Mike Vickers' Blog

November 29, 2016

An Impression of St Petersburg

Filed under: Europe, Music, St Petersburg, Travel, World Class — derryvickers @ 10:07 pm

The immediate impression on driving from the airport to the city centre is how many shop signs you recognise. This is buoyed up as soon as you start to walk round the centre; you might have confused St Petersburg for any Western City. On flying out you are required to go through the usual array of booths selling perfume, biscuits and booze.

But of course St Petersburg is not only a western city; it is a living museum to a great Russian Past; first established when Peter The Great wished for a seaport on the Baltic from where he could attach the then Swedish Empire which had plagued the North Western Russian Baltic coast. Peter also was an avid travel within Europe and wished to ‘westernise’ Russia. He built the city and then required his state officials to move from Moscow. Which of course they did, after all Peter was a Tsar, but moving into the outback was unthinkable; they brought their mansions with them and so you have the magnificent heritage which is St Petersburg. Of course St Petersburg was not built in a day; St Petersburg was taken forward by Catherine the Great, who had married a grandson of Peter and looks to have usurped the throne from him. You can find much more about St Petersburg on Wiki including the transfer of power from the Romanovs to the short lived Democratic Government to the Bolsheviks.

Tomb of Peter The Great. Peter Paul Cathedral

Tomb of Peter The Great. Peter Paul Cathedral

Short-lived Democratic Government

Short-lived Democratic Government

Catherine The Great

Catherine The Great

But one point worth bring up is that the area occupied by St Petersburg was a swamp, cut into two by the Neva River, a great wide navigable river; the swampland was drained by canals and these together make a splendid feature of walking around the city; the canals and palazzi reminder one of Venice though all a lot colder.

Neva River

Neva River

Canals

Canals

To the glamour buildings and there plenty of them:

The Hermitage – a truly enormous set of rooms spread over three buildings: The Winter Palace, the Little Hermitage and the Large Hermitage, all sumptuously furnished that the guide books says will take three days to do justice to. We spent just 1/2 day

The Hermitage

The Hermitage

The Clockwork Peacock

The Clockwork Peacock

The General Service Building across the Palace Square– now an art gallery containing art from the world over: more Rembrandts than the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, more French Impressionists and Post Impressionists than Pompidou Centre in Paris

The Palace Square

The Palace Square

The General Service BuildingThe General Service Building

 

 

The Church of the Spilt Blood – plastered from doom to floor in mosaics – no longer a Greek Orthodox Church, but the church is excellently preserved.

The Church of The Spilt Blood

The Church of The Spilt Blood

 A Church Tower Dome

A Church Tower Dome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Marble Palace – Marble Rooms with immaculate parquet  and mosaics floors and near the top the most modern of modern art.

A Mosaic Floor

A Mosaic Floor

Just One of the other Churches

Just One of the other Churches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Russian Museum

The Russian Museum

The Citizens

The Citizens

A Sculpture

A Sculpture

The Russian Museum – set to rival the British Museum

Puskin in from of the Russian Museum

Puskin in from of the Russian Museum

All well attended but we were there on a public holiday weekend – Celebration of The October Revolution and it seems clear to me that Russians are proud of their history; history even prior to the Communist Revolution. On The Peter and Paul Fortress, an island in the Neva River near the city centre is the Peter and Paul Cathedral where all the Tsars are buried; even Nicholas 2 who was assassinated by the Bolsheviks: he and this family were exhumed from their grave at Ekaterinburg.

Peter and Paul's Cathedral

Peter and Paul’s Cathedral

 

But to us, as splendidly glamorous as the main buildings are we were as interested to the Museum of Politics: it provides a history of the period up to the Communist revolution and from then up to the passing of power to Putin on January 2000. Yes, the displays do contain some propaganda but not all ‘sunny side up’. And this to me was a feature of St Petersburg itself striving to be a western city, but glorying in its Tsarist past and little sign of overarching or even any Government power. Yes, you do go through careful passport control at the airport but even that scrutiny is exercised more in acquiring a passport in the Edinburgh Visa office in Edinburgh. BTW if you do want to go to St Petersburg (other than on a cruise ship) you do need a visa and the easiest way to get one is to have your St Petersburg hotel to invite you with dates of residence.

Two of the Tomes the Czars

Two of the Tombs of the Czars

To other things:

The available music is great.

First night to see Puccini’s Tosca – as well a dressed performance as you would get anywhere in a western opera house and at less money.

The Opera House

The Opera House and Royal Box

A string concert in one of the rooms in the Large Hermitage – you need to get there early as the seats are unmarked and it is difficult to find the entrance – not the main one. One of the caretakers was very helpful in telling us the way

And finally the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra: three pieces finishing with Schubert’s Great C Major played with all the gusto of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 to the delight of the audience.

