrador or French boyfriend.

One of the main attractions of ice cream is that you can lick it. People who eat ice cream with their teeth and chew it are slightly missing the point. An excellent training aid for licking is the jam doughnut as it's impossible to eat one without licking your lips and fingers afterwards. Some people cheat and lick the sugar off first but then the doughnut ends up looking like a hairless chihuahua.

Licking has very little place socially and the rule is never lick a person you haven't already kissed on the lips. Similarly, never lick somebody in the office unless you are on an advanced team-building course. Licking people reveals the wide range of flavours they come in: there's sweet, salty, cheesy, BBQ and prawn cocktail. Or, if they've had a bath recently, mango, pomegranate, seaweed and strawberry. Licking someone after a bath is the equivalent of one portion of fruit and veg.

Before wet wipes, the tongue acted as a mobile cleaning unit. The tongue would be applied to the hanky and the hanky applied to the mess/baby. Even now, a thorough beauty regime can be carried out using nothing more than finger and tongue. Licking is still very important in love-making but you should use moderation. Attempting to lick someone's entire back, for example, especially if they're a large person, will just make you dehydrated, and make the recipient feel as if you're doing some kind of minor paint job.

FF - The Super Hero

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

To My Friend A

Monday, December 03, 2007

Tovarich 1 - 0 Amigo

Vladimir Putin secured a landslide victory in yesterday’s Russian election. His United Russia party won 306 seats (64.1%) out of 450 in the Duma or the lower house of parliament. The Communists would have 57 seats, or 11.6% of the vote. The Liberal Democratic party (nationalists) won the 8.2% of the vote and the populist Just Russia, 7.6% - the threshold of 7% has left many critic voices out in the political cold. And, as you know, Russia is extremely cold, in all the senses.

The turnout was about 62%, up from 56% in the last parliamentary elections four years ago.

According to Russian constitution, Putin has to stand down after two terms as head of state (like in United States) - but now, with this spectacular victory he wants to become a “national leader”. What does this mean? No-one knows.

From the Siberian tundra to lake Maracaibo.

Hugo Chavez lost very narrowly his try to make substantial changes to the Venezuelan Constitution. So he will stand down in 2013 once his term expires. The opposition won the 51% of the vote and the Government position, the 49% - I call this a Quebec-style result… Chavez called it a “photo phinish” with a “microscopic” difference – but, hey, that’s democracy, pure maths, at the end of the day.

It seems that the apathy and some disillusion of “softer” chavistas is partly to blame for the unexpected result (remember this is the military man- changed in politician who has won 10 elections in 8 years, almost all of them by landslide). The turnout of 55%, low by Venezuelan standards, showed that many stayed home.

“Abstention defeated us” said Chavez, “it’s a lesson for us”.

“He has woken us up, the poor”, says Oscar Olachea, a member of an agricultural co-op.

So here we have, a victory and a defeat. But, paradoxically, Putin looks more like a dictator after his rigged farse and Chavez looks since yesterday more a democratically elected leader who recognizes electoral defeat and less the strong man than some western media tries to suggest he is.

The West Banksy

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Sunday Pic

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Sat Poem - To My Father

Missing Things

I'm very old and breathless, tired and lame,

and soon I'll be no more to anyone

than the slowly fading trochee of my name

and shadow of my presence: I'll be gone.

Already I begin to miss the things

I'll leave behind, like this calm evening sun

which seems to smile at how the blackbird sings.

There's something valedictory in the way

my books gaze down on me from where they stand

in disciplined disorder and display

the same goodwill that well-wishers on land

convey to troops who sail away to where

great danger waits. These books will miss the hand

that turned the pages with devoted care.

And there are also places that I miss:

those Paris streets and bars I can't forget,

the scent of caporal and wine and piss;

the pubs in Soho where the poets met;

the Yorkshire moors and Dorset's pebbly coast,

black Leeds, where I was taught love's alphabet,

and this small house that I shall miss the most.

I've lived here for so long it seems to be

a part of what I am, yet I'm aware

that when I've gone it won't remember me

and I, of course, will neither know nor care

since, like the stone of which the house is made,

I'll feel no more than it does light and air.

Then why so sad? And just a bit afraid?

