The World According to George Soros

Alright, I confess, I had to look George Soros up on Wikipedia and after having read this amazingly intelligent, candid and forthright article to be published in the New York Review in April I expected to discover that he’s a former Middle Eastern envoy from somewhere or another, or an Eastern European diplomant, but no. He’s a Hungarian billionaire.

What strikes me about this article is not so much its neatness – he clearly has a bird’s eye view of European and US politics, and I suppose that’s to be expected from ‘The man who broke the bank of England’ – but rather its candour. One of my favourite quotes from it was this:

“[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, for instance, is dead set against a deal with Iran because peace with Palestine would end his political career in Israel”

It was a huge relief to hear someone speaking so frankly. Most of the coverage and analysis of world events that I come across is full of mealy-mouthed allusions to the personal interest of politicians, and the effects that this has on global politics. We take for granted, for example, that the Conservative party in the UK has recently identified pensioners as a group it needs to canvass for support at the next general election, and has designed a budget to support that. Why have they done this? Because they have a personal interest in returning to power first, and for all other reasons second. Whether or not supporting pensioners is absoutely the best thing that they could have done at this time almost doesn’t come into it. We’ll never get to the truth of all that because of the rhetoric they’ve planned in advance to support it. This is universally accepted. We talk about a party ‘winning votes’, as if politics were a game in which the interests of the country, and on a larger scale, the world, come second. The conservative party and their supporters will argue, of course, as I’m sure will Benjamin Netanyahu, that they are the best party to run the country, that their survival in power is in the best interests of us all… But frankly, everyone knows that this is horse-shit, don’t they?

I liked his treatment of George Bush (a man whom Soros spent millions trying to remove from power in the run-up to the 2004 election), too, and his description of US foreign policy since the cold war. To paraphrase: After the fall of the Berlin wall, the US emerged as the single greatest power in the world but George Bush failed to understand how to use this power in the best interests of America. He didn’t grasp that soft power, the power of attraction is what sustains empires. He went on a crusade after the ‘Bad Guys’ and demonstrated that America was no longer fit to be in charge. This is why, to get to the heart of the matter, the current situation in the Ukraine is so important.

Such is the opinion of George Soros. I won’t paraphrase the entire article, he puts it much better than me, but I don’t care so much about the content, it’s his delivery that I like, his frankness.

Should politicians not be like this? Should we not demand from them a disinterested, bird’s eye view of the political landscape. Should we not be demanding that the steps of the geopolitical dance be made more obvious to us? At least then we could tell them apart. Should we not be supporting ‘conviction politicians’ like the late Tony Benn even, dare I say it, the late Margaret Thatcher purely because they speak a truth that they believe in, regardless of the nature of that truth? Thin ice I know, but I’d like to hear what you think. Personally I’d rather be lead astray by conviction than kept in the dark and fed lies.

Murmurs in the Sky

Thought you might like to see this, recently tweeted (no pun intended) by writer Margaret Atwood. Clearly she’s a fan of ShoalBehaviour too.

For me, the most amazing thing about this, apart from the sheer mind-blowing beauty of it is, as Dylan Winter asks in the film, how do the birds avoid crashing, and how are messages transmitted so quickly between one bird and the next? It really does seem that they’re part of one giant organism. 

One person with a view about this is Rupert Sheldrake,  Perrott-Warrick Professor (2005–2010) at Trinity College Cambridge. His controversial views concerning what he calls Morphic Fields are interesting because they offer us an alternative to a simple ‘rule-based’ understanding of our world and instead suggest that our actions, our thoughts, even the shape of our bodies might be part of something much much larger.

The House-Sitters

For Samuel and I, buying our first house together was what you might call a Big Move; the last, as we saw it then, of the tentative steps we had taken in the years beforehand into adulthood, and into each other’s lives. When we returned from a weekend mini-break in Bucharest to find the house unaccountably occupied by the ghostly Mr and Mrs Grey therefore, we were very much confused.

The strangest thing about it, as we remarked in hushed whispers to each other during those first few minutes, shivering in the cold on our own doorstep, was that the surname ‘Grey’ was Samuel’s own. They were no relation of his, he said, and I had to agree that I couldn’t believe they were either. They seemed insubstantial as they stood there in the hallway, he bending low over his curious black cane and scowling at her back; she standing tall and defiantly staring. Not that they weren’t there exactly, not that you could exactly see through them… but they were…tenuous somehow, if you follow my meaning.