Just a couple more comments

  • Eating is cheap – we were set up when we found the Market Place – packed with students and great food
  • A café in the main street Nevsky Prospect which is up to any café in Vienna

    Café in Nevsky Prospect

    Café in Nevsky Prospect

  • Alexander Nevsky – the Russian hero who’s relics are buried in St Petersburg
  • The Singer Building – used to make sowing machine but now a book shop – that took me back what Foyles used thirty years ago before its splendid face lift
  • Pushka Inn where we stayed. Staff speak impeccable English – but so do most Russians who have anything to do with the tourists: English is the lingua franca – will it remain so after Brexit and Trump?

    Our hotel was on the right

    Our hotel was on the right

  • Is there any effect of Western Financial Clampdown.  Well some of the arcades are half finished but that could have started before the clampdown.

In Summary St Petersburg is an excellent place to visit even in November with an outside temperature of around -1 C in the daytime and a lot cold in the evening with winds blowing around the canals!

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November 24, 2016

‘You can say Yes but at some point you have to say No’. Heartbreaking

Filed under: Europe, History in the making, Nordic Horizons, Personal, Sustainability — derryvickers @ 3:18 pm

Mikael Ribbenvik (MR)

Valkommen till Sverige – Migration & Asylum in Europe’s Most Welcoming Country – A seminar at Nordic Horizons

I can do no better than start with Chris Smith’s eulogy on the Seminar

Last night was dazzling. Mikael Ribbenvik of the Swedish Migration Agency was funny, informative, challenging and thought provoking. We will be posting a recording of the live stream in the coming days and it is a ‘must view’. He makes sense of global migration in a way that will leave you angry and encouraged at the same time. In a world of post facts politics, the Swedes are using data to inform both policy and operations; using the correlation between Mediterranean wave heights and movement trends to plan for arrivals, as an example. There is a health warning before viewing, you may want to become a Swede after his presentation. I know I did.’

But perhaps a few more details of MR’s presentation:

1.       MR has been recently appointed Director General for the Swedish Migration Agency. He is a civil servant and a lawyer. Before that he was Director of Operations and travelled widely – more later

2.       He understands why Europeans consider migrants as a problem and in particular a problem to Europe but points out at the end of the 19th century many Swedes left for the US and are now greatly revered. Both are looking for a better life.

3.       The EU provides for free migration of its citizens and Sweden has accepted this even though many can be classed as Economic Migrants. However Asylum seeks from Syria and Afghanistan are less welcome and have very little chance of staying in Sweden.

4.       Nevertheless the law is that Sweden is formally obliged to accept all seekers that comes to it

5.       It takes 5 years of residency to become a Swedish citizen – there are exceptions, IT experts. Footballers and their new Queen

6.       I got the impression that priority is given to migrants with families already in Sweden and for unaccompanied migrations. This is leading a problem as to how old a migrant is, with various schemes being considered.

7.       Sweden now budgets for £6 billion a year for Migration yet only £5 billion for defence. MR admits that Swedish citizens are not happy.

8.       Immigration is only a start; migrations need to integrate and this takes longer with migrants naturally congregating in the own country groups and failing to learn the language – MR draws an analogy with Brits in Spain.

9.       MR points out that three agencies are linked: Migration > Work > Social. The key skills are Knowledge, Empathy, Intelligence.

10.   It is the Parliament that makes the laws; the agencies’ job is to implement them.

11.   But for MR the key question is ‘How many Immigrants can Sweden accept’ and this is not easy

12.   It is the Municipalities role to say how many migrants they are prepared to accept.     Municipalities vary in size from 4,000 up to city centres, Stockholm is one. Taxes are raised by municipalities and its costs around £165 pd to support a migrant

13.   At its peak in November 2015 Sweden was receiving 10,000 immigrants a week and it just couldn’t cope. MR said that he organised 24 buses ranging out across Sweden; the 4 heading north with the drivers given instructions to go slow and with no firm destination on departure.

14.   However since then Sweden has publicised that it has to reduce its migrant intake and numbers have dropped off significantly – in contrast to Germany where numbers continued to increase.

15.   There is a formal appeal procedure for a migrant faced when faced with expulsion, with ultimate appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

16.   However Sweden has for a long time recognised the value of establishing Resettlement Camps throughout the counties adjacent to where the major sources of migrants are coming from.

17.   In a heart rending example MR travelled to a Swedish Resettlement camp in Uganda boring on the Democratic Republic of Congo. Families were tented and had 4 sq yds to live in, surviving on a cup of maze a week; they were without hope. MR was allowed to take 200 migrants back to Sweden. And as he poignantly said, 200 and no more even though a mother and baby pleaded with him to be included above the 200 limit.

