The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Warning! History is about to be discussed

Today is Red Army Day, and one of my co-workers mentioned her Russian friends have posted on Facebook about it. This turned into a discussion of the differences between the Soviet and Russian national anthems (there isn't much), which then went to Germany. In looking for a YouTube video of the German anthem, I encountered this:

Really? The video in question has a performance of the 1841 version ("Deutschland über Alles"), but presents it as an historical fact rather than as a political aspiration. This might offend people? Who are these people?

The German national anthem, "Deutschlandlied," takes its music from Hungarian composer Josef Haydn's "Emperor" quartet, Op. 76 No. 3, with lyrics penned by August Hoffmann in 1841—30 years after Haydn's death. These days Germans only sing the third verse (the second verse praises German women, another controversy apparently); but despite widespread ignorance, the first two verses were not written by the Nazis.

So, on what grounds is this offensive?

Let's see if historical versions of current national anthems are offensive in the U.S. Here is the 1770 text of the U.S. national anthem:

To Anacreon in Heaven, where he sat in full glee,
A few sons of harmony sent a petition,
That he their inspirer and patron should be.
When this answer arrived from that jolly old Grecian:
Voice, fiddle and flute no longer be mute,
I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,
And besides I’ll instruct you like me to entwine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ vine."

So, who's offended? Anyone?

Coup d'État in Maldives

Maldives, an archipelago of 400,000 people with less than twice the area of Washington, D.C., has overthrown its government:

The ex-president of the Maldives said on Wednesday that he was forced to resign at gunpoint, despite earlier claims by the Indian Ocean resort islands' new leader that there had been no coup.

"Yes, I was forced to resign at gunpoint," Mohamed Nasheed told reporters after his party meeting a day after his resignation. "There were guns all around me and they told me they wouldn't hesitate to use them if I didn't resign.

The Maldives, one of the world's most high-profile luxury tourist destinations, installed Mohamed Waheed Hassan as president on Tuesday after the man credited with bringing democracy to the islands resigned, apparently under military pressure following a police mutiny. It was not immediately clear who was holding the guns.

The U.S. State Department, usually right on top of these things, has not yet issued a travel warning; however, the British Foreign Office has advised against travel to the capital, Male.

Church of Kopimism

To counter SOPA, a Swedish group has gotten official recognition as a religion on the idea of Holy Information:

The church, which holds CTRL+C and CTRL+V (shortcuts for copy and paste) as sacred symbols, does not directly promote illegal file sharing, focusing instead on the open distribution of knowledge to all.

It was founded by 19-year-old philosophy student and leader Isak Gerson. He hopes that file-sharing will now be given religious protection.

"For the Church of Kopimism, information is holy and copying is a sacrament. Information holds a value, in itself and in what it contains and the value multiplies through copying. Therefore copying is central for the organisation and its members," he said in a statement.

I can't wait to see which angels help them decipher their silicon tablets...

And then this happened (PMQs part II)

After having a good rant about Labour Party leader Ed Milliband asking one of the stupidest and most poorly-timed questions I've ever heard during Question Time, I returned to my DVR, and watched him...sit down. Which was odd. Because throughout this Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition has gotten five questions at a time, as a way of making up for the Liberal Democrats giving up their two questions during the previous Parliament. (Trust me—the Labour Party gets five, and he only asked three.)

And then we get to this exchange, fourteen minutes in, which...well, here are Milliband's fourth and fifth questions:

Edward Miliband: I want to ask the Prime Minister about Scotland. We on this side of the House believe that the United Kingdom benefits the people of Scotland and the people of the rest of the United Kingdom in equal measure. We are stronger together and weaker apart. Does he agree that we must make the case for the Union—not simply a case against separatism, but the positive case about the shared benefits to us all of Scotland’s part in the United Kingdom: the shared economic interests, the shared institutions such as the NHS, the defence forces and the BBC, and above all the shared values we hold together?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to say that this is an area where the right hon. Gentleman and I will be in 100% agreement. I passionately believe in the future of our United Kingdom, and passionately believe that we are stronger together than we would be by breaking apart. Frankly, I am sad that we are even having this debate, because I support the United Kingdom so strongly, but we have to respect the fact that Scotland voted for a separatist party in the Scottish parliamentary elections, so the first thing that it is right to do is make clear the legal position about a referendum, which is what my right hon. Friend the Scottish Secretary has been doing. We have made the offer to devolve the power to hold that referendum so that it can be made in Scotland and held in Scotland. Frankly, I look forward to having the debate, because I think that too many in the Scottish National party have been happy to talk about the process but, do not want to talk about the substance. I sometimes feel when I listen to them that it is not a referendum they want, but a “neverendum”. Let us have the debate, and let us keep our country together.

