Are we looking at Cold War Two?

I CAN think of no idea - except possibly religion - that has been more deadly, more damaging, caused more sheer bloody nastiness between human beings than nationalism.

Aidan Semmens

I CAN think of no idea - except possibly religion - that has been more deadly, more damaging, caused more sheer bloody nastiness between human beings than nationalism.

The idea that this bit of land belongs to that group of people. That this group of people is somehow better than that group, purely by the chance of their birth.

That the mass expulsion and/or murder of one ethnic group by another is in some way “cleansing” an area of land.

It's what most wars - even those ostensibly “about” religion - have really been about.

Yet even in Europe, where the idea of “nations” was born, many of the borders are quite recent and quite fluid.

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That small, but historically highly significant, entity known as Belgium is, apparently, on the point of breaking up.

The collapse of Yugoslavia back into its constituent parts is a modern horror story.

And now we have Georgia.

Until a couple of weeks ago the name of Gori - if it meant anything at all - meant only the birthplace of Stalin.

At one level, you might almost see what Russia has been doing there as a belated revenge for Stalinism.

At another, one might imagine Vladimir Putin as a Stalin-like figure himself, if a little less paranoid, a little more subtle in his methods. Both of them as followers in the centuries-old Russian tradition of rule by tyrants.

So what is the tyrant up to now?

It's about more than Georgia, that's for sure. A great deal more than the breakaway hopes of the tiny republic of South Ossetia which supposedly began the trouble.

It appears that Putin has been using the South Ossetians in much the same way as Hitler used the “ethnic Germans” in Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland, as pretexts for a war of aggression against smaller, weaker neighbours.

But, as was the case with Hitler, there is a wider canvas too.

This time we could be looking at the first shots, the first victims, the first acts of savagery in Cold War II.

Because the significance of Georgia is as a former member of the Russian empire now leaning heavily towards the West.

Its president, Mikheil Saakashvili, studied at two American universities and practised law in New York.

He wants his country to join Nato - which to Russian eyes is a bit like Cuba, Nicaragua or even Mexico, turning Communist.

There is clear provocation on both sides, with the South Ossetians and Georgia itself mere pawns in a bigger game.

And though the latest move was Putin's, there are players in Washington too.

George W Bush may have been taken by surprise, caught flirting with beach volleyball players in Beijing while the shells rained on Gori.

But Bush has less than four months of his presidency to run. And the man his party hopes will succeed him, John McCain, was not away at the Olympics.

By his own admission (one might say his own boast) McCain has been in touch “daily” by phone with Saakashvili since before the trouble began.

Georgia's heavy-handed response to South Ossetian troublemaking gave Russia the excuse it needed to “intervene”.

Five Georgian policeman injured by South Ossetian bombs may have been the spark, but it was Saakashvili who held the blue touchpaper.

His hot-tempered response, sending in the troops, provided a gift to Putin.

One is tempted to wonder what was said in those calls between Saakashvili and McCain.

Did the US presidential candidate try to calm his pal down? Or did he rather stoke up the flames of temper?

We'll never know. But there are a couple of things we do know about McCain.

He's a former soldier with a hawkish record of supporting every war America has got itself into.

And a renewal of sabre-rattling between America and Russia, the revival of traditional enmities, is a likely way to boost his ratings in the forthcoming US election.

- Olympic gold for entertainment

I WAS halfway down the A12 when it happened. Steve Williams, Tom James, Pete Reed and Andrew Triggs Hodge were a bit more than halfway down the course at Shunyi.

Suddenly, as the British four overhauled the Australian rowers, vividly described by Alan Green on Radio 5, I found myself getting excited by the Olympics. For the first time since about 1988.

I still think the Games are a vastly overblown, overpriced extravagance.

I'm still dreading the tub-thumping, disruption and economic upset that will inevitably precede and climax at London 2012.

I still think it's wrong that sports such as football and tennis, which have bigger tournaments of their own, should be involved at all.

And yet.

What else would get me watching - and enjoying - such pursuits as gymnastics, diving, show-jumping, sailing, or indeed rowing?

Family entertainment which all the family really can enjoy together is rare enough. And what a great showcase for the variety of sporting activities youngsters can take up.

Maybe my 20 years of being an Olympic grouch are over.