One of MR’s most memorable statements he made in his talk was ‘you can say Yes but at some point you have to say No’.

18.   Other points

a.       One lady who has spent time in Sweden complained that since bulk migration she feels unsafe surrounded by unemployed teenage migrants

b.      There are indirect benefits to Sweden. Its population is aging and migrants are younger and help with that distribution

c.       Japan doesn’t accept migrants and have turned to robots.

 
 
 

November 13, 2016

Trump as Machiavelli’s Prince

Filed under: A Point of View BBC Radio4, Europe, History in the making, Politics, USA, War — derryvickers @ 1:00 pm

From an article by Martin Kettle in Friday’s Guardian:

He is an anti-liberal president for post-liberal times. He embodies extreme hostility to social liberalism – in the form, to take a few examples, of his contempt for ethnic minorities, his hatred for Muslims, his indifference to due process, his dismissal of rights, his willingness to use torture, his mocking of the disabled, his dismissal of political correctness, and above all, perhaps, his attitude to women. He is not alone in these attitudes in his party. Indeed, in some respects, Trump is the culmination of the deep-rooted hatred for social liberalism,’

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/10/donald-trump-voters-liberal-order

Yes of course, Kettle is talking about Trump but could Kettle be equally talking about the Leader of ISIS.  I first thought, Yes; but on second thoughts No.
The Leader of ISIS, I would suspect, believes he is right: the West has polluted the world and its effects must be eradicated. 

Trump has no such high ideals for the USA; other than his self-aggrandisement: in this respect he is Machiavelli’s Prince.

From Wiki

‘The descriptions within The Prince have the general theme of accepting that the aims of princes—such as glory and survival—can justify the use of immoral means to achieve those ends:….He who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation’

Trump is no fool; he worked out that by speaking as he did he would appeal to enough floating voters to become President. This he has achieved.

But like the Prince he needs to hold on and that means winning another term.   In recent times there have been only two One Term Presidents: Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush and Trump doesn’t want to be a third; after all he has been trying long enough to become President. What’s going to stop Trump doing another Term and already he has started to change his tone . Using the same obnoxious techniques won’t work a second time; he needs to do something different and he has already decided that he needs to tap into broader group of voters; he has chosen that he needs to embrace the centre. He cosies up to Obama– they had ‘in Trump’s words’ a great meeting, lasting over an hour while only a ¼ hour was planned (thought why Obama puts up with Trump longer than the minimal ¼ hour is unclear – perhaps in the hope that ObamaCare will survive). Trump’s new song is that ObamaCare may not be that bad after all and putting Hilary in prison is not now top priority. Washington will be ‘a great lot of folks’ now they ‘understand’ Trump; and NATO may just be worth spending on.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/12/donald-trump-appears-to-soften-stance-on-range-of-pledges.

Of course Trump may do it ‘his way’ and fail miserably; but he’s probably astute enough to know at Presidential level you have to get more than 50% right and to achieve this level you do need a few right thinking people around you.

But at the next Presidential election there will be Elizabeth Warren to contend with; and the American women who voted for Trump may come to realise that then is the time to blow ‘the Glass Roof’.

PS I commend readers to listen to Roger Scruton on ‘A Point of View’

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b081tkmc#play

November 11, 2016

Something’s rotten in the State of Denmark

The first impression of St Petersburg is that the city is so like any city in the West.  So many shops with Western Brand names.

The dominance of the consumer society even in ‘Communist’ Russia.

Leaving St Petersburg is even worst – just like departing Edinburgh Airport – the same maze of booze and perfume shops.

Western consumerism has even taken over Lenin’s Russia; he would have turned in his grave.

So how has this anything to do with the Trump disaster; not that I expect that Trump can in anyway live up to his despicable rhetoric? And he looks to be changing already

Consumerism is ‘The opium of the people’: it has failed in the US as it has failed in the North of England: there just isn’t any money to spend due to so many things; lack of jobs, austerity ; and those who used to, but no longer have the money, they are the ones, who are now rejecting liberal democracy.

The days of deregulation have blown the lid off so many things.

So what can we do about it and do about it we must, not for us but for our children.

Well I am coming round to Scottish Independence – I did vote for it in the Referendum but only in a half-hearted way.

Now it’s a must.

Scotland has at least set out a Future in the White Book (thought of course it is OTT) and Scotland needs to implement it.

Neither Brexit, Corbyn and Hillary have anything to say about the future: and of course Hilary failed because of it.  Trump unfortunately did have something to say and it was nasty but it appealed to the ones that had but not now.

As a start, what Scotland requires is political education in the schools.

I pick up something that came over in a recent David Hume lecture on the Big Bang

‘HB (Hamish Buchan) related to the Stewart Ivory scheme for providing education on Finance to sixth forms but this can only go so far as it is not yet an examinable subject and the scheme can only provide 100 mins per school’

Every school child and I mean every school child needs to know about democracy and what is politics, what is capitalism and what Marx had to say about it.