By Vernon Scannell

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The World's Real Colours

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Looking Around

Howard’s End

Good news from the Southern Hemisphere. After 11 years in office John Howard has been defeated by the Labor party and it seems that Kevin Rudd is going to be the next PM in Canberra. The Liberal coalition got 58 seats while Labor (not Labour, in this case) won 80 seats.

A couple of comments: first, significantly, like in almost all Anglo-Saxon countries, the Greens have zero seats – there is always a pocket of votes for them but it seems that they are not taken seriously enough in these business-minded societies. Second, about ideological profiles: if Howard is a “Liberal”, my god, what will a conservative be in Australia? The other day I read in a European paper the best description of the former PM: the clone of George Bush in Southern Pacific.

Now let’s hope Rudd keeps his promises and signs the Kyoto agreement (relatively easy) and pulls troops out of Iraq (easier said than done). G’day! to him.

Identity Socialism

Plenty of what is happening in Latin America, in my opinion, can not be understood without the parameter of identity. Formally the debate keeps being between the Right and the Left but then when you scratch just a bit the social surface of any of these countries, what do you see, historically? Very white people in parliament and business, marching in favor of Pinochet, defending the infamous Honduras Contra against the Sandinistas and backing the mafiossi-style Cuban exile community in Miami. And in the other side? Dark skinned people, Aimaras, Quechuas and other indigenous people (more numerous than we think) supporting Evo Morales in Bolivia, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and marching with the pictures of their relatives, kidnapped, tortured and shot by Pinochet’s Death Squads. There is a racial and ethnical cleavage that cannot be ignored. The current trend in Latin America is the Pay Back Day by the masses of poor and the invisible, the ones until recently ignored (if not massacred) hordes of humble but resilient peasants (and no-peasants, of course).

In this context, let’s see what happens in Venezuela this 2nd of November as they are holding a referendum about constitutional changes. Chavez has won ten elections in eight years… if there is someone popular right now in his country, this is the Bolivarian leader.

Last night I saw with a very good friend of mine a documentary called The War On Democracy, by John Pilger. The director was there and made an intro about the film, with several questions afterwards. I really recommend to anyone who feels a bit interested in another point of view about Latin America, to see this piece of art. Impressive.

The Bull… or the Bully?

Spain will hold next March their next general elections. The Southern European country has been thru 13 years of Gonzalez (LOAPA, economical reform, NATO, EU, GAL and corruption) then 8 years of neo-totalitarian Aznar (the short guy with the moustache in the Azores island with Dubya; the guy who closed newspapers and radio stations, magazines and banned political parties in Europe in the XXI century but, hey, who cares – they are just crazy Basques!) and the last 4 years with Zapatero and his “talante”. The politician from Leon has showed that you can be as Spanish nationalist as any right winger… but with a smile. Now, after the collapse of the so-called peace process in the troubled northern provinces the socialist (Labour) party is trying to show to anyone who wants to see that they can be as tough as the populares (Conservatives) arresting people and banning political meetings and peaceful demonstrations. Let’s hope this craziness will change after March.

But who knows?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Film? Real?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday Pic

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Red Rose

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Luck in Sarajevo

In Sarajevo
in the spring of 1992,
everything is possible:

you go stand in a bread line
and end up in an emergency room
with your leg amputated.

Afterwards, you still maintain
that you were very lucky.

by Izet Sarajlic

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

She Asked You

A girl asked you: What is poetry?
You wanted to say to her: You are too, ah yes, you are
and that in fear and wonder,
which prove the miracle,
I'm jealous of your beauty's ripeness,
and because I can't kiss you nor sleep with you,
and because I have nothing and whoever has nothing to give
must sing...

But you didn't say it, you were silent
and she didn't hear the song.

Vladimir Holan

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Last Supper

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


It began to snow at midnight. And certainly
the kitchen is the best place to sit,
even the kitchen of the sleepless.
It's warm there, you cook yourself something, drink wine
and look out of the window at your friend eternity.
Why care whether birth and death are merely points
when life is not a straight line.
Why torment yourself eyeing the calender
and wondering what is at stake.
Why confess you don't have the money
to buy Saskia shoes?
And why brag
that you suffer more than others.

If there were no silence here
the snow would have dreamed it up.
You are alone.
Spare the gestures. Nothing for show.

by Vladimir Holan

Monday, November 05, 2007

Bank, all change

"A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back when it starts to rain".

