Saturday, December 24, 2005

Winter Bee

I was surprised to see a bumble bee in the garden just now, obviously (from the yellow spot on her leg) gathering quite a bit of pollen for a nest. Very strange on Christmas Eve.


In my seasonal meanderings around the blogosphere, I suspect that Lex has by far the best picture of the moment. And the BBC's Late Junction, despite the devilish rumours to the contrary, actually has all the best tunes.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

2006 Threats

Great piece on tonight's Channel 4 News: a top 10 list of threats to the UK in 2006. Christmas cheer par excellence... The video can be viewed through the item's page.


Term is over so it's time for rest. Good stuff! After a nightmare journey down to Dublin (mostly my fault) I'm in for a great holiday. I hope you have a good one yourself.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


You really can't hang around New York without finding a picture of a red and white thingy with Steam coming out (Assyrian facade optional). The NYC equivalent of a red-haired girl with a donkey.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


I see the new issue of Britain and Ireland is out, this time addressing matters cultural.

Attitudes towards an (the?) EU Constitution

I can't find the data on the Eurobarometer site, but RTÉ is reporting a slight rise in support for an EU constitution in the latest Eurobarometer, accompanied admittedly by a drop in general support for the EU. Interpreting from very slight data (academic speak for 'guessing'), this suggests a rather normal trend in political thinking: if you don't trust the institution, you'd better get yourself protected by a body of law.


Via Apparently Nothing, I've just come across a wonderful resource: ShutterSeek. It's a kind of Lifehacker for camera obsessives. Great stuff!


A more pleasant picture today, taken somewhere beyond New Haven on the Boston-New York train: by far the best way to travel between the two cities.

By the way: them there on the horizon are a spectacularly bleak row of houses.

Monday, December 19, 2005

He knows when you are sleeping...

Not that anybody needs a reminder of the heightened tensions in the American security apparatus, here's a photo of the armed coast guard boat that accompanied the Staten Island Ferry from Manhattan last week. The ferry is the best way to see NYC (especially, as we did, at dusk) and I fully recommend it. But sometimes it's hard not to be put off by the incessant monitoring. This is partly because, instead of being reassuring, it sort of puts everyone on notice that the baddies are out to get you. Maybe that's what it's supposed to do?

By the way, Mel makes some interesting points linking last week's spook-related revelations on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Our Time on Hobbes

Thanks to Stefan, I've been pointed out to a very good piece on Thomas Hobbes in Radio 4's In Our Time: a great programme reviewing both Hobbes's life and his philosophy.

Long Way Home

As well all know, the news in the UK over the last number of years has often involved the ramifications of poverty and exclusion in the North of England. Geographical and demographic factors certainly disadvantage the North compared to the relatively rich and prosperous South.

Well, I have the solution.

Why not compel half the trans-Atlantic flights into London to land in Leeds-Bradford Airport before they fly on to Heathrow or wherever? Just force them to land there. Perhaps create an enterprise zone around Leeds-Bradford thus creating a few jobs in the area.

Of course, viewed from a national perspective the benefits of such a policy might not be totally obvious. After all, any jobs created in the North would likely be offset by job-losses in the South as travellers and the like diverted their trans-Atlantic trips to Paris and Frankfurt. Moreover, the effect of the policy on the North of England’s economy would be pretty limited – limited in fact to the people who worked in or around the airport. And it goes without saying that travellers to London would be hugely pissed off as they wasted time sitting in Leeds-Bradford and wasted money subsidising the tickets of the, say, 10% of passengers who actually disembarked in Leeds-Bradford.

Still, at least the slightly smaller pork(barrel) pie would have more evenly spaced slices.

I’ve arrived back in Belfast from the States after flying into Dublin (via the Shannon stopover).

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

To the Bitter End

In terms of music recommendations, we (purely randomly) ended up taking shelter from the cold in Bitter End last night and came across an amazing singer called Shaun Barker (his site is not terribly polished, but you can hear some of his music, which is very polished, here). Apparently his first album is out next month and I'll certainly be in the cyber-queue!


Just another picture of Boston, this looking up Commonwealth Avenue from Boston Common. The (digital) filter is purely a function of stopping the low-light snow looking blue...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

And moving slowly from Boston

Randi's marvellous photo from our slow trip down Commonwealth Avenue is here...


The American tour continues with a few day's break in New York. God it's cold here, though warmer than a rainy December day in Dublin. Two things immediately noticeable: how international Manhattan is and (more so) the ubiquity of Starbucks.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Voice of God

Aaahhh. So that's what's going on!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Fort Worth

Well, I've made it to Durham New Hampshire now on my American tour. It's strangely warmer here than in Texas (as of last night anyway), but that doesn't mean it's warm! Anyway, here's a Christmasesque picture of pleasant downtown Fort Worth.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Solaris Texas

Well who'd have thunk it. I'm snowbound in Texas. We had an ice-storm here yesterday, it's -15 celsius with windchill and my flight to Boston has been cancelled. Ah well, I'll get there at some stage this afternoon.

(By the way, the marvellous photo is from someone called Erinliisa on flickr.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Round Midnight

God - it's pouring with posts here. I'm just listening to last night's radio as I work. RTÉ's Round Midnight is generally worth listening to on Tuesday nights (even if you have to skip through the news), but last night (streamed on RealPlayer) was a classic. Some really interesting stuff, especially Colm McCann's essay, the piece on Reparations for Slavery and panhandling (!) and the Australian Cricket Referees.

Hiatus Hiatus

Just taking a brief break from my work-and-life-driven hiatus to mention the fact that Crooked Timber has launched an online seminar on Susanna Clark's spectacular Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Should be well worth keeping an eye on!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Well, the changing of the clocks has really brought the Autumn here. Still, I do like the rare crisp sunny days in Belfast: they make the rain worthwhile...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Well, here's another photo: I'm busy writing (and re-writing) papers and learning to use Joomla, which could save me a lot of bother over the next few years, so no time for reading and writing in the good ol' blogosphere...

Still, there's always time for reading a few of my must-see blogs (generally at the moment, NIMagyar, Crooked Timber and Slugger) and for catching up on goings on in Stephen and Mel's lives.

Friday, October 28, 2005


An article in the Boston Globe and seminar in the Boston Public Library reminds me of a small bookshop I used to work in on O'Connell Street in Dublin. It's always interesting to discover what's on the thief's wish-list and that year, apart from the usual childrens' books, it was The General by Paul Williams. We couldn't keep it on the shelf but kept it beneath the till. Not quite up there with liberating artefacts from the Chester Beatty, but still...

Monday, October 24, 2005


Just a quick snap of Smithfield in Dublin, taken when it was far too dark!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Feck Fecking Off BT

I'm a big fan of BT Privacy, the service by which you can stop people in call centres ringing you to sell you stuff. Imagine my surprise, though, when I got cold called by (ta-da!) BT. Apparently this is fine because, according to the poor guy at the end of the phone, BT Privacy doesn't apply to, well, BT.

Now, continue imagining my surprise and add some bemusement. BT have started spamming me. But not in the normal way. No. The first email from them merrily informed me that "At BT we never send out unsolicited emails, so you'll never get any spam from us. To make sure you receive the latest information, special offers and the latest news add our details to your address book." Usually careful me is off to search for the point when I ticked/didn't tick in a way that solicited these emails. If I don't find it I'll just sit in a dark room for a while.

