21 september 2010, marvellous, mechanical manchester !

With due thanks to a colleague for pointing this out, the new york times has run a sensational piece on the city. Manchester has a "habit to do everything well... manchester is far and away the best town in great britain. It has all the public spirit, energy and municipal self-pride of birmingham, without its unpleasant bumptiousness. It is far more cosmopolitan and broadminded than liverpool and kindly in spirit than glasgow, a thousand times more conscious of municipal utilities, rights and responsibilities than sprawling, disunited london. Its chief citizens are the pick of the kingdom, the choicest specimens of the capable english. They have carried british commerce to its furthest points... Manchester and the enormous human hive of which it is the industrial centre... is also the greatest productive and manufacturing district in the world... it furnishes nearly two-thirds all of all the exports of great britain" and so it goes on. It's 1893 of course, but after a few years here now, I can testify that some things have not changed...

19 september 2010, the eternal caretakers

Whilst brits were in tatters 3 days after the general election and still no government, more than 3 months after theirs, still no white smoke in belgium. It's not unusual: the last round took 8 months, leading me even then to talk about breaking up. The only thing keeping together what is essentially 2 countries (french wallonia and dutch flanders) is brussels, which with both nato and eu headquarters is all but the capital of europe. Serbia and montenegro managed to bloodlessly split, czech and slovakia's was even happy, so why not belgium ? Every time forming a national government becomes even more excruciatingly different, and this time has an added nasty edge as immigrants are no longer seen as the positive cosmopolitan type but the more normal issue of need and detriment to society. Richer flanders just upping sticks and going its own way, as kosovo did not so long ago (legally, we now know), is now a real possibility - and 200 years isn't such a bad run for a so-called country without a national newspaper or tv station, and with two separate foreign aid budgets and no less than seven parliaments. Yes, there will be eu problems, but they could join within 18 months, probably with croatia, another self-declared state come good. In fact it is the eu that makes independence so much more alluring, enabling such a small country to have a certain weight in the world. Unlike flanders' 7 million, the half-million luxembourgers choose an eu commissioner and are represented at every eu intergovernmental body. Belgium's on borrowed time.

18 september 2010, building something here

In my mind, this is a space away from work, but as I've just spent an hour of my early morning on it, and been so immersed I haven't escaped here for a fortnight, it doesn't seem inappropriate. It's also because I'm lucky enough to actually enjoy a large part of my another day, another dollar toil. Including blue-sky thinking about building a research centre. We're not starting from scratch of course, as around the patch there are lots of people working on research, analysis, strategy, evaluation "and so forth" (as I might say in a paper) - but how, in a world where pillars are daily being knocked down to build a new temple to intelligence rather than do a samson ? We are trying to create a model that blends financial sustainability, high-quality output, dutifully servicing clients and paymasters and, most importantly of all, generating innovation and originality and protecting a space for radical, evidence-base thinking in a real-world rather than academic setting, that is fully informed of the best of what's out there but does something new and something real with it: a petri dish for those next big ideas that are going to rock our world. I'm enthusiastic !

1 september 2010, still on holiday

A week back and I am still daydreaming holiday, finding it quite hard to return to the urgency of drafting that needs to be done yesterday, frameworks that must be managed over human obstacle courses, menus for grand dinners and manic preparations for having 30 mad kids run wild around the house in what is quaintly known as a "birthday party". I guess I can't complain though, as whilst my 30-odd days holiday a year compare poorly to the average french 38, they are a good notch above the uk average 26 and mile and a half ahead of the average american 13. This matters, because whichever way you cut the statistics, europeans work less than americans (and indeed most), and that single fact more or less explains why 280 million americans are more productive than 450 million europeans. I for one though am not yet ready to give up my hard-earned leisurely european lifestyle. Jeremy rifkin got it right in his now rather-dated the european dream: how europe's vision of the future is quietly eclipsing the american dream - while americans live to work, europeans work to live.

31 august 2010, belgrade

It's a slow news day at frankal hq. After some two and a half years, I'm going through a treasure trove of stuff from frankfurt, and came across a series of posters I made, which feature, amongst others, the now finnish foreign minister and eu economics commissioner. The photos are my own, and there is a story behind the one of the demonstration, which is when the serbs took to the streets to get rid of slobodan milosovic. I was travelling home overland from israel, and my aunt had given me a warm jacket for the journey. This was long before mobile phones, and it was some days before I spoke to my mum, telling her I was in the beleagured serbian capital. I know, she said, as apparently at the precise moment I took the photo, I was captured by cnn, and the aunt had spotted the jacket. So here's my passions for photography, politics and eastern europe in an instant.

