Thursday, April 24, 2008


Business Blog Top Sites Nicholas Newman 10 April 2008

If you're interested in books, famous authors, celebrities and fine dining, the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival, in the first week of April, is the place to be.

Book fans, at the festival, were able to walk with the literati gods and soak up the Oxford dream. If you were lucky, you might perhaps, speak with your favourite author.

Certainly, the festival's choice of writers was eclectic, from local science writer Richard Dawkins, London poet Ben Okri, former politician and television presenter Oona King, Sunday Times columnist Cristiana Odone, derivatives expert Nassim Nicholas Taleb, playwright Tom Stoppard and novelist Fay Weldon.

As for the writers' performances during the week, many were very professional and gave slick sales presentations of their latest books. Today, writers are like medieval itinerant traders travelling from town to town with their wares. This means most have become well practiced in their jokes and speeches, though for some they don't even bother to change the script, even for the next presentation they are in that very same town. In effect, visitors to the literary festivals are paying to see a series of book commercials.

Professor Richard Dawkins

Dawkins was at the festival to promote his latest book ‘The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing’. This excellent new book is a collection of writings by different scientists, chosen by Dawkins, that captures the joys of scientific understanding since 1900 to the present day, for the public at large.

What was memorable about Dawkins’ presentation, was that he arranged to have former BBC Radio Oxford presenter David Freeman interview Richard Dawkins about his work, opinions and his latest book, with Dawkins wife reading out appropriate, but often amusing passages to the great enjoyment of the audience present.

Amongst the questions Dawkins’ was asked was, what he thought of his critics. Dawkins answered that he regarded them as insignificant ‘fleas’.

One of the writers included in his book as an extract, is best selling Cambridge University scientist Steven Hawking’s work ‘A Brief History of Time', though Dawkins admitted with a laugh: ‘I must be the one of the extremely few people who managed to finish reading the book to the very end.'

Amongst other writers Dawkins admires is Peter Atkins, Dawkins has included an excerpt in his anthology from Atkins book ‘The Creation Revisited’ Dawkins observes: ‘Peter writes in a wonderful poetic style, worthy of Carl Sagan.'

London poet Ben Okri

One of the sublime moments at the festival were London poet Ben Okri reading extracts from his latest book of poetry ‘ Starbook'. His verse made one believe one was in a world of fairy tales, not the hard realities of the modern world. When Ben finished the audience broke into long sustained cheers.

The Black Swan Phenomenon

Attending a presentation given by Nassim Nicholas Taleb proved to be a disappointment. Taleb had problems right from the start, in his production about his book ‘The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable'. Instead of providing a thought provoking account of the usage of the Black Swan logic phenomenon, the audience was subjected to a rather repetitive and confusing ramble through the topic, which at times gave the impression that a black swan was some sort of black parrot rather than an Australian variety of Swan.
He argued that the Black Swan phenomenon is an event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally accepted as a situation, and that would be extremely difficult to predict, for example the fall of the Berlin Wall. The author contended that this phenomenon is used by speculators as a basis for their computer models to predict prices in futures markets.

Taleb managed to sow such bewilderment in my mind, that subsequently forced me to consult my notes, from my university days about the use of the Black Swan phenomenon to clear up the resultant confusion Taleb had caused in his talk.

As for side events there were discussions on current affairs, some of which were sit down formal dinners with the writers speaking on topics that are commonly fashionable with the literati. The trouble was, their dialogue often revealed, how generally ignorant the speakers were outside their particular expertise.
The Business of the Festival

Behind the scenes the real business of the festival was taking place, with deals during festival week were being struck as writers, agents, publishers and Public Relations reps were busy networking at a string of parties held in Oxford's many colleges or over lunch in the cities restaurants. For many of the publishers, the Oxford Literary Festival is really a book trade event for publishers like Blackwells and Oxford University Press to promote their books.

Certainly, to the visitor, the festival was organised in a very professional, yet unobtrusive manner. The festival has grown, over the past twelve years from just a few rooms in Oxford's Union building in the heart of the old city to taking over Christ Church, Oxford's largest college with its many available rooms and many other locations throughout Oxford’s town centre.

Where were the popular European writers?

What struck me about the Sunday Times Literary Festival was that this was really an English book fair, not a European literary festival. It's as if our neighbours in mainland Europe with their wealth of talented writers did not exist. Where were the popular European writers who publish their books in English, like Danish science writer Bjorn Lomborg, Swedish crime fiction author Hakan Nesser, and Italian novelist Umberto Eco?

