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Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics, by Tim Marshall

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global PoliticsPrisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Do not try to rush through this book as it contains a great deal of information. Tim Marshall has taken what seems to be a very simple topic and has shown that, for many of us, our understanding is wafer thin. This is a fascinating book and about as up to date as it can be. For example, for decades now, I’ve been told that Brazil is on the edge of becoming an economic giant, because of its resources. This book explains why that is unlikely to happen.
Few seem to realise what is happening around China and Russia, why some of the recent Russian actions were inevitable and why our leaders should be more attune to the inevitable results of some of their actions, in the face of geography. Tim Marshall does a masterly job of explaining these things.
He finishes with a chapter on the Arctic. If you thought that region is not important, you will think again after reading this.
A must read for anyone interested in world affairs.
I would recommend that you read this in conjunction with Chris Parry’s excellent “Super Highway: Sea Power in the 21st Century”.

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Extradited : The European Arrest Warrant and My Fight for Justice from a Greek Prison Cell by Andrew Symeou

Extradited : The European Arrest Warrant and My Fight for Justice from a Greek Prison CellExtradited : The European Arrest Warrant and My Fight for Justice from a Greek Prison Cell by Andrew Symeou
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you have a youngster going on holiday to mainland Europe, without you, this summer, then this is essential reading. If not, then this is still an excellent read and would be if it was just a novel, but sadly, it is all too true.
It is difficult to believe that this is Andrew Symeou’s first book as it is very well written and a gripping read. It could be an ‘unputdownable’ novel as you are gripped by the almost unbelievable events as they unfold, eager to find out what is next.
He does such a great job of characterisation, that you almost feel that you know some of the prisoners, some of the very sad damaged people, that he got to know so well during his time in Greek prison’s. This included the notorious Korydallos Prison in Athens. In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights had found Greece in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. Amnesty International has said that Korydallos “is renowned for its poor conditions which have resulted in regular uprisings by prisoners demanding improvements”. It is worth buying the book just to read Symeou’s account of his 6 months in Korydallos with drug dealers, murderers and others including a brilliant but unhinged individual who seems to be able to make almost anything electrical out of next to nothing, and the effect that that whole experience has on the mind of an individual.
If you are reading this to learn more about the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) you will wonder how this very flawed piece of legislation ever got onto the statute books of a country famed for Magna Carta and individual freedoms, but then as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, with responsibility for security, at the time told me, the government is “satisfied” with the EAW. He seemed uninterested in the growing number of totally innocent British people held on remand in terrible European prisons. But then, the EAW must be a nice tool to use if you are unconcerned about individual injustice and torment.
But back to the book. In Symeou’s words:
“I wrote Extradited because it’s a story that needs to be heard. This isn’t just another ‘bleeding heart’ sob story of an innocent person behind bars (we’ve all heard that story before). One of my key motivations behind writing this book was to show by example how vulnerable British citizens currently are – it highlights why our government must make further changes to the controversial European Arrest Warrant (EAW).
He quotes liberally from a journal that he managed to keep throughout his ordeal and from other sources, such as this from the BBC News, which states the fundamentals of the case:
“9 January 2010, BBC News.
PROTEST STAGED OVER BRITISH STUDENT IN GREEK JAIL
Supporters of a British student held in Greece on manslaughter charges have protested at London’s Greek embassy. Andrew Symeou, 21, is accused of killing Jonathan Hiles, 18, of Cardiff, by punching him in a nightclub on the isle of Zante in 2007. Mr Symeou, of Enfield, north London, is in Korydallos Prison in Athens, a jail condemned by Amnesty International.”
Symeou again:
“Despite our incredible fight for justice, the European Arrest Warrant meant that my extradition was inevitable. I was treated as though I was guilty and ended up in prison on remand having to endure some horrific situations. In the twenty-first century, within the European Union, this shouldn’t be allowed to happen. If the British authorities had the power to scrutinise the Greek investigation, I would have been exonerated – eliminating me from the scene of the crime as soon as they were issued with a warrant for my arrest. Not only would I have been able to continue with my life, but there would have been a chance to find the real assailant, who remains at large.”

Not in the book, but added as a final thought.

The first mistake is a failure to see that law is cultural. It does not come out of nowhere and law’s genesis explains the way in which checks and balances develop and the ways in which consent is secured. Consent is essential to effective legal systems. Unlike the rest of Europe, which has what is called the ‘civil law’ system with codified laws and a career judiciary, we have a common law system. In the Middle Ages most European societies rediscovered Roman law and, having reworked it, they received it as the basis of their national systems. The English held out and through the creation of the Empire exported the Anglo-Saxon-based common law to all the English-speaking colonies.
(Baroness Helena Kennedy from “Just Law”, 2004)

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The Road to Little Dribbling

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in BritainThe Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Road to Little Dribbling
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Created Friday 22 July 2016

Bill Bryson

Curmudgeonly, grumpy, at times crude, but a brilliant observer of Britain in decline, Bryson has written a book that is difficult to put down. It is part biography and part a book about detailed observances of Britain and its culture as only an outsider, come insider can do. He includes regular comparisons to places he visited 20 or more years ago, and reflects on a bygone Britain when the less threatening genteel asylum inmates were able to go out in the afternoon and walk around the local shops, where they were known and understood. As with so much in Britain now, we have succumbed to mind stultifying drugs of the real and imaginary kind, that have killed that sort of individuality and eccentricity.

