4 march 2012, euthymol-ient

As a family, we have conservative tastes in toothpaste. My other half, who has a homeopathic side, eventually found a perfect one for our kids, when they were young in germany, and so when we left we brought a year's supply with us. We picked up the same when travelling there a year later, giving us the excellent tale to tell of travelling to germany to shop for toothpaste; rather spoilt when we found it in a health shop in bramhall a few miles down the road. A year later though, crunch time, and failed internet shopping coupled with the acceptance that by now we should probably be using fluoride, helped bring in a second choice but accepted alternative, to be found at the local supermarket. I was frequently heard saying that my grandpa (23 january 2012) cleaned his teeth with a bit of salt and they were perfect until the day he died; that though was before everything that passes our lips had sugar in it. The adult half of the family are not picky at all. However, in the search for an acceptable youngster alternative, I did at one point buy euthymol, attracted by the beautiful art nouveau styling of its packaging, and its promise of distinctive flavour. That it was, resembling nothing more than germolene, another quirky english product my other half hates. However, I rather liked it. That helped with the imperative to practice what I preach, and not simply throw it away. Instead, I am determined to finish it, using it only in the mornings, moments before I leave for work. Though just a tiny boost to my conscience, and a smaller one to our household finances, I'll take these positives anywhere I can get them. It's worth it.

25 february 2012, melting aspic

Cyprus is just about to take on its first eu presidency. Well, two-thirds of the island is, as, across barbed wire, the rest lies outside the union. It is, depending on your point of view, either a legitimate state seeking unification, or under turkish occupation. It is a complicated issue, and one where the eu has not covered itself in glory, as one of the protagonists, greece (5 november 2011), is in, whilst the other, turkey (23 november 2011), though a noisy nato member, is out. The eu blew its best of chance of solving the problem by failing (with a greek gun to its head on the whole enlargement) to exert any leverage with the accession of the south in 2004, regardless of its attitude to a fair united nations brokered deal put to a referendum, which the south duly rejected. With the north not recognised by the union, nor the south by turkey, it has become a bone in the latter's accession negotiations, although that more represents a useful alibi for those that want to block turkey anyway. Feeling rather bad, the eu has a "special development programme" for the north, including (normal for pre-accession countries) financial aid, and also measures to increase movement across the "green line": trade across the border has consequently risen fivefold in the that time. A slight parallel is east germany (the gdr), which, with unification, became, in 1990, the first warsaw pact country to join the eu. In this case the one thing (co-operation) leading to the other (merger) took place within a very short space of time and in the very different circumstance of the big country sponsor (the soviet union) collapsing; but that the one would lead to the other was far from certain and indeed actively opposed by many for a significant time. Over a vastly longer timeframe, the eu's hopes of pulling off the same trick may yet bear fruit.

22 february 2012, brave, or stupid

Brave, though my other half doesn't agree. The deaths of a noted journalist and photographer in syria, join a long roll call of journalists "killed in action". Unlike most of the victims though, marie and remi chose to be there, running the risk for the sake of journalism, activism or glory. The same could be said though, to varying degrees of soldiers, the red cross and even many civilians who stay put in war zones through a combination of ignorance, stubbornness, conviction or fear of alternative places to go. Journalists though are surely a class apart. Marie had already lost an eye from being in a part of sri lanka journalists were banned from, where she reported on an unfolding tragedy, bearing witness to the world. Years before in east timor she did more than that, refusing to join other journalists leaving an indonesian-surrounded compound, her presence and the pictures she beamed to the world being widely credited with saving the lives of 1, 500 people. Others had left homs too over the last days, after being warned that the makeshift press centre, an obvious target, was about to be destroyed. She stayed, perhaps hoping again its output would afford the people around it some safety. This time though, it was not to be and she joins the thousands of syrians killed over the last months. She will get far more attention than any of them, through her bravery or stupidity, and it can only be hoped that the renewed spotlight it will bring on the mass killing taking place speeds its end.

