Lee Kuan Yew and Margaret Thatcher

An amazing parallel runs through the political careers of Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of the Republic of Singapore, and Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first woman prime minister. Both began their political career at the same time and stepped down as prime minister on the same day.

Both laid down their office on November 28, 1990. Both were succeeded by their deputies: Goh Chok Tong became prime minister of Singapore, and John Major of Britain. Continue reading “Lee Kuan Yew and Margaret Thatcher”

Barack Obama, Billy Collins, Rita Dove and poetry


I love Barack Obama and Billy Collins. They are both here in this video showing the White House Evening of Poetry. Collins comes on last – around the 35th minute of this video.

Rita Dove is the first to read a poem after Obama gets out of the way. You can read here what he said.

Here’s one of the poems read by Rita Dove – Maple Valley Branch Library, 1967 – which she calls a “love poem to libraries”. Billy Collins read Forgetfulness followed by The Lanyard. Click on the links to read the poems.

Continue reading “Barack Obama, Billy Collins, Rita Dove and poetry”

Gold ain’t what it was in Goldfinger

Gold is no longer what it used to be when Ian Fleming wrote Goldfinger or Sean Connery starred in the film with Honor Blackman playing Pussy Galore in 1964.

Consider the plot: Goldfinger plans to steal the gold in Fort Knox.

What's at stake is the entire world economy.

For Fort Knox contains the American gold pile that underwrites the global monetary system.

That was really true back then.

The price of gold was fixed at $35 an ounce.

The US government was committed to converting dollars into gold at that price. That was part of the Bretton Woods international monetary system introduced at the end of the Second World War. There were fixed currency exchange rates pegged to the dollar and gold.

Goldfinger's plan to steal the gold from Fort Knox threatened to wreck the international monetary system. Of course, he was in league with the nefarious SMERSH, the Soviet counterintelligence agency.

Now the Russians along with the Chinese want the dollar replaced with a new global reserve currency.

But that's another story – for the dollar is no longer what it used to be, nor is the gold.

The Nixon revolution

The man who changed it all – President Richard Nixon.

He is now remembered for the Watergate scandal and pingpong diplomacy bringing America and China together.

But Nixon also changed the Bretton Woods international monetary system in 1971. He "decoupled" the dollar from the gold, abandoning the commitment to convert gold into dollars at $35 an ounce.

That affected the entire monetary system.

Why did Nixon do it?

Because US gold reserves were down and America was on the verge of running its first trade deficit in more than 75 years, says Wikipedia. The US dollar was overpriced and other currencies such as the Japanese yen undervalued. The fixed exchange rate did not reflect the strength of currencies such as Japan's which had flourished on trade with America.

The former Economist editor Bill Emmott describes the background – the Vietnam war, political friction between America and Japan on trade matters – that led to the change and its effect on Japan.

Bill Emmott writes in Rivals: How The Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade, published last year:

Continue reading “Gold ain’t what it was in Goldfinger”