Monday, October 17, 2005

China Plug

The sister has posted some fantastic photos from her recent trip to China: take a look here!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Busy busy busy

Things here have been enjoyably busy in the last few weeks, which means that posting here has taken a back seat. Not to worry: here's a picture of a flying rat and a Fourth Plinth (strangely for an atheist, my favourite was always Wallinger's Ecce Home).

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Conservatives Smell the Coffee

I've been fascinated all week by the Tory Party Conference: it's always enjoyable to see the raw sort of democracy in action that takes place (or appears to take place) when the Tories elect a new leader. Seriously: because they're not being too rude to each other they get on with debating issues that they wouldn't dare raise in a parliamentary campaign.

Anyway, Simon Kuper had a very interesting analysis in last Saturday's FT, discussing the state of the party. The basic point of the article is, unsurprisingly, that the Tories have become something of an electoral irrelevance for many of the people they should be attracting (and must attract if they are to be in government ever again). This was explained succinctly to Kuper in a meeting with Nicholas Boles:
No more past; no more opportunism; a critic might say that doesn’t leave the Tories with much. They now need a vision of Britain’s future: their own version of “forward not back”.

Amid the chaos of his desk, Boles has a flipchart showing what is required. His first chart shows the party losing votes among social classes ABC1: professionals, managers, clerks and administrators. In the 1970s the party had a nearly 40-percentage-point lead over Labour among this group. Even as late as 1992, the Tories were still the party of aspiration: Blair once said he knew that year’s election was lost when he met a man out washing his car, who said he’d always voted Labour, but would vote Tory now he had his own business. This May, Boles’s chart shows, the Tory lead over Labour among ABC1 voters was 1 percentage point. “This is our core vote,” he notes. “The Thatcher years were all about blowing away the wets and toffs while self-made people came up. Right now the Tory party represents aspiration only to someone who wants to become a blazer-wearing college-scarved Alan B’stard sort of person, and nobody normal aspires to that.”

Boles flips the page. The next chart shows the party’s support rising among C2s: the skilled working classes, taxi drivers for instance, who like Tory positions on immigrants and crime. Influential Tories are uneasy about attracting these people: as one of them told me, “Our core vote will never be people who own pit bull terriers.”

Then Boles flips the page to the punchline: a graph with a rising line crossing a falling one. It shows the number of ABC1s going up, while C2s die out. The Tories are fishing in a shrinking pool. The change in their voting base evokes Bush’s Republicans: losing the traditional elite, and winning in return poor voters in redneck states who vote Republican against their own economic interests. It’s just that in America, the “faith, flag and family” pitch works better than in Britain.
I was also struck by this comment on the last election. Michael Ashcroft has published a report entitled 'Wake Up and Smell the Coffee' (introduction here) based on a series of polls that
tracked changes in opinions over several months. These found that although people didn’t like immigration, they weren’t obsessed with it. In the last ICM poll before the election, only nine per cent of voters named it as the key issue. In any case, they didn’t believe politicians could do much about it. Those most worried about immigrants - the working classes and the poorest members of society - were also least likely to vote Tory.

Most Tories now realise that they fought the campaign on a marginal issue.
What the new leader has to do is not easy. But, as Kuper points out, it is essential. Just as with voters, the lives of political parties do come to an end.


I see the Guardian has published a piece on a European Commission site that reveals the extortionate roaming charges for UK mobile phones across the EU.

Best not to forget one solution to this: if you're going to be in another country for more than a certain amount of time (depending on how much you'll use your phone), get a local SIM card. I for one have an O2 SIM for the Irish Republic and, when I was staying there, had a Belgian SIM: when I cross the border I pop the appropriate one in.

Update: I see that Mick has already mentioned this. Not that that makes my post totally redundant!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Irish in the EU

The EU Law Blog posts on the new language provisions for the European council. This caused a bit of a stir in Irish politics and in the Irish blogosphere for two lazy Junes in a row. See, here, here and, in a roundabout way, here. For a great opinion piece from last year, see Maria on Crooked Timber.

It's not much of a surprise that what advertised isn't quite what was got. We knew that, as the EU Law Blog notes, 'the member State of the language in issue bears the cost of its use.' What now transpires is that
there is a derogation for 5 years renewable according to which the institutions are not bound to draft all acts and publish them in Irish. The Council can review that derogation every five years and decide unanimously to end it.
To my mind this isn't all that bad an outcome. Or at least, it could be worse: at least this is cheaper.

Beyond an ego-massage for my fellow Irish language enthusiasts, the Irish language's status in EU institutions is, um, somewhat unlikely to have any particular impact on usage of the language in Ireland. The whole tedious debate was riven with ill-informed hyperbole from the start. I was particularly irritated by the spectacular ignorance of the main proponents of the change of the difference between a working language and an official language. You'd think they'd bone up before getting involved in the debate.

So, we arrive at an Irish solution to an Irish problem, not for the first time in the history of our relations with the EU: talk the nationalist talk, walk the pragmatic walk. On one level, I'm glad to see it was a dishonest sop: at least it confirms that Ireland's politicians have some degree of practical sense.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


A friend pointed the front page picture on the Guardian out to me: it really is one of those photos that captures what it's all about. All that's missing is the crown of thorns.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Depth of Field

A quick dash up the North Antrim Coast has afforded me some time to experiment with depth of field and manual focus. Some work needed, but not bad so far!

Friday, September 23, 2005


A piece of research done by colleagues in the politics department here has been reported on the Guardian's website. According to the research, when exams are marked according to a double-blind system (where two people mark separately, without being aware of what the other marker has awarded the paper) there is a large discrepancy than when second markers are aware of the mark awarded by the first. It may all seem a bit arcane, but it undermines the idea that the more cost-efficient approaches to examining are just as accurate in ascertaining the worth of a student's work.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Strange skies these days. I wonder if it's something to do with all those students outside my window? Winter is on its way.

That's the Ticket!

Working in the same building as we do, myself and McGrathy are forever wondering at the heightened capacities of people other than ourselves for time-wasting, but this really takes the brioche (hat-tip Kottke).

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

New Orleans: A Necessary Location

George Friedman has a fascinating article in the current New York Review of Books, explaining why New Orleans must exist. Basically, an ocean port at the end of the Mississippi is crucial both to agriculture and to the manufacturing industries of the US.
A simple way to think about the New Orleans port complex is that it is where the bulk commodities of American agriculture go out to the world and the bulk commodities needed for American industrialism come in. The commodity chain of the global food industry starts here, as does that of American industrialism. If these facilities are gone, more than the price of goods shifts: the very physical structure of the global economy would have to be reshaped. Consider the impact on the US auto industry if steel doesn't come up the river, or the effect on global food supplies if US corn and soybeans don't get to the markets.
The river is simply the only way to keep these aspects of the American afloat, so to speak.

