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Tag: Financial Times

Book of the Year

Saturday, 19 December, 2015 2 Comments

What a twelve months it’s been for Angela Merkel: TIME Magazine anointed her its Person of the Year and the Financial Times followed suit. Even Vanessa Redgrave, that deranged old devotee of the blood-soaked PLO and the blood-drenched IRA hailed her as this year’s hero. It may be too early for Pope Francis to press her case for higher honours, but there’s already a move afoot to award her the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the light of such universal accord, it would be a brave person indeed who’d question Merkel’s Wir schaffen das (“We can do it”) approach to the challenge of accommodating one million migrants crossing Germany’s borders, but there are dissenting opinions. In fact, one was raised five years ago. In his 2010 best-seller, Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany Is Doing Away With Itself), Thilo Sarrazin blamed the country’s suffocating multiculturalism for encouraging the growth of a hostile counter-culture. He was immediately ridiculed, his public readings were subjected to intimidation and some had to be abandoned because of attacks by PC mobs. Last year in France, Éric Zemmour mirrored Sarrazin when his Le Suicide français accused the French cultural elite of undermining the national identity, leaving the country unwilling and unable to defend itself against existential threats.

Submission Facts are interesting, opinion is good, but it’s fiction that captures the public imagination and while Sarrazin and Zemmour spurred debate, it took Michel Houellebecq to bring their contentious ideas to a mass audience. That’s why his Submission wins the Rainy Day Book of the Year award.

Submission is set in a near-future where two opposing political parties are battling for the soul of France: the National Front, which promises to return the country to its former glory, and the Muslim Brotherhood, which promises to convert it. The Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Ben Abbes becomes President with the support of the Socialist Party, which is determined to prevent a victory by Marine Le Pen at all costs. The morning after, the French wake up to a reality in which women go veiled, non-Muslims are forbidden to teach in schools and polygyny is the law of the land. All of this is related by a cast of academics and intellectuals who adjust remarkably quickly and compliantly to the new national order.

In his earlier works, Michel Houellebecq argued that the modern world, with its consumerism, individualism and hypersexuality, wrecks communities and makes people wretchedly unhappy. Patriarchy, in the form of Islam, is an alternative and in Submission it restores a sense of personal and public serenity that comforts the future French. “Europe had already committed suicide,” Houellebecq writes, echoing Zemmour. The triumph of Islam in France ends a civilization that had already surrendered, betrayed by its reputed guardians. Michel Houellebecq, as they say, goes there.

Tomorrow, here, the Rainy Day Film of the Year award.


“The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage”

Friday, 14 August, 2015 0 Comments

Reporting from Tokyo for the Financial Times, Robin Harding writes: “On the night of August 14 1945, as Japan prepared to surrender to the Allies, a group of rebel officers launched a coup d’état and seized control of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace.” Seventy years on, Harding tells this dramatic story in “Japan’s longest day: plot that nearly prevented war from ending“. Here’s a thriller-like scene: “Determined to fight on, even if it meant the annihilation of their country, the plotters ransacked the palace looking for the prepared recording of Emperor Hirohito’s surrender message and very nearly prevented the end of the second world war.”

For all those who continue to peddle the notion that Japan would have somehow surrendered in a moment of rationality, Harding’s article should be recommended reading. With its fascist leadership and genocidal agenda, Japan was intent on turning Asia into a colony that would be ruled by the Shin guntō, barbarically. In the end, however, the plotters didn’t find the recording of Emperor Hirohito’s surrender message. It was successfully smuggled out of the palace in a laundry basket of women’s underwear and broadcast to a nation that had never heard their “God” speak.

In his speech, Hirohito noted, with historic understatement, that “the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage”. Finally, he said: “However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable.” No word of remorse, though, for the horrific crimes that were committed in his name and with his sanction.

From the FT comments on Robin Harding’s article:

Harold Godwinson: “Surely the message is that in fact the use of nuclear weapons saved many millions of lives. Japan then is comparable to Daesh now. Fanatics who believe their cause is beyond value in human life must always be opposed.”


Watch out for the currency traps

Tuesday, 2 December, 2014 1 Comment

“We cannot go on with this euro. We must improve the European monetary policy and achieve equality of the dollar and euro interchange,” said former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at the Forza Italia party’s ‘No Tax Day’ rally in Milan on Saturday. “We must bring back our right to print money and establish monetary market exchange.”

Meanwhile, Tehran’s economy minister, Ali Tayyebnia, warned yesterday against “frenzied behavior” as Iranians dumped their rials. And in Venezuela, the dollar is now worth 1,700 percent more on the black market than the price the government charges those lucky enough to obtain it legally. Then, there’s the collapse of the ruble. This entire currency business is treacherous so it’s not surprising that when the Financial Times listed its Best books of 2014 at the weekend, the “trap” metaphor appeared prominently in the top titles reviewed.

