THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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March 2008

Rachel speaks sooth

From China I can't get to her blog but Rachel from North London has both told it like it is and fed enough of it to RSS for me to read it. I want to send you there and I want you, if you please, to do exactly as she directs. Not because she was a victim of terrorist violence, but because she is right.

All credit to her for keeping her wits and speaking sooth when she could have succumbed to victimhood and self-pity instead though. For that (and for recognising the worth of unsung hero Shami Chakrabati) she deserves much praise.

So (corrected, with thanks to those who pointed out it was broken) here's the link

Badge of honour?

Screen_shot_2 The internet was supposed (among myriad benefits) to make the life of totalitarians more difficult. Information would flow freely and censors would be frustrated. Sadly, what technology can set free, it can also cage. I fancy there would be few government computers in the Peoples' Republic of Scotland United Kingdom, were that not true. I was therefore curious to see what it was like to be behind the "Great Firewall" which limits access to websites from China.

Those of us who blog using Typepad or Blogger are obviously making things too easy - although curiously we are allowed to post - just not to read the results. However, someone presumably had to decide to block Dizzy, Guido and Ellee, as they have their own domains. I am sure our own government would block Guido if it dared, but it's a pretty effete totalitarian who is afraid of Ellee, surely?

The Englishman needs to make more effort. His site is freely available. I can also confirm the accuracy of my recent post about the BBC site being unblocked in China, even if I can't get to my own site to give you a link to it.

I am too busy to research this thoroughly (so please don't ask me to check if your site is accessible). I am simply reporting casual findings from the sites I tried to click through to from my RSS reader. I am always grateful to those of you who allow more text to be distributed via RSS. I am even more so today as the Great Firewall lets forbidden content through that way. Those of you who always irritate me by forcing me to click through from a tantalising glimpse in order to improve your stats are one reader light. Sorry.

I would love it if trying to access forbidden blogs from the PRC resulted in some "Warning! Counter-revolutionary content!!" message. Sadly, as you can see from the screen shot, it just leads to an "internet on a bad day" screen. How disappointing.

First impressions of China

Dscn0939 It's not easy to come to China with an open mind. This is the oldest continuous civilisation on our planet (second oldest if you insist on counting the Australian Aborigines) and we all have firm ideas about it. For most of human history it was the leading nation. There were Chinese scientists, poets and businessmen when we were painting ourselves blue. I am told we seem like children to the Chinese. Sometimes we seem like children to me (at election times, for example).

The first thing to say was that it was quicker, easier and more pleasant to pass through immigration than it is for me to go "home" to Britain. At Manchester airport (my usual port of entry to the English Protectorate of the Peoples' Republic of Scotland) surly state employees with faux-FBI badges are determined to give themselves airs to which their attainments do not entitle them. They give every impression of being disappointed not to have cause to arrest you. In contrast, a pleasant young lady from Chinese immigration welcomed me to her country with every impression of sincerity and waved me through in less than 20 seconds.

An old hand in the former Soviet Bloc, I was not going to base any opinions on the pristine condition of the airport, nor on the impressive vistas from the route into town. Every Communist state focussed resources on deceiving visitors arriving by air. Still the Chinese do seem - if that is their game - to play it to Olympic standards. Shanghai's approaches are more impressive than Moscow's or London's.

Let's leave aside the warmth of my reception by hotel employees. Yes, I was greeted by name at the kerbside and shown straight to my room. Yes, I was checked in at my own desk by yet another charming female. You get what you pay for in this department. Even in England, the employees of the right class of hotel can pretend to be pleased to see you.

I wanted to have an open mind. I didn't want to bring prejudices with me, but I didn't want to be duped. I am as anti-Communist as the next man, but I am also well aware that China has changed - economically if not politically - since I waved my "little red book" as a teenage Maoist. I watched the morning scene from my hotel window and determined to plunge in. Pausing only to verify my internet connection and access to my blog, I set out for a walk. It is chilly and overcast today, but the streets were thronged with people taking the air by the river. They talked and laughed animatedly and seemed positively scrutable. My only problem was to pause to take photos without someone trying to sell me a fake watch or a massage. I didn't pause to ascertain if the latter was therapeutic or euphemistic, but the pictures on the proferred cards suggested the latter. My rebuffs were accepted cheerfully enough, although one persistent watch vendor did have to be shown a real Patek Philippe before accepting that I didn't want a fake one, however cheap it might be.

