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I get an email in one of my several e-mail accounts (one used largely for this very purpose) from campaign group 38 Degrees, telling me to write to my MP expressing my feelings on the vote Parliament has been suddenly recalled to vote on. Thing is, they don’t have a position, and give out opinions of various members who hold completely opposing views, as well as resources outlining the case for both sides.

Now there can be little doubt that IS are a particularly nasty bunch who are quite willing to murder anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their particularly narrow and extreme view of Islam, and need to be stopped somehow. The question is as to whether, as for example the Stop the War Coalition might put it, intervention of this nature won’t end in disaster, bombs will end up killing ordinary civilians innocent of the crimes of IS, and be subject to mission creep, be it boots on the ground or “accidentally” hitting targets belonging to and servicing al-Assad’s regime- the same Assad who has apparently given his blessing to intervention against IS? The situation on the ground appears to be a total mess, and we intervene at our risk, perhaps. We don’t know how it will end up.

All in all, armed conflict and the morality of engaging in it are very tricky matters. The only thing I know is, sometimes they appear necessary but the wrong people all too often sadly get hurt. So, what shall I be writing to my MP on this particular matter? Nothing, probably, for what can I write that will be meaningful?

Last night I began with what must seem like a somewhat desperate plea for the Scots to think of the rest of the UK when voting in the referendum today. I promised I would go into more detail about why I believe this is important. As I have left it too late in the day to affect the polls, which have now closed, and given that realistically an obscure blog with a handful of readers, written by an Englishman, is going to do much to change the outcome of the vote anyway, I wonder if it is worth it. But, a promise ought to be honoured; given my poor track record in previous years of posting what I wanted to post, this most definitely needs to change.

I am far from an expert on the situation and this is not an academic blog, rather meant for personal observations on life, the universe and everything so what follows here is only my understanding based on what I have picked up on the news. So, without further ado:

 

1. The economic uncertainty.

The Yes campaign of course claim they will be able to continue to use the pound in a formal currency union with the Bank of England continuing to be lender of last resort, etc., but as pointed out that will require the approval of the continuing UK. And given the whole debacle with the Eurozone crisis of the past few years, naturally there is some reluctance to enter into that. And given some reports that some of the alleged mainstays like oil reserves, access to ready markets in the EU if Scotland is denied immediate membership and so on (though whether a free trade agreement, like I’d hope for an exiting UK, could at least be negotiated I don’t know) and the fact of probable lack of investment due to all the uncertainty, will Scotland’s economy really be in the right shape to not drag us down?

Of course there is always the possibility that EU membership for an independent Scotland would mean them joining the Euro, and if not, they could use the pound anyway, as Salmond forced Darling to concede in the debates. Or even use the US dollar, or probably even the Turkish Lira or Bitcoin or come to that. There are threats that without the currency union, Scotland might not agree to take its share of the UK’s current national debt, which will further place a burden on the much smaller rump-UK tax base. I doubt we down here would care much for that.

Of course, all the tax revenue that comes from Scotland, and the probably dwindling oil revenue, cannot be passed to the rest of the UK, which is for Scots certainly a good thing, and probably seeing so much of that money going to further enrich the London elite won’t make us in poor old North-East England cry. But, a less than open border might well affect trade too, especially for those businesses close to it.

And all this uncertainty is probably going to deter investment even further, if we find out by tomorrow Scotland has voted Yes.

2. The political spectrum.

This BBC article suggests that without Scotland in the 2010 elections, the Tories would have a majority in the House of Commons, and would not even need to form a coalition in order to force through so many of the unpopular policies the Yes campaign claims to want rid of in Scotland (some of which won’t even affect Scotland anyway, like NHS privatization)

Or take a look at the election map from Wikipedia. Note that in England there are a few chunks of red in a sea of blue. Much more red and yellow in Scotland than the measly little bit of blue you can see. Also note where those chunks of red are-no doubt the old industrial heartlands that have been eroding over the years, and certainly hate the Tories every bit as much as your typical Scot. Yet none of us ae able to become independent.

