Saturday 27 September 2008

Why I will never be a political columnist

One of the interesting historical tit-bits I picked up in Turkey was the Ottoman institution of "The Cage".

This was their system for assuring a smooth handover of power in the event of the sultan's death. Traditionally, the scheme had been for one of the dead man's sons to slaughter all his brothers, thus removing any fear of rebellion or usurpation. However, the drawbacks to his scheme eventually became apparent, and a different system was put in place. Now, the new sultan's brothers were merely imprisoned in the harem. There, they would have no choice to devote their time to debauchery, palace intrigue and the cultivation of various interesting personality defects. They were given no outlet to the outside world whatsoever; most emerged from this (often lengthy) incarceration as paranoid, ignorant despots addicted to the exercise of power but with no useful grasp on the world they were expected to exercise it in.

When I read this tale of rulers who'd spent decades in their own little fiefdoms before emerging to make an utter ruin of their new kingdom, it immediately struck me that the parallels with Britain's current approach to political succession were superficial, contrived and hopelessly jejune. So bang goes that career.

And this species often nests in phone trees...

Off sick yesterday. Watching daytime TV while feeling slow and dopey - which is cause, which is effect? In any case, as I was struggling to follow the cut and thrust of debate on The Wright Stuff, I was presented with a challenge to my agility, compassion, wit and initiative. On an ordinary day, this would be bad enough. With a nasal passage several millibars above tolerance, I rated it very unlikely that I would win the day.

Nevertheless, having spent about half-an-hour engaging myself in a "Did you hear that?" "What?" "That?" "Shh" conversation, I finally pulled down the loft ladder and hauled my mucousy, red-eyed head over the parapet, fully expecting to to be attacked by a rabid squirrel. The aerial assault that greeted me had the advantage of surprise therefore, and I damn near plummeted to a comedy broken leg there and then. Luckily my nerves of steel and cobra-like reflexes* allowed to wedge my hand between the ladder and the trapdoor frame. Stoically uttering a light scream, I was able to focus on the invader: a starling which had been inquisitive and agile enough to get in to my loft, but too damn stupid to get out the way it came in. Instead it was opting to fly up to the translucent roof tiles the previous owners had installed in the loft, (quite possibly as a way of tormenting trapped birds) smack its head off them and retreat to the far corner, whence it would restart the whole process.

Sure, it was funny for a while, but even the most sophisticated gags pall with repetition. So I set myself to rescue the wretched beast, driven partly by compassion and partly by a desire not to have a rotting corpse in my loft. Stupid though the creature undoubtedly was, this was not an easy task. My first strategy, to put an old blanket of the "window" and thus encourage the little bugger to find a different exit, achieved nothing (other than to liberate an approximate quarter-pound of dust from the blanket and directly into my already overloaded nasal passages.) In retrospect, the wheezing, gasping, snorting fit that I threw at that point could only have confused and terrifed the bird even more.

It was now that I called the experts, or at least the RSPCA. Like all major organisations who provide contact numbers, they require you to refine your query through a phone-tree:

If you are calling about a bird, press one...
If you are calling about a pigeon, press one. If you are calling about a duck, press two. For raptors or other large birds, press three...

I gave up around this point. Although I pity the guy confronting a trapped and angry buzzard: "If you have thick gloves, press one. If the talons are lacerating your face, press two."

As of this morning, there is no apparent bird in the loft. The bird seed and water I left up appear to be untouched. Even better, the squirrel poison I keep permanently up there also appears to be untouched. A cursory examination suggests that if it did cark it overnight, it had the malice and effrontery to do so in a dark and unreachable corner, the better for rotting to pieces in. Alternatively, it is even now flying around in the sunshine. You may never know, so if you'll forgive the Lady and the Tiger bit, you can choose for yourself. I however, have the shadow of corruption tainting my home.

It's a bit like Edgar Allen Poe, but not.

*Were you there? No. So cobra-like reflexes it is.

Friday 26 September 2008

It's the economy, stupid

Two big things going on in the US right now. One, Financial Armageddon. Two, the never-ending quest to pick the next LOTFW™. But from the right perspective, of course, they're one and the same.

Via Freemania, John McCain has taken the "historic step" of suspending his own campaign in order to go to Washington and sort this whole mess out. Moreover, he invited Obama to do the same.

From a "politics as running the country" perspective, this has potential. Whoever gets elected will have to deal with this mess, so it's as well that they should get some input now. The simple symbolism of making a deal a priority might well be a kick up the arse for heel-draggers.

From a "politics as getting elected" perspective, it probably looked even better. McCain was down in the polls again, and there was some suggestion that voters trusted Obama more on the economy. (Naturally enough, given that McCain has publically said that he doesn't understand economics.) Suspending his campaign demonstrates, one can only suppose, his willingness to put country ahead of party, his leadership skills, and his commitment to a better, stronger America. Also, as chance would have it, the proposed suspension of his campaign would entail the cancellation/postponement of his first debate with Obama - an event generally held to play to the Democrat's strength, not McCain's.