She slammed the door in our faces, as indeed she had opened it at our arrival. They were substantial enough for that, it seemed and, as we soon found, considerably more besides. We hadn’t been standing there long before an upstairs window flew open and the head of Mrs Grey emerged over the sill.
“Get lost or I’ll call the police!” She cried, her hair flying about her in the wind. “Go on! Off with you!” She waved a bony hand at us, as if she might be shooing away a fly. Samuel, normally a mild and placid sort of man lost his temper completely.

“It’s our bloody house!” He yelled upwards. I felt a rush of pride. The head of Mrs Grey disappeared and was replaced rather suddenly by a bucket on the end of a skinny arm -wearing, now I think about it, my own nightdress. The arm and the bucket which it held were swiftly inverted. A deluge of malodorous water poured down towards us and we were lucky, on account of our both looking that way at the time, to only narrowly avoid it. We retreated to the top of the driveway and, as if satisfied, the face and the body of Mrs Grey turned away from the window and receded into the darkness of the room behind it.

Huddled on the pavement in the gathering dark we tried to regroup, but already the cracks in our defences were beginning to show. It had not, if I’m honest, been an easy few weeks for us, nor had the museums and the palaces of Bucharest done anything whatsoever to help. I was all for risking another deluge (or worse) in a full frontal assault – after all, I reminded Samuel, dangling them in his face – we have the keys. He brushed them away. It was the neighbours he wanted. In the heat of it all I think I tossed my head and called him a coward which probably didn’t help, but in any case, when I stamped up to the door in my new brogues and rattled the door, the key no longer fitted the lock. Samuel crowed. There was no more sign of the Greys. The house stood gloomy and deserted.

It was all very mysterious. At length, we went over to the Greenes’ house next door. We could count on them said Samuel, surely. It was Mrs Greene who answered; the veteran of countless teas and coffees and cakes and biscuits in our kitchen already. We were becoming friends. But when she came to the door that day, peering about short-sighted in her usual fashion, she didn’t seem to know us at all. In fact I’m not sure she even saw us, but sank instead into a sort of trance on the threshold, staring blankly at the house across the road. No amount of shouting nor coaxing, no hand waved in her face, nor even the firm shove that Samuel gave (he was, after all, at his wit’s end) could rouse her. As we turned away to go, however, she shuffled back inside as if re-animated, and closed the door behind her.

The police arrived. We certainly hadn’t called them, the events we’d suffered already seemed too unreal in our minds to warrant their attention. But they came nonetheless. When I saw the panda car crawl slowly up alongside us with its strobes turning, instead of relief, I felt a strange and creeping sense of dread. Sam, however was effulgent.

“Thank God you’ve come!” He practically pulled the officer, a sweating, piggish man in bulging stab vest and tide-marked shirt, out of the car. Whatever pride I had in him evaporated like morning mist. He was hopping around on the pavement like a child. I stood some distance away from them with my arms folded in silence. The policeman looked him up and down.

“We’ve had reports of a break-in.” He sighed, looking away from us towards the house. They never introduce themselves do they? The police. Identities subsumed into a higher cause. This man was a bar-code. An agent only of the law.
“Yes yes!” Cried Samuel, pointing. “Two of them. Over there! It’s our bloody house!”
“Your house, is it? Right…” He narrowed his eyes. “So you called us then did you, Sir?”
“Err… no, actually.” His face fell.
“I see.” There was a pause while the officer flipped open his notebook and took out a pen. Although the pen remained poised over the page for the rest of the exchange between them, I noticed that he wrote nothing.
“And what’s your name then?”
“Samuel Grey.”
“And you?” He jerked his chin in my direction, turning black eyes squeezed by veined and ruddy cheeks towards me. I told him. “And you’re…married… are you?” He asked, with distaste. I shook my head, looked away across the street.

There were more questions. How long had we lived there, what did we do for a living, how long had we been away. Sam answered them all with a kind of anxious enthusiasm. I could see where it was going.
“So… Let’s look at the house then shall we?” He said in the end. My heart sank. “You’ll have the keys I imagine?”