Of course it is hardly like Labour has had a much better track record with popular policy decisions, and the Lib-Dems are in fact in coalition with the Tories which says enough. But certainly what we will see (if whoever it was that said that it might refocus the efforts of the English left-wing to appeal more strongly to English concerns and head off the current shift to the right) a shift in the near-term political spectrum of Britain which could mean the Tories are more likely to dominate, than it would otherwise have been. Not being firmly either on the left or right, and even being kind of a reluctant UKIP voter (not that I like all their policies and ideas, least of all on climate change, and am in two minds about others- simply on the EU question and one or two of their more social-conservative, if not economic-conservative viewpoints), this might not seem like a bad thing you might think, but I think a change in the corridors of power now and then might be good even if they all are as bad as each other in the long run.

3. Trident.

Of course, many English people I know don’t really want the questionable use of funds to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent we cannot under normal circumstances use and probably would never need to, let alone have terrible destructive potential if we did. But if Scotland becomes independent, then eventually we Sassenachs are probably going to have to go to all the trouble and expense of relocating the base of operations for it. I’d certainly not want to see it in my back yard either, thanks.

4. Effect on the North East of England?

There have been fears, right since suggestions the SNP might lower corporation tax might mean investment that would have gone to my area would instead go to Scotland. Already we have seen, for example in my hometown, a certain major business locating an office in Scotland it might have here. But with the economic uncertainty mentioned above, this might be a bit of a non-starter.  There have also been fears that a new international border might cause problems for businesses and workers on either side of the border.

There are, also on the other hand, moves by local authorities in the region to work more closely with Scotland to forge new links which might be in our economic interest, then perhaps independence might not be such a bad thing.

5. Good old Auntie?

Yes, there are many people who hate the BBC as biased, on both sides of both the border and the political spectrum. Or they hate the way it handled the whole Jimmy Saville thing, or the payouts to its executives, or the fact its current funding model is essentially a TV tax in all but name, irrespective of whether you want to watch the Beeb. But if plans to split off BBC Scotland to form a new Scottish Broadcasting Service, what does this mean for the funding of what is left? If the SBS does exchange programming, will it be forced to stump up the cost (and vice versa) commercially, and will that cover the shortfall?

6. But what about a No vote?

I have heard from certain people I’ve been talking to that as part of a sweetener to tempt undecided Scots to vote “No”, then even more funding could be diverted to Scotland than is currently delivered by the Barnett Formula. I certainly don’t think that will be too popular in the rest of the UK, if taxpayers have to foot the bill. And what of “devo max” type sweeteners, in the absence of a truly federal UK? Hardly think this is fair either but then, perhaps we might get stronger calls for an English Parliament, stronger powers for the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies (unless reunification looks more promising after all), and a reduced Westminster in other words, a truly federal UK? I’d like to hope so, but it remains to be seen.

I leave you with two BBC articles on the issue, which probably will explain it much better than I can. Just to annoy all the anti-Beebists (as distinct from the Auntie Beebists ;-) )

I also invite comments, ideas, constructive criticism and especially corrections.

…and Wales, and Northern Ireland… but including them in the title wouldn’t have been as funny. No, I am not meaning to be insulting your great nation at all, simply to consider a side of the issue only a few people have bothered to discuss: that of independence, or lack of it, on the rest of the UK.

It has long bothered me that whilst I had thought he Union was a two-way partnership, that only Scots get to decide who breaks it. Apparently (and I am sadly too lazy to read the details, but hopefully will tomorrow) the Act of Union has nothing in it to override what seems to be the overriding principle of self-determination, that Scots get to decide how they are governed (though the rest of us don’t get decide not to be voted by Scots- but given the most obvious recent example of that was Gordon Brown, maybe that’s not so bad a thing). It is certainly true that the Scots Parliament of old was led into union by some conniving and possible arm-twisting (their economy having collapsed following failed colonial adventures in Panama) but it’s hardly like the government of England was anything like what we’d consider a democracy today, with universal suffrage to elect an MP to represent you absent let alone referenda. Now Scots get democracy to decide the fate of the Union, but the English do not, even though, as I will point out, it will affect us in several key areas.