Thankfully, Friedman writes, the various facilities have not been damaged beyond repair. The key problem is that there's no-one left to work them.
The displacement of population due to destruction, disease, and pollution is the crisis that New Orleans faces. It is also a national crisis, because the largest port in the United States cannot function without a city around it. The physical and business processes of a port cannot occur in a ghost town, and right now, except for the remaining refugees, that is what New Orleans is. It is not about the facilities, and it is not about the oil. It is about the loss of a city's population and the paralysis of the largest port in the United States.
When Bush made the surprising comment that New Orleans would be rebuilt at any cost he wasn't speaking out of turn (he rarely does). The city's recovery is not solely a matter of sentiment, just as it's location was never a matter of serendipity. It was there and it'll have to be rebuilt again, as Friedman says, because a city there is a must.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Penguin Power

The Observer has a piece today on American conservatism's (metaphorical, I think) love-affair with emperor penguins. Or, more specifically, March of the Penguins, a National Geographic film ostensibly describing the breeding penguins' attachment to 'monogamy, sacrifice and child-rearing.' For some, the film even provides yet more evidence for Intelligent Design.

Never mind that the ID arguments lack any actual evidence. As David Hume in his 1854 Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (if you're too lazy to read the whole thing, and who can blame you, there's a crib-sheet here), established, they're not even logically defensible. But why let the facts get in the way of essential truths, eh?

I wonder though, what the film's political propnents make of Central Park's gay penguins who have obviously made some henious and unnatural life-style choices (hat-tip Crooked Timber). Dammit, who will rid us of these meddlesome beaks???

Update: I should mention, I suppose, that I cogged the photos off the March of the Penguins site. Political toing-and-froing aside, I am a sucker for National Geographic/ David Attenborough style natural history stuff. An atheist aesthetic I suppose!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Devil Job

Someone just sent me this job ad from today's Irish Independent:
It is a devil of a job but someone has to do it. Applications are invited for exorcism training at the Vatican's Rome university, the Athenaeum Pontificium Regina Apostolorum.

The 10-week course includes sessions in exorcism rites, how to talk to the Devil, the tricks he uses to fight back and signs of the occult hidden in rock music and video games. Students also attend classes in psychology so that priests can distinguish between "real cases" of Satanic possession and illnesses such as schizophrenia.

The recruitment drive comes amid growing Vatican concern about a rise in Satanism. Pope Benedict XVI this week praised the work of exorcists.
This produces a bit of a dilemma: are you allowed apply if you're tempted to do the job?

Glorifying Terrorism

Peteb on Slugger and Chris Bertram on Crooked Timber both address the draft amendments to the PTA (the Home Office's site is here). This is deeply worrying stuff: I thought the whole point of rule of law was to keep such powers out of the hands of government. Additionally, I guess that, in the wake of Blair's supposed triumph at the UN this week, we can expect China, Burma and various others to start locking up dissidents as glorifiers of terrorism. And thanks to our Blair, they can come back in a year and tell us how well they're doing.

Traffic Watch

I'm fortunate enough enough to be strolling home tonight, but, considering that members of the Parades Commission (or it could be the PSNI: I'm getting terribly confused about the link between action and moral responsiblity these days) are blocking the roads, if you're driving you might want to keep an eye on Traffic Watch NI.

Crapple Grapple Apple

If you didn't see Channel 4 news's coverage of the New York 'debate' (see here also) between George Galloway and Christopher Hitchens last night, you can watch the video here. C4 posits the trading of insults as the height of robust British debating, presumably as opposed to what passes for political debate in America.

Is it only me that finds it all a bit depressing? There's something quite good about disrespectfully questioning decision-makers about their decisions. Nothing like a Paxman-esque bollocking (when he was good at it). But this ain't that. This is just a preening display by two rather pompous, um, poppinjays, acting as a warm-up act to the flogging of their own books (books, that is. Not backs, which might justify an audience). It just highlights how useless it is to try and engage with people for whom their own bellowing is more important than basic manners.

Here endeth my own (perfectly legitimate of course) bellowing.

Update: Hugh Green comments that his own bellow is here. Since he agrees with me, I declare that he is dead sensible. Anyone who disagrees with me is guilty of cheap demagoguery and will get what's coming when I'm doling out the wedgies and the Chinese burns.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Bugger All

I just saw this comment, relating to Eddie Hobbs, on Twenty Major and thought it was marvellous! So here it is, entirely out of context:'s about time some one stood up here and actually complained about the expense, instead of moaning about it and doing bugger all.
So that's where I've been going wrong all these years. From now on I give up moaning and start complaining!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

EP Site

Via Crooked Timber, I see that the European Parliament has launched a spectacular news page. It's excellent. So now, as Maria Farrell says, there's no excuse for ignorance as to what our MEPs are up to in Brussels.

Conservatism: Not Like What It Used To Be

Philip Pullman has a funny piece in today's Guardian,
outlining some genuinely conservative ideas that the Tories might adapt (though I doubt he's holding his breath!). So, for instance, he tells us that's a conservative idea that provision of such things as healthcare and education should not be the subject of trading in the marketplace. The old-fashioned idea here is that looking after the sick and educating the young are matters of charity, not of business: you do them because they are good things to do, not because you can see profits to be made.

So the whole private finance initiative fandango, the hospitals where superbugs run wild because the cleaning is contracted out to private firms, and where a nurse can say to a cleaner that the bathroom hasn't been cleaned properly and it should be done again, and then the cleaner's boss comes along and says that if she wants to clean it to that standard she can do it in her own time - that would all go. A truly conservative party would advocate something truly universal and truly decent. You could call it a national health service.
And so on.

It's not precisely cogent argumentation, but Pullman is raising an important issue that has been around for a while. That is, that much of contemporary British conservatism is, well, not very conservative. An attachment to market, without much in the way of regard for the suitability of markets for certain activities or the effects of market forces on the less well off (who happen, for the most part, to be the children of the less well off too) involves a degree of disengagement that genuine conservatives could not have condoned.

And as for the idea of a flat-tax: it may get Schroeder re-elected in Germany. Besides that, I can't believe any sane politician could flirt with it as a viable electoral winner. By which I mean, too many people will either see public services or their wages fall as a result of its introduction whilst simultaneously knowing that they're paying the same tax rate as the Queen. See Will Hutton's demolition of it in last Sunday's Observer.

Although I disagree with old-style conservatism, what a pity that it, with its sense of obligation towards all people, has disappeared.

Update: In his own witty fashion, Frank McGahon attempts his own demolition job on myself here and Hutton here. Once you get past the idea that one has to be on a narcotic high to disagree with a libertarian, Frank is pretty much as good as it gets when it comes to defending the various positions in favour of markets and flat taxes etc.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

No Hope Here

One of the advantages of high-rise living in a low-rise city like Belfast is that I have a decent view of most of the city from my windows. And, boy, it was worth it last night. The place really looked like a warzone. At one point there were five pillars of smoke rising in various spots across the city as helicopters and aircraft circling overhead. Bizarrely, the evening was topped off when the Red Arrows did a fly-past right over my building, as the promenaders fiddled in Donegal Square. Anyway, the night's orchestrated events (see here for a rather public example) were thoroughly depressing.

Saying that people have a fundamental right to march is like saying that I have the right to drive my car at any speed I like and on any side of the road that takes my fancy. There is no fundamental right to march. Not here, not anywhere. Freedom of movement is less important than the maintainance of a certain level of public order. It can only be exercised under certain conditions and the democratic state is well in order if it sets up a legal framework that restricts that right.

Apart from being a UVF show of force (which, from what I've heard, is the general demeaner of the Whiterock parade anyway), yesterday's riots were in frustration, not at the state's blocking the right to march, but at the state's blocking some people from acting on a belief that they have the right to act with impunity.

