Thursday, 29 December 2011

2011: A strange and eventful year

Lots of surprises this year, but which bit of 2011 didn't you understand?

Was it the Arab Spring, or why people don't really like dictators?

Fukushima, or why building nuclear reactors on geological fault lines might not be such a good idea?

Could it be Russia's singular example of how protest can be both peaceful and productive?

Perhaps you were puzzled at how the same bankers that screwed us last year (and the year before, and the year before that, and...) were allowed to carry on regardless?

Or was it how their rating agencies, so complicit in the financial collapse, now have opinions that can place the stability and viability of entire nations at risk?

There were many more ongoing oddities in the last 12 months, but what surprises me most about 2011, is that we seem consigned to more of the same in 2012.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Brazil: A nation saved by a game, again?

In the two years since my last visit, much has changed in Brazil.

Now proudly proclaiming itself the world's fifth largest economy, there is certainly plenty of evidence of growth and prosperity.

The potholes are disappearing, and large flat screen TVs, recently such a rarity, are now commonplace. Even the European car makers have ventured into the previously uncharted regions far away from Rio and Sao Paulo.

But it appears to end there.

Although government building continues apace, there are few signs of the crazy land-rush economics that left parts of Europe on the brink of collapse. And while consumer credit, and inflation, are rising, the population seem to be taking this new found prosperity in their collective stride.

What's so different here, then?

Well, it's not all been good news, because Brazil has struggled where it matters most: on the football field.

After an unconvincing Confederations Cup victory in 2009, the much anticipated 'homecoming' of Brazil's players of African heritage could not lift the first World Cup played on African soil in 2010.

Nor did their return to South American football fare any better, with an early exit from the 2011 Copa America.

Little wonder that the wild, spend, borrow, spend mentality, so characteristic of other booming economies, has not taken hold here. As so many pundits are quick to point out, financial growth is all about confidence.

And that confidence is under threat.

With Brazil hosting the 2014 World Cup, defeat might still be unthinkable, but it is no longer as unlikely as it once seemed.

Fitting, then, that a game which held a nation together when times were hard, should now be tempering and moderating that same nation, as times get better.

Does all this mean that Brazil can look forward to steady, sustainable growth?

Best wait to see what happens during June/July 2014.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Barack's bit of Blarney

The Merrie Month of May is almost done, and what a month it's been for the American President.

He got his man in Pakistan, slept at Buckingham Palace, and most importantly of all, discovered his roots in the Emerald Isle.

For once, the American public are seeing their leader as the rest of the world sees him: a charming and inteligent politician able to win hearts and minds, and the odd battle too.

The significance of all this has not been lost on the Republican Party, and Donald Trump has already ruled himself out of what is likely to be an unwinnable presidential race in 2012. At the same time, Sarah Palin is being promoted as a possible candidate, the words cannon and fodder seem to sit well together here.

So, what would a second term for Obama mean?

The world gets an extra four years of sanity, and maybe the Republicans get to reallize that the Palins and Trumps of this world are not what they, or us, or America, needs.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Another 48 hours: The boy who cried Victory.

When Muammar Gaddafi's son boasted yet again about imminent victory, little did he know how his belicose rhetoric might focus the mind of the UN Security Council members.

He stated that a No Fly Zone would be pointless because his forces would be in control of Benghazi, long before the UN could act to stop him. Two days was all it would take to subdue a city of some million inhabitants.

Not for the first time, talk was of retribution and destruction, of victory within days, over the rats and dogs that stood against his regime.

It's clear that much of this talk was to intimidate disenters within Libya, as much as to impress the outside world, but the world was listening, and we could not stand by and risk slaughter on this scale.

But only two days ago there seemed little chance of agreement on a No Fly Zone, yet tonight, the resolution has been passed and action can be expected soon, thanks in no small part to Gaddafi's own propaganda machine.

There are many different ways this situation might develop now.

Will Gaddafi sue for peace straight away, will he try to capture as much ground as possible before calling a ceasefire, or will he retreat into his perceived stronghold and hope to brazen it out?