But on the plus side, ignoring the democratic deficit south of the border, northwards we see quite the opposite picture: a predicted 80% turnout, lots of lively debate, people getting engaged in the issues which rarely happens with day-to-day national, local or international politics. More controversially, 16-17 year olds are allowed to vote, which some say might be too young, but it is at least the age when people start to develop the true ability to make their own independent decisions, not simply those they have learned from their elders (thanks to some old Robert Winston documentary for that half-remembered tidbit) and, after all, it’s a potentially irreversible decision which will affect the young.

The fact is that what Scots are voting on will affect both Scotland and the rest of the UK. From the currency union issue, to Trident, to investment here in the north of England (which might be affected by proposed cuts to corporation tax in Scotland, though this may be of little effect in the sea of other economic troubles Scots may face), to the political balance in Westminster. Even good old Auntie Beeb loos set to be affected, with the creation of a separate Scottish Broadcasting Service out of the existing BBC Scotland, no to mention all those licence fees the BBC can’t live off anymore. And the alternative, no plus “devo max” might mean Scots are even more disproportionately funded well by now than the rest of us- not only unfair, but who picks up the tab?

And for all the Yes campaign’s going on about Scotland being free of the distant, Tory-led government in Westminster pushing NHS privatisation, the bedroom tax and a whole host of other policies. Guess what- neither do we. Look at any electoral map, and you’ll find that there are plenty of non-Tory seats in many areas of the North of England, which is also neglected by the powers that be in London in favour of the capital’s wealthy and powerful interests. Many of us don’t want Trident any more than you do. But we don’t get to be separate from all this- yes, we had the regional assembly thing but that had few powers, and it got rejected.

I aim to elaborate on this tomorrow when I’m less tired. And maybe mention the odd possible positive for us south of the border too. But time is short, and I wonder who will read this or be affected by it before they go to the polls tomorrow. Indeed, postal voters will have cast their ballots already. But if any Scot is reading this, remember: it affects both you and us, and please consider this when you do vote. I won’t tell you how, as that is the nature of democracy which I believe pretty strongly in (not in the same way I hope to believe in God, as democracy is not infallible). Indeed, as I said, I am excited that so much lively political activity is indeed taking place. I hope it all works out for the best.

WARNING: I said this was a family-friendly blog, but as the title suggests, controversial stuff follows. I’ll try to avoid too many gory details, but younger readers, those of a more sensitive disposition and all that might want to skip this particular article and get back to all the other brain-melting political/newsy stuff. Heck, it’s not like people being bombed to bits is all that bad, really. But seriously, some people may wish to avoid it, and it’s not like I condone the bilge from the sewers of popular culture that follows. De gustibus non est disputandum, sure, but still…

EDIT: I am also aiming to edit some stuff out further as there is extraneous stuff that doesn’t even belong here (controversial as it is) but we don’t need to read about it.

Now it seems in the nature of popular music that some of it will ultimately end up being controversial, as it has been since time immemorial. And whilst this at times can be a somewhat mixed blessing- for example protest music which challenges genuine injustices and seeks a better world- and at other times isn’t really all that big a deal, there are times when it is plainly silly and serving no other purpose than to get that person or group’s picture in the papers, literally and figuratively. This article is about the latter.

Anyone following the gutter end of the news about a year or so back will probably heard of the somewhat raunchy antics of a certain young lady by the name of Miley Cyrus, who in a desperate attempt to shed her child-star image (in the tradition of many a former child star gone before) has decided to adopt a more “adult” image, generally sexing it up, popularizing a strange new dance craze known as “twerking” (which from what I can tell involves wiggling your behind like a maniac, or some such) and doing unspeakable things with demolition equipment. This was the one thing which prompted me first to begin writing this post*, but of course it’s far from the only thing.

Of course some people invite controversy whilst they’re still child stars- see a certain Britney Spears for example, whose debut hit …Baby One More Time had to have the “Hit Me” part removed in case someone, somewhere, thought… she was wanting her would-be boyfirend to abuse her? She was wanting to do other things with him that 16-year-old girls arguably shouldn’t be doing at their age? Not, of course, a mere figure of speech indicating the restarting of a failed but innocent relationship. But of course even she had to sex it up to shed the otherwise-tame image of pretty much every other song bar one or two, with lows of mock lesbian weddings with Madonna (for probably no other reason than to tease the tabloids) amongst other things. And, after going off the rails (it seems the media pressure got too much), she seems to have spent half the rest of her subsequent songs telling everyone else where to shove themselves, she can do what she likes and everyone wants to seek Amy** regardless. Or she’s telling female canines to put in more effort. Or whatever.