Robert Frost

Monday, September 17, 2007

Londonium Exodus

A recent report has shown quite how many Londoners are leaving the city. The Office for National Statistics says that between June 2005 and June 2006, about 243,700 Londoners went to live in other parts of Britain. Some 28 of London’s 33 boroughs suffered a net loss of residents to the shires. The cost of housing is cited as the main reason, either because younger Londoners cannot afford to buy in the capital, or because property-owners have decided that this is a good time to sell. However, immigration from abroad combined with births to ensure the city's population grew, to slightly over 7.5m.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The (Neo) Cons

The last book I have finished reading is called "After the Neocons - America at the Crossroads" by Francis Fukuyama, the guy who wrote "The End of History". Published by Profile Books in paperback, it has just 226 pages so it's a quick read.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Frank Hawk

A couple of books I grabbed last days:

This is a classic I haven't read yet. The young girl hidden from the Nazis in an Amsterdam warehouse... I think she spent, with all her family, two years just to be captured and die in a concentration camp.

The diary of a youn girl
By Anne Frank
Published by Puffin
427 pages.

I read this book almost 20 years ago when at university. Now I am reading it again, in paperback. I remember being totally hooked and amazed with Hawking's prose plus the weird feeling about this titanic mind in such a fragile body. I think he is the Newton of 21st century... but maybe someone can say this is a too high title.

A brief History of Time
From the Big Bang to Black Holes
By Stephen Hawking
Introduction By Carl Sagan
Published by Bantam Books
220 pages

An African Hero

Mo Ibrahim helped to bring mobile phones to Africa. Now he has bigger plans

IN 1998, as the telecoms boom was under way, Mo Ibrahim was amazed that big companies were rushing into the mobile-phone business around the world, yet not in Africa. There they saw only problems: poverty, unrest and corruption. Mr Ibrahim, a veteran of the telecoms industry in Britain and Sudan, was at the time running a consultancy he had founded in London. Amid the cigar smoke and snifters that followed its directors' dinners, an idea formed. Might it be possible to set up a pan-African mobile operator—and to do so without paying bribes?
This was the genesis of Celtel, which is now one of Africa's largest mobile operators, with some 20m subscribers in 15 countries.When Mr Ibrahim sold Celtel in 2005 to MTC, a Kuwaiti operator, for $3.4 billion, it demonstrated that the continent was open for business. Rather than charity, he insists, “the way forward for Africa is investment.”

Building businesses in Africa is important to Mr Ibrahim, who had to leave the continent as a young man in order to pursue his career. Born in Sudan and raised and educated in Egypt, he started off as an engineer at Sudan's national phone company. After further study in Britain he went on to become technical director at Cellnet, the wireless arm of BT, Britain's biggest telecoms operator. (Cellnet was subsequently sold, renamed O2 and is now owned by Telefónica of Spain.) He left in 1989 to set up an engineering consultancy that designed mobile networks, and sold the firm for just over $900m to Marconi in 2000.

These experiences paved the way for Celtel's emergence. The consultancy enabled Mr Ibrahim to peer into the business models of dozens of mobile operators, from which he concluded that an African operator would work. His time at BT was also informative: big companies, he says, teach a fellow everything he ought not to do in order to be successful. “Later on in life I was not worried about taking on the big guys, because you know they are not efficient,” he says. And Mr Ibrahim's previous success meant that the motivation behind Celtel's establishment was not solely commercial. He and his co-founders had already made their fortunes and regarded Celtel as a political and intellectual test. That is why they happily ventured into risky African markets and refused to pay bribes.

Now that mobile telephony is booming in Africa, Mr Ibrahim has other plans. Not for him the typical rush into private equity. Instead he set up a foundation last year with the novel (and, say critics, utopian) mission of promoting good governance in Africa. It plans to award an annual prize of $5m to retired African leaders who rule well and then stand down, rather than trying to cling to power. The foundation is working with Harvard University to establish a scoring system with which to assess potential candidates. The prize committee is chaired by Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations. The first award will be presented in October, though the prize will be presented only in years when a worthy winner can be found. By that point Mr Ibrahim plans to have stepped down as the chairman of Celtel to avoid any possible conflict of interest.