But it's a gamble. And for it to pay off, you need to make sure you tick a couple of boxes:

1) If you're going to showcase yourself as the one man who can save the negotiations, make sure there's not a deal on the table before you get there.

2) If you're going to showcase yourself as the one man who can save the negotiations, make sure there's still a deal on the table after you get there.

3) If you're campaign talking point is that you're pro-regulation, don't propose cutting regulation.

4) If you announce you're dropping a scheduled TV appearance to rush back to Washington, do actually rush back to Washington, rather than going to the studio next door. (Skip to 6:38)

5) If you're going to get a debate cancelled, make sure your opponent won't go ahead without you.

UPDATE: Having said that he wouldn't debate unless there was a deal, McCain has now announced he'll be at the debate. There's no deal.

Tuesday 23 September 2008

Trying to be helpful

Two quotes, from different stories in the Guardian:

"Immediately after Miliband sat down, Brown's aides were expressing
satisfaction, judging that the threat to the PM had receded."

"as the "Heseltine" story broke late on Monday night, some Brownites were
keen to brief journalists about it, apparently in the hope of presenting
Miliband as disloyal"

At the risk of criticising some of the finest political minds of our time, would it not be a good idea, if you wished to minimise somebody as a threat, not to keep discussing the threat they pose with journalists? Might it detract, just a little, from your "moving beyond in-fighting" message if you keep on in-fighting?

Sunday 21 September 2008

What'd I miss?

Turkey's great. 10% historical tourism, 15% kebabs, 75% lying by the pool reading. For hours. It's a beguiling lifestyle. So beguiling, in fact, that you can remain almost completely unaware of the unfolding horror of Total Financial Meltdown. By the time I'd picked up some BBC World news and "read" BA's free Daily Mail on the return flight, I was braced for using souvenir backgammon counters and shiny bits of glass to barter for a taxi to my home. Or, indeed, as a means of buying a new one. Imagine my surprise to find paper money an acceptable means of settling debts.

(The Mail was clearly chagrined that the collapse of western capitalism couldn't be laid at the door of swarthy TB-ridden immigrants, as long-expected, but was actually caused by respectable well-off types. So much so that when it ran it's interview with one of the "financial vultures" who had put house-prices so much at risk, it's tone veered radically between Puritan disgust and fawning obsequy: "They argue they simply have a knack of identifying the weak. And then feasting on them...Cawkwell runs his business from a desk at his £1million home in Kensington, West London. He and his wife Anne have two daughters.His successful trades fund a love of fine Burgundy wines...")

In other news, it seemed that there had been major upheavals in the Labour Party: why, when I left only two weeks ago, it seemed that Brown was losing the confidence of senior party members, and would have to prove himself in the September conference. Truly, a week is a long time in politics.

Friday 5 September 2008

Answers on a postcard...

I'm off on holiday for two weeks. Turkey, since you ask. Normally intermittent service will resume some time around Sept. 20th.

In the meantime...

There's a bit of a discussion going on about the role of culture/personality in elections. Do we vote based on principles, ideas, policies, evidence? Or are we, in fact, more swayed by character, personality and charisma? Do we, at bottom, want someone "just like us" in charge? (After all, we all know we'd do a great job of making the right decisions.) Do these things matter more if we believe ourselves or even our "way of life" to be under attack? If we want to promote a certain ideology, or even culture (say, rational liberalism) do we do it best by attacking our opponent's culture (say, small town Christian conservatism) or by reaching out to the middle ground? Is reaching for the middle ground just a long-winded way of surrendering the argument?

Questions, questions. We'll get an answer in November. Compare the personality-based attacks on Obama here with Obama's attack on McCain's. One shows respect, the other goes for the throat. Which will work?

Thursday 4 September 2008

He started it...

Following Tom... McCain's new VP pick has been subjected to a barrage of questioning over her policies, her family, her religious values and her qualifications.

Ha! I'll bet Palin didn't anticipate such a thorough interrogation.

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Floes over

Those crazed left-wing hippy "scientists" pushing the global warming hoax are at it again: they've snuck out in the dead of night with a few cans of de-icer and loosened up the Arctic circle. This is good news: a lot of previously inaccessible valuable energy resources are now laid bare. What better incentive for the the UK, Germany, Sweden, Canada, the US and Russia to put aside their petty differences and share in nature's bounty kick the shit out of the Danes.

It's not the winning, it's the never forgetting

Shuggy is bang on the money here, in a diatribe on the England's somewhat nostalgic approach to footballing glory.
The reason we don't want you to win is because we know if you do, you'll never shut the fuck up about it. World Cup 1966? That was the year I was fucking born, ok? And I ain't no spring chicken. Yet you're still going on about it? Shut the fuck up, why don't you?
By contrast, I think we all know should our sacrifices to the dark lord finally be answered and Scotland win the World Cup, we would maintain a dignified silence. Particularly when talking to an Englishman.