As far as recent examples go, the black icing on the cake has to be Lady Gaga, whose persona matches her name exactly it seems. Be it wearing a dress made out of meat, or saying it’s perfectly alright to be gay, probably, or any number of things in her songs and videos I won’t even discuss here (an earlier version of this article contained one example, but we need not revel in that).

This is nothing new, of course. Be it Eminem dissing everyone, rapping disturbing things about obsessive fans, wielding a chainsaw on stage and all that jazz; to gangsta rap; to depicting the Queen with a safety pin in her nose whilst comparing the monarchy to fascism;  to David Bowie’s gender-bending and (possibly fake) bisexuality, to hippies getting high, to Elvis wiggling his hips around (the masculine, frontal version of twerking, perhaps). And running through it all, the cry of classical music and easy listening lovers everywhere: what the heck is that Bleeping Awful Noise? (Ma, you’re just jealous, it’s the Beastie Boys? Or perhaps not…)

Of course it doesn’t matter whether you personally think it’s an utter outrage, innocuous silliness or even a positive attempt at trying to change social attitudes for the better (as some self-styled progressives might think of one or two of the examples hitherto mentioned). At the end of the day, ninety percent of it is probably deliberately trolling for publicity, certain that it will press the Berserk Button of some Moral Guardian or other***, or attract the hypocritical faux-outrage of the Daily Fail Daily Mail and its equivalents. As the saying goes, all publicity is good publicity, and if it doesn’t get you known, it’ll make people buy your products out of spite for the haters. Either that, or if the star doesn’t like it, the media will be revelling in it and laughing all the way to the bank. Unless their name is Bill Grundy, in which case they might be regretting it.

Let’s be honest, on the one hand there is some stuff which is genuinely morally troublesome, and certainly something we don’t want our kids to see. But all Miley Cyrus’ bottom-wiggling antics can hardly be compared to shooting planes out of the sky or lying about weapons of mass destruction. It’s not as if Eminem was actually trying to hurt anyone with that chainsaw, or actually condone the desperate and murderous acts of the eponymous Stan- rather, in the latter case, trying to make a serious point.

Or, in other words, either laugh about it or just plain old ignore it. Despite what some may tell you, keeping up to date with mainstream popular culture or even having the blindest clue about it is, shock-horror, optional. Like internet trolls, showbiz stupidity will fade away if it isn’t fed it’s regular supply of publicity, which only happens as long as it sells. Whatever you do, The Man(TM) wants your money. Think carefully before giving him any.

 

*Which, like many posts, was sat lying around unfinished, such that it would be gathering dust if it was on an actual piece of paper and not just a collection of ones and zeros on WordPress’ servers, which it obviously isn’t, so there.

** Seriously, don’t try to find out what that means. At least not if you’re under 18. Don’t think of elephants, either.

*** According to the language of the TV Tropes website, which will ruin your life. Honest.

…is that you never really recall the whole of the decade you were born in.

I fear that for a man who’s a mere twentysomething*, I’m getting awfully nostalgic.

Although of course it’s possible that in actual fact, the problem is we assume decades start in years beginning in zero and ending in 9. One blogger I read once claimed that most of the Seventies was pop-culturally still the Sixties and the only truly unique thing about the pop music was punk, which only really got going around… 1977? I’ve personally observed that most pop music trends tend to start towards the middle to end of a decade and sometimes carry forward. For example, Gary Numan’s “Cars” featured on last month’s 1979 Top Of The Pops repeats on BBC4, a clear example of synthpop from before the ’80s. There must have been earlier examples than this. Or the Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star which was released in the same year, yet pop videos at least were more iconically associated with the arrival of MTV in the ’80s. (Not to mention said song isn’t entirely lacking on the synths, so it is often mistaken for an early ’80s hit). And, since this blog is nothing without the odd mention of politics, I reckon the socio-political ’80s started roughly in 1979 (with the election of Margaret Thatcher) and ended in 1991 (with the breakup of the Soviet Union).

