We’re doomed.

John Laurie actor from Dad's Army

Britain has never understood Europe.

We had made the continent the butt of our jokes, and the root of all our evils. Europe was Napoleon, Europe was Hitler, Europe was Agincourt, Pope, the Great Armada, Eurovision. Europe was humourless Germans, pompous French, cowardly Italians. We treated “Allo, Allo!” as a documentary. If we fought with Europe, rather than against it, it was only ever to defend our own little mercantile interests.

A nation of shop-keepers and petty merchants, we treated EU simply as a trade deal, as if a union of half a billion people from twenty-odd different cultures working together was nothing more than a big discount supermarket, rather than a wonder of history. We’ve joined while still nursing a hangover after the Empire, we fought hard for our privileges, rebates, pounds and vetoes, annoying everyone else. As a result, we were more “tolerated” than liked, because of our money and market. It’s a miracle we’ve even lasted that long. And now we’ve decided even that was too much.

There are still some politicians and pundits who think this may be easy. That we will negotiate some kind of “best of both worlds” deal, some sort of Norway Plus, that we still have some decent cards in our hand. I doubt it. Europe is fed up with us. Germany will gladly welcome the bankers from London; France will gladly welcome the manufacturing jobs; Sweden will take the steel contracts; Italy will take the car factories; they will be fine. We won’t be. We will be punished – not just for our arrogance and insolence, but as an example to others on the Continent who might get similar ideas. At best, we will be forced to accept a humiliating deal, reversing all our hard-won privileges in exchange for the right to trade with the EU. At worse, we’ll be cut off, with Scotland (and maybe Northern Ireland) gone, half of a lonely island drifting away into the ocean.

And Europe will tell us “Good riddance.”

 

Don’t be daft, vote Remain.

We interrupt our usual programming to bring you this political message.

On June 23rd the people of Britain will have a chance to answer the most important political question of their generation: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”

To which the unequivocal, only possible answer is: YES.

I could give you plenty of arguments why that is so, but others are doing a better job of it. Instead, I’ll just tell you some personal thoughts on the subject.

Here is the map of the world (in size-accurate projection):

World, Winkel projection

That little island in the middle is Great Britain. Doesn’t it look tiny? And a third of it is barely even inhabited… Now let that image sink in.

In a couple of days I’ll be flying back from a long trip. Cruising at 30,000 ft is the closest any of us can get to seeing the world the way the Apollo astronauts did – like a small blue marble, devoid of borders and countries:

the_earth_seen_from_apollo_17

As a sci-fi geek, I naturally gravitate towards a Unified Earth, a World Government, a Federation of Planets, or any such idea. The sooner we achieve unity as humanity, the better. But that is a distant dream, no more achievable right now than warp drive or time travel.

Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Because our world is already big, and vast swathes of it are already united under single governments. For more than two thirds of my journey I’ll be flying over just two enormous countries – China and Russia. But for the remainder, I’ll pass five or six countries, depending on the route, part of that bloody, tangled mess that is Europe. Five or six tiny nations, until recently each thinking itself separate and sovereign – now all part of one European Union.

Going alone as a country makes no sense in a world where our partners and rivals are the likes of China, India, US or Brazil. The Empire is no more – Britain controls nothing but a handful of islets. The Commonwealth? That’s just a ceremonial union, with more of its members looking for a deal with EU rather than just UK.

Another poignant image from my travels are the defunct border crossings between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, complete with barbed wire and guard towers. They, too, thought they needed to be separate, they too thought they can go it alone, despite each having less population than, say, Berlin or Paris, despite the fact that you can drive through all of them in one day. Try to explain that to somebody from China or India… Luckily, the border guards are there no more. They saw the reason, and joined the EU and then Schengen. They are still distinct nations, with distinct traditions, cultures, languages – but they are not separate anymore.

You might think UK is not exactly Latvia, but you’d be wrong. Compared to the billions that inhabit our planet, it doesn’t matter whether we’re 3 or 63 million people, whether we’re 50,000 or 250,000 sq km in size. Staying away from EU makes as much sense as one of these tiny German duchies staying away from the unified German Empire. Possible, at a stretch, but untenable in the long run.

hrr_1789_en

Here’s a map of this pre-unified Germany, a divided country. Depending on the time frame, similar maps could be drawn for France, Poland, Italy or even Saxon England. Unity is an ideal we’ve always strived for. “United we stand.” “All for one, and one for all”. “Where there’s unity, there’s victory”. When, exactly, did being united become bad? Boris Johnson moronically compared EU to Hitler’s Third Reich (forgetting Britain, at the time, still controlled a far greater and more diverse Empire than Hitler could have ever dreamt) – but his spokesman then compared it to Roman Empire, and I thought, wait, Roman Empire is now a bad thing to aspire to? And this coming from a classically educated Etonian? I mean, what have they ever done for us?

