Monthly Archives: August 2006

Is the only thing to look forward to the past?

History is a pretty place. Sure enough, the fields were soaked with blood, inequality was worse than it is in modern-day Brazil, life expectancy was about 25 and the streets were plagued by, well, plague, but it was populated almost entirely with heroes. Read More

Thus spake France’s Minister for European Affairs, Catherine Colonna, giving her opinion of the state of the EU to the assembled ranks of the French Ambassadorial elite. Packed with (if we’re honest, fairly astute) criticisms of the current way the EU works, this seems to be a new approach from France, the country which more than any other has driven European integration and reform during the last half century. Read More

Archbishop Cranmer, although a dab hand at being burned alive, is a relative newcomer to UK blogging. He must be good, as he’s been namechecked in the Sharpener’s New Blood Roundup – although he’s perhaps a little extremist and religious for my taste.

However, one Cranmer post is so monumentally weird I felt the need to tackle it head-on, not for its ideological slant (arguing against faith-based positions is among the most futile tasks known to humanity) but for its relationship with fact – and also because it gave me a chance to use economic data to address a couple of bizarre EUphobic myths. Read More

Right, I’ve taken my time with this one, but finally here it is – the long-awaited latest addition to the “Now That’s What I Call New Blogging” series. A varied selection of British(ish) blogs started in 2006 (give or take a few weeks), ranging from the big boys and girls of the proper press to the average random punter with a computer – all of them are, however, in some way promising. We don’t like dross here at the Sharpener, despite occasional appearances to the contrary…

Right – enough prevarication. On with the meat of the thing: Read More

As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. —H. L. Mencken, “Bayard vs. Lionheart”, The Baltimore Evening Sun, 26th July 1920

Political blogs, whatever their outlook, however honourable their intentions and however many hours are wasted in their creation, exist to arouse the amour-propre of the author through the medium of explaining how the writer of the blog is smarter than the politicians they are writing about. They thus operate in exactly the same way as the more important and influential main-stream self-fellators. Occasionally, the blogger or media commenter may even be right; people often get lucky, after all. Read More

Imagine four US based Bolivians blowing themselves up on the New York subway, killing and wounding 700 other people, in protest against the American invasion of Panama.  Then, two weeks later, a mixed group of Peruvians and Columbians attempts a similar attack on the London underground.  The following year, police uncover a plot by another group of South Americans, to blow up planes in mid air between the US and the UK.

In the wake of the police investigations, a group of prominent Latin Americans write open letters to the governments of Britain and America, claiming that the British occupation of the Falkland Islands, the presence of British troops in Belize and the US interventions in Latin America are creating anger and resentment within their communities. Unless the governments of both countries  change their foreign policies, they warn, radical Latin American Catholic priests will find eager recruits for further terrorist acts.

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“But the US could take the risk of alienating the world and discarding international law only if its leadership was going to be effective. Instead its leadership has been desultory and uncertain and tragically ineffective.”

That’s Gerard Baker in The Times last week, bemoaning the poor record of George W Bush. A slightly more articulate version of the analysis that John Prescott apparently did not give to Labour MPs that same week.

Politics is, unfortunately, not just about issues. It is also about personalities, about diplomacy, about leadership. Governing a country means making a decision, giving orders, and allowing others to implement your policy. You need to ensure this will happen, and sometimes a constitution, a chain-of-command, is not enough to drive your agenda through the bureaucracy! Similarly, achieving your foreign policy aims, whatever they may be, requires at least some practice in the art of persuasion, whereby you can convince people over whom you have no political power that you are an ally, not an enemy. Call it charisma, call it gravitas, there are certain qualities that make one a more effective leader and diplomat.
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OpenDemocracy: “Earlier this year an historic lawsuit opened, charging the Chinese authorities with genocide and other crimes in Tibet. openDemocracy talks to Tenzin Tsundue, one of the Tibetan witnesses testifying in the case, and the Spanish-based NGO that launched the proceedings.”

Tibet vs China: the human rights showdown