It’s Good to be the King!

September 18, 2008


Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi simply can’t help himself when it comes to beautiful women. On this occasion, the subject of his all too obvious glancing is the newly-crowned Miss Italy Miriam Leone.

Many of his supporters certainly do forgive him, with the exception of his long suffering wife, Veronica:

Mr Berlusconi was appearing on the current affairs show, Porta a Porta, and found himself discussing the issues of the day with Miss Leone, a 23-year-old student who possesses a pair of enviably long legs.

But his admiring glance is likely to provoke the ire of Veronica, Mr Berlusconi’s long-suffering wife of more than 20 years.

She took the unusual step of contacting Left-leaning newspaper La Repubblica following reports that the politician had approached several women at a party and told them: “If I wasn’t married, I would marry you straight away.”

In her letter, she wrote: “These were declarations that I see as damaging to my dignity and cannot be treated as just joke. That is why I am asking for a public apology as I have not receievd one in private.”

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Did you hear the one about McCain, your wife, and the blackberry?

September 17, 2008

In his lust for power, Presidential candidate John McCain explains to the press how he likes to carry a first generation mobile phone around with him to prepare himself for when he gets the “Presidential Football” that will allow him to nuke the world

Being a world leader in technology, American politicians have constantly championed research and development in this area not only for business purposes, but also for matters of national security. Some of these politicians go as far as to take credit for inventions that shouldn’t really be credited to them. For instance, many allege that former Presidential candidate Al Gore claimed to invent the internet. This has led to cottage industry of jokes, especially in the online world. Common sense would suggest that in the future, political figures would hesitate to exaggerate their roles in technological development.

John McCain doesn’t live by those rules. Yesterday, John McCain’s economic advisor credited the candidate with the invention of the . From

Asked by campaign trail reporters what McCain’s experience as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee does to help him to understand the economy and lead the country through its current turmoil, Douglas Holtz-Eakin waved his BlackBerry in the air, according to The Politico.

“Telecommunications of the United States is a premier innovation in the past 15 years, comes right through the Commerce committe,” Holtz-Eakin said. “So you’re looking at the miracle John McCain helped create and that’s what he did.”

Holtz-Eakin has been mocked by the blogosphere since he uttered those words.

But there is a political dimension at play here which few realize. McCain’s reintroduction of the “culture wars” in this election through his choice of Sarah Palin as his Vice-Presidential candidate leaves McCain in a bit of a dilemma: his invention is playing havoc with the stability of the family! Professionals Choosing Blackberry Over Spouse:

How much do tech-addicted workers love their PDAs? Let’s count the ways.

A new survey found that about 35 percent of professionals would pick their PDAs over their spouses if they had to choose.

Senator McCain, your invention is destroying the family.

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Sore Alba has arrived!

September 11, 2008

Sore Alba
Sore Alba plants his flag at Vodka Soda

In a galaxy far, far away …

On the distant edges of Europe the small resource rich nation sits uneasily within a larger political entity dominated by its more populous neighbour. A swelling separatist movement preaches oil-fuelled American style free markets when the suits are in town yet promises the population cradle to grave socialism when the cameras stop rolling. And while the smaller people laud their blood-soaked heroes of yore, and hail the Olympic standard bearers of last month as symbols of proud nationhood, the question is still to be answered: do they have what it takes to break away and go it alone?

Is this one of those tiny countries somewhere near Russia you’ve never heard of and have even less chance of pronouncing correctly, where centuries old stagnation of the donkey and cart variety rapidly meets ultra modern weaponry? Nah, not even close. Think closer to home. Real close to home. Place that spawned many of you moose-shaggers ancestors, and where your current head of state resides.

That’s right! It’s the United Kingdom, or more pertinently, England and Scotland, the two largest constituent nations (Ignore the Welsh, they don’t count and Northern Ireland; aw jeez, let’s really not start that up …) of said United Kingdom.

You may have heard, but it probably didn’t sink in, that Scotland not only now has its own Parliament, but is actually run by the Scottish National Party. The SNP being the lads and lassies who want to make Scotland independent. And in their leader Alex Salmond the SNP has what could well be the most gifted politicians in the western world. Barack Schmarack, Wee Eck would eat him for breakfast if the American system allowed for anything so dignified as an actual opportunity for party leaders to go at it under parliamentary privelege.

While a small but persistent majority of Scots still say they wouldn’t vote for independence in a referendum – Salmond’s planning one for 2011 – there is no denying the political wind is filling Nationalist sails. And the English? They are champing at the bit to get rid of their Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who just happens to be er, Scottish, and the man they blame for all their credit crunched troubles. Could yon bairn gan oot wi tha bathwatter like? Translation: could the English decide they want nothing to do with the Scots before the Scots decide they can live without the Sassenachs?

Does this mean anything to you? Is it at all interesting? If you in any way care and want to know more, this column will be back next week and every week after that until its humble author gets on the wrong bus on a wet Glasgow night and meets a sticky end on the point of a sharpened screwdriver. Welcome to Auld Reekie: All things Scottish, some things British and a few things by the by. Sore Alba, the newest, and bestest, and most able to handle it’s boozest, addition to Vodka/Soda.

…which is by the way is a lassie’s drink.