And what of the UN; is this a turning point?

Can this action be prosecuted quickly and with the absolute minimum loss of life and prove to the world that International co-operation in these matters really is the way forward?

One thing is for sure, the next 48 hours will be very different to the ones that have just passed.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Libya: Obama, Where Art Thou?

Amid all the talk of No Fly Zones and Criteria for Intervention, the one voice missing, in Europe, at least, is the US President himself.

Now, this may not seem like much, but it shows a lack of understanding that goes a long way to explain America's other disastrous involvements in overseas, and particularly, Muslim, affairs.

While the carnage continues, we have been treated to Hilary Clinton gossiping with a group of women about Royal Weddings, clothes, oh, and Libya.

Just how this appears to the Arab world one can only guess, but to now see Saif Gaddafi baiting the West and gloating at the prospect of more wholesale slaughter of 'his people' shows how emasculating these girly chats by the Secretary of State have been to America's presence, and standing, in this somewhat alien culture.

What part the US President has already played in the political awakening of North Africa, should not be underestimated, either.

Overnight, he transformed America from that bastion of redneck supremacy, the Great Satan, into a modern and compassionate society. The rest of the world suddenly saw a trusted, brown face in the White House.

Democracy, it seemed, could work.

The United States in general, and Barack Obama in particular, cannot be held responsible for the knock on effects of their electoral changes, though, and it is undeniably true that America is wise to distance itself from the situation on the ground as much as possible.

It is also good that some lessons have apparently been learnt from previous involvements, but the real lesson from Iraq, was not that intervention was wrong, but that the mission should have been clear, and followed to completion at the first attempt, when the world, and particularly the Arab world, was behind it.

American troops are unlikely to be deployed in Libya, but a simple No Fly edict is probably already too little and too late. So the best we can hope for is America's blessing and whatever tactical support they can offer to those nations prepared to move against this tyrany.

UN Mandates aside, if there is enough local participation, then successful intervention is eminently feasible. But the US President must agree.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Nokia and a new world

Has it been that long?

Things have changed mightily since my last entry. The Middle East is in turmoil and Nokia have climbed into bed with Microsoft.

More on the serious stuff later, but Nokia?

Do they really think that they can do something with Windows that nobody else can?

And why should Windows and Android be mutually exclusive?

Since their outgoing boss so charmingly proclaimed that adopting Google's Android would be like a kid peeing in his trousers to keep warm, they appeared to be seeing sense, but maybe not.

Looks like Nokia are determined to heap all their eggs in the one basket and probably learn the hard way that doing business with MS is like climbing into a bed that someone else has already peed in.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Guns, guns

...and more Guns.

Another guy gets a gun and goes crazy in the States.

Sad, but nothing new, the only surprising thing is that it was left to unarmed members of the public to stop the carnage.

But when we get the inevitable reports of 'shock' and 'dismay' from leading politicians, the rest of the world will again be left to wonder, just what does America expect?

Such an incident in Sweden is shocking, in England it's surprising, but in America, it's par for the course. In states like Arizona, we probably wonder why it doesn't happen more often.

For sure, this time is slightly different, with attention focused on the background of political intimidation and incitement to violence that preceded it. But the result is the same, more loss of life and more guns for sale.

If a call does come to control gun ownership, it will meet the inevitable response. "Guns don't kill people, it's people who kill people." But that is precisely the point.

When people are doing the killing, why allow so many people to own so many guns?

The fear and outrage generated by these incidents, means there can be little doubt that all across the gun-toting states tills will be ringing with people buying more of their personal peacekeepers, and it's this economic aspect that intrigues me.

Does anybody publish sales figures following these events?

If manufacturers and retailers depend on tradgedy to boost sales, should we really be surprised at how little remorse or concern there is among the gun-lobbyists?

Far from being dismayed at any condemnation coming their way, most will probably feel that there's no such thing as bad, or even very bad, publicity.