But there is still a good chunk of ’80s I missed out on first time round- like the entire highpoint of the classic 8-bit micro era not to mention a lot of synthpop, New Romanticism, the launch of Channel 4, classic Doctor Who still on the telly, etc.. Trouble is, I reckon were I to have been born earlier I’d not have enjoyed it- thinking as much of the 8-bit micros as I did of smartphones and tablets up until recently (I have belatedly started using one but still reckon touchscreens are a far-from-perfect interface- and affording even less escape from the internet I am so addicted to at times…), New Romanticism would have seemed even more silly than it does to me now, and synthpop would be Bleeping** Awful Noise which doesn’t use any real instruments like proper good old-fashioned music.  Not to mention more recessions, controversial Tory-led governments, the miner’s strike, the lingering threat of nuclear war… there truly is no golden age one can look back to, which is any better than now. But it would have been nice to have seen it.

* Getting on for thirty I know (though a year older than when I started the post), but still…

** Tempted as I am to use a “colourful metaphor” here, this is a family-friendly blog, as ’twere, so I shall refrain. And if you get that reference, it’s from a film I was sadly too young to see on the big screen, or even to care at the time. Another problem with being born too soon…

 

 

Well, I’ve been on holiday for two weeks in Florida. I had aimed at least to have a good time, try to get on well with my hosts (my mother’s friend and her family) and get all the books read I’ve taken with me, I suppose. So far I have only finished one- John Brunner’s Times Without Number, a sci-fi novel set in an alternate history where the Spanish armada successfully defeated the English and invaded, yet Spain itself was reconquered by the Moors; where time travel has been developed (deceptively easily, it turns out), yet travel in spatial dimensions is limited to the horse and carriage. I suspect in a Catholic society, the lack of Protestant work ethic discouraged any industrial revolution which might have lead to the development of the steam engine? I wonder. It is a world where aristocracy and slavery is the norm, where the Catholic Church wields considerable influence, and the Inquisition is considered humane for using truth-drugs and hypnotism instead of torture as a means of interrogation. But these are the good guys, aiming to prevent the misuse of time travel for personal or political gain, or the timeline from being altered significantly. The epitome of Deliberate Values Dissonance, for any of my fellow tropers who may be reading. Oh, and I’ve also started on Jane Austen’s Emma and a collection of sci-fi short stories from the sixties.

So, I’m now in Florida, and have been for about a week, along with my mother. The weather is certainly as warm as can be expected, but can be very stormy, with lots of lightning and at least a few power cuts. Due to issues with lost or delayed luggage (a nightmare for some) we haven’t yet done too much, besides shopping, Starbucks and a couple of trips to the beach. There is some interesting wildlife to be seen even in the extensive back yard of our hosts, including various birds, a squirrel, the occasional deer and raccoons and even evidence of a bear which left its mark on the fence. In the interests of privacy I will not share too much about my hosts save to say they’re pretty nice folks, if I must be reminded it is the GULF (of Mexico- we’re in southwest Florida) we have been to the beach of, not the SEA! (Presumably a customary distinction the locals make?)

Next week, possible boat trips to see dolphins and possibly a tour of the Everglades. Pictures I hope will find their way to this blog- minus, for the sake of privacy, any well-defined human subjects, as agreed.

My post on the Israel-Palestine conflict seems to have been viewed by at least one Palestinian- possibly someone who commented on one of my friend’s Facebook thread. I hope I didn’t disappoint him by being a little too pro-Israel. It seems the guy who was supposedly captured was actually killed in action. I forget his identity. Now, at last, it seems there is actually a more lasting ceasefire and the chance of some talks… or is there? And the fact the Palestinians have gone to the world courts? I wonder how that will lead. O world, when will you learn to stop fighting and wasting life in this way?