And the less said about senior politicians flirting with incitements to violence the better. Or rather, the more said...

Friday, September 09, 2005

Replacing the E111

As you probably know, EU citizens who are travelling in the European Economic Area have the right to health care in their host country at the same level as the host country's citizens (which most often means you'll still need travel insurance).

Until now, we've had to apply for an E111 form in order to avail of this right. But the EU111 has been phased out and is replaced by the European Health Insurance Card. Since the card is valid between three and five years, I recommend you apply for one now.

If you're resident in the UK, you can apply online here and if you're in Ireland there's information on applying here (if you have a medical card you can apply online, if not you can download an application form). I don't know about other EU countries. The card lasts for five years, I think, so you can have it on you at all times.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

New Orleans Coverage

A harrowing video report from the BBC (via Left2Right).

A Pedant's Defence of Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes has made a couple of appearances in the last few days, in reference to the breakdown of law and order in New Orleans. Steve over on Pub Philosopher cites the famous 'nasty brutish and short' line from Leviathan, before stating that
The Leviathan needs to regain control in New Orleans. Government is preferable to the rule of armed gangs.
Brian Crowe over on the Young Unionists provides a longer post (hat-tip Slugger) suggesting after David Brooks, that this decade should be known as the 'Hobbesian decade,' notable for the social breakdowns that Hobbes described. Brian tells us that
Attacking the 'nanny state', undermining the State's ability to act against terrorism, paramilitarism and organised crime, declaring that there is no such thing as society and that a government's first priority is tax cuts: all of this is yesterday's language, yesterday's agenda. Thomas Hobbes got it right when he declared that "less power" for the State threatens civil society. Without strong, activist government life becomes nasty, brutish and short - as the citizens of New Orleans are telling us.
Leviathan is an immensely challenging book, but hugely rewarding for that. It represents a major moment in political thought, in terms of methodology as well as direct normative content (of which, pedantically speaking as billed, there isn't much).

Still, two things are worth mentioning if we're in the business of drawing lessons from the text to explain the world as it is today. First, Leviathan isn't an individual as such. Rather it is the artificial person of the state: the agency that results from human cooperation.

Second, that cooperation is not a result of force from above. Hobbes's line, as Brian implies (not so sure about Steve!) is that, even if we were living in the much-famed (and hypothetical) state of nature, our fear of each other alone would drive us into cooperation and collaboration. Despite his reputation, Hobbes was something of an optimist about society.

In other words, human society is not just a welcome thing. It's inevitable.

Update: Title fixed, thanks to Hugh!

Oh, and I forgot to mention another important aspect of Leviathan: a rational person will only lend allegiance to the state if living under the state's sovereignty is preferable to living in the 'state of nature.' And that can't just be be assumed.

Update 2: Steve clarifies his position in the comments.

New York Review Review

There's two interesting articles in the current New York Review of Books. The first, by Jonathan Raban, explores America's political, social and cultural journey from 9/11. The second, by Christian Caryl, examines the phenomenon of suicide bombing. Essential reading.

Saturday, September 03, 2005


Watching the upsetting scenes from the US's Gulf Coast the other day, I remarked that the defining disaster for Bush's second term might, ironically enough, be the one thing that wasn't his fault. Reading Sidney Blumenthal in yesterday's Guardian, however, I'm not so sure.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Clarke on Iraq

That's Wesley, not Ken! It seems that Wesley Clarke is a guest blogger over on TPM Café this week (hat-tip Lindsay). There's some interesting stuff there, not least that Clarke writes like a presidential candidate in waiting. I scrolled a bit down through his thoughts on Iraq, and he reads very much like a man on a campaign (though that's not to say that he's uninteresting: there are a few thoughts hidden away there!). Worth taking a peek at.

Wrong History

In a post not entirely unrelated to the previous one, NIMagyar's Paul talks about the manner in which the history of resistance to Soviet rule is taking on the status of myth, or indeed, lie. Drawing from an article in the Economist, Paul decides that a plague should land on all Hungary's political houses. An 'upbeat version' of history, involving '"triumph of people power" is the one peddled by the same politicians and the media-figures who gained most from the switchover,' while in reality nothing much changed for the ordinary folk.

This is hardly unique to Hungary. I've often been told of the disappointment of my grandparents' generation in the south who, having rid themselves of British rule, discovered, as the saying goes, that the only change was the postboxes being painted green. Allied with that was the observation that a hundred men had walked into the GPO and ten thousand had marched out (an complaint that itself elides the presence of women in the building!).

Nationalism is, as Renan pointed out, getting your history wrong. But Paul need not worry: at some stage all these people will be exposed. Just as happened in Ireland, in the Netherlands and in France, what Hungary needs is a spot of revisionism.

Solidarity 25th Anniversary

The BBC reports here on the 25th anniversary of the foundation of Solidarity. Along with the Dunnes Stores workers' strike over the handling of South African oranges in (I think) 1987, the rise of Solidarity came at the point when I was becoming more aware of the big bad political world out there.

Also, Anne Applebaum has an interesting piece on Gdansk and today's memories of the Union's foundation in the Washington Post.

Update: Timothy Garton Ash has a piece on the anniversary in today's Guardian.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Midas Touchtone

According to the FT, it seems like Eircom is about to flog €423m worth of shares in order to raise funds for the purchase of the Meteor mobile phone network (this was already mentioned over on Planet Potato). Given Eircom's reputation for shoddy service (again, see half the posts on Planet Potato. this one is my favourite!), I'm sure Meteor customers will be overjoyed!

One interesting point that the FT notes is that 'Although the offer is in line with prices paid for other recent mobile assets in terms of price per subscriber, Meteor predominantly has a pre-pay customer base of people who spend much less than contract customers.' I didn't know that pay as you go customers paid less than people on contracts. Moreover, I thought people tended to shift to contracts. Would they be just better off on PAYG, or is it the case that PAYG users simply use their mobiles less than contract users do? Also, I wonder why Meteor customers are out of line with the industry standard on this? And finally, what's possessing Eircom to pay over the odds for Meteor?

Seen but not Flickrd

There's an interesting piece over on the Guardian's Newsblog on responses to Flickr's recent, um, merger with Yahoo.

Iraq and Buffy

Richard Develan makes a welcome return to the blogging fray by pointing up (also here) strategies for winning in Iraq, courtesy of Andrew Krepinevich in Foreign Affairs and David Brooks in the New York Times. Sort of like a targeted Marshall Plan.

One thing though. Richard is mistaken in thinking that everyone who has concerns about the war recommends rapid withdrawal. Personally, I'm with Colin Powell: you break it you buy it. Which is not meant to be glib: the point is that the fact that the US has screwed up in Iraq doesn't mean that withdrawal would fix things.

The long term economic and political engagement that Krepinvich recommends seems pretty sensible but, in the light of Bush's economic policies (you know, run up a deficit on military spending and tax cuts), it's questionable whether this administration would start forking out for Iraq.

And if all this is just too mundane for you, switch over to Crescat Sententia, where Will Baude discusses the public policy implications of Buffy's guardianship over Sunnydale...

