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.

 

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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.

UK top singles of the 80s


This is just a little something I did to get my mind off all the writing stuff for a while. 10 playlists for 10 years of UK top chart singles.

Or, as I like to call it, the chronicle of steady descent of music quality 🙂 We start with Blondie, Jam and Police. By the time it gets to 1989 it’s obvious the British public just gave up. Three top singles of 1989 were by Jive Bunny fer chris’sakes. We desperately needed Nirvana.

1980: Three hits by Blondie; Specials; Jam; Police. Quality stuff. The last hits of ABBA.

1981: Lennon dies in December 80, dominates the charts for two months. Ultravox Vienna is held off number 1 by Shaddap Your Face. Human League saves the year’s honour by trumping Julio Iglesias.

1982: Come on Eileen smashes the records. Kraftwerk. Town Called Malice. Movie songs begin to overtake the charts.

1983: The first unashamedly all-pop chart of the decade. The heaviest song is Billy Jean… by the end of the year the fad for soft, inane reggae seems to addle everyone’s minds.

1984: The year of Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Total dominance: 15 weeks for three songs. Hello and I Just Called To Say I Love You. The year ends with *shudder* Band Aid, foreboding the things to come.

1985: The charts are all over the place, as if Band Aid just exploded throwing shrapnel of sugary pap everywhere. And not a good song in sight.

1986: A bit of respite: some rocky pop from A-Ha, Pet Shop Boys, George Michael goes adult and writes a decent tune. Final Countdown makes everyone bang their heads for the last time.

1987: This is when we were all rickrolled. Very few memorable songs, but those that were memorable stayed with us forever, unfortunately: La Bamba, I wanna dance with somebody…

1988: It’s dancehall all around; nothing here that couldn’t be played in a disco. Stock, Aitken & Waterman expand their Empire of Crap. What’s Enya doing in all this, we will never know.

1989: Annus Horribilis. When Simple Minds is the ‘edgiest’ band of the year, you know you got it bad. Three hit singles from Jive Bunny. Three more from Jason & Kylie. To sum it all up, another Band Aid – one that was so obscure I couldn’t even find it on Spotify. All this from a nation which had Bohemian Rhapsody as No. 1 for 9 straight weeks in 1975… 

Although to be fair, the 1970s No 1s were pretty crappy as well. It seems 1979-1981 were the only decent years for the UK charts.

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”