That said, the whole business with the oppressive, murderous “Islamic State” does make me think that some military action is necessary. A cautious approach, however- maybe a few airstrikes to limit effectiveness, arm the Kurds or Iraqis in general, aim to reconcile opposing groups within Iraq, and let them sort their own problems out. Don’t give in to the demands for all-out action at any price- this will only lead to more support for these radical groups and end in more waste of civilian life. And do our best to help those in need- do not ignore the Christians and others who they are persecuting.

Anyway, enough of this.

Hopefully I could before long get some books or videos reviewed. I have bought and hope to bring back a few VHS tapes which are unavailable in the UK, including the badly-dubbed version of Macross- Do You Remember Love? as well as They Were Eleven (mystery thriller in space), Explorer Woman Ray (Indiana Jones type fayre, but with a female protagonist?) and the Leiji Matsumoto classic Galaxy Express 999. Maybe I shall review the Moorcock and the Brunner.

And maybe finish the (currently long and rambling) essay on what might make an ideal democracy, if certain of my readers don’t mind yet more political fayre. (Note, ideal democracy doesn’t necessarily mean ideal political system.)

Maybe I’ll even have some ‘gators or dolphins to show you.

[This post has been edited from its original form for personal reasons.]

As basically anyone will know who has been following the news lately, Israel and Palestine- or more appropriately Hamas- are out to kill each other yet again. It seems to follow the same old pattern every time- Hamas fires rockets out of Gaza, Israel turns around and responds by trying to utterly blitz Hamas into the ground and ending up killing way too many innocent civilians in the process. Or maybe things are quite different than that. The pro-Palestinian lobby claims the Israelis are deliberately targetting civilians as part of a deliberate genocidal campaign to get rid of the Palestinians and turn the whole of the Occupied Territories into a complete Jewish state, the pro-Israeli side claim Hamas are deliberately using civilians as human shields (and get free international support for their side). As usual, it’s the ordinary folks, who may or may not otherwise be politicized, suffer, in huge numbers. Maybe the odd Hamas rocket, most of which are ineffective, get past the Iron Dome and hit somebody. Certainly a few Israeli soldiers have been killed.

And of course there are desperate pleas from the international community and all concerned for a permanent ceasefire for the sake of ending this dreadful suffering. Yet when all sides agree to a temporary ceasefire for three measly days to give the Gazans some time to patch things up, what happens? You go to bed hearing on the radio it’s going to happen, and wake up in the morning ot find it’s been broken yet again. Israel claims Hamas broke the ceasefire by firing more rockets, and responds with shelling; 53 dead. Hamas denies firing anything. Some civilians reported as acting as if the ceasefire was going on still, however. An Israeli soldier gets captured, 2 more are dead. And the whole bloodied roundabout goes on turning.

Now, as a Christian of the sort who believes the modern state of Israel to be some partial fulfilment of Bible prophecy, I really want to support them; I believe the idea of a restored Jewish state, in the wake of the centuries of persecution they endured, is a good thing, but not at the expense of those who were living there already. It does seem hard sometimes, when you see what the Palestinians have had to put up with since 1948, and when you see what is happening now (Gaza completely blockaded, settlements in the West Bank, seemingly disproportionate reprisals every time Israel gets attacked) you begin to wonder. Yet Israel has throughout its history been under threat, first from its Arab neighbours, now militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Can you blame them for trying to neutralize the threat of constant rocket attacks? I wonder.

In all honesty, feelings in support of both sides run so high, and there seems to be two completely different versions of events, that you don’t know what to believe. As with the Ukraine in more recent days, everything gets lost in the haze of propaganda and the fog of war. What I do know, is that people are suffering, and that there seems to be no easy end in sight. I’ve almost come to the conclusion that, if both sides could stop their fanaticism, maybe the two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders might be the best stop-gap until the Lord returns. I know, somehow, it won’t. But we must try to make the best of a bad situation.

 

Of course I’ve missed bits out- the murders that started the whole thing off, the new phenomena like the tunnels Hamas are now digging into Israel to attack it, and the Israelis going in on the ground in response, instead of just the usual airstrikes.

 

In time I may follow up with comments on the general insanity of it all, with more mention of Ukraine; and certainly it would be worth a discussion on what makes a just war, if at all. (To my mind, whilst conflict may occasionally be necessary, few actual instances seem truly justified, all things being weighted in the balance.) But that is for another day. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matt. 6:34).