So there you have it. It’s not so much an argument, as some incoherent rambling on the subject – it won’t stand up to scrutiny if all you care about are trade deal percentages, or complex democratic procedures. It certainly won’t convince you if you’re afraid of immigrants – but then, you and I don’t have much to talk about anyway. But it’s what I believe in, and in a matter as important as this, saying what we believe in is the least any of us can do.

 

History of Ōuzhōu as compiled by the Imperial Archaeologists

For the education and enlightenment, we, the Council of Imperial Archaeologists, hereby present a compilation of our knowledge of history of the region of Ōuzhōu, which in ancient time lay between the Bōsī and Èluósī Empires, and the Great Western Sea.

The dates given are numbered from the birth of the exalted Kǒng Fūzǐ (AC).

0-300 AC: The Archaic, or Dayuan Dynasty Period. These are the same Dayuans who, after defeating and briefly subjugating the Bōsī, established trade relations with the Han Emperors in 420 AC, the first of the Ōuzhōu peoples to do so.

300-850 AC: The Classical, or Dàqin Dynasty Period. The Dayuans are supplanted by the Dàqins. The Dàqins spread throughout most of the southern and western Ōuzhōu, and establish trade with the Han Emperors. To the east, they border with the Bōsī. To the north of their lands lay the forests of the Dé and the steppes of the nomadic Sīlāfū people.

850-1350 AC: The East and West Dàqin Period. The Dàqin Empire splits in two. Under the pressure from the Dé peoples, the western half succumbs to a period of chaos and in-fighting between the Dé warlords, known as the Gētè-Fǎlánkè Interregnum (1100-1350). The eastern half recedes before the Sīlāfū onslaught, but retains most of its integrity. The two halves will never reunite again under one rule for the next sixteen centuries.

1350-1450 AC (West): A Dé warlord Kaliman from the Fǎlánkè Dynasty reunites most of the western Dàqin. After a hundred years, his dynasty splits into two, eternally conflicted, branches.

1350-1650 AC (East): The Post-Classical, or Fu-lin Dynasty Period. Fu-lin rulers rise to control most of the former eastern Dàqin (and occasionally parts of the west) territory. Even after the invasions of the steppe people of the late 17th c., remnants of the Fu-lins will continue to control a diminishing petty kingdom until 2000 AC.

1600-2000 AC (East): The Five Tribes, Four States Period. Waves of invading steppe people crush the hegemony of the Fu-lin. Four nomadic kingdoms fight for dominance in the region: the Tūjué in the south, the Mǎzhá in the centre, and two states of the Sīlāfū in the north: the tribal confederacy of Bōlán-Lìtáo in the north-west and a former Mongghul vassal, Èluósī, in the north-east.

1450-2460 AC (West): The Eastern and Western Dynasties. The Western Ōuzhōu is dominated for several centuries by the power play between the East and West Fǎlánkè dynasties, separated by the Láiyīn River – once the border of the Dàqin Empire. The chief of their vassals and allies are the island duchy of Yīng and the many petty kingdoms of Xībānyá and Yìdàlì peninsulas.
(According to some scholars, throughout the four centuries between the years 1950-2350, the Eastern Dynasty ruled its increasingly fragmented territory only nominally – this period is sometimes known as the Hundred Kingdoms or Hundred States).

2000-2460 AC (East): The Three Kingdoms Period. Three major players emerge from the chaos of the earlier conflicts: Tūjué, Bōlán-Lìtáo, and a West Fǎlánkè principality of Hābùsībǎo, which absorbs the remnants of the Mǎzhá people (as well as most of the petty kingdoms of Xībānyá in the west). Certain scholars propose to split the period further into Older Three Kingdoms and Younger Three Kingdoms, when, after the Warring States Period, the confederacy of Bōlán-Lìtáo is supplanted by the rising Èluósī Khanate as the northern superpower.