Religion is dead and rightly; but Consumerism is not its replacement with its basis of individualism.

There has to be something better and that is Community – which after all, was what yesterdays’ event on Scotland’s Towns Conference in Kirkcaldy was all about.

I came to politics far too late but the kids of today must be taught, so that they can take a rational and where necessary a passionate view when the time comes to act ie vote.

David Hume is reputed to have stated :

Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.

But of course Hume was a reasonable man.

BTW Kirkcaldy has a great Art Gallery including the Colourists and at present paintings and drawings by Kate Downie of the three Forth Bridges

And then again Martin Kettle’s article in yesterdays Guardian is a good read

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/10/donald-trump-voters-liberal-order

November 10, 2016

The UK and Scotland post Brexit

Filed under: Brexit, DHI SPIF, Europe, Ireland, Politics, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 8:23 pm

A seminar given by Lord Gus O’Donnell to the David Hume institute on Tuesday 8th November and chaired by Charlie Wood.

Just in case you didn’t know Gus O’Donnell was Cabinet Secretary to the Westminster Parliament from 2005 t0 2011 covering three Prime Ministers, Blair, Brown and Cameron.

O’Donnell spoke at a rate of knots and assumed we all know Westminstereese; which I for one don’t!

That said the points I did capture were:

  1. David Hume’s much quoted ‘Reason is the slave of the Passions’
  2. Cameron made a big mistake on launching the Referendum
  3. Take Hard Brexit with a pinch of salt
  4. Migration problems are all over Europe – it is / will be a massive matter
  5. The UK will not adapt the Norwegian Solution to interfacing with the EU: it will be bespoke and will cost.
  6. Very little progress will be made during 2017; There will be Transitional Arrangements to cover the negotiation gap
  7. The funding gap left by the absence of UK revenue contribution will need to be made good by the remaining 27 members; they are not happy
  8. It will be difficulty for Teresa May to ensure Cabinet Collective Responsibility; it has already failed with Heathrow
  9. Effects of Brexit
    1. The Paris Climate Change agreement is in danger
  10. Limiting Migration into UK
    1. There is a Global shortage of skilled labour
    2. Canada is already enticing Finance Professionals from London
  11. The Single Market is essential
    1. Accommodation to maintain
  12. Productive in UK stopped in 2008
    1. Scotland is 2% to 5% lower than rUK
    2. 5% down on Assets
  13. Scotland will have 40% more control over the levers
    1. ½ Scottish revenue to be raised locally
  14. Sturgeon’s 5 tests
    1. O’D has a good opinion of Sturgeon
  15. Independent Scotland: O’D stated that in his experience from Canada and Quebec, independence is going away as older people die
  16. The terms of trade will not change for the UK after Brexit. They will be the same with the WTO – GATT rules will prevail
    1. The UK will not be able to pick and choose eg no separate agreement for Cars eg Nissan or for Finance
  17. The EU rules of the Single Market go way beyond CETA
  18. To trade in the EU after Brexit the UK will still have to follow the EU acquis
    1. The Great Repeal Bill will be no more that the UK importing the EU acquis into UK Law
    2. Regulation will not disappear; merely EU Regulation repatriated
  19. The UK government will be fully involved in the Brexit follow up to the detriment of Health, Education, and Public Services.
  20. The UK financial position distorted by Quantitative Easing: Deficit still too large, Rich people favoured. Need for special taxation
  21. Fundamental Alternatives are required. The Treasury has a host of plans but they will be ignored by the Westminster Government
  22. Article 50 is not neutral, it favours the rest of the EU
    1. It will be like 27 people playing one person in a game of chess
    2. The rEU very upset with the UK
    3. The trade-offs will be difficult to achieve
  23. It would have been better to trigger Article 50 this Autumn
  24. Vote Leave correlated with Inequality
  25. Brexit very different for Ireland and for Scotland. There must be Public Debate
    1. Agriculture is a nightmare
    2. Finances not easy
    3. Fisheries
    4. Energy easier and should be targeted
  26. Devolution while grudgingly given proved a useful experiment
    1. Westminster incredibly centralised
  27. Sturgeon is right on migration
  28. In response to Jeremy Peat, O’D agreed that Social Media could be the death o0f Rational Decision making. Democracy is in peril
  29. The Westminster Parliament has accepted Robots for manufacturing but has failed so far to considered for office working
  30. Gus O’Donnell’s family moved from Ireland in 1852 and he is going back for a visit.
    1. He cares enormously as to what happens in Ireland
    2. He praises the work done by Blair
    3. A disaster if border reintroduced following Brexit
    4. But believes a solution will be found.

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