… so it might as well be now.

Reviews of 2013 I think might have to go by the board- I might yet complete that article but seems a bit late now March is well underway. (Doesn’t time fly!)

And 2014 has had it’s fair share of crazy goings on. As if we hadn’t enough turmoil in the world, now it’s the turn of Ukraine. I rather wish I could understand the whole business, but I only half remember the kicking out of some leader as part of the Whatever-It-Was revolution some years back and now they’re back for Round 2. (I really need to do more research.) What I do know is that there seems to be tension between the main part of Ukraine which is looking towards Western Europe for support, whereas the ethnic Russians in Crimea and the east are obviously still wanting to stick with the Big Bad Bear for support. That Crimea “should” be a part of Russia again seems only right to me- as it was only in the Soviet days it became transferred to what I presume was the Ukrainian SSR and stayed after independence. But, with Russian troops being sent in to protect their holdings, and what seems like a fair amount of intimidation and trying to force their hand by turning off the Ukrainian TV channels in favour of Russian ones- talk about objectivity? I think not!- this referendum looks somewhat likely to be skewed in its outcome.

It would seem that whatever the Western governments might say about it being illegal, international law is barely worth the paper it is printed on. After all are the same Western governments not also guilty- do we not recall that little thing a few years ago known as the Iraq War? Of course Saddam Hussein was, by all accounts, a thoroughly nasty piece of work, and Iraq was not de jure annexed by the United States or Britain. But an invasion, on shaky pretences which turned out to be false, of a country without waiting for genuine UN approval, is not something that I thought was done in the modern world. Yet when Russia decides to take back what was pretty much rightfully its in the past anyway, with what seems to be the backing of at least some of the population, in he midst of a chaotic and questionable turn of events in Ukraine, it’s all bad.

 

On the other hand I have started dabbling with an interest in the history of the Soviet Union and Russia in general. Whether I can find anything about the Ukraine or Crimea in actual book form I don’t know. What I have managed to get is the following:

- “Life in Russia” by Michael Binyon. Binyon was at one point foreign correspondent for The Times for the then USSR, and manages to get a mixture of his own experiences, some interviews, and even references to the Soviet press itself for what is a surprising look (given the Cold War era it was written in) at the pre-Glasnost USSR. It is quite well balanced, neither railing against Communism nor without a sense of its shortcomings, and demonstrating what life was like for ordinary people.

- “On Socialist Democracy” by Roy Mevedev, who was a Soviet dissident who was interested in reforming the system from within, and apparently agreed with a lot of what Gorbachev was doing, before history overtook matters. He is still thoroughly Marxist-Leninist, and therefore I would probably not want to hold entirely to his views, but he has a lot to say about the rigid bureaucratic nature of the system and its failings, and how dissent is necessary. He also heavily criticises Stalin and attempts to rehabilitate him posthumously.

Quite a few interesting arguments about democracy reside in this book, which could well form the basis for the article I mean to write on the matter some day. The idea being that, in a totalitarian system with no real freedom to offer criticism of the system, the system cannot function adequately. Of course I question whether that has to be in a movement like revolutionary socialism, which is ideologically constrained. In order for a truly democratic society, the people should be able to choose what direction they want their society to take and to do so without bloodshed. (Alas I dream.) Of course I would hope, as a Christian, they would follow in the ways of the Lord, impossible also under an atheistic ideology that only tolerates religion on sufferance and as long as it doesn’t rock the boat. (Or in other words, not too different from what the West is becoming with creeping secularisation and unbelief, albeit yet without any real persecution.)

But I digress.

The book isn’t really history as such, but does offer an insider’s view of what was going wrong with Soviet Communism and how it could have been fixed within the system.

-“Survey of Russian History” by BH Sumner. Seems to be an overview of various aspects of Russian history. Dated now (written in the ’40s) but what I could find cheaply at the time when bought in a bookshop in York. I am sure my fellow members of counter-factual.net could recommend some better ones.