For an example of his great writing style, regarding newspaer reporting:

“ ‘The rule is that bulls can be placed in fields with public rights of way as long as they are kept with beef cows and not dairy cows.’ I was of course bewildered by this. ‘Why one and not the other?’ I asked. ‘No idea. But the real danger,’ he went on, is cows. Cows kill a lot more people than bulls.’ Whatever is the next level beyond pained incredulity is the level I reached now. .. ‘Cows attack a lot.’ Walkers in Britain, it seems, are killed by cows all the time. Four people were fatally trampled in one eight-week period in 2009 alone. One of these was a veterinarian out walking her dogs on the Pennine Way in Yorkshire. More recently, a retired university lecturer named Mike Porter was trampled to death by an angry herd – yes angry – in a field near the Kennet and Avon Canal in Wiltshire. . ‘It looked like they wanted to kill him,’ one eyewitness breathlessly told the Daily Telegraph. It was the fourth serious attack on walkers in five years just by this one herd. .. it occurred to me that the issue here is not how often bad things happen, but how often they are reported, which is quite a different matter, of course. In America, a cow trampling would never make the national news.. There could be a national epidemic of cow tramplings and no one would know it because the news wouldn’t travel far enough for trends to become apparent. But in Britain if a single cow tramples a walker anywhere in the country, it will almost certainly make headlines. The story of the veterinarian killed in Yorkshire was reported in all the national newspapers except the Daily Star, and I am guessing that that was only because the people at the Star couldn’t spell veterinarian.”

This is one of my two favourite books on contemporary England, the other being, Tim Moore’s “You are awful, but I like you”. However, no one can beat Bryson’s fun writing style. There’s something here for everyone, whether it is a trip to the point, at 70.3 miles, that is the furthest, “and least salty”, that you can get from the coast. As he says, it is marked by a roll of discarded carpet, tossed into the hedge. That’s today’s England for you. .. or whether it is a visit to a beautiful English village and meadow that will be destroyed if Heathrow gets its third runway, .. or to an unstately, stately home that is locked into a time capsule of decay, as it was left 50 years previously.
Even his description of a somewhat chaotic trip to Cape Wrath will have you chuckling as he highlights our eccentricities in even such a remote place.
The book is worth buying for any individual chapter alone, such as that which includes his ten most pleasing things that occur to him about Britain. (OK there are twelve). I can understand Boxing Day but am still pondering the inclusion of the 20p piece.

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Sir Arthur Salter – The United States of Europe 1933

The United States of Europe and Other PapersThe United States of Europe and Other Papers by Arthur Salter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great book that contains many of the documents that were used to design the European Union (EU). Written in 1933, it reflects the thinking of the time and the rational behind the EU that we have today, designed for a world that no longer exists. It is important to understand this post World War thinking to understand why the EU was designed in the way that it was. The great irony is that the EU was designed by a British Civil Servant, Sir Arthur Salter, working in the League of Nations, although his role is very rarely ever mentioned. He worked closely with one of the founding fathers, Jean Monnet, about whom much more is written.

The concern was that economic factors were behind most wars so if a way could be found to reduce tariffs and increase trade, then the likelihood of war could be reduced. As Sir Arthur wrote, about “All the trade barriers which the Conference sought to remove are of course buttressed by some private interest which has developed businesses under its protection.” The economic giant was the USA, where there were no tariff barriers between states and thus, in this huge market, businesses boomed. So Salter envisioned a United States of Europe where there would be “complete free trade within Europe. … But can it be seriously believed that this is a conception that has any practical chance of realization as an economic policy only, and in the absence of very great political change? Zollvereins (1) have been often preached, not infrequently attempted, but never, I think, realised, except under the conditions of an overwhelming political motive and an extremely close political association between the countries concerned. … the receipts from Customs are so central and substantial a part of their [The European States] revenues, that a common political authority, deciding for all Europe what tariffs should be imposed and how they should be distributed, would be for every country almost as important as, or even more important than, the national governments, and would in effect reduce the latter to the status of municipal authorities. In other words, the United States of Europe must be a political reality or it cannot be an economic one.”

Much of the rest of the book is taken up by the actions required by the Central Authority of The League, the Kellogg Pact and attitude of the USA, to prevent war and the example of the short lived Greek invasion of Bulgaria in 1925 and the intervention of the League makes interesting reading. Sir Arthur went down to the Greek frontier a year later and “On arriving there I rather surprised the Bulgarian officers who accompanied me by saying that I proposed to walk over and invite the officers in command of the adjacent Greek frontier station to join us in our picnic lunch.” That’s the way to sort out wars!