At 3pm I was looking across the river at the Bund and talking to Mrs Paine on my mobile when the Customs House clock chimed. It makes the most beautiful noise; beginning with something that sounds like Westminster Chimes but morphs into a Chinese tune. Mrs Paine adores the sound of bells and we stopped talking so she could listen. Apparently, during the Cultural Revolution, this clock was adapted to play "The East is Red."

Returning to the luxurious cocoon of my hotel, I people-watched in the bar while smoking my favourite Cuban cigar (cut for me by yet another charming Chinese lady - they don't seem to come in any other variety). There is something exhilarating about being in a country where you don't have even one word of the language. I had forgotten what that felt like. I couldn't listen to conversations; only to the music of the language. It's very pleasant indeed but seems to be always at a volume that a softly-spoken Englishman may find uncomfortable to attain. Or maybe the family group nearest to me were just a particularly rowdy bunch. The matriarch of the family had a voice like a foghorn, but she smiled and laughed continuously and what she was bellowing seemed to be humorous.

It's far too soon to form any conclusions, of course, but the only city I liked better on first impression was Venice. To be continued....

'BBC website 'unblocked in China''

Link: 'BBC website \'unblocked in China\''.

Given how far left the BBC is, one wonders why the Chinese ever bothered. There are probably more people in the BBC who sincerely believe in Marxism than are to be found in all of China.The Chinese government could save itself a world of trouble and cost by simply turning the New China News Agency into a translation service so as to be able to use the BBC as China's state broadcaster.

Sub-prime Bohemian Rhapsody

Rhapsody_2 I received this from one of my clients today. It really needs to be sung aloud...

Is this the real price?
Is this just fantasy?
Financial landslide
No escape from reality

Open your eyes
And look at your buys and see.
I'm now a poor boy
High-yielding casualty

Because I bought it high,
watched it blow
Rating high,
value low
Any way the Fed goes
Doesn't really matter to me, to me

Mama - just killed my fund
Quoted CDO's instead
Pulled the trigger, now it's dead
Mama - I had just begun
These CDO's have blown it all away

Mama - oooh
I still wanna buy
I sometimes wish I'd never left Goldman at all.

I see a little silhouette of a Fed
Bernanke! Bernanke! Can you save the whole market?
Monolines and munis - very very frightening me!
Oh Super senior, super senior,
Super senior CDO

I'm long of subprime, nobody loves me
He's long of subprime CDO fantasy
Spare the margin call you monstrous PB!
Easy come easy go, will you let me go?
Peloton! No - we will not let you go -
let him go
Peloton! We will not let you go -
let him go
Peloton! We will not let you go -
let me go
Will not let you go
- let me go (never)
Never let you go - let me go
Never let me go - ooo

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, -
Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go S&P had the devil put aside for me
For me, for me, for me

So you think you can fund me and spit in my eye?
And then margin call me and leave me to die Oh PB - can't do this to me PB
Just gotta get out - just gotta get right outta here

Ooh yeah, ooh yeah
No price really matters
No liquidity
Nothing really matters - no price really matters to me

Any way the Fed goes.....

Addiction to internet 'is an illness'

Link: Addiction to internet 'is an illness' | Technology | The Observer.

Are scholars addicted to their libraries? Artists to their brushes? Writers to their pens? Of course not. Show me a successful person, and I will show you someone Dr Jerald Block would consider "obsessive". The world is shaped by such people, with the "balanced" - largely idle - masses passively accepting the benefits. Without such "obsessives", Dr Block would be practising his dark art in a cave.

Characterising behaviours as "addiction" is a dangerous thing to do. It infantilises people by portraying their free choices as illnesses. It excuses those who wish to modify others' behaviours by portraying their tyrannical impulse as compassion. Often it seems that psychiatrists are the natural medical allies of political authoriarians. As Dr Crippen recently reminded us, it was only in 1954 that the American Psychiatric Association stopped characterising homosexuality as a mental disorder. And the psychiatrists of the Soviet Union did not notably dignify their calling either.

Personally I think any young person who wants to practise psychiatry should consider therapy.

BMA wants nurses to address patients formally

Link: BMA wants nurses to address patients formally - Telegraph.

This is the first sense the BMA has uttered in some time. These things actually matter. It's easier to neglect or ignore a person with whom you are on first name terms. Ask any long-married couple if you don't believe me.

I loathe the presumption of Brits who address me by my first name, particularly in its familiar form. Worse are the Northerners who insist on calling me "mate," and the Nottingham types who say "me duck".They are so blind to their rudeness that such hints as repeatedly using their surname don't work. In exasperation, I usually end up saying "You can only call me that if you have slept with me first".

Sadly, even such strong tactics do not always deter, so be careful how you use them - especially with nurses.