Monday, August 29, 2005

McCain on Science

Senator John McCain and Peter Likins have a piece in the current Chronicle of Higher Education, arguing against the politicisation of science. They write in the wake of Congressional harrassment of various scientists for publishing work confirming climate change. McCain and Likins write
As we confront the reality of climate change, public-policy makers, including members of Congress, must have access to reliable data, data untrammeled by political or commercial interference or censorship. They must have guidance from experts who understand the complexities of the problem and all of its plausible solutions. Only on the foundation of sound science can they make sound public policy on global warming.

That principle goes far beyond the issue of climate change. The government relies on scientists for help in developing policies to improve the health and welfare of our citizens and to promote the economic development of our nation. Scientists -- and the universities where many of them work -- rely on governmental agencies like the National Science Foundation to establish valid and transparent mechanisms to evaluate research proposals and to give financial support to the most deserving. All Americans benefit from that relationship; we must insist that it continue undamaged.
Well said.

Via (again!) Crooked Timber, this time Henry Farrell.


For those of us who prefer to reach for the mouse as rarely as possible, here's a handy extension for Firefox: you do your Google (or other) search and the pages come up numbered, so all you have to do is hit the requisite number on your keyboard. Via Eszter on Lifehacker (um, via in turn, Eszter on Crooked Timber!).

Seven Bloody Things

I usually steer clear of lists, largely because of indolence but also because I just don't find myself that interesting (well I do, but not in an entirely self-reflective way!). I've already reneged on list requests from Peter Levine (still thinking about that one) and David (it was too hard: strictly speaking I'm still thinking about that one too...). Anyway, I've been asked to do this particular list by UI and Colm Bracken. So here goes:

Seven things I plan to do before I die
  1. Complete and publish that bloody book on Ireland.
  2. Decide to stop procrastinating.
  3. Learn to speak another language well.
  4. Learn to drive (probably very shortly before I die).
  5. Have kids and raise them such that they don't blame me for their lives.
  6. Take a big long list of others with me whilst rehearsing an evil laugh.
  7. Fall to the ground unconscious without lending any thought as to what's happening.

Seven things I can do
  1. Cook, but especially bake.
  2. Run relatively long distances.
  3. Write ponderous articles that other academics seem to want to read.
  4. Distract myself from work with great ease.
  5. Talk in public without feeling like I might die (a relatively recent phenomenon!)
  6. Get excited by new things.
  7. Take a deep breath and calm down.

Seven things I can not do
  1. Make omelettes like my Grandmother used to make them.
  2. Run relatively long distances at any great speed.
  3. Swim well enough to prevent drowning if it ever came to it.
  4. Drive.
  5. Calculus.
  6. Sleep on long-haul flights.
  7. Drink great volumes.

Seven things that I find really attractive about the opposite sex

This blog is not supposed to be that personal!

Seven things I say the most
  1. Marvellous!
  2. Total bollocks!
  3. Stunning
  4. Stuff
  5. ...I mean...
  6. What?
  7. require (a real political philosophy word!)

Seven books I love

Well, these have to be broken down into books I love using in teaching...

  1. Thomas Hobbes Leviathan
  2. Plato's Republic
  3. John Rawls's Political Liberalism, for some reason, since it's not his best book.

    ...then two books I return to every few years - surely the best indication of what my favourites are...

  4. Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, strangely enough.
  5. David Thomson's stunning Woodbrook (there's an extract here).

    ...and finally...

  6. E.H. Gombrich's Story of Art, a beautiful, sumptuous book. And you learn stuff too!
  7. I have a strange thing for Atlases: can't get enough of them.

Seven people I would like to see take this quiz.
Och, I think I'll leave this bit out. I don't know anyone who hasn't filled it out and has this much willingness to faff!


I'm not sure where I came across this, but CiteULike is a bit of a revelation. As they say themselves, CiteULike
is a free service to help academics to share, store, and organise the academic papers they are reading. When you see a paper on the web that interests you, you can click one button and have it added to your personal library. CiteULike automatically extracts the citation details, so there's no need to type them in yourself. It all works from within your web browser. There's no need to install any special software.
Moreover, 'because your library is stored on the server, you can access it from any computer,' which is good news for me who was just thinking last week about trying to coordinate Endnote files between several computers. Though this wouldn't help in terms of old citations: I can't upload my current Endnote database to CiteULike since I'd have to convert it into a BibTex database before uploading (and I can't get that right).

Moreover, since all the citations are open access, CiteULike acts a little bit like Flickr's tagging system, so you can theoretically see what everyone else is reading too.

For the moment I'm not sure that I'll use the facility as my main database, but it's a handy way of collecting things together on a web-trawl and keeping them their in lieu of exporting to Endnote.

Friday, August 26, 2005


More blue-sky photography from Dublin. Might as well enjoy it while it lasts. Anyway, I'm a big fan of the Spire. I didn't think I would be (it's religious undertones don't sit well with my secular sensibilities), but I simply like the way it plays off the light. I'm looking forward to it being cleaned.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Conference on Suicide

Via RTÉ and the BBC, I see that there's a major conference taking place today in Belfast on suicide prevention. Let's hope this is the beginning of a NI strategy on the issue.

American Enlightenment Scheduled for 2007

I was chatting with Mel on Skype1 just now and he pointed me towards this item that had passed me by: apparently, as part of this month's huge US energy bill (that's a law by the way, not a final demand from Exxon or the Saudis or something. That bill has already arrived), the US has decided to extend daylight savings time by one month each side of the Winter. The rationale (for evaluations see here and here) is that this would save enormously on energy use, although there would be transitional costs. Also, the Canadians are somewhat pissed at the decision.

Still, it does present interesting questions for us Europeans, who would end up four/five and six/seven hours ahead of the US East Coast for a month each year, with attendant implications for transatlantic business transactions. I'm guessing that some groups, for example in financial services, will start pushing for the change across Europe too. I wonder what the national sovereignty crowd will say to that: might this be a case of the Imperium tail wagging the old European dog?

1 Being dead hip, we tried Google's new chat thingy, but Skype is just better!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A Most Eclectic Roundup!

From languages and policing to bread to secession to seannós! Here goes...

First, John Ihle on Back Seat Drivers notes that IMeasc, the organisation for Irish-speaking immigrants, has objected to the Gardaí dropping the Irish language requirement from their entry criteria. There's a letter from this group here, which all reminds me of Daniel O'Hara's excellent, nuanced Yu Ming is Ainm Dom (also featured in Film Ireland), one of the best short films I've seen in ages.

Next, Megnut writes a paean to Elizabeth David, also one my favourite cookery writers (I know, I know...). Meg likes Is There a Nutmeg in the House, but my particular favourite is the amazing, detailed English Bread and Yeast Cookery. EBYC is not one of those culinary porn books, awash with glossy pictures and lacking in, well, expectations that you can use the book for cooking. Instead, about half of it provides a detailed history of bread and all its ingredients and the second half contains some simple, no-nonsense recipes. Precisely what a recipe book should be.

Third, starting from the 1998 ruling on Quebec's right to secede from Canada, Will Baude on Crescat Sententia discusses the rights of US states to secede from the Union. Specifically, he's interested in the question of who has the right of decision over the legality of such a move: the federal supreme court or the state supreme court (or neither). This is also relevant to questions of supremacy of EU law, as was brought out in the German Constitional Court's 1993 Brunner judgement, which ruled on whether the Maastricht Treaty was compatible with the German Constitution. The question centered on the Kompetenz Kompetenz issue, on whether the ECJ was legally competent to decide upon its own competence vis-à-vis member states.