If you don’t read this book I don’t think you can fully understand the EU of today, why it is an answer to a world that no longer exists, nor why it has a Commission, a Parliament, a Council of Ministers and a Court of Justice, as modeled on the League of Nations.

Sir Arthur was the real architect of the EU, but you will never see a plaque dedicated to his name.

(1) The word Zollverein stems from the German customs union of 1833 organised by the Zollverein Treaties.

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A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great BetrayalA Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Superb. But this is far more than just a book about Kim Philby and friends. Ben Macintyre has also written a no holds barred history of those who thought of themselves as the natural ruling class, through the 1920s to 60s, their total moral corruption, their weirdness and finally their own descent into self destruction. For anyone wanting to look back on this period, or for, say, an American who wants to learn more about this most embarrassing period of our history, this is an excellent primer. I just hope our present day leaders are better, but I know that is a forlorn hope. They are just less colourful.
The cultural and professional conflicts between MI5 and MI6 and the long term damage that Philby did to the CIA are interesting studies in themselves, which Macintyre documents so well.
If you just enjoy ripping spy novels, this would fit the bill, wonderfully, but because of Macintyre’s, research, attention to detail, fact and his discussion of some alternative versions of the ‘truth’, plus his skilful writing style, this book shows how real life can be so much more interesting than fiction and almost unbelievable.
Very highly recommended, on many levels.

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The God of the Mundane – Matt Redmond

The God Of The MundaneThe God Of The Mundane by Matthew B. Redmond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In probably one of the best books that I have read, Matt Redmond, addresses an issue that is almost entirely overlooked by Pastors and writers alike. He asks “Is there a God of the mundane?” His goal was to “comfort Christians where they were – to help people believe the mundane stuff matters and that goal he achieves superbly.
He writes for the “stay-at-home mom. She does the same chores every day. She fixes meals not always appreciated ………” He also writes for “A man, stuck. Stuck in a job that feels small – a job making him feel small. He is not embarrassed of his job so much as just miserable. … Actually, if we want to be specific about it, he is a banker.” and there is the strength of the book as it would appear that during the writing of the book something happened and Matt Redmond found himself in the very job he dreaded. But it is clear that God had a use not only for his gifts in the bank but also to bring an extra level of realism to this book.
As his whole life has been churched he has heard thousands of sermons but never one on living quietly which is strange as Paul urges his hearers to “aspire to live quietly” (1Thes 4:11), to do their work quietly, (2Thes 3:12) and even urges Timothy to tell his people to do the same.
A classic demonstration of this book is acted out by George Bailey (google him or ask any American). So if you are not a latter day Gladys Aylward or Billy Graham then like the rest of us “Be Nobody Special” and maybe this book is for you. “This little book is not a call to do nothing. It is a call to be faithful right where you are, regardless of how mundane that place is.”

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The Rule of Nobody – Philip K. Howard

The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken GovernmentThe Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government by Philip K. Howard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Philip Howard sets out to show how “freedom diminishes as government loudly grinds towards paralysis” and that as “daunting as the prospect maybe, we must rebuild modern government.” To prove his point, his book is full of supporting tales of a government that is in paralysis and the book is richly littered with excellent quotations.
That is the good.
The poor is that the book needs a good editor as it is overly long for the points made and is, at times repetitive. Also, Howard seems to be a supporter of big powerful central government, as a way to overcome paralysis, plus states’ rights hardly get a mention. As an outsider, it has always struck me that one of the strengths of the US culture, is that states have a large degree of independence which acts as an automatic balancing of power when one state goes to extremes of debt or anything else. People will vote with their feet and relocate.
I find myself disagreeing with some of his solutions as they will give the US government even more power at the centre and will give the President too much power, power that seems to be being abused already (2015), without granting more. That is the path to dictatorship.
In his appendix, Howard lists a “Bill of Responsibilities” in the nature of 5 proposed amendments to the Constitution. They make interesting reading, and could improve government, but I feel certain that his:
1. Amendment XXIX “… the President may: reorganize executive agencies and departments; veto line items in proposed budgets; refuse to spend budgeted funds for any program in order to avoid waste or inefficiency ….”
and
2. Amendment XXX “The President shall have authority over personnel decisions in the executive branch, including authority to terminate public employees, within budgetary guidelines and neutral hiring protocols established by Congress.”
At the minimum, his amendment ideas should start a healthy discussion.
Howard’s comparison of the US government with Jonathan Swift’s “Lagado” is both funny and sadly accurate. As he writes: “Modern American government is also organized to put theory above reality. Public choices, we believe, should be made pursuant to clear rules, set in advance, whatever the consequences. The consequences, as in Lagado, are wholly predictable: Nothing much works. Government staggers towards insolvency because no one is able to adjust unaffordable programs. An official lacks the authority to pull a tree out of a “class C-1” creek.”
A curate’s egg of a book. The good is very good, and the bad, worrying.

Philip Howard is the Chairman of Common Good. For further details of his reform agenda, go to. http://www.commongood.org.

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