Edward Miliband: May I agree with the Prime Minister? This is not a fight about process between the Westminster Government and the Scottish Government, or between the British Prime Minister and the Scottish First Minister. The way to tackle this issue is to have immediate cross-party talks in Scotland about the timing of the referendum, the nature of the single-question referendum and the vital involvement of the Electoral Commission. Does the Prime Minister also agree with me that we need as soon as possible, as he said, to get beyond process and have that discussion about the substantive issues? This is a momentous decision that our children and grandchildren will have to live with if we get it wrong, so we need a serious, thoughtful and inclusive debate about the choices and the benefits to Scotland of staying in the United Kingdom. On this important issue, the people of our country deserve nothing less than that serious debate about the benefits of the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is right on those three points. On the process of negotiation, which is very important now, particularly given that the SNP has come out and made more clear what it wants to do, I am very happy for the UK Government and the Westminster Parliament to speak directly to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, and let us come to a conclusion about the best time and the best way to hold the referendum. But it must be clear, it must be legal, it must be decisive and it must be fair. Those are the absolute keys. I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman: as soon as those process questions are settled, we need to get on to the substance. [ Interruption. ] The only point I would make about the timing—[ Interruption. ] As SNP Members, who cannot seem to keep quiet, are so keen to leave the United Kingdom, I do not quite understand why they want to put off putting the question for so long.

Wow.

Let us imagine for a moment the President and Speaker Boehner taking time out from slugging one another to choreograph so nicely a joint address about anything. This set-piece required both Milliband and Prime Minister Cameron to agree on it, and required Speaker John Bercow to agree (since he controls the order of questions). I'm not sure how to reconcile the earlier exchange I mentioned with this one, except to say, everyone seems to agree on the existential issues.

For more on the likelihood of Scotland's independence, here are The Economist and The Guardian.

Two left feet, and he can still walk into it

Just catching up on my connection with the outside world this evening, I played back yesterday's questions to the Prime Minister, and within three minutes banged hand to forehead as Ed Milliband disappointed the entire Labour Party one more time within seconds of opening his mouth. From the official record:

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Captain Tom Jennings from the Royal Marines, Squadron Leader Anthony Downing from the Royal Air Force, Private John King from 1st Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, and Rifleman Sachin Limbu from 1st Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles? All of them showed enormous courage and bravery. They have made sacrifices on our behalf, and our deepest condolences go to their families and friends.

In the autumn statement the Chancellor said that train fares would rise by only 1% above inflation. Can the Prime Minister therefore explain why rail companies this month on some of the busiest commuter routes have increased their fares by up to 11%?

The Prime Minister: The power to do that was given to them by the last Labour Government.

Look, one doesn't need to be an expert in British politics to know the following:

  • A six percentage-point rise in rail fares does not seem to be the most weighty issue of the day in the United Kingdom;
  • If it were truly significant, but one might have a perception coming to it cold that it's a somewhat trivial issue, one might expect the Leader of the Opposition to, you know, work up to it;
  • Given that the Leader of the Opposition has as much time as he wants to ask questions during PMQs, he certainly had time to segue between, you know, mourning the deaths of four British soldiers and a complaint that trains cost more; and
  • Wait, did he go from acknowledging the deaths of the brave men who have made sacrifices on the country's behalf and a £10 hike in the fare to Milton Keynes without as much as a "Mr. Speaker, as you will no doubt be aware..." ?
  • Harriet Harman is sitting right next to him and doesn't kick him in the fork for scoring an own-goal within the first three minutes?
  • Doesn't this guy have staff that can say, "Ed, our lot passed that one, best leave it alone?"
  • ...

Sorry, I degenerated into a rant there. It's just that I am naturally inclined towards the left, and the Labour Party represents the left in the UK, and I think the Conservative Party is dead wrong about how to get the UK out of recession...and my guy is up there squandering his opportunity to ask the Prime Minister about...well, anything other than rail fares.

It gets worse. A few minutes later we hear this exchange:

The Prime Minister: It is time for the Leader of the Opposition to listen to his shadow Defence Secretary, who wrote very candidly over Christmas: “There is a difference between populism and popularity”— and that difference is called credibility. Time to have some, I think.

Edward Miliband: Instead of his pre-prepared lines, the right hon. Gentleman should get his facts right about his own policy.

"Pre-prepared lines"? My forehead hurts from where my desk just rose up to meet it.