And finally, I've been listening to Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola's seannós CD, An Raicin Álainn over the last few days. I generally haven't regarded myself as a major fan of seannós so my expectations weren't massive. But how wrong I was. This is an excellent album and Ní Conaola's voice is spectacular, veering from the classical towards the jazzy. Well worth buying.

Water Returns

The UN has been working tirelessly to restore the marshlands in southern Iraq to their former state, and according to this story from the BBC, huge progress is being made. It may seem trivial in the general scheme of things, but it will make a huge difference to many people's lives.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


I've just been trawling through RTÉ Radio 1's site, looking for another programme, when I noticed that they're running a series called Reputations, based on the TCD history department's Contesting History course. Each programme deals, in turn, with Patrick Pearse, Charles Stewart Parnell, Daniel O'Connell, Wolfe Tone, Hugh O'Neill and Diarmuid MacMurrough. Two historians act as 'prosecution' and 'defence' for each personality. In the first episode Ruth Dudley Edwards and Martin Mansergh discuss Pearse. This really is interesting stuff.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Bush v Bono

According to Langerland, Bush is going after regime change in U2. Oh the humanity!

What next?

Ted Barlow, over on Crooked Timber, has written a long, very interesting piece, following from Orin Kerr's suggestion of a framework for possible scenarios in Iraq:
1) The U.S. beats back the insurgency and democracy flowers in Iraq (call this the “optimistic stay” scenario),
2) The U.S. digs in its heels, spends years fighting the insurgency, loses lots of troops, and years later withdraws, leading to a bloody and disastrous civil war (the “pessimistic stay” scenario);
3) The U.S. decides that it’s no longer worth it to stay in Iraq, pulls out relatively soon, and things in Iraq are about as best as you could hope for, perhaps leading to a decent amount of democracy (optimistic leave), and
4) The U.S. decides that it’s no longer worth it to stay in Iraq, pulls out soon, and plunges Iraq into a bloody and disastrous civil war with the bad guys assuming control eventually (pessimistic leave).
Well worth taking the time to read both Kerr's original piece and Barlow's response.

Meanwhile, Kieran Healy reminds us of a post he wrote fully two years ago.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

And Drink a Health

Stephen bids farewell to Cookstown's resident drunk.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

UI's Top Ten Republicans

I see that United Irelander has come up with a list of top ten Republicans. I'm especially intrigued by his placing Wolfe Tone at number one and Padraig Pearse at number two.

I've actually been thinking about Wolfe Tone and Padraig Pearse today and whether the problem with Irish nationalism has always been the illusion that Tone's enlightenment republicanism and Pearse's romantic nationalism were reconcileable. I don't think they are: once you head down the cultural, ethnic and religious nationalism of Pearse you've abandoned the enlightenment ideals of Tone.

Which is one reason why SF etc are ultimately rather incoherent in their aspirations for the island: they think they can swallow chalk because they've eaten cheese.

What's Beano Written?

I was just pottering through my statcounter when I clicked on a link to Everything Ulster that simply said NINS was the most recent referer to the blog. Not particularly interesting. That is until you look at how people are getting to Beano through Google and MSN: just scroll down the page!

Thursday, August 11, 2005


There's a great thread over on Slugger regarding Channel 4's 'Best and Worst Places to Live in the UK', specifically on Strabane's being apparently the third worst place to live in the country. I especially like Rob's comment that 'Lifford is even more depressing. I don't think it's twinned with Strabane but they seem to have have a suicide pact.' Very funny!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


I've taken to messing around with shutter speed on my camera. The results are not entirely perfect yet, but I am beginning to pick up flowing water: an essential skill on this damp rock!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Young Irelander has bid the blogosphere adieu. A terrible pity since he's been one of the most consistently provocative bloggers (in a good way) but, since we're all obviously in the time-wasting business, I hope he's gone on to more fruitful pursuits! Best of luck YI!

Update: Aaahh!!!

Monday, August 08, 2005

More Supremes

A week or so ago, I mentioned an article in the New Yorker predicting the central role the Solomon Amendment is likely to play in the newly populated US Supreme Court. Well, there was more on the issues in Saturday's Financial Times, where Patti Waldmeir examines the fallout to the Lawrence v. Texas case and the gay marriage issue. Some interesting stuff.

By the way, the link to Lawrence v. Texas is hosted at the marvellous, the Humvee of US Supreme Court onlinitude!

Sunday, August 07, 2005


Frank has a fascinating post (and comments thread) over on the consistently excellent Internet Commentator. Following an article by Paul Krugman in the NYT, he suggests (well, he quotes Division of Labour suggesting) that higher French productivity levels can be put down to the spinoffs of higher French unemployment - that the least productive are removed from the measure. I find all this sort of stuff fascinating and intensely challenging.

The whole thread is doubly interesting because Abiola Lapite adds a normative dimension along the mix, arguing that 'unemployment is always easier to tolerate when someone else has to carry the burden - especially when that "someone else" is voiceless, foreign-looking, and banished to the fringes like France's banlieu-dwelling Beurs.' In other words, an economic policy that prices the less productive out of the market is simply immoral.

No economic system can take the moral high ground when it comes to social and economic exclusion. Indeed, the Anglo-American system, though obviously more dynamic, is also the one that produces the most extreme inequalities (though I wouldn't care to bet as to which OECD country has the poorest lower quintile). But some serious general questions remain. What measures can be used to identify the degree to which an economy is serving society when things like productivity measures produce such patently perverse results? And, of course, to what degree can a system that is necessarily supposed to be free from control be regulated in the name of the society that it should serve?

Saudi Link?

South Africa's Mail and Guardian hasn't got the most amazing of reputations down there, but if this article has anything to it, there might be a little bit of uproar over the next few days. It suggests that
Saudi Arabia officially warned Britain of an imminent terrorist attack on London just weeks ahead of the 7 July bombings after calls from one of al-Qaeda's most wanted operatives were traced to an active cell in the United Kingdom.

Senior Saudi security sources have confirmed they are investigating whether calls from Kareem al-Majati, last year named as one of al-Qaeda's chiefs in the Gulf kingdom, were made directly to the British ringleader of the 7 July bomb plotters.
If there's something to this then there will need to be some sort of investigation as to whether anything got lost in the system.

Which is not to say that the British Intelligence services would necessarily have been able to do more: the one thing we've all learned in the last few years is that intelligence gathering is a very very difficult game.

Saturday, August 06, 2005


Two marvellous headlines in the current edition of The Onion: one proclaims that the The White House Denies the Existence of Karl Rove. "The White House denied rumors of wrongdoing by anyone named Karl Rove Monday, saying the alleged deputy chief of staff does not exist," according to their leader article.

This is only surpassed by the following sidebar headline: "Bicycle-Riding Circus Bear Pedals Back To Natural Habitat."

Friday, August 05, 2005

Phonecam Ethics

Some interesting ethical problems raised over on the BBC. How should media organisations deal with people who've taken important images but had done so in favour of actually helping the people that they were photographing?

Update: More on this in the Guardian.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Major Ego Boost

Twenty Major, when not fending off bluebottles, seems to have entered a state of mutual admiration with the BBC. But only because RTÉ doesn't compare.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Comic-al Qaeda!