Meanwhile Mr Ibrahim has also put up $150m to establish a fund to invest in African businesses. From its newly opened offices in London, the Africa Enterprise Fund will seek out promising companies in financial services, consumer goods, energy and agricultural processing. The aim is to focus on established businesses that need cash and experienced management to grow, and the average investment is expected to be around $20m. Only companies that can expand their operations regionally or throughout Africa will be considered. Mr Ibrahim has appointed Tsega Gebreyes, Celtel's former strategy chief, to help run the fund. This is because the fund's approach is to apply the Celtel formula in other fields: identify inefficiencies, consolidate fragmented operations, go pan-continental and develop a respected brand. The goal is scale. A large company that operates in several African markets can attract a higher calibre of managers than a gaggle of local ones, and can have more political clout when demands for bribes crop up.

Politics, philosophy and economics

Though there are no direct links between the foundation and the fund, the two are symbiotic. Business and investment in Africa can succeed only if there is good governance, which is what the foundation is intended to promote. And economic development is necessary in turn to give people a stake in improving the political process. The foundation's $5m prize is a pittance, it is true, when compared with the spoils that can be extracted by staying in power. But the initiative may not be totally futile: given the impotence of Africa's intergovernmental bodies it will do no harm at all to produce an annual public ranking of African governance. And the foundation will offer a carrot where other non-governmental organisations carry sticks.

The investment fund is also tiny when set against the magnitude of Africa's problems. But as Celtel shows, some businesses can have a powerful ripple effect, promoting economic activity and generating new investment. Celtel employs around 8,000 people directly, for example, but it and other mobile operators indirectly provide jobs to around 170,000 people in Africa who resell prepaid airtime. More broadly, mobile phones also promote entrepreneurship and economic activity by widening access to markets and making up for poor or non-existent transport infrastructure. Similar ripple effects ought to be possible in other fields such as financial services and energy.

Thirty years ago Mr Ibrahim had to leave Africa for Europe in search of education and professional success. He hopes that fostering indigenous African companies will help ensure that tomorrow's engineers and entrepreneurs can find their opportunities closer to home.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

In Fact...

- ...there are more British troops in Ireland than in Iraq.
- ...rents in central Manchester are 40% higher than in central Manhattan.
- ...if all Lego in the world were divided up evenly, we would get 30 pieces each.
- ...Lauren Bacall and Shimon Peres are first cousins.
- ...there are half a million semi-automatic machine guns in Swiss homes.
- ...Australia emits 30% more greenhouse gases per capita than the United States.
- ...the porcentage of Nigerians living on less than a dollar a day has risen from 32% in 1985 to 71% today.
- ...Mao Zedong had a hairdresser called Big Beard Wang.
- ...Israelis own 10% of the private land on the moon.
- ...of India's 1.1bn population, only 35m pay income tax.
- ...Europe's merchant ships emit around a third more carbon than aircraft do.
- ...when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, his army used more horses in total, and more per soldier, than did Napoleon's over 100 years earlier.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Hot, Cold, Warm

We have seen very different electoral outcomes in just a week. First was Scotland, the hot thing, with the Scottish National Party winning, at least in numbers of sits, the Scottish elections – and suddenly Number 10 has a Quebec in his own backyard. Will Alex Salmond’s SNP push for a self-determination referendum in this parliament? They really would like and maybe even try but is not likely. But the very fact that a pro-independence party is the single biggest party in part of the UK is more than interesting in political terms.

Scotland was on Thursday, then Sunday came and the conservative Sarkozy won the French elections, with a 53% of the share, against Royal’s 47% - she moved fast in recognizing her opponent’s victory. That was the “cold water” for any progressive soul in the Hexagon and in Europe in general. The son of emigrants who called “scum” to other son of emigrants is now the president of France.

And on Tuesday, came the hopeful picture that everyone was expecting: Ian Paysley senior (“Mr Never!”) and Martin McGuinness laughing together in the power-sharing Stormont government. If the darkest voice of Unionist supremacy and a former IRA commander can work together for a better future for the people of Ireland I don’t understand why in other European conflicts they can’t find the right formula with much less difficult parameters.

Friday, April 27, 2007

So many books, so little time...

Few books I am enjoying lately:

The Stories of Raymond Carver.
447 pages.

The Foundation – A great American secret.
How private wealth is changing the world.
By Joel L. Fleishman.
Public Affairs.
357 pages.

