Thursday, 7 May 2015

Balkanisation of European Politics

Today there are elections all over the UK but what everyone in these islands really is talking about is Scotland. The reason for this is that it is likely that the Scottish National Party takes most of the seats from Scotland in the House of Commons.
Now, the SNP has a left wing speech that appeals to many people in Scotland. But its programme in most areas is not that different from Labour's, for example. What makes the SNP different is very much its nationalist rhetoric. And that's what it has in common to so many regional parties in Europe, in countries like Spain, Italy or Belgium.
These regional parties, however, are not the only ones with such speech. Another main actor of today's elections is the UKIP: an anti-immigration, anti-EU and anti-foreigners party. (Ironically lead by a man married to a foreigner, a German) Sadly enough, like the SNP, UKIP is not alone in Europe, with similar parties in France, the Netherlands, Finland and, more worryingly, in the government of Hungary.
These two trends show that thousands of Europeans are giving preference to nationalism instead of ideas when casting their vote. I know that ideologies were as dangerous as nationalism in the XX century, but I really thought that we were over those ideologies and this nationalism.
Apparently we aren't and Europe is becoming increasingly Balkanised by its parties.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

How to speak to foreigners

After almost three years in Scotland I still find some difficulties in understanding Scots when they decide to speak too... Scottish! Surely if I was living somewhere where that accent* was more common than in Edinburgh, I would probably have gotten used to it. Besides, being surrounded by other foreigners also doesn't make it easy...
However, Scots, before being angry at us, non-natives who live here, try to imagine what it would be like studying French and then moving to the countryside in Burgundy or learning Italian and moving to Palermo or something like that. Please indulge us and the next time you're speaking to a non-native, please imitate her:

There is nobody in the world who, after studying English for 2 or 3 years, would not understand this wonderful woman! Your Majesty, if you ever come across this humble blog, thank you for speaking like you do! And please, pleaaaaaase, make an effort to inspire your subjects from Scotland (most people in Edinburgh are quite "inspired, though, can't really complain). Oh, and also Manchester. And Liverpool. And some areas of London. And Northern Ireland... Well, Your Majesty, all of your subjects who don't speak like you, if you please.

*A "wee" warning for those reading this and not being British. There is no such thing as a Scottish accent. There is a Glaswegian accent / dialect, a Dundee accent, a Highlands accent, an Aberdeen accent... This country is a wee Tower of Babel!!! Edinburgh, however, has a very plain accent. One which is easy to understand.

Friday, 20 March 2015

We are living in the best of times

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
It's hard to believe we're living in the best of times... ISIS spreads its influence in the Middle East and Africa together with what already characterizes it: beheading, mass murders and genocides. Russia pretends there is no such thing as territorial integrity of states and invades, directly or through aliases, a huge part of Ukraine. Greece surely and steadily resumed its march towards bankruptcy dragging the Eurozone with it.
By reading these depressing news every day, we may be lead to forget that this is the best of times since the beginning of times. No generation ever lived better than our generation. To remind us of this, however, a nice and charitable soul made a page with 26 graphics that show everyone that we're so lucky to be living nowadays! And we are! And I'm happy to be living in the most literate of all ages. And I wanted to share this with you in the last day of winter of the year 2015. Enjoy this time! (and follow the link in Dickens' quote)

Friday, 27 February 2015

The ignorant fixer?

Yesterday the printer in the office wasn't working. It had some problem. I didn't really understand what the problem was but I fixed it.
Today my bicycle had a problem. I didn't really understand what the problem was but I fixed it.
My PhD has had a problem for the past few weeks. I understand perfectly well what it is but I can't fix it.
Blessed ignorance!

Friday, 20 February 2015

Democracy goes both ways

I've read quite a few comments in the last few weeks saying something like "how can the EU possibly refuse to respect the Greek people's decision of refusing austerity measures?" This, obviously, leads to: "EU is not respecting Democracy."
Now... To grant or no to grant a loan to one country inside the eurogroup is a decision taken by unanimity of its member states. All of them have democratic legitimacy and they may decide to use their taxpayers money in some other way. If they consider that the choices of the Greek government compromisse their taxpayers' money and will still not help Greece or the entire Eurozone, they have democratic legitimacy to say so.
They may be right or they may be wrong. But it's their choice to use their taxpayers' (and voters') money in the way they wish to. After all, a treaty is a commitment of two or more states and each state has to decide on whether they commit themselves or not. The Greek government, whose leaders have been very clear that they accept the EU only because at the moment they have no other choice, needs to consider that the other governments may also think that they accept to negotiate with them only because the Greeks elected them and they have no other choice.
My personal choice...? I would rather negotiate with the stuborn Schäuble than with his coleric and radical counterpart, Varoufakis.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Mist in Edinburgh

Today I went (for the third time) to the Castle of Edinburgh* to show it to my homonym friend from Aberdeen.** And what a perfect day to go. No, it wasn't clear blue sky allowing us to see all the way to Leith. Why speak of Leith if we couldn't even see Arthur's Seat? It was a perfect misty day... The sort of day that makes the city look intimate and in a way cosy. 

Find Carlton Hill. Impossible, right?

*Sponsored by my sister and my friend who left me two tickets in August. Thanks lassies!
** Author of these photos. Thanks lad!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Scotland in the UK

Some people have expressed to me their disappointment for my lack of comment on the report "Scotland in the United Kingdom: An enduring settlement". After all my campaign in this blog for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom, that would have been only fair. However the excess of academic duties (aka "the cursed thesis") have not allowed me to read the report and I don't want to just echo what the media says. Probably when I finally do read the report, nobody will be interested in it anymore.
So please don't wait for me. Go the site on the future of the UK and Scotland because they have some very good posts about it.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

United we stand, divided we fall

Reading the British news, it seems that Tsipras' election opens a war between Germany and Greece. Not that Tsipras himself and Lady Euro (aka Merkel) and her loyal Gentlemen of the Eurochamber don't enjoy the idea of a battle going on. That's also good for local electorates. Remembering Churchill, as so many have done in the last few weeks, "the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." And a conversation with the German and Greek voters shows that they seem to enjoy this aggressive talk of their prime-ministers.
The problem is, an economic battle between Germany and Greece, like all battles, would just weaken both combatants. Yes, it would weaken Germany as well... It's already doing that. Besides, it's not like we're in the 1960s and the European economy is growing and promising to grow even more. This is the XXI century! The entire EU struggles not to have its economy slump even harder.
What about the UK? British should understand that this is not a problem for Greece and Germany or even a problem of the Eurozone. This is a problem for the entire EU, including the UK. If the economies in the Eurozone slump, so does the British economy.
It's obvious that Greece has a very serious economic problem which the troika recipe of budget cutting is not helping. It's also obvious that Greece is not the only country in EU with economic problems and that it can't expect other countries to help when it passes an image of being a spendthrift. At last, it's also obvious that having the Greek economy go back to growth is in the best interest of all other EU countries.
After the obvious, the less obvious: what to do with these obvious conclusions?
I'm not going to give an answer because I don't have one. But I do know that whatever the solution is, it will need to be given by all member states of the EU.
United we stand... Hopefully!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Panic in the office

Panic in the office... Fear... Horror... Tears...
There's no more coffee in the office and they only replace the stock at the end of the month!
Is there life beyond free coffee?
Good thing that my sister in law brought me a lot of green tea from China this last Christmas. This might help me survive in the next week. But if I don't post here in the next few days, something terrible might have happened to me. Who knows what caffeine deprivation can do to a PhD candidate? I'm almost sure there has never been a PhD about that. Almost...