Check this out!
What if today's anti-war Liberals were in charge of the American government and had been since 9/11? What would that society look like in the year 2021? What would be the results of fighting “a more sensitive war on terror” and looking to the corrupt United Nations to solve all of America 's problems?

It is 2021, tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of 9/11 It is up to an underground group of bio-mechanically enhanced conservatives led by Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North to thwart Ambassador Usama Bin Laden's plans to nuke New York City...And wake the world from an Orwellian nightmare of United Nations dominated ultra-liberalism.
I never knew us liberals had it in us! Hat-tip Crooked Timber.

Monday, August 01, 2005

UI Poll

I suppose that most people who come here also read United Irelander, but in case you don't, he's running an informal poll on attitudes towards, well, a United Ireland (or rather, on whether his readership wants a UI, not on whether they think it'll happen). Get over there and vote!

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Solomon's Closet

There's a very clear article in the current New Yorker on the most likely battle to face John Roberts when (as is likely) he begins his term in the US Supreme Court. As things stand, Law Schools ban the US army from recruiting on their turf because the army discriminates against homosexuals. But Congressmen Gerald Solomon and Richard Pombo successfully introduced an amendment that tied all federal funding for American universities to allowing the army to recruit. Jeffrey Toobin, the author of the article, sets both battle lines out very well.

Bye Bye July

Not much to report today, so here's a nifty picture of a dragonfly to remind us that Summer, despite appearances, still has a few more hours to run...

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Attitudes to the End

Well, it's come at last, or at least it's in the process of coming: the IRA has at last declared what has been pretty obvious for a while: that the armed campaign is over (the full statement is here: hat-tip Slugger). Which really means that the environment has changed so profoundly, post McCartney and electoral competition in the South, that the IRA has stopped being Sinn Féin's lever for better deals and has become something of an albatross.

Reactions to the news will of course be very different (no matter what the taciturn General de Chastelain will say). That's no surprise. I think many people here have consistently underestimated the gulf between both main communities in terms of what they think drove the Troubles. Colin Irwin, in a 2001 edition of the Global Review of Ethnic Politics, published an article on opinion polls in NI, which included (on page 69) this interesting table:

Very interesting, I think. Catholics, it seems, are more likely to believe that the Troubles were driven by social factors whereas Protestants are more likely to believe that they were driven by security factors. You want to get to grips with why decommissioning is such an important thing for Unionists? Well that's why. The Agreement has never delivered security for them because it never delivered decommissioning. We should not underestimate the degree to which such things matter.

SF has been very successful at shifting the post-GFA situation towards reassuring the Catholic community on the issues that they see as having driven the Troubles, but the Protestants have been left high and dry. Which is why today is important.

Important, that is, if Unionists come to believe that it's really true.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Interesting article in today's New York Times: basically suggesting that the US administration is in the process of dropping the name 'war on terror' in favour of something less, um, militaristic. Hat tip to Mel who has a short interesting analysis of the piece.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


As I've shown before, I have a certain interest in how healthcare systems should be funded. In general when people complain about the NHS's problems, I suggest that they spend some time under the Irish healthcare system. Andrew Ó Baoill reveals one of the reasons why.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Flying Polluter Pays

According to a document leaked to the Financial Times (see Euractive also), the European Commission is set to propose a pollution levy on airlines that could lead to a €9 hike in tickets. According to the paper,
the Commission wants airlines included in Europe's emissions trading scheme, which caps the amount of carbon dioxide an industry is allowed to produce.

The proposal has the backing of the British European Union presidency and is accepted by some leading airlines, including British Airways.
Personally, I think I'm in favour of such a move. We academics are forever jetting off to some place or other. In the last year, I've flown roughly 25,000 miles: hardly sustainable behaviour. Actually, having worked that out I'm a little shocked. I didn't realise I have flown that much. It's not much shorter than the circumference of the Earth. Lord.

Anyway, I believe that those responsible for externalities should foot the bill, so, if anything, €9 extra seems too little. Especially when, I presume, many trips are made in order to meet people to discuss things that don't require the meeting. Cyber-academic conferences anyone?

Friday, July 22, 2005


Has anyone out there any idea about someone working within some auditing branch of the US government who was fired for telling either a Senate or Congressional committee that sometimes it was more cost-effective to not monitor for fraud than it was to catch every cent lost (or something like that)?

If you do know what I'm talking about can you leave a comment or email me (putting the '@' back in!)? I recall someone mentioning it at a conference, or reading about it in a book, but can't find any word of it now. Silly me for not noting it at the time.

Cape Town

A wonderful and unusual photo of Hout Bay over on Apparently Nothing.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Would Peter Hain have been deported by Charles Clarke?

It would be a daft politician who was seen to be doing nothing in response to the London bombings. But I'm not so sure that Charles Clarke's proposed new powers are what is required.

Personally, I'm not all that hostile to restrictions on freedom of speech in return for greater security in society (assuming there's a link). Germany's ban on various comments about the holocaust seem quite right to me. Likewise, religious extremists who foment violence should have their speech restricted.

But I have two problems with this initiative. First, will the home secretary's powers be too vague, given that we won't quite know where terrorism ends and hot-headedness begins? Would Clarke have been within his powers if he had responded to Sikhs protesting (with threats of violence) against the Brirmingham play at the start of the year? What about people who supported the Fatwa against Salman Rushdie (unsavoury characters that they were, can we really criminalise people who say that someone else's death threat is justified?).

Which leads to a second question: will the home secretary be selective in his power to boot people out? Either way, there will be problems. If Clarke is going to be selective, he'll be open to (justified) accusations that he's biased. If he is utterly sweeping, he is going to have to boot out every political activist that recommends armed resistance against despotic regimes, say the Burmese authorities, the Russian state in Chechnya, etc. Indeed, as the post's title suggests: if this power had been in place twenty odd years ago, I presume Peter Hain would have been deported to Apartheid South Africa where his liberty and perhaps life would have been in danger.

Anyway, perhaps we'll get answers to these questions at some other time. One thing we should remember, however, is that people born in Britain can't be deported anywhere. They're British.

Update: As I'm writing this post, the BBC site is flashing that there has been an incident on the Tube. I hope it's not something catastrophic, although initial reports from the Guardian newsblog (and from the BBC and RTÉ) look quite worrying.

Iranifying Iraq

As well as some interesting essays on the causes of terrorism (Brendan O'Leary in Spiked and a piece in The Economist), I've been reading a fascinating, rather shocking piece by Peter Galbraith in the New York Review of Books. Galbraith sets out the problems that Iraq faces, largely a function of both divisions in the society and incompetence on the part of the US administration Basically, the Shi'ite parties are (for very understandable reasons, and probably with majority support) looking to create an Iranian-style state in Iraq whilst the Kurds, who are running a large portion of the armed forces, are concerned about secularism in their region. And as for the Sunnis, well...

It's a really worrying piece. Lord knows what's going to happen when Bush pulls out next year. Certainly Iraq won't look in any sense as it was supposed to look in Bush and Blair's fantasies. More in the current New Yorker.


