Sunday, May 24, 2015

What's next?

The long Whitsun weekend, here in Munich cloudy and cool, invites introspection. 

What next? As I hasten to add The Hundredth Part of Evil (working title) to my Kindle originals, I am faced with the fact that although I have written over forty thousand words I have encountered a big problem. The Sword of Damocles hanging above my protagonists appears not to be fashioned in the strongest forged steel but unfortunately only made of limp papier maché! A hiatus in my storytelling is the unfortunate consequence. Not that there is no writing being done. I use the timeto return to work on my Memoir. This already amounts to roughly 142,500 words and because of all the illustrations runs to over 360 manuscript pages, I have nowonly reached thepoint where I am dealing with the events of 1994! Nosce te ipsum, 'Know Thyself', describes a task which in many ways is quite daunting.

What next? Daunting is also the struggle against penury. With almost no demand for my servicesas translator or voiceover talent, I am finding 'Benefit Street' to bea twisting alley leading to an unknowable destination. For too many days my bank account has shown a credit balance of EUR 1.11, a situation calling for further economies. My supper is still of buttered crackers with cheese but no longer with paté (although this latter is in fact only Teewurst, a potted meat spread of questionable nutritional value!). Things become all the more surreal when I learn from a letter that arrived yesterday that the Department of Pensions will be trasnsferring to me payments which have accrued to my benefit since the beginning of 2010, amounting to a five-figure sum! I'll believe it when I see it.

What next? Since I've not been able to afford any new Kindle titles to read, recent evenings have been spent with a booky-book, a paperback Jessi sent me as a well-timed gift. The print is hard to read, too small for comfort, but The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner is a most extraordinary novel. She describes the intensely dramatic and freaky flip-side of a decade which I experienced in a manner which, looking back, seems in comparison tame and self-indulgent, the late seventies. 

What next? Yesterday also saw emails from Amazon announcing the forthcoming transfer of royalties due for sales of my titles on Kindle. This pittance should nevertheless be enough for me to buy a couple of new ebooks to read. 

What next? In the coming week Jessi will sit the last two of her exams at King's College London. In just over a month she'll be back with us in Munich with only her disssertation left to write to complete her studies. And then it will be her turn, with her degree in her pocket, to ask 'what's next?'.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Nothing to add

Now we can expect the new Cameron government to address the issue of electoral reform. The 'first past the post' system will be recognized for what it is... profoundly undemocratic, unjust and out of date. And the newly 'caring' Tories will make sure that this iniquity is righted by introducing proportional representation..

Well, maybe not.  

Friday, May 08, 2015

Then I was five

The morning after

As the election results become clearer in the (dis)United Kingdom I feel obliged to prepare a summing up of some kind which will make sense to my friends here in Munich.

I shall ask them to imagine Merkel's conservative CDU with just enough seats to govern alone without a coalition partner. Imagine a weakened SDP with only two-thirds as many parliamentarians. Okay so far? But then imagine the next largest party in the Bundestag is one which strives for independence from the Federal Republic, desires above all to be a separate nation! Imagine this third force having the exceptionalist passion and self-confidence of the Bavarians, but with a progressive, innovative and liberal agenda and that this party has just won almost every single seat in the State.

There will be shaking of heads!


Some random paragraphs from the Quartz newsfeed on Saturday:

  • Though it failed to secure independence for Scotland last year, the Scottish National Party swept to an unprecedented victory north of the border, winning 56 of a possible 59 seats at Westminster. Labour increased its vote share but lost seats; the Liberal Democrats lost not only votes, but so many seats that the party was almost extinguished in Parliament. The Green Party, which won only slightly fewer total votes than the SNP, and the anti-immigrant, euro-skeptic UK Independence Party—which won nearly three times as many—each took just one seat. And despite a surge in votes for smaller parties, the ruling Conservatives won the clear majority they had failed to secure at the last election.
  • If the surprise Tory victory in the UK election bolsters the debate about a potential British exit from the European Union, there is going to be at least one member of the opposition with a highly personal stake in the outcome—newly-elected Labor MP Stephen Kinnock is married to Denmark’s prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt.
  • If the argument against Britain’s exit is that Europe’s social and political ties will outweigh economic strains and nationalist politics, Thorning-Schmidt and Kinnock are a tangible example of the continent’s integration. As is queen Elizabeth II, it should be noted. The UK monarch descends from the German House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, part of the UK’s long tradition of importing European royalty to head its monarchy. Elizabeth’s own great-grandmother was a Danish princess.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Polling day

Winston Churchill famously said that democracy was "the worst form of government, except all the others which have been tried". Did he wonder if it could be improved?

This morning the BBC Radio4 Today programme brought a breath of fresh air. The were no politicians transparently evading the questions of journalists and repeating ad infinitum their manifesto mantras and pouring scorn and blame on their opponents when not exactly impugning theirpatriotism. Neither of the main party leaders was heard denying reality, ignoring the opinion polls and the wisdom of Canute reminding of the inexorable tides, maintaining that an overall majority in the House of Commons was their only goal.    

I fear the respite from 'politics as usual' will be short lived. But I do take courage from the fact that there is more and more questioning of the system of parliamentary democracy as practiced in the United Kingdom.

"...most democracies lack the ability for individuals to express intensity of preference - for example, how much gun ownership matters to gun owners, or the value of Scottish independence or a nuclear deterrent. Just as communism rationed to everyone equally the housing, food and cars they were ‘supposed’ to have, today’s democracies say everyone gets rationed exactly one vote on each issue - with varying intensities of preference factored out."

In the article in The Spectator introduces the concept of Quadratic Voting.

"This approach highlights not only frequency of preferences but also intensity of preferences, by forcing individuals to decide how they will divide their influence across issues, while penalising the single-issue fanatic’s fussiness of putting all one’s weight on a single issue. It encourages individuals to distribute their points in precise proportion to how much each issue matters to them."

I am certain that this is only one of the alternative systems which will demand the most urgent attention in the aftermath of today's voting. 

"Soon, no doubt, there will be pressure to vote online, or by mobile phone or via your Xbox. You will be able to ‘share’ your vote soon after making it, or pose for a selfie with your ballot. The problem with this is that we will have done what humans often do, which is to use technology to make things easier while missing an opportunity to make them significantly better."

Better... is sorely needed.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Interesting days

Were the United Kingdom still my home, tomorrow I would be on my way to a polling station to cast my vote. I would be one of the millions fully aware that this year’s election is quite without precedent and that the astounding range of possible outcomes almost defies imagining. I would be obliged to look beyond the kind of easy choices I would have made in the past.

I have always found that one or other ‘left of centre’ agenda best corresponds to my own convictions. In Germany my vote would have been cast for Helmut Schmidt. In France I would have been hopefully Mitterandiste in the 1980s. I would certainly have given New Labour a chance.

This year? I hope I would registered at an address in Scotland and able to give my support to the SNP. My hope would be that sufficient Scottish members would then sit in Westminster and remind the nation that in so many,many ways it’s time “tae think again”. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Patience required

Now Milly Molly Mayhem has been added as my sixth Kindle offering. How many more stories must I upload in order to get any reader's attention?