2100-2200 AC (mostly West): The Warring States Period. Born originally out of a philosophical dispute over the nature of Dào, the conflict quickly engulfs most of Ōuzhōu. It severely weakens the West Fǎlánkè and the confederacy of Bōlán-Lìtáo. In their place, the Yīng dukes and the Èluósī khans, who took little part in the conflict, grow to major powers in the region.

The last century of this period (after the ambitious, but ultimately disastrous West Fǎlánkè attempt at unification of all of Ōuzhōu) is sometimes called the Peace of the Eagles, after the eagle emblems of the three strongest powers in the region: the East Fǎlánkè, the Hābùsībǎo and the Èluósī. Eventually, however, this fragile balance proves untenable.

2460-2500 AC: The Warlords Era. What initially looks like another conflict between Eastern and Western Dynasties, spills out over all of Ōuzhōu. For roughly forty years, the main powers, along with their vassals and allies, fight a prolonged, bloody conflict. Ancient dynasties are overthrown, and new ones come to power. Warlord states, based on old tribal allegiances, appear and disappear, particularly in the rough Sīlāfū borderlands between East Fǎlánkè, Tūjué and Èluósī.

In the devastated west, there are no clear winners, although East Fǎlánkè is nominally defeated by the coalition of the West Fǎlánkè and the dukes of Yīng. In the east, however, the Èluósī Khanate achieves total dominance, finally victorious over its chief adversaries, the Tūjué and Hābùsībǎo, and absorbing or subduing most of their territories.

2500 AC and after: The Twelve Star Coalition, or the Unified Fǎlánkè. Weakened by the warlord strife and facing the relentless rise of the Èluósī, the two Fǎlánkè kingdoms together with their erstwhile vassals form a defensive alliance and a trade federation known as the Twelve Star Coalition. In time, the overstretched Èluósī Khanate is torn apart by internal strife and external pressures. The Unified Fǎlánkè spreads eastwards, gobbling up the Èluósī borderlands piecemeal, until eventually its territory and might surpasses even that of the ancient Dàqin.

This, for now, is as far as we have managed to compile the ancient records. We will continue in our efforts to bring you the further history of this fascinating region as soon as the next volume is ready.

Random Rambling Blog Snippets

I’ve been neglecting the blog side of this blog a lot lately. The truth is, between getting a new job, moving back to London, finishing up the book, and severe bouts of hayfever, I’ve been finding it hard to focus my thoughts enough to write an actual blog post. I tend to spend my entire mental capacity on Facebook statuses and occasional tweets, which as usual, you can follow here and here.

So instead, here are a few headlines that I would have liked to write blog posts about at some point:

1. The Great Right Lie, pt. 1: Private vs Public

Anyone (and that includes Her Majesty’s current government) who believes that private enterprise is always and inevitably more efficient than public, has to answer the following questions:

– have you ever worked in a corporate environment? If so – seriously…?
– what do you think happened in 2008? While we’re at it, what do you think happened in every financial crisis since the VOC crash in 18th century?
– “most effective” at what? Making money (not really, see above)? Or providing stable and secure jobs, or affordable services? Comparing NHS to private healthcare and declaring that the latter is better because it earns more money and has prettier hospital rooms is missing the point by a mile.

2. EU Referendum

If I had to bet at the result of upcoming Brexit referendum, I’d bet that we’ll lose, and England (NOT the UK) will vote for leaving the EU. There isn’t a single major media outlet, other than Guardian, and no political party with more than 10 MPs that is unequivocally pro-EU. The entire debate is focused on the pros and cons of membership for business and trade, as if EU was just a glorified trade treaty, and not the greatest peace-making experiment since Pax Romana.

3. World War III

World War III is here, and now. It’s just happening outside our immediate sphere of interest. There are now more refugees in the world than there have ever been since 1945. The flames of war rage from Pakistan to Mali, and from Egypt to Congo, with outcrops in Ukraine and Central America. Because it’s presented as a series of small, separate conflicts, the West can ignore all but the closest of the fighting, but look at the map above (taken from UN SRSG CAAC website) – altogether, the war already engulfs an area and population greater than that of Nazi-threatened Europe. This is their Thirty-year War, this is their World War.

And our only reaction is to discuss whether or not we can deal with the boat smugglers and bicker about distributing the pitifully small “refugee quota”.

