Thursday, March 23, 2017


Cyprus is the third biggest island in the Mediterranean. The two biggest (Sicily and Sardinia) are part of Italy. The Republic of Cyprus occupies the southern part of the island, with the northern bit disputed with Turkey (recognised by Turkey as an independent state). The other island nation in the Med is Malta. Cyprus came under British Administration in 1878. The Sultan ceded the island to Britain to use as a base to protect the Ottoman Empire from Russian aggression.  When alliances changed, the island was formally annexed in 1914. In the 1950s there were claims on Cyprus from both Turkey and Greece. Independence was granted in 1960. Law can mean reality, but not always. Although the Republic has de jure (in law) sovereignty over the island, it is de facto (in fact) in three parts - 59% Republic, 36% Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and 4% UN buffer zone. Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004. Turkey started accession negotiations with the EU in 2005.

Cyprus Karaoke

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Legal People

A problem with democracy is that we don't trust other people, unless our opinion is in the majority. One of Mandela's great achievements was convincing the minority white power to hand over the political reigns to a constitutional democracy. The new story was of a Rainbow Nation.

The series 'The Crown' shows just how Queen Elizabeth II has embraced being the embodiment of a constitution which the United Kingdom has never actually written down. All these things are made up. Countries, companies, tribes, marriages etc. become embodied. We talk about them like we talk about people. We try give them physical form through land, buildings and things. Companies mostly aren't democratic. They are controlled by a few individuals.

Companies are incorporated with founding documents that give them life. Though the United Kingdom itself doesn't have such a founding document, many countries started their life as companies. Take a look at the development of the stars and stripes. The East India Company received a Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth I in 1600. It was a joint-stock company formed to take establish and take advantage of trade. The founders didn't want to put in work laying the foundations, only to let others benefit. Granting monopolies was a way of incentivising risk taking. It was only in 1858 that the British Government assumed control of the British Raj after the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Agreements are Legal People. Agreement allows ideas to have rights and obligations. They make stories exist, because the stories have real power that exists in the real world. It is useful to remember that they are indeed stories. 

Stories should work for us, rather than the us working for stories.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Bosnia and Herzegovina

We know we all came from Africa once. If 'we' define ourselves by (selective) ancestry. What makes people indigenous? What makes a people? The 'Slavic People' that populate the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina arrived in the area around the 6th to 9th century. Before that, it was home to the Illyrian people and the Celts. The places we think of as Celtic (far away in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Brittany) are the remnants of people who fled the farthest. Bosnia was ruled by the Ottoman empire from 1463 - 1878, then under the Austro-Hungarian empire up till the World Wars which struck two fatal blows to the age of Empires ruled by small national elites. The end wasn't smooth. First it was part of Yugoslavia (Kingdom 1918-1941, Socialist Federal Republic 1945-1992) then there was more war. An independent constitution came in 1995. Modern unions, institutions and cross-border agreements are attempting to figure out how the balance between the dysfunctions of Nationalism and Imperialism.

Far from Bosnia
Celtic Nations

Monday, March 20, 2017


Like many nations, Belarus is younger than some people. I knew the trigger for World War II was the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany, and Soviet Russia. I didn't know there had been a Polish-Soviet War in 1919-1921 in which Poland, fearful of German and Russian imperialism, had looked to push its borders as far east as possible. Belarus was a newly formed country, declared independent after the Russian Revolution of 1917. It lost half its territory to Poland. World War II didn't end with a reversal of how it started, i.e. an independent Poland. The modern borders of Belarus were formed in 1939 with the Soviet Invasion of Poland. In 1945, the Byelorussian SSR became a founding member of the United Nations. Independence was declared in 1991 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. "Europe's last dictatorship", Alexander Lukashenko has served as president since 1994.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


The centre of the Christian world didn't start in Western Europe. The first state to declare Christianity as its religion was Armenia. Its neighbour Azerbaijan, which became Christian in the 4th century, was the first democratic state in the Muslim Orient in 1918. Two years later it became part of the Soviet Union. Today, although the majority of the population are of a Shiite Muslim background, the country is one of the most irreligious in the Muslim world. According to the Pew Research Centre, more than 53% claim religion has little to no importance in their lives. Many nation states were set up creating groups of people who were similar. 92% speak Azerbaijani as a mother tongue. 98% are Muslim. A 2008 Gallup poll had 21% saying religion was an important part of their lives. Russian and English play large rolls for education and communication.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Watch Yourself Donkey

I have avoided buying a watch for a long time. I can remember the freedom of giving up my watch. I felt like I had been a little time obsessed. When I studied, I would work for 50 minutes, then have a 10 minute break. Repeat. In exams, I would have 1.6 minutes per mark, with 20 minutes to check at the end. If I was meeting someone, I would always be early. I did think this was useful, and made me productive but... it made time my master rather than the other way around. So I ditched the watch. Just made sure I started early, and avoided corners. Space makes time.

Bubbling Along

I took up running two years ago with the goal of one day becoming an Unogwaja. Last year, I attempted the Comrades. I made the 89km from Maritzburg to Durbs along the road I grew up on, but I was just outside the stadium when the gun went. I slowed down, and enjoyed 'running' into Kingsmead. There are lots of things that went right that day, and lots of lessons learnt. It is easy to only focus on the 'what ifs'. 

Going Dark
The Gun sounds outside the stadium

One of those 'what ifs' was if I had been wearing a watch. I liked the freedom of running wild. Truth is, I had no margin of safety. I was slow from the first kilometre. It was always going to be tight. I told a friend when I was dark and struggling, that I just needed to focus and get in my bubble. He responded, 'Your bubble is too slow'. I should have listened. One day, when my bubble is a bit faster, I will be able to be a little wilder.

Always look on the bright side of death
Before you take your terminal breath

In just under a month's time, I am attempting my second ultra-marathon. The Two Oceans (56km) in Cape Town.

This time I am going to watch myself.

Done Forrest Done

Friday, March 17, 2017


Austria has a population roughly the same size as that of Greater London (8.7 million). It was born from the Holy Roman Empire, under the Habsburg dynasty. The Emperor's power remained strong in the south as the northern German princes started to resent being controlled, using Protestantism as the flag of rebellion. The Austrian Empire was proclaimed in 1804 in response to Napoleon's self-coronation as Emperor of the French, becoming part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867. The fragile balance of power maintaining peace since the Thirty Year War saw various empires forming frenemies. Ferdinand II started that war (1616-1648) trying to impose religious uniformity in the form of Roman Catholicism. Austria was the first to go to war in 1914, becoming WWI, following the assassination of its Archduke, Franz Ferdinand. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017


What defines a country is fuzzy. They come to life by agreement. Andorra was created by a charter in 988, with the principality formed in 1278. The heads of state are a monarchy - two co-princes (The President of France, and the Bishop of Urgell in Spain). It is not a member of the European Union, but its official currency is the Euro. It is a member of the United Nations, and has a population of about 85,000 people. It doesn't have its own armed forces. Stuck away in the mountains, it's relative isolation has allowed it to exist mostly outside of the mainstream of European history. In 2013, the people of Andorra had the highest life expectancy in the world, at 81 (according the Lancet). Coincidence? Tourism accounts for about 80% of the GDP, with about 10 million annual visitors.