The Shadow of the Sun
By Ryszard Kapuscinski
325 pages

Intelligent but blind?

The Economist produced a special report, last March, about the European Union. Good and well informed in general, I got badly surprised with the last paragraph of the piece titled “Are you sitting comfortably?”, describing the different government bodies of the EU. Goes like that (italics are mine).

“The EU has a plethora of other agencies, as well as the Luxembourg-based European Investment Bank, the world’s biggest multilateral borrower. Among the more puzzling are two Brussels-based advisory bodies: the Economic and Social Committee, which brings together the “social partners”, and the eponymous Committee of the Regions. Between them they cost some 150m Euro ($200m) a year to run, and nobody can remember what they are for. But this being the EU, nobody dares to scrap them either.”

I like The Economist. I think it’s a serious, well informed, quite fair and truly liberal product. Having said that, the above paragraph shows very well the no-so-nice face of the magazine’s background ideology. Mainly two points to comment here:

Every human group has a religion, in a broad sense. For some people is their god, for others their culture or language, for others is race or ethnic group. The Economist has its own religion, the biggest god in Anglo-Saxon societies: the almighty Market. Fair to say that historically the so-called Left has showed a narrow-minded attitude towards the potentiality of the market, underestimating it. But you can go to the other extreme and think, as The Economist does, that the market will solve every single problem in any society at any time. Is in this ideological context where we should place the arrogance showed by the magazine snubbing a body which encompasses the social partners of any society. Do they really think it is viable to solve gross basic problems without counting, for instances, with unions, employers associations and main social movements like the green or immigration charities? What kind of democracy has The Economist in mind where they say things like that? The classical XIX c one with just a vote every 4 years and a Parliament who thinks knows everything?

The other shameful point is the description they do of the Committee of the Regions. It seems The Economist think it’s useless and should be scraped. I won’t argue that at the moment this body is quite a flowerpot and empty shell but I would say that the right step is to give this (or another similar body) more powers and not less. Why? I know what some people will say immediately, this body is not representative as their members are not elected. True, but it seems that is not the only organ which has this illness in the EU, and some very serious people don’t criticize those other bodies. The Economist shows here the typical blindness of any group of people who, being members of a big ethnic group (in this case English, with the UK state of their own) don’t see the need of any kind of representation for sub-states national realities. They think these organs are not needed and are just a waste of resources. Wrong, dead wrong. With this point of view, looking at any national claim like a “romantic” posture you will never understand the deep frustrations that some small minorities accumulate after years of cultural and linguistic colonization (some of them gentle, some of them brutal). With this arrogant attitude you will never understand what’s going on in Wales, Brittany, Scotland, Corsica, Ireland, Catalonia, Frisland, Galicia, Quebec, Basque Country or Belgium, which is falling apart in a very polite way. Collective identity issues are one of the main reason behind a range of conflicts.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


"You campaign in poetry but you must govern in prose"
Mario Cuomo - former governor of New York.