-“The Princess of Siberia” by Christine Sutherland. Bit of an odd one this and bought on a whim, it’s about a certain Princess Maria Volkonsky, wife of one of the leaders of the 1825 Decemberist Uprising who followed him all the way to exile in Siberia away from the Tsarist court. By the looks of it something of a romantic, idealist figure.

I don’t know what insight I’ll get with these books if I can ever get round to reading them all. But it is a start.

And, in all this, jobs are to be done. I wonder if I am slipping with the jobseeking habits, but I’ve managed to have some success from the mad push in December. Firstly I get no less than three interviews in one week. All unsuccessful, but with one coming from a speculative application and still managing to impress the employer and leave them willing to forward my CV to partner organisations and clients, another one willing to take me on for voluntary work/work experience, and then I get a part-time self-employed job distributing Betterware catalogues. I am seriously. seriously wondering whether I cannot simply make more of this and “sign off” the “dole” as the whole jobseeking thing and the Jobcentre is getting to me. Or, is that just me needing to wake my ideas up once more? I really don’t know what to think. I suppose I could make some money from this- possibly more than the “dole” on a good week, but it’s not a regular income and I’d have to work hard at it and really know what I was doing.

What I do know is that whatever I am doing now should ultimately be regarded as a stepping-stone to other things, and giving up applying for other jobs ought not to be something I should do.

Back to the Ukraine. I recall a rather interesting post Christopher Nutall, a fellow counter-factual.net member of note, wrote (http://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/a-lesson-from-the-ukraine/) about how the Ukraine should have kept its nuclear weapons for the day the Big Bad Bear threw out the rulebook and started giving it trouble. The idea of nuclear weapons has always been confusing for me- whilst I can see the deterrant potential, these wepaons not only have the power to destroy the world as we know it, worst case scenario, but what happens if every nation feels the need to have one? What about North Korea? And is not even the major powers and so-called “responsible” nations having it not encouraging such questionable regimes to pursue their own nuclear ambitions? Non-Proliferation Treaty or not, as I said, international law ain’t worth the paper it’s printed on half the time. Yet even the North Korean regime surely isn’t so irresponsible as to sacrifice its own self-interest by actually launching the few piddling nukes it has and essentially getting slammed hard by the Americans and the South, with probably China pulling the plug on support. So, why even bother with non-proliferation, especially since there are so many advantages to having nukes to defend yourself against a powerful and encroaching neighbour?

 

Maybe I should stop worrying about these things and start being busy with my own affairs, I guess. I waste far too much time on such matters. And other distractions.

 

Watch this space, I hope, for rants on the decline of Stockton High Street, more musings on religion, politics, current affairs, life, the universe and everything, and more anime reviews. I could at least do Wings of Honneamise, which was an interesting and quite unusual film sadly unreleased on DVD in the UK. (Like I care… I still prefer VHS*, heh, heh, heh…)

 

* I be a sad retro-obsessed fool, I be.

I would like to wish all of my readers a happy 2014, a year I hope holds considerably more promise than the tumultuous 2013 (and maybe, in my case, a job…)

Review of the old year to come, with possibly a little bit of ranting. I may just start from scratch instead of repurposing an old draft article I never finished, which I was going to use.

Well, the presents have been opened, the Midnight Mass has been gone to (at an old church I used to go to but left as wasn’t sure about it- but sometimes I bother to return…), and the relatives… haven’t arrived yet.

Still need to bag some for the others and write out the rest of the cards before they do.

And with the way things have been changing with benefits and the Jobcentre, I’ve at least had to search for a few more… it’s Christmas, beepit! But best to be on the safe side.

(Once I get any outstanding jobs applied for, I might just have a few things to say on that general matter…)

Well at least I got the June Christy CDs (currently playing in the background) and complete poems of Emily Bronte I was after. And a rather amusing “A Very Klingon Khristmas” book (yeah, one-time Trekkie here, sadly, who still watches it sometimes). [ERRATUM: I am told the Klingon book was from my sister, and the other presents listed were from my mother, when previously I had assumed they were all from my mother. This inaccuracy has been removed.]

(Who is June Christy, you may ask? By the seems of it, a now sadly neglected jazz singer. The fount of all knowledge tells all: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/June_christy)

Well if anyone should be reading this and wants to share their Christams experiences, feel free!

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