Look, I'm not a UK voter, I'm just a fan. But please, Labour Party, please, I beg you, please get this guy away from microphones. I'm sorry Harriet Harman doesn't want the job, because as boring as she may seem on TV, she's actually a foot smarter than her boss. I'm beginning to think the party took a collective step back the moment someone asked for a volunteer while Milliband was too stupid to realize what was going on and so stayed put. (Think about that for a moment, it will come to you.)

Oh well. The Lib Dems may bolt the coalition in a few months and give Labour another chance. Or not. It's possible we have this clown until the next election, whereupon I hope his own large intestine reaches up to strangle him so Labour actually have another chance at Number 10 in my lifetime.

Warm December nights

Not just here, where we're looking forward to 10°C on New Year's Eve to complete a streak of 21 days above normal temperatures,, but also Northern Europe:

Britons getting ready to ring in 2012 can expect highs of up to 15°C after a year of unusually mild weather.

Forecasters said the past 12 months have been the second warmest for the UK after 2006, in which the average temperature reached 9.73°C. The average for 2011 was just a shade lower at 9.62°C.

It comes after the warmest April and spring on record, the second warmest autumn and the warmest October day.

The U.K. also had its warmest temperature in five years on June 27th, when Gravesend, Kent, hit 33.1°C. Pretty soon Britons will need air conditioners.

But there's no anthropogenic climate change happening. None at all.

Good news from AT&T

The T-Mobile acquisition is dead, dead, dead:

AT&T is ending its $39 billion bid to buy T-Mobile USA, citing fierce government objections.

"From the first day that this deal was announced, we have warned regulators, lawmakers, and consumers of the dangerous consequences of this merger," said Parul P. Desai, policy counsel for Consumers Union, according to its website The Consumerist. "Regulators clearly saw through AT&T's claims of better service and saw what we saw - a combined AT&T/T-Mobile would mean higher prices and fewer choices for consumers. It would mean a wireless market dominated by a powerful duopoly with little incentive to compete with other carriers."

In related news, Kim Jong Il is also dead, leading to the joke that god let Havel and Hitchens pick the third. (Hitch would actually be horrified by the suggestion.)

Jon Bon Jovi, however, remains alive.

Our staunch ally

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, our friend in the Middle East, has beheaded one of its citizens on the charge of witchcraft:

Amina bint Abdel Halim Nassar was executed Monday for having "committed the practice of witchcraft and sorcery," according to an Interior Ministry statement. Nassar was investigated before her arrest and was "convicted of what she was accused of based on the law," the statement said. Her beheading took place in the Qariyat province of the region of Al-Jawf, the ministry said.

The London-based Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat quoted a source in the country's religious police who said authorities searched Nassar's home and found books on sorcery, a number of talismans and glass bottles filled with liquids supposedly used for the purposes of magic. The source told the paper Nassar was selling spells and bottles of the liquid potions for about $400 dollars each.

"So far at least 79 people -- including five women -- have been executed there, compared to at least 27 in 2010," [Amnesty International] said.

It's tempting to wonder whether they weighed her against a duck first, but really, this isn't funny. What is it really worth to us to support this 7th-century regime?

The collapse of Irish banks

I just stumbled upon an article from last March by Michael Lewis, in which he explains how thoroughly Irish banks screwed themselves:

A single bank, Anglo Irish, which, two years before, the Irish government had claimed was merely suffering from a “liquidity problem,” faced losses of up to 34 billion euros. To get some sense of how “34 billion euros” sounds to Irish ears, an American thinking in dollars needs to multiply it by roughly one hundred: $3.4 trillion. And that was for a single bank. As the sum total of loans made by Anglo Irish, most of it to Irish property developers, was only 72 billion euros, the bank had lost nearly half of every dollar it invested.

[W]hile Icelandic males used foreign money to conquer foreign places—trophy companies in Britain, chunks of Scandinavia—the Irish male used foreign money to conquer Ireland. Left alone in a dark room with a pile of money, the Irish decided what they really wanted to do with it was to buy Ireland. From one another. An Irish economist named Morgan Kelly, whose estimates of Irish bank losses have been the most prescient, made a back-of-the-envelope calculation that puts the losses of all Irish banks at roughly 106 billion euros. (Think $10 trillion.) At the rate money currently flows into the Irish treasury, Irish bank losses alone would absorb every penny of Irish taxes for at least the next three years.

Fascinating reading. Given its growth and prosperity ten years ago, it's staggering how a few dozen stupid people could have derailed the country entirely.