As part of the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, yesterday's Guardian ran an edited version of John Hersey's famous account of Hiroshima on the day of the bombing, which was first published in a special edition of the New Yorker magazine in August 1946. There's a background essay on it here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

American Nationalism

There's an interesting, but not entirely convincing, article by Philip Golub in Le Monde Diplomatique, on America and nationalism. He makes some interesting points, and an interesting analogy with 19th Century Britain, but I really don't know if he's saying that the US is like Germany in 1914 or if it's trying to learn from the failures of Britain in the run-up to 1914 (most likely due to my late-night reading rather than Golub's writing). If you figure it out let me know.

Perceived Pronunciation

Fascinating piece on this morning's Today Programme (listen here (requires realplayer)). Apparently, the Globe Theatre on Bankside is about to perform Troilus and Cressida complete with Elizabethan pronunciation as Shakespeareans would have understood it. Apparently there are all sorts of contemporary records on how English was pronounced at the time (a little west-country-ish is the answer). Fascinating stuff. Apparently the character Ajax would have been proncounced (roughly) 'ay jaykes,' or 'a toilet.' And thus ensued manys a pun. Interestingly, as anyone who's trawled their way through Ulysses knows, jakes was (and is) still in common parlance in Dublin.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Photoblogs Roundup

Four amazing shots, from around the US, courtesy of Beyond, Wideangle, Rion and Big Empty.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Great Philosophers, Glass Ceiling

In the wake of my despairing whinge on In Our Time's Greatest Philosopher competition,1 I thought I'd mention an article in today's Independent, filling in the rather stark gender gap in the competition shortlist. They list a number of eminent philosophers, of whom Mary Warnock and Hannah Arendt are particular favourites of mine (not that that has any bearing on anything, which is what's wrong with all this lark...). The omitted two other amazing philosophers who are women: Onora O'Neill (on whom Mel has made a few topical comments) and Iris Murdoch, who is fascinating. What a pity that she is only remembered for the manner of her death (and how ironic that the best link to Murdoch, given that I can't find a link that regards her purely as a philosopher, is the Guardian's obituary. Another good link is an audio set from the BBC).

1 On this debate, I had a marvellous exchange with commenter Ultonian Scottis American on (sort of) the relative merits of Plato and Aristotle over on ATW: great fun!

Friday, July 08, 2005


I wasn't really planning to write anything about yesterday: it really does feel like ambulance-chasing. But I saw a comment that David Vance posted on ATW and felt that I should respond. David's comment indicates at a general right-wing story about the liberal position and also, I suspect, at the sorts of things we'll be hearing over the next few weeks. For David, the (presumably leftist) pigheaded person thinks that "terrorism will go away if you ignore it, or are nice to it's proponents." The 'human rights lobby' is purely concerned with protecting terrorists and ignoring their victims etc etc.

We should remember that there are good moral reasons in themselves for maintaining the rule of law, no matter what the situation. But there are also good instrumental reasons. The real point is to win against today's terrorists by whatever means are available and, perhaps more importantly, to win the propaganda battle so that today's terrorists fail to recruit their own disciples.

Which is not an appeal to withdraw from Iraq - we broke it so we buy it to my mind. I suspect that yesterday was only tantentially related to Bush and Blair's Iraqi adventure, or that Iraq was the merely explicit chrystallisation of a more ethereal motive - these peope seem more Dostoyevskian than like the IRA. Where are their aims? Unlike the IRA, these groups seem utterly apolitical to me. They have no purpose or plan. Anyway, although there are many reasons to think Iraq was a foolish move in the purported War on Terror, yesterday isn't one of them.

On the international front, as well as tackling cells wherever they're found, the point is to do precisely what these bastards don't want, which is to engage with the Middle East in a way that actually encourages reform. I'm not sure that the Iraqi adventure will do that, or be allowed to do that, but I might be wrong.

On the domestic front, since this seems to look more like Oklahoma than 9/11 (all it would have taken was 10 disaffected young guys, one with a chemistry degree), the other members of British society will have to continue engaging with their Muslim fellow-citizens. Maintain the rule of law. Come down hard on Kristallnacht rhetoric. Make sure that being Muslim is in no way seen as incompatible with being British.

None of which contradicts the idea that punitive measures should be taken against today's terrorists. Let's see them on trial and let's see them exposed as the fools that they are. And let's remember that this isn't about a war we are yet to win: it's about the extremists' responses to an argument we've ('we' including most British Muslims) already won. Seeking to really spread the fruits of economic and social democracy is not a concession: it's precisely what these people are afraid of.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Five Rings on my Shirt

Well, it's Olympics decision day in Singapore. I've been mulling over this for the last few days: who am I up for? Wonderful, gritty, diverse, exciting London or beautiful, stately, also-exciting Paris (assuming one of the two win)?

Well, although I'll hazard the guess that Paris will win, I think I'll express a preference for London! Not because it would be easier to get there (no idea where I'll be (or if I'll be) in 2012), since I'll probably not be able to afford tickets. And I have to say that I wasn't impressed by Seb Coe's speech this morning. I tend to get turned off by sentimentality: if I was on the IOC (there's a rather over-burdened live webcast on this site, by the way), I'd want to know whether stadiums (stadia?) are going to be built on time etc.

I love visiting Paris, largely because it is spectacularly beautiful and always seems bathed in a wonderful light. Still, ugly old London is a wonderful, far more open city to my mind. I think, assuming they get their horrendous transport problems sorted, that they could host a pretty exciting games. And anyway (not that this should sway the IOC), an event like the Olympics seems a good way to get some facilities built in the city.

Of course, this post could be redundant in three hours, so I'll leave it at that!

Update: And it's London!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

China Syndrome

The last university I worked in was populated by a little sub-set of American war-strategy students. They were all great fun to hang around with, in part because their fascinating subject matter, combined with the academic habit of looking very sure of what they were talking about, made them all sound like strangely indiscrete spooks.

One noticeable common trait all these guys had was an excited concern about China. 9/11 didn't dent their fascination one bit. For them, China was the next big enemy, the real threat that the US will face in the 21st Century.

Right or wrong, it does seem that the Bush Administration had noticed the same thing. I mean, that Star Wars fantasy weapons programme that was Bush's main plank of foreign policy was surely not meant for a tiny state like North Korea? Their bigger more menacing neighbour might have provided more motivation on that front. Moreover, the US has been building bases in central Asia and the Pacific rim like nobody's business: not just a response to the 'war on terror' but also to the shift in geopolitical concerns after the collapse of the Soviet Union. That said, the utter insanity of Bush's economic policy has left the US in hock to the Chinese to the tune of $200bn. The only thing that limits Chinese power over the US economy is that China relies on the US to buy its exports.1

Anyway, there's been a flurry of commentary on China in the last few days. Pub Philosopher has been on the case with two separate posts here and here.

I think Steve's not entirely on the mark in what he says. Chinese strategy seems not to be world domination in a sense that's any more sinister than America's. Rather, it's simply about economic and regional dominance, combined with a global scramble for resources and influence. That said, many of the observations he notes are spot on. Similar comments to the ones he notes about Chinese influence-building in Africa were made on last night's Channel 4 News. On the Sino-American struggle for oil, the generally brilliant Will Hutton had a fascinating piece in Sunday's Observer. All well worth the read.

1 For some numbers on the American debt, see here and for some interesting commentaries on Sino-American relations, see here and here. Also, I've blogged on the precarious state of the Dollar before.