Saturday, 26 April 2014

More current affairs

Well, it's been a very politically minded week with the ups and downs of the United Kingdom Independence Party's European electioneering  campaign creating a stir with the controversial  poster campaign, the disowning of a candidate for racially prejudiced social media remarks (not that other parties candidates haven't done this before themselves) as well as the disarray between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives on the proposition the UK is a predominately Christian Country and calls for the de-establishment by Liberal Democratic honcho Nick Clegg, of the Church of England.
The other matter is the one I typed at length about last week, the Ukraine, Russia and European peace which depressingly  turned out pretty much as I expected it to.
We have the kidnap, torture and death of a pro Kiev political leader at the hands of Pro-Russian agitators, the kidnapping and holding hostage of European peace observers with report that one suffered rifle related injuries by the same. Three Pro-Russian agitators by a (illegal) road check point were killed allegedly by Ukraine forces although we don't know if they pointed weapons or offer to surrender first.
Russia starts extensive exercises on the border and even over flying Ukraine threatening serious consequences for the checkpoint incident that on the face of it had no direct business with Russia itself while Ukraine and the West produces evidence showing some Russian involvement in the Eastern Ukraine Pro-Russian uprising particularly in the Militas. Nato sends forces to Poland and the Baltics due to their concerns over Russia's stance.
Week ends with Ukraines Premier saying Russia is wanting World War Three and some of the most strongest language for decades used by the State Department against Russia with the probability of further sanctions Monday.
I fear this can only get worse by next week.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

On Ukraine and the stability of Europe

Delayed again with one thing or another  so eventually is this weeks shortish post after all.
I guess few of us have escape the continuing tensions around The Ukraine from the start of this year and to be honest I have been tempted to weigh in with it but somebody might only have suggested I'd just copied it from Farage's little black book of thought provoking remarks.
Anyway pleated battledress with ribbons on, here we go.
The question around the Crimea and the reminder of the Ukraine are different, different in that the original borders of the Ukraine were fixed pretty much under Stalin's own ideas with little active Western import and it was only the decision of Soviet President Khrushchev in 1954 to 'gift' Crimea from Russian to the Ukraine  with next to no support from the inhabitants that any change occured.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that for a number of years under Putin, Russia has taken the view that post USSR break up, it regarded some areas as being it's own backyard wanting to create a buffer between it and the West through a trading and diplomatic bloc, having no qualms about using every gram of diplomatic and economic pressure to ensure such areas including the Ukraine didn't succumb to the West's influences.
It was the attempt to coerce the Ukraine against considering joining the European Union that was the final straw leading to protests that saw the previous Ukraine president removed among much bloodshed in February.
One might argue as Farage did that encouraging this with no plan to deal with the likely Russian response was less than responsible - and I share a lot of that - but what was effectively the encouragement of locals  with some fairly obvious Russian back up of the taking of Crimea was wrong.
Wrong because any kind of change always leaves outstanding issues such as the rights of those who saw themselves as Ukrainian and their futures which are best negotiated in advance and allowing the proper fixing of borders.
Not of itself wrong had a discussion taken place prior to a referendum of the people of the Crimea as for most of it's history it wasn't a part of Ukraine. 
The Eastern Ukraine situation is different because parts were fixed post WW2 between the USSR and Poland as to what parts of the then Republic of Ukraine, a part of the USSR were with some obvious mismatches around ethnicity and nation state boundaries.
Unpicking these settlements, settlements that have their own perceived injustices admittedly, invariably lead to movement elsewhere by other groups creating considerable  geo-political tensions that cannot easily be stabilized.
The Baltic States fear similar actions by the Russian speaking minorities with tacit support from Russia and similar threats to intervene if they are threatened.
Thursday's summit meeting in Geneva between Russia, Ukraine and Western representatives such as the United States produced against the odds a workable way through the tensions but already the Pro Russian forces in several Eastern Ukraine cities refuse to accept it, refusing to leave the buildings they occupy, refusing to lay down their (military style) arms unless the current Ukraine Government itself leaves the parliament building, effectively stepping down.
Granted the manner of their taking power wasn't democratic but the problem with them doing so is simple: it would leave a huge power vacuum and in the meantime someone needs to run the State.
There appears to scant interest in the West for appoint a body to do that on top of the considerable war weariness that's evident on the streets of London, Toronto, or New York from events elsewhere for the past 11 or so years.
Short of Russia's Putin accepting some formal responsibility for what has taken place and making it plain the Pro-Russian protesters would not receive any support from him, it is hard to see this being resolved without more tension and probably more bloodshed.
I fear Russia has allowed a Genie out of the bottle which it cannot put back that will haunt Europe for years to come.
Welcome back to the Cold War.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Track edition

Travelling on the train as I do from time to time the continuing controversy over the HS2 London-Manchester high speed service continues to intrigue me.
As I experienced this week the problems that can happen on a very busy stretch where I train has a breakdown or similar difficulty often has a knock on effect on other services such as delays or even cancellations.
On the other hand a report of MP's suggests the proposed new line and service should operate no faster than 185 MPH for environmental reasons (C02 emissions) rather than the original reducing considerably the 'improved' journey times for being say not more than twenty minutes and as some of these stations are not going to be the existing ones, passengers may need to pick up connecting services or taxis to traditional business destinations making any savings over the standard services pretty much academic being unlikely to encourage such users to switch.
One alternative might be to increase capacity on the existing networks by introducing and in some instances restoring twin track working in which was removed for cost reasons in the 70's and 80's and finishing of electrification allowing trains to operate to a maximum of 125 MPH which would still offer advantages over the road network.
This could benefit a wider geographic area and customer base.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

C60, C90, C120 Go!

Ever remember what we did pre iTunes when it came to getting and playing our music? Well one thing I remember doing was making up tapes sometimes 'mix tapes' with various tracks sometimes whole albums for playing back elsewhere.
This was one machine I had in high school for it as it was both a home stereo cassette recorder you used with your stereo unit and also a self contained mono player you could take away with you without any mains to play back your tapes on.
There were a great many different lengths of tape that offered different playing times per side of the dual sided cassette but generally I stuck to 60 and 90 minute lengths as they covered most needs and tended to be more reliable as longer tapes would be thin being more prone to wear or even jamming up. Cleaning up after  a jammed tape in the unit wasn't funny!
That's what the tapes looked like , this one plays for forty-five minutes per side and is one of the higher quality type II sorts that  I used a lot of back then although I started out using the cheaper regular type I TDK D ones as the really cheap tapes the drugstores stocked didn't sound so good and were not reliable.
That machine also had a stereo headphone socket so you could use like a 'Walkman' although Walkmen were smaller if no less chubbier to start with, more of use on the bus or train where space is at a premium.
I kept this until I got a proper Hifi deck and separate walkman in the early 80's