Attached File: more about the photograph.doc

Attached File: Poster1.pdf

Attached File: Poster2.pdf

Attached File: Poster3.pdf

29 august 2010, first out the traps

We brought back an interesting souvenir from hungary: my niece. So we've had a girl and a teenager in the house for a while, which is very different from two boys under ten. A characteristic however with even more influence is that our visitor is the second-born (of five). How many conversations I've had about the first being thoughtful, diligent, diplomatic and polite, intellectual, an avid reader and a sensitive soul; while the second is more carefree and adventurous, outrageous even, argumentative if not downright rude, sporty, flexible, always pushing the boundaries and with a lower attention span. There is such a wealth of experience here it simply must be nurture not nature, with the way all we parents rushed to the doctor with the hint of a cough with number one, whilst letting number two sleep off that bloodied lip, as we knew he'd survive to the morning. We also expect more, tutor more and just simply had more time and no need to split our attention. Number two also learnt from number one, with that infuriating babbling to midnight when they slept in the same room actually playing a very useful purpose. I think too of my own childhood and how I, rather than my 14-month younger sibling, was always so much more into lego, monopoly and such things. I guess I was always that much better, which made it always that bit more fun. There's quite some literature on this of course, with much evidence that first borns do better in life - so now would be the time to boost the others, though not of course at the expense of the baby that will always be the first.

26 august 2010, funny, ha, ha

Not much gaiety in the blog, so even better than edinburgh's best, some of my favourite one-liners: people laughed when I said I wanted to be a comedian, they're not laughing now (bob monkhouse); most of us have a skeleton in the cupboard, david beckham takes his out in public (andrew laurence); a good wife always forgives her husband when she's wrong (milton berle); I realised I was dyslexic when I went to a toga party dressed as a goat (marcus brigstocke); the right to bear arms is only slightly less ludicrous than the right to arm bears (chris Addison). I can't attribute the rest: don't take life too seriously, no one gets out alive; beauty is in the eye of the beer holder; the darkest hours come just before the dawn - so if you're going to steal your neighbour's milk, that's the time to do it; never forget that like everyone else, you are unique; before you judge someone you should walk a mile in their shoes - that way, when you judge them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes; if at first you don't succeed, avoid skydiving; and, give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he'll sit in a boat and drink beer all day. As e e cummings said, the most wasted of all days is one without laughter.

24 august 2010, dipping

Does anyone still think the western world is moving serenely out of recession ? In almost perfect harmony, the positive effects of massive fiscal stimuli around the world are bearing the fruit of modest growth, just as the loud squawking of consequential chickens coming home to roost begins to fill the air. Its the sound of inevitable and necessary fiscal contractions knocking the air out of incipient recoveries and removing the critical confidence factor that will mean consumers pare down spending, growth's last hope. Even in america - uniquely still in the stimulus phase of the cycle due to the luxury of having the world's reserve currency - house sales have slumped, a bad harbinger of worse news to come. Come it must though, and the bigger they are, the harder they will fall. It will be grim, but we will survive and carry on. There are no escapes, no shortcuts, no ways to avoid the pain now for the pleasures of the last years. Any light at the end of the tunnel ? Look east, as china becomes the world's second largest economy...

23 august 2010, home

Just back from a good long holiday: road trip there and back wrapping round ten days camping in hungary. Started with an overnight ferry to belgium, which was great fun, and then a dash to frankfurt, where we spent a day and a night catching up with old friends and generally being nostalgic around familiar roads, playgrounds, shops and of course the palmengarten. Left with a somewhat heavy heart for stuttgart, but stayed in the most remarkable cheap hotel ever, and kids at least had a ball at legoland. Then a brief stay at salzburg, and finally journey's end at lake balaton, where we set up camp with other half's family and days flew by in a haze of barbeques, bobsleighs, swimming, sunshine, spectacular storms and runaway teenagers. A once in a lifetime holiday - never again. Substitute nuremburg, cologne, playmobiland and my first day & night ever in brugge for the above and you have the way back - and never has home felt more like home than when we finally got through our by-now familiar front door. That was the weeks that were.

1 august 2010, you’ve been quango’d

Like most oppositions, the current british government had great "bonfire of the quangos" intentions. Unusually though, it has followed through. Within days of taking office the order went out to line up bodies for rationalisation and abolition - and this has now taken wing as those much satirised quasi autonomous non-governmental organisations are being rapidly brought to the executioner's bloc. In health, the environment and education, alphabet soups are being poured down the drain. On the economic development side, the regional development agencies and government offices (all being totally abolished) have got the most headlines, but the end of the film council last week is typical of a flood of smaller agencies going the same way. Our friends in the north should perhaps not be too despondent: despite common presumptions that such bodies help levy funding, influence and attention from the richer south to the poorer north, a recentish report shows that quango boards come overwhelmingly from london and the south east. Just four of london's 33 local authorities have more board members than the entire north of england. This all comes hot on the heels of smaller scale european slimming, with the news of the closure of the western european union. Politics students of the 1970s might be forgiven for thinking this intergovernmental cold-war european defence outfit became rather redundant with the onset of nato and the eu's move into defence, but it actually took the lisbon treaty to finally wipe it out. Next perhaps the united nation's economic commission for europe, set up in 1947 but still going strong with 220 staff and a 50 million dollar budget, despite the fact that there are now one or two other bodies filling the "establishing economic norms and standards" space in europe...

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