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Freedoms Gained and Freedoms Lost

September 5, 2008

The struggle for freedom can take many shapes and sizes, and can quite often be contradictory

To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the magazine More Intelligent Life is asking a dozen eminent figures what freedoms they’ve gained and what freedoms they’ve lost.

Commentator Neil Ascherson on his freedoms gained and lost:

Can one regret a right which damaged other people’s rights—in this case, their right to health and clean air? I was never more than an occasional smoker. Yet I still miss the compound pleasure of going to a movie in the afternoon, putting my boots on the seat in front, and lighting up a fat black Gauloise. The smoke curling up to the cupola of the almost empty cinema. The total, concentrated anticipation. The feeling that “this is the life”. With that loss went a whole grubby sensual underworld: the extinct trick of telling where a stranger came from by the perfume of his cigarettes: Ekstra-Mocny from Poland, Nazionale, Roth-Händle (this guy’s a west German left-winger), Morava from Nis which was so much sweeter than Morava from Sarajevo…

The new right for which I am most grateful has to be visa-free travel. A right still limited to certain parts of the world. But the knowledge that, within a few hours of an impulse, I can be not just in a capital city (Prague, Warsaw, Berlin) but wandering down Piotrkowska Street in Lodz , or standing on the cobbles of an East Bohemian village inhaling its scent of pork chops and cabbage, or buying the real original Weihnachtsstollen at the Christmas Fair in Dresden—that’s still miraculous. Do I regret the long waits at frontier stations, the sound of jackboots slowly moving along the corridor from compartment to compartment? No, it’s all been perfectly preserved in novels. And if you still hanker for that paranoia kick, just put on a burqa for your return journey to Britain.

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Are the Cities of Northern England Doomed?

August 14, 2008

North Englanders
A UK conservative think-tank suggests that cities in the North of England are declining without a chance of recovery

The conservative UK think-tank Policy Exchange has sent a shockwave through English politics by suggesting that England’s northern cities are declining without hope of recovery. Furthermore, they propose that residents of cities such as Liverpool and Sunderland move to the more prosperous Southeast of England and that government help this internal migration by building three million new homes to house these people.

The outrage is compounded by the fact that Policy Exchange is tied to UK Tory leader David Cameron and will no doubt have an affect on Tory support (what little that they do have) in these post-industrial cities.

As for these northern cities, Nigel Morris reports:

In its report, the think-tank said: “We need to accept above all that we cannot guarantee to regenerate every town and every city in Britain that has fallen behind. Just as we can’t buck the market, so we can’t buck economic geography either.”

Policy Exchange said many large coastal cities had lost their raison d’etre with the decline of shipping and raised the alarm over the future of Liverpool, Sunderland, Hull, Scunthorpe and Blackpool. It said it was unrealistic to expect the prosperous cities of Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle to regenerate less well-off neighbours such as Liverpool, Rochdale, Bradford and Sunderland. It said such places were not “doomed” and could not be abandoned, but people had to face up to the fact that they had “little prospect of offering their residents the standard of living to which they aspire”. The think-tank said all three million new homes earmarked for England by 2020 should be built in the South-east, making it easier for people in less well-off areas to move. It also called for massive building in Oxford and Cambridge, taking advantage of their high skills base and favourable location.

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Solzhenitsyn and His Dual Legacy

August 13, 2008

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 1918-2008

A titan of 20th century literature, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn entered the pantheon of the Russian greats last week, taking his place alongside Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Ivan Turgenev. His legacy is now being debated furiously since different people saw his worth in different ways. Americans tend to applaud his anti-communism and his exposure of Stalin’s prison camp system in The Gulag Archipelago while Russians today turn towards his denunciation of modernism and rabid consumerism that are hallmarks of Materialism.

Solzhenitsyn was an anomaly in his time since he was not only rejected in his homeland thanks to his uncovering of the brutality of the Gulag system, but also because he was rejected in his exile by his hosts whom he criticized for their rampant materialism.

John Laughland takes a look at the great man and this tug of war over his legacy in Solzhenitsyn and the Russian Question. Here’s an excerpt:

The death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn produced predictable reactions from Western commentators. Yes, they said, he was a moral giant for so bravely exposing the evils of the Soviet penitential system in The Gulag Archipelago; but he later compromised his moral stature by failing to like the West and by becoming a Russian nationalist.

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The Secret of Switzerland’s Success

July 26, 2008

Bern, Switzerland's capital

Bern, the Swiss capital, being sheltered by the Alps in the background

Quick question: What are the first three things you think of when you hear the word “Switzerland”? The most common answers tend to be The Alps, chocolate, and banking (with watches coming a close fourth).

Having lived in Switzerland for a year, I was shocked to see how rural much of the country is and by “rural” I mean rustic. I was always under the impression that Switzerland has wealthy for most of its several centuries existence but was shocked to learn that it was quite poor until this past century.

Being a strong admirer of Switzerland’s highly autonomous and decentralized political system that quite often relies on localized direct democracy, I learned that their system had much to do with their economic success. A highly skilled workforce combined with high exports, a stable currency and most of all, a stable financial/political regime has allowed Switzerland to prosper and become the envy of the world.

Could it all be thanks to the Gnomes of Zurich? John Fund explains the success story that is this alpine country in: Cuckoo for Switzerland.   Read the rest of this entry »