He let us off with a caution. Wasting police time, hoax calls, whatever it was. No-one, of course, had answered the door. The house, our house, Samuel reminded me, remained a closed mouth, sealed up and dark. We checked into a hotel and spent the night there arguing over nothing.

Morning came, creeping in through curtains that I hadn’t hung. We had to go to work. I dressed as smartly as I could from my weekend bags and caught the train. Everything seemed normal. The carriage was eerie, wordless; full of the tinny whisper of headphones like the chirping of crickets, and the smashing of the wheels against the track. But I was nervous. I tried not to think that I had no home to go to, denied, in fact, that it was true.

Most days, as I exit through the barrier at the station I have a view of the revolving doors of the office across the road. When I did so that morning, as I almost knew I would, I saw her. She was hurrying upright, head bowed in an overcoat and black hat that I hadn’t worn in years. As she entered the building, the very building where I work, she turned and flashed a look so potent, so deliberate towards me with eyes that burned in triumph. The unmistakable Mrs Grey. Feeling that I had no other choice, I followed her inside.

It should, I suppose, have come as no surprise to me. My first thought, the one thing I had somehow known for certain when I saw them in the hallway of our house, and afterwards suppressed as brutally as I could, resurfaced then as I saw her from the other end of the office sitting blithely at my desk and chatting over the top of her computer my computer!- to Janice from accounts. That Mr and Mrs Grey shared the same name as Samuel seemed more than coincidence. That she was trying to replace me in the present, once so full of possibility, was abundantly clear. What I saw, though, when I looked at her, forty years my senior in the same clothes, the same shoes at the same desk at which I had sat so many times already, when I thought of her in the hallway with a man who despised her, who was weak and bitter with age, what I really saw, the thing that made my courage fail me, was a vision of my own torpid, stifled future.

Perhaps I should have stood my ground, but couldn’t. I ran out of the office into the street. It was Janice who scared me the most. Nowhere on her face had I seen a sign that anything was wrong. I tried to call my mother but she didn’t answer. In desperation I called Samuel.
“What do you mean you’re being replaced?” He snapped, irritated. “It’s US, Erin, We’re being replaced, TOGETHER! It’s our bloody house! What’s the matter with you?” I tried to tell him, but he couldn’t understand and got angry. I hung up. Mr Grey, he told me had been at his office too.

For the rest of the day I wandered the streets like a ghost, too angry with Samuel to meet him, though I saw him once, sitting dejected and alone at a bus-stop. At five o’clock I found myself crouched on the pavement outside the station, compulsively watching my erstwhile colleagues as they left the office. Already I felt like an outsider. It grew dark. At length, at the centre of a gaggle of my closest friends, she came out through the revolving door. They turned left, a clatter of heels, and shoaled their way, giggling, through the puddles of street-light towards the centre of town. Softly, it began to rain. Some hours later, numb with the cold, I stirred myself and followed in their wake, knowing exactly where they would be.

The restaurant was shimmering with golden light. It spilled out through the windows onto the pavement, wet with rain. There was music and laughter. Voices that I knew. I looked in. It was easy to see them, twelve or so, at a long table in the centre. To the right of Mrs Grey, raising a glass to drink with someone I didn’t know, was Samuel. He looked haggard, I saw, beneath the veneer of his smile. For a moment I pressed my right hand to the glass, as if willing it to open like a door; then I turned and walked away from them, back up the street towards the station.

Gaia Bites Back

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fanatic when it comes to climate change, I don’t even necessarily believe in ‘saving the planet’ but I’m not stupid either. And you’d have to be, to think that rising global temperatures, the melting of sea-ice and the extinction of marine and terrestrial life are not going to have serious consequences for us, the human race. Here’s a new twist to the tale so far:

30,000-year-old virus is revived

I can almost see Hollywood’s take on it now.

Developments in Ukraine

Euromaidan PR


“The Ministry of Internal Affairs has information about preparations for military provocations in Crimea,” said the press office of the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Mykola Velychkovych.

Law enforcement agencies have evidence that on the territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, unknown individuals, under the guise of the Ukrainian side, on the night of March 3 to 4th are planning the murder of 3-4 Russian soldiers. The motivation for this is the legalization of the introduction of Russian troops on the territory of our country, warned Velychkovych.