4. The Great Right Lie, pt. 2: Freedom is No Regulations

The corporations would like to convince us that business regulations are the greatest threat to our freedom and well-being, right after terrorism. Of course, an immediate question is – freedom to do what? Freedom to be exploited at the workplace, and cheated at the marketplace. Regulations are responsible for you not having to work 12 hours a day, and for not being sold radioactive toothpaste. But naturally, there’s the other side of the coin: the only regulations that are “bad” are the ones that affect the business in what it perceives is a negative way; try to ask a tech company to get rid of patent regulations, or a media company to abandon copyright laws, and you’ll see how quick they are to abandon the “freedom” charade.

That’s all for now.

Germany: Memories of a Nation (BBC Podcast)

germany[1]We traveled a lot through Germany lately: both its past and present borders. It is nearly impossible to travel around Europe without stumbling upon traces of Germany’s past glories and sins. From Riga to London, from a Hansa outpost on Aland to the Imperial Trieste, the German-speaking peoples have left an unforgettable imprint on the continent long before the atrocities of the 20th century; and having traveled first around the Baltic, then around Central Europe this year, I had plenty opportunity to ponder this grand nation’s history.

Brandenburger_Tor_abends[1]So the new BBC Radio 4 podcast series, Germany: Memories of a Nation, drew my attention instantly – especially since it’s headlined by none other than Neil MacGregor. A few years ago, the director of British Museum attempted to tell the story of the entire world in 100 objects. Now, he is retelling the story of Germany – in 30 objects. This new series is just as intrigWeltliche_Schatzkammer_Wien_(169)pano2[1]uing and engaging, and possibly even more eye-opening, since it brings out the little-known German art and architecture from the shadow of France and Italy. Holbein, Riemenschneider, Caspar David Friedrich are just few of the names covered, among subjects that range from Stasi to Charlemagne’s empire – with the Holocaust, naturally, underlying it all, as it forever must.

The series is half-way through now, and you can catch it on its podcast page here. Go hear it. Now.

Europe by Google

These two maps were based on results of Google’s auto-complete feature, on Google.co.uk, in incognito mode.

1. WHY ARE YOU SO TALL?
The first one answers the question “Why are such-and-such so…” ? Not all nations came up with the result (mostly because of people unable to spell the nationalities properly), so sometimes I had to tweak the question a little, but not enough to change the spirit of the investigation.

Why are... ?

As you can see, there’s quite a lot of diversity here. The Nordic countries are generally perceived positively, while the Central-Eastern Europe is a dark hole of despair. The former Yugoslavians are, weirdly, all Tall, whereas Hispanics are Short. There aren’t that many racists in Europe as you’d think, and Rudeness seems mostly contained to the former Carolingian Empire.

2. THE GREAT RACIST/RUDE DIVIDE
This one is result of “such-and-such are” query, and it’s far more straightforward: most of Europeans are either Racist or Rude.

europe2

This time, the former Yugoslavian nations come out far worse: Evil Stupid Nazi Serbs, the lot (that’s Google saying that, not me!). There is some weird debate between Italians, Greeks and Albanians going on around their racial identity, and Belarusians and Austrians are apparently confused. Also, you’ll notice that the Welsh and Estonians remain firmly Racist on both maps, while Bulgarians, Latvians and the Franco-German alliance keep being Rude.

(PS: incidentally, if you count Google results for “… are rude” and “… are racist”, Europe’s nations are far more often perceived as rude than racist. I guess that’s… positive? At least we discriminate equally against everyone 🙂

(PPS: although, “Europeans are racist” is three times more popular than “Europeans are rude”)

Top 5 Inner-city Getaways

When it comes to spending free time, I’m a city boy through and through. Give me a choice between a sunny beach and a historically and culturally rich city, and I will probably… do both 😉 But if that’s impossible, I would much rather take a stroll down some narrow alleyways of an old town than suntan (especially if it’s 40C and the old town in question is fountain-rich Grenada)

That said, even I can get bored or tired of asphalt and concrete. When that time comes, I venture forth in search of some oasis of calm and quiet in the middle of the city. All good cities have them: either public parks, or temple gardens, or urban forests. But the ones that really remain in memory are places that have that little something extra; a spark of brilliance or a touch of history that makes them stand out from the rest.

Here’s a list of my top 5 favourite of such getaways: all five are free to enter, though not always free to get to. You will notice these are also one of the top cities to live in, according to various surveys. It’s no coincidence; the best governed cities have also the best public spaces. Continue reading “Top 5 Inner-city Getaways”