Now that the Oxford Literary Festival has ended for another year, it is time to remedy this situation and bring a taste of European talent to visitors to the next literary festival to Oxford in 2009.

The Festival ran from Monday 31st March– Sunday 6 April 2008
Further information
About the Festival

Monday, April 16, 2007

London Book Fair

Increasingly, your fellow European commuter is likely to be listening to an audio book as reading the latest Harry Potter or Steven King paperback! Audio books have come a long way from being just the preserve of the visually impaired to a popular alternative way to enjoy a good book. The range of audio books available to the European public is growing by at a fast rate, from a passionate love story to science fiction. Listeners are finding new ways to use audio books from learning a language to as an aid to relaxation.
This is not surprising given that the European audio book market continues to grow ‘at 20% a year’ reports..... To Read On

Middle East and the Left

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>1. The claim that the Allies intervention in Iraq was illegal.
>a. No international court has ruled such. It is only the legal opinion
>of some lawyers, not all lawyers. After all, you or I could buy a legal
>opinion (argument) to support one¢s case. It is just a legal opinion; I
>could go to the very same lawyers and pay them to formulate a totally
>different opinion?
>b. The claim that the present Iraqi government is not legitimate. It
>seems a lot more legitimate than that of the previous Saddam regime, which
>came to power in a military coup. At least the present regime has had
>elections, despite the interference from both domestic and external anti
>democratic forces.
>c. It's odd when we hear demands from old anti American lefties like
>Tony Benn and George Galloway for the Allies to withdraw; I don't recall
>them demanding the withdrawal of external fascistic antidemocratic forces
>or the encouragement of domestic groups to work towards a peaceful solution
>in Iraq with the present government, neither have they put forward workable
>solutions that will help turn Iraq into a democratic and prosperous state.
>If the claim of these groups is to encourage the Allies to withdraw, they
>are certainly going about it in a strange way. The most logical way, surely
>would have been to work with the Allies to rebuild Iraq; this would have
>saved lives, brought both prosperity to Iraq and the early withdrawal of
>the Coalition Forces.
>d. What especially saddens me is the lack of active support by many in
>the anti American left for the many brave Iraqi men and women and in the
>rest of the Middle East fighting for trade union rights, women¢s rights and
>civil liberties. Perhaps, this lack of support is explained because they
>prefer to be professional contrarians, rather than uphold the principles of
>their founders; Jefferson. Wilberforce, Paine and Pankhurst etc.
>2. As for the maritime boundary between Iraq and Iran.
>a. Many seem to be implying that the Iranian claims on this issue are
>correct and have been ratified by both sides. This is not the case. You
>will also find Iran has maritime and territorial disputes with many of its
>neighbours including the Gulf States. Many Gulf States feel intimidated by
>the historic expansionist or imperialist policies that Iran has practiced
>in the region for centuries. For examples
>b. In this light the developments of Iranian missiles that can strike
>Munich from Tehran, I suppose make a sort of sense. Could it be Iran wants
>to intimidate European countries as well? This makes it understandable that
>EU states like Poland and Britain support the installation of an anti
>missile shield by NATO.
>c. As to why there has only been luck luster support for Britain¢s case
>in this maritime dispute or it could be that countries like France and
>Germany fear for the potential loss in trade they have with Iran.
>3. But what I find truly astonishing is despite the plethora of
>articles, books, speeches etc I have not seen attempt to try to set out
>what the present position would be in the Middle East or the World if no
>action had been taken against Saddam.
>a. If he had been allowed to stay in power and able to continue his
>reign of terror, gassing or murdering any dissident Shia or Kurd, probably
>invading Saudi Arabia, sponsoring terrorist cells around the world,
>building up atomic material (only for peaceful purposes of course!) as Iran
>is doing etc. Would we still be arguing he should stay in power?
>b. What would your prediction be?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

‘Aurea hamo piscari’ (money talks).

The current situation in the Middle East is inevitable, given the power of the pro-Israeli lobby, in determining American policy in the area. We must live with the real politic and not some model of the world as we would wish it to be.

Egypt, Jordan and many in the Lebanese government have leant this hard lesson that it does not pay to oppose Israel on the battlefield. Instead, it pays to make a deal with Israel and the United States. Every year since 1979 Egypt has received over $2bn per annum and Jordan $500m a year. While the Lebanese government has had not much of a problem arranging foreign emergency aid since the August battles, already the EU have offered some €150m in emergency aid.

It is time Hamas and Hezbollah learnt this lesson, they should open negations’ immediately to make a financial deal. But this means they will have to transform themselves from rather disorganized militarily ineffectual terrorist groups, into respectable, democratic and not corrupt political parties, that the West can deal with.

Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland had to learn this lesson, it took courage and leadership, and hopefully Hamas and Hezbollah have the people to take such politically difficult decisions. In making such a deal, it is a win-win situation for the West and the people, Hamas and Hezbollah claim to represent. The poor in the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon need the Western investment in economic development necessary to drag these people out of the despair of poverty, which nearly fifty years of conflict has not managed to do.

Respectability brings other benefits, being able to fight the pro-Israeli lobby in the US Congress and the world stage on a less unequal footing. While prosperity has proved a very effective weapon in undermining the influence of extremist terror groups, as both Britain found with the IRA and Spain discovered in its dealings with ETA.

As saying goes ‘aurea hamo piscari’

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Commuter's face longer journeys to work due to bus timetable changes

Commuter's face longer journeys to work due to bus timetable changes
Changes to Route 7

26 February 2007
Route 7 between Kidlington, Oxford and Barton is to be split into two halves from Sunday 1st April 2007.

The decision has been made due to difficulties faced during recent major roadworks schemes, including Green Road roundabout and Oxford High Street. Further work is planned over future months that could have a major impact on route 7.

The question is why doesn’t the bus company, instead run buses between Headington and Kidlington via the JR and Marston Ferry Road? So that buses, avoid the delays caused by the never ending roadworks in Oxford City Centre that the Highways Authority is so fond of.

It would mean for many a much improved bus service for passengers travelling to school and work. while also cutting out the tedious journey through Oxford city centre.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Should Europe see a gas cartel as a threat to its supplies?

At a time when gas exporting countries are considering the formation of an OPEC type gas producer’s cartel. EU President Barrosso has argued the case for a united European energy strategy in order to improve and maintain a more favourable bargaining position. Energy experts argue that such a strategy is necessary, but, doubts, given the very differences that exist with gas production, distribution and marketing, that the formulation of an OPEC type organisation is viable. In any case, current Russian energy export policy is against surrendering any part of its existing power by involvement implicit in any OPEC type organisation. They conclude that Europe should formulate an energy strategy, but the most pressing question is, irrespective of the development of a gas exporter’s cartel, how Europe deals with its increasing dependency on gas imports from Russia and elsewhere.src=""
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Sunday, February 25, 2007

The question of Oxford becoming a unitary authority

The trouble is Oxford's case for becoming a unitary authority weakened because of the following factors.

The proposed area is too small - both in terms of tax base and population. A future Oxford unitary authority needs to include Botley, Abingdon, Wheatley, Kidlington, Garsington and Kennington within the proposed boundaries of a future unitary authority, if it is to be viable.

At the moment there is a much stronger case for Oxfordshire County Council being made into a unitary authority than Oxford with its present proposals.

Even if the county was made unitary, there are problems - the current county ward or division boundaries are drawn in such a way that it makes it significantly easier to be elected as a Tory councilor than from any other party.

The current situation means that there is a conservative majority in seats at county hall (43 seats with 34% of the vote) while all the other parties combined only won 31 seats with 66% of the vote.

So in terms of administrative efficiency then having a single unitary authority for whole county is the best bet.
But in terms of voter accountability, the best model is a unitary authority for Oxford that includes its immediate neighbours.

Otherwise the best solution is to reform the voting system used to elect our county councilors.src=""
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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Stephan Eklof’s ‘Pirates in Paradise’

Stephan Eklof’s ‘Pirates in Paradise’ is a description and analysis of modern piracy today in South East Asia. Eklof paints a picture of today’s maritime criminals quite unlike that portrayed by Johnny Depp in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ or the characters in J.M.Barrie’s Peter Pan and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. It is clear from Eklof’s book, that modern day pirates are much more ruthless, violent and murderous than those portrayed for our entertainment.

Eklof shows that piracy started to become a problem in the west in the 18th century. In fact it is a much older problem, and even the Romans had repeated problems with this form of maritime crime. In 75 BC Julius Caesar was kidnapped and held for ransom by pirates, and in 49 AD Pliny was sent by Emperor Claudius to investigate piracy in the bay of Naples.

So by the time of the ‘golden age of piracy’ these maritime gangsters were following a very ancient, if ignoble tradition for Eklof makes clear that most fiction writers and Hollywood films tended to glamorise this period between 1716 and 1726.It is estimated during this period some 218 vessels a year were attacked. Eklof notes that crews of target ships, once they had caught sight of the ‘Jolly Roger’ would rather surrender than die at the hands of the pirates.To read more about this book
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