“We would like that these people come to their senses, because with this act, you would provoke bloodshed, which is not (now) in Crimea,” he stressed.

“It is very important that you understand that, for us, the life of a person is of the highest value. We urge you to stop, added the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs. 

“Keep in mind that…

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The Art of War

In the days following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, embattled British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith wrote grumpily to his lover Venetia Stanley about the jubilant reception of the King by crowds in Trafalgar Square. “War,” he grumbled “or anything that seems likely to lead to war is always popular with the London mob.” Now, as Russian troops close in on key strategic locations in Crimea, Ukraine arms itself and the world holds its breath, whilst it might fall far short of excitement, who among us can deny a tingling sense, at least, of bearing witness to something significant?

The stakes are high. The UK, the US and Russia itself are signatories to a treaty enshrining the sovereign rights and the borders of the nation state of Ukraine. Although it may not be legally binding, there seems to be a moral imperative at least for the West to get involved. Obama’s rhetoric of ‘costs’ suggests that relations between Russia and the West are set to deteriorate even further, even if it falls short – as it surely will – of outright war.

I remember listening to the radio on the morning of 7th October 2001, hearing that airstrikes had begun against targets in Afghanistan. Whilst I, like everyone else, had expected it, and greeted it, therefore with the grim acceptance and the sadness that it deserved, I can’t deny that I also felt a strange sense of relief. Finally, I thought to myself, something is actually happening. The shock of the attacks on the world trade centre, I remember, was so total that it almost didn’t count. I couldn’t conceive of it as a coordinated act with a purpose and a meaning. It felt, in my teenage mind, like a disaster, a calamity, an act of God. The sleek flight of the jets, however, and of the missiles, told me something about our nation, our civilisation, and our determination to defend its values.

I was naive. Was it the stagnant air of those times? Was I charged up with the nationalist rhetoric of Bush and Blair? Had I seen too many war films? Was I simply bored? Whatever it was, somewhere deep in my soul, I bought it, but I don’t buy it now. If I feel now a stirring of that same relief, that same tingle of history in the making it is because of this:

Everything is changing. The uprisings we have seen all over the world, and at home are testament to that, as is our own deep sense of dissatisfaction. Not to mention the weather. The events in Ukraine, the belligerence of Russia, whatever power is deployed by other nations to contain it are all part of an elegant dance, the steps of which are known only to the most powerful. The forces that they have at their command, the complexity of their scheming are unthinkable. To see the unfolding, even of Putin’s ‘little schemes’ in Crimea and Georgia before it inspires a kind of awe: a few figures of the dance brought out into the open air.

For all its elegance, for all the drama of its unfolding, the end, of course, is always bloodshed and destruction. Rifts and scars that rarely heal completely. If only I could still believe, as once I did, that there was a purpose and a meaning behind it. If only these people did not die, were not dispossessed, imprisoned, raped and tortured in vain. If war were philosophy writ large I might, just might, be able to support it; but, although it’s presented to us with stirring rhetoric and moralising, do any of us really believe it anymore? No. Rather war, any war, is a piece of a much larger puzzle. A flashpoint, a rising bubble in the pot of geopolitics as it nears the boil. And the heat beneath it all increases. It is out of our control.

This, I think, is exactly what excites the mob. This that kindles, as we watch these dramas unfold, that darkening spirit in all of us who have never lived through war: Chaos. Deep inside ourselves we are sick of this relentless order. Sick of being the cogs in someone else’s machine. Sick of dancing to a tune that we can hardly hear over the thudding jackboots of progress. We want, in short, the world to be a better place, even if we get there through a trial by fire.

We believe, of course, that we ourselves will not get burned. For those of us sitting in comfort in the West, the so-called ‘lines of powder’ those lines of racial, religious and cultural division along which conflict tends to flare provide, in our minds at least, the battlegrounds on which our moral uncertainties are played out on our TV screens. The Art of War, the dance on which we’re lead is in convincing us of that myth; or else in blinding us to the truth, using our sense of drama to kindle support with stealth, sleek hardware and lies.

Thanks to snamess for the featured photo, obtained under Creative Commons License no changes were made to the original image.