18 february 2012, baron has left the building

With my time helping run trafford's hospitals at an end, I have now joined the board of a new venture, bridgewater. The difference about this particular nhs hospital trust, is that it has no hospitals - it is a "community" trust. Basically, we try to do what it says on the tin: improving health and wellbeing in the various populations we serve. In passing, this kind of care (with a big dollop of generalisation) is safer, as hospitals are the place patients are most likely to contract illness, more popular, as people generally want treating at home or close to it and cheaper, as it has much less expensive fixed costs. The latter is key in a world where the health service needs to save twenty billion pounds even before any actual cuts come through. The key is providing services away from a hospital setting where it is possible to do so, reducing hospital stays, and, upstream, increasing prevention and self care, including through telehealth, which the trust is actually doing not just talking about. It is also better orientated to be patient-centric rather than service-centric, so more amenable to innovations coming down the track like personal budgets. It's all a big new challenge for me, the sort of thing I thrive on, and hopefully cutting edge in a brave new world.

16 february 2012, the other noam

A thoughtful piece from noam chomsky, who we sort of named our second son after. He bemoans the wilful lack of any remembrance of the beginning of the vietnam war, and quickly arrives at chomsky's favourite theme of american power and its abuse, which is never apparent because in chomsky's phrase, only the weak and defeated are called to account for their crimes. That is a better formulation that the victor writing history, because that is not of course how america finished up, either in vietnam or, as chomsky moves easily to, iraq. The scale of that defeat, which chomsky sees as deeper than generally perceived, presages the flood of headlines about whether america is over. This not new: several years ago I wrote that america's unipolar moment was brief and long gone and this was the era of the move from america being sufficiently hegemonistic to veto action by others to a dramatic waning of its power to when as now it no longer only needs others' passive acquiescence but in fact their active support in order to do anything on the global stage. Chomsky sees this as feeding paranoia, this "apocalyptic vision reflects the familiar ruling-class perception that anything short of total control amounts to total disaster." He moves effortlessly on to palestine, of course, and to global warming and china. You don't have to agree with him, but it's always a thought provoking pleasure to read.

4 february 2012, china, china, china

Two inciteful economist articles tip their hat to the weight of evidence emerging that china, which we can read as shorthand for the growth (nee emerging) markets, is finally "decoupling" from the west's stuttering economies (1 january 2012), driven finally, by domestic growth. Even as its growth continued exponentially (by 9.2.%, meaning its economy has grown by 60% since 2008), china's net exports fell in 2011. Both public and private domestic consumption is on the rise, accounting now for about half china's growth. Yet, its housing boom slowed markedly, with prices falling in 52 of the largest 70 cities - a positive sign that consumer growth is not just a property bubble. Even more eye-catching, china's foreign reserves have fallen too, though that is yet to establish itself as a trend. There is no sign yet that china's trade deficit with america, the most pointed source of conflict between the superpowers, is ebbing; but the second article reflects shifting thinking in the validity of traditional calculations, using the ipad (I have one; I love it) as an example of something that appears to contribute mightily to those numbers, masses of the things being made in china and imported to the us. However, china itself imports large parts of that value, so whilst it accounts for $4bn of the reported trade deficit, a better estimate may be a piffling $150m. In terms of who gets the profit as a whole, the lion's share goes to american shareholders and workers, followed by south koreans, with chinese getting only some 2%. Meanwhile, the economist has bowed to the inevitable and last week started a whole new china section, joining america and britain (the magazine's base) as the only single countries to have such an honour; although I have frequently argued that europe (the state we're in) comes close...