Polish witchhunt

By Ignacio Ramonet

The Poles call it the law of lustration, a term meaning ritual purification; the word has strong connotations of repentance and penitence in Poland, where history and Catholicism are so closely intertwined.
Under the law, which was passed last October and entered into force on 15 March this year, 700,000 Poles are required to confess any collaboration with the communists between 1945 and 1989. All senior civil servants, university professors, lawyers, headmasters and journalists born before 1972 must now confess their past sins by 15 May.
They must all fill in a form and answer the question: “Did you secretly and knowingly collaborate with the former communist security services?” The forms must be handed to their immediate superiors, who will forward them to the Institute of National Memory in Warsaw, which will check its records and issue a certificate of political purity. Journalists employed in any public service will be dismissed automatically if they collaborated. Anyone who refuses to answer the question or who is proved to have lied may be banned from their profession for 10 years.
This mad law, which is causing uproar in the European Union, makes the McCarthyites of the United States in the 1950s look like amateurs at the practise of anti-communism. It is the main feature of a witchhunt launched by the authorities after the conservative president, Lech Kaczynski, and his twin brother, prime minister Jaroskaw Kaczynski, came to power in Poland in October 2005.
Many Poles consider the law to be unconstitutional because it requires citizens to prove that they did not do something. It may be quashed by the Constitutional Court, which will deliver its verdict in May.
The ruling rightwing, Catholic and nationalist coalition (the Kaczynski brothers’ Law and Justice party, the agrarian Self Defence party and the League of Polish Families) is pursuing a disturbing policy of tough enforcement of moral values. Roman Giertych, deputy prime minister, minister of education and leader of the League, has just tabled a homophobic bill, causing more international uproar and protests from human rights organisations. Under the bill, which could be presented within a month, any person disclosing their homosexuality “or any other sexual deviation” in a university or scholastic establishment would be liable to a fine, dismissal or a term of imprisonment.
The minister’s father, the League MEP Maciej Giertych, caused protests in February when he published an antisemitic pamphlet, paid for by the European parliament and issued under its logo, containing such statements as “the Jews create their own ghettos” and “antisemitism is not racism”.
These anti-communist purges and attempts to reimpose an authoritarian moral order in Poland — and also to some extent in Ukraine, Lithuania and other countries formerly in the eastern bloc — conceal a worrying nostalgia for the period before the second world war, when racism was blatant. Some of those caught up in the current wave of revisionism go as far as extolling collaboration with the Third Reich against the Soviet Union.
The idea, so popular with the media, that Putin’s Russia is merely a covert extension of the old USSR inspires the spirit that prompted Warsaw to agree to instal on Polish territory the anti-missile shield designed by the Pentagon to protect the United States. It did that without deigning to consult its partners in the EU and Nato. Which goes to show that paranoia in politics can lead not only to spiritual atrophy but also to a special form of treachery.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


A is for Arsenal
Arsène Wenger and Thierry Henry's exercise in footballing elegance (with barely a British boot on the pitch) would hardly be possible without Europe's open transfer market
B is for borders
During a journey from Belgium to Luxembourg to France to Germany to Poland a passport had to be shown only once and then cursorily
C is for climate change
27 governments have just agreed the most ambitious package ever to tackle global warming. If the US, China, and India followed suit, the future would look less bleak
D is for democracy
dictatorships in Spain, Portugal, Greece and all over eastern Europe are in the dustbin of history
E is for the euro
On trips across much of Europe, travellers no longer have to change currencies and no longer come home with a pocketful of useless coins
F is for flights
Stag parties in Prague? Shopping in Barcelona? How could we afford it without the cheap airlines enabled by deregulating European air traffic
G is for Germany
Until anchored in the EU, Germany caused untold grief to most of us
H is for homebuying
The British mania for that place in the sun is a result of the EU requiring members to open their housing markets to foreign EU citizens
I is for international clout
Europe's sum is greater than its parts when it comes to making a difference internationally
J is for jobs
Working anywhere in Europe is now easy and occurring on an unprecedented scale
K is for Kosovo
The biggest challenge. EU is preparing to steer the province to independence in its first such mission
L is for London
As Europe's pre-eminent financial centre, the City of London has benefited enormously from the single market
M is for market
The single one of goods and services has been a boon for European consumers
N is for nationalism
It ain't what it used to be
O is for openness
What the EU has done best in expanding from an original six to a current 27 countries
P is for peace
Don't take it for granted in the continent that gave us Auschwitz.
Q is for queueing
Less and less of it on the borders between EU countries
R is for regions
Remote and poorer areas of Europe benefit from structural funds that amount to a great social democratic exercise in wealth redistribution
S is for soft power
if the EU's so bad, why does everyone else want to join?
T is for transport All of Europe is being knitted together by road and rail infrastructure projects
U is for unification
In 2004, when eight post-communist countries joined, made Europe whole (nearly), democratic, and free for the first time ever
V is for variety
From Krakow to Florence to Edinburgh to Seville, no union has ever comprised such splendid diversity
W is for welfare
The European social model cushions the effects of globalisation
X is for xenophobia
National prejudices start to break down the more the citizens of Europe mix and meet
Y is for yard
Europe encouraged all countries to unify measuring systems
Z is for Zimbabwe
Robert Mugabe and his henchmen are barred all over Europe, at British insistence, but only because Britain is in the EU

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


It was written on the wall, upstairs:

"I will drink life to the lees!"

And I didn't understand what "lees" mean.

To be honest, more than four years later I haven't looked in the dictionary the exact meaning of the word but I understand perfectly the philosophy behind the concept, that's for sure.