Traps


Putin’s Rasputin

Tuesday, 4 March, 2014 0 Comments

At the end of January last year, Charles Clover, then Moscow bureau chief of the Financial Times, asked “How much influence does Father Tikhon Shevkunov have over the Russian president?” The question was posed in a lengthy portrait titled “Putin and the monk“. Snippet:

Father Tikhon Shevkunov “Father Tikhon wields influence in the church far above his modest rank of Archimandrite, or abbot, due primarily to his contacts in the Kremlin. The story that travels with him, which he will neither confirm nor deny, is that he is the confessor to Vladimir Putin. The only details he gives is that Putin, sometime before he became president at the end of 1999 (most likely while he was head of Russia’s FSB security service from 1998 to 1999) appeared at the doors of the monastery one day. Since then, the two men have maintained a very public association, with Tikhon accompanying Putin on foreign and domestic trips, dealing with ecclesiastical problems. But according to persistent rumour, Tikhon ushered the former KGB colonel into the Orthodox faith and became his dukhovnik, or godfather.”

Father Tikhon’s other claim to fame, as Charles Clover points out, is a film entitled Gibel Imperii (The Fall of the Empire), which he produced, and in which he argued that the Byzantine Empire fell, not as the result of assaults by the Ottoman Turks, but because its rulers and elites unwisely copied Western social, economic and political models. Worse, the West, especially Venice, supported separatist movements and central government in Byzantium was weakened. Worse again, young scholars went to the West to study and came back with outlandish notions such as individualism, free enterprise and common markets. Thus, was corrupted the soul of the East to the point where its merchants were ruined and the Empire fell.

Gibel Imperii was ridiculed by historians as a crude attempt to fabricate history and create false parallels with Putin’s imperial Russia. The faithful didn’t care, however. Father Tikhon is now the ex-colonel’s dukhovnik and there can be no doubt about what he’s been whispering in his master’s ear.


The occasional poetry of financial journalism

Thursday, 23 January, 2014 0 Comments

Before becoming Latin American editor of the Financial Times, John Paul Rathbone worked as an economist and writer at the World Bank. He is also the author of The Sugar King of Havana: The Rise and Fall of Julio Lobo, Cuba’s Last Tycoon and his latest FT column, “Cubans lose fear of criticism as reform fireflies start to flicker,” combines his passion for the island’s economy, politics and culture with lyricism. “Is Cuba really reforming?” That’s the question being posed by Habaneros today and here’s how John Paul Rathbone responds:

“There is no short answer, although a poetic one might compare the reforms to small and hesitant flickerings, akin to the fireflies that Cuban women of society sewed into their hair and silk gowns before grand balls in colonial times. The effect was reportedly bewitching: something beautiful that would briefly illuminate itself and then fade. The viewer might even be unsure that he had seen anything at all. Yet then the fireflies would sparkle again, much like Cuba’s reforms. The question for outsiders is now to encourage them.”

Cuba


Anna Calvi deconstructs lounge pop

Saturday, 12 October, 2013 0 Comments

“Artist’s vocals are enveloped by a dreamlike mix of distorted riffs, insistent rhythms and ornate orchestrations.” So wrote the Financial Times about One Breath, the new album from Anna Calvi. That’s fine as far as it goes, but the core Calvi fan won’t be satisfied with what the “Pink’un” has to say. This Is Faked DIY delivers the goods to the base: “Teaming her dark, sultry torch-singer side with something more personal has worked wonders. One Breath is a beautiful, atmospheric triumph.”


It will have to go, he said

Tuesday, 22 May, 2012

In the Financial Times today, columnist Gideon Rachman goes there. It is “Time for a eurozone divorce” he declares: “So — to answer the question that I dodged back in December — yes, I do think that it would ultimately be better if the eurozone broke up. This might not involve a complete reversion to […]

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On the road

Monday, 2 January, 2012
On the road

Along the road The New Year will be a year of walking. That’s the resolution here, anyway. “The most important lesson that walking teaches a writer is that, although there are certain duties that cannot be shirked, those duties are often not as difficult as they appear. Impossible-looking tasks can be carried out by breaking them down into small and practicable steps.” That’s what Christopher Caldwell wrote at the weekend in the Financial Times in a column titled “Go forth, open the mind and just walk“.

Quite a bit of research has been done on the neurochemical response to walking, and the potential of controlling mood through walking is the subject of much scientific debate. We still don’t understand all of the mechanisms involved, but it is a fact that different intensities of exercise create different chemical responses in the body. And it is beyond doubt that walking has a very positive effect on mood, which means that walking can create the mood you want. So, let’s get walking this year!

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” Søren Kierkegaard


Welch & Rawlings

Saturday, 3 December, 2011 0 Comments

With the light, dry wit that marks his superb musical criticism, Ludovic Hunter-Tilney of the Financial Times recently wrote, “Gillian Welch’s European tour, which ended in London this week, will not have been a bonanza for local haulage firms and roadies.” Hunter-Tilney was watching Welch and David Rawlings in action at the Hammersmith Apollo in London and the “show” consisted of two performers, two acoustic guitars and two pairs of microphone stands. “As stage shows go, it is austere in the extreme,” he noted. And the music? “To become disenchanted you must once have been enchanted,” he observed. “That was precisely the state of mind that Welch’s and Rawlings’s masterly performance provoked.” This is great music making.