29 january 2012, the need for a rear view mirror

I do appreciate that holocaust memorial day tries to use the past to avoid a certain future. The same sentiment triggered my one personal outburst in nearly seven years in germany, although I was speaking at an event in warsaw. We were taken to a museum about the heroic polish resistance, in which the ghetto merited a single panel. On the return coach, the commentary continued and I couldn't help but stand up and inform the international assembled that there was more to this story than nationalist propaganda. Whilst the germans, I related, have tried to understand what happened, in education and society, I wondered if the poles, victims though they were twice over, had done the same. I told the story of my grandfather abraham (23 january), who left poland because of persecution. When the nazis came for the danish jewish community, the resistance almost magically spirited them away: 3 danish jews were killed in the war. In poland, it was 3 million; taken from every town, every village and every city. In many cases, poles helped, burning synagogues as they left. Many of the ghettos were not walled, as the germans knew how the poles would treat jews that tried to escape. The special commando units (einsatzgruppen) that killed some 800, 000 jews were often made up of a handful of nazis, and volunteers. Then there was kielce, where thousands of jews had lived for hundreds of years. When 150 or so of them returned in 1946, several were murdered, and the rest driven out in a pogrom. Getting the message loud and clear, the vast majority of 240, 000 survivors also left. Now though, I also risk being guilty of telling a one-sided story, as this whole narrative is much-contested (e.g. seeing kielce as a communist plot), one lively discussion being in the neighbours and the neighbours respond. I'm still awaiting a final word from someone I know and trust on this, jonah bookstein.

23 january 2012, a leben on his kepele

Wonderful evening on saturday, at the school, for a unique havdallah service that was for year threes, or first year juniors in old money. Every family, about thirty of us, had to bring in a family artefact, and preferably an old member of the family or two, and each of the children got up on stage (usually with parent) to tell the tale of the book, photo, candlestick or becher they'd brought in. We took the one thing I have from my grandfather abraham, a silver chanukiah, and told the story of how he left danzig in 1909 with his father for a new life in america, only for some dastardly captain to sail around the baltics for a couple of weeks and drop them all off in hull saying it was new york. They weren't the only ones, it transpired later in the evening. In fact, most of the stories were incredibly familiar to most of what remains a very tight-knit community. Our story had an epilogue, as once eighteen my grandfather stowed away aboard a ship that did go to america, only to be held at ellice island. His uncle got the letter two weeks later and rushed to get him in, one day after he'd been deported back to england, where he eventually got a job as a tailor in manchester, and the rest, as they say, is history; my heritage. Azoy vert dos kichel tzekrochen.

22 january 2012, game on

I don't have any particular expertise in calling the us presidential campaign, but I've as much right as anyone to enjoy the greatest political spectacle on earth. Had obama's first term been as transformational as it had the potential to be, or were the world's largest economy gently humming along, the president would be unbeatable. However, as things stand, a strong centre-ground republican candidate ought to be a shoo in. How strange then that the party of lincoln, eisenhower and theordore roosevelt should have chosen this time around to indulge itself in a bout of radical ideological puritanism and bloodletting, as if it had no chance. What has become clear in the last month though, with the emergence of romney as firm favourite from a thick and contradictory pack, is that despite all the hype, when the party actually votes, it chooses someone it thinks can win. Once that became clear, the large anti-romney vote finally realised it had to coalesce too around the only candidate left who could remotely pass as a centrist, setting up the sensational victory in south carolina for newt gingrich. And since 1980 every candidate that has won south carolina has won the nomination. Not the presidency though, which despite the timidity, despite the disappointment, despite the economy being set for rougher times ahead, must surely now be odds on obama's for a second chance to prove the doubters wrong.

21 January 2011, will they or won’t they ?

Sign up to a new treaty ? It does, to start with, look like there will certainly be one, probably in march. And whatever the headlines may say, it will be an eu treaty, in every sense of the word. And the thumbscrews are already out: any member state that doesn't sign, won't be able to get a bail-out - which looks more weighty after a very successful auction this week. There are other carrots as well: probably a seat at the eurozone summits, for example. And there's not really so much that is being committed to: a balanced budget rule has always had exceptions, and always will, especially as its the members states that will make the call, not the commission. Looks good though and will help boost confidence, so why not ? Especially as not signing up will have exactly the opposite effect. The number of states needed to sign up for the treaty to enter into force is uncertain: 12 being the number in the current (fourth) draft. Meanwhile, croatia (25 may 2011 ) might well be one of those, as accession, set for july, should finally pass its last hurdle of a referendum tomorrow. Thus, whilst the uk is far from the only sceptic, eurozone finland being another, in the end the strong trend will be that they probably will, if not at first, then at second. Plus ca change.

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