Tuesday, May 31, 2005

War War

A good article by Mark Danner in the current New York Review of Books, outlining what we can verify about the debates in the British government in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. It tells the rather pathetic story of an administration with no room to manoeuvre: they'd made their bed with GWB and were now to be forced to lie in it. So to speak.

Bleary-Eyed Brothers

On a slightly more mature note, two good articles in today's Guardian. One is a rather weary comment on the Greatest Philosopher competition hosted by BBC Radio 4's In Our Time. Lord, I despair. Still, I'll try to overcome the pain of seeing philosophy reduced to a celebrity wrestling match by, um, jumping in and voting for Schopenhauer!

Next, a dialogue between the Hitchens brothers, staged at the Hay Festival. Only Christopher has, to my knowledge, had the honour of a feud with George Galloway, culminating in the gorgeous one calling him a "drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay" last week. But the two brothers are obviously both alike in dignity: which is why this is such a good read.

More Whacking

I should be having profound thoughts but, before that happens, the not-for-the-faint-hearted Whack Your Boss now has 13 different methods! Myself and Stephen spent far to long cackling at this yesterday. See if you can find them all!

Monday, May 30, 2005


Distracting myself from several urgent tasks, I just came across a post from Cherryflava: how to make your own Puma shirt, using just a cat and a hot iron. Very useful!

Friday, May 27, 2005


Oh yes, and off to the EST concert tonight! Great!

Update: And they were bloody marvellous! The music was great: I could have listened to them all night. And it's marvellous just to watch the three of them manufacturing the layers of music. Wonderful! So good in fact that, since I'd given my copy of Seven Days of Falling to a friend in SA, so I bought a new one on a whim after the show.

Update 2: Gerry O'Sullivan has a great review of the Dublin concert here.


Well, I'm back from the seminar, which featured a marvellous election analysis from Mick and my good self talking about media analysis in the break-out session. I didn't have much to report, because we haven't finished coding for our content analysis yet, but the striking thing have found so far is the huge difference between the local papers and the four regional ones (the Belfast Telegraph, the Newsletter, the Daily Ireland and the Irish News) in terms of coverage. The locals were far more likely to deal with issues and policies, with the regionals concentrating on the campaign itself and on personalities. There was a pretty interesting discussion of why this might be (with some consensus that it's rooted in editorial decisions that are themselves driven by budgetary constraints), as well as some critical comments about our methods. All very interesting!

Media Monitoring

Off to the Electoral Commission's post-election seminar today. I'm co-hosting a workshop, with me talking about media coverage of the election as part of a project I'm managing. I'll post on what we've found out so far - some very much preliminary results - over the weekend.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


I have to say I was a little thrown yesterday when I read this harrowing article from Saturday's Guardian. In it, Lindsay Nicholson describes how she lost her husband and then her daugher to leukaemia.

There really is very little to say by way of trying to understand how somebody can get through such a thing intact, except that I suppose they don't. I suppose that people somehow get on with their lives in spite of the terrible things that happen. We expect people to overcome the crippling weight of grief, but maybe we're wrong. Instead, their grief just becomes as much a part of person's sense of self as the colour of their eyes or the lines on their face. The self is nothing but the accumulated residue of experience.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Stick Matrix

Via an email from the very sociable, very geeky Stephen, I present to you the Stick-Men Matrix. Where do these people find the time? And I thought I was a waster!

Update: And then this, via Crooked Timber. It's the weirdest bandwagoning trade-promotion I've ever seen. I especially like the chew-brocolli!

Thursday, May 19, 2005


In at seven this morning. Far too early. Especially after been out at the marvellous Rufus Wainwright concert last night: I'd never been in the Waterfront before: what a great venue!

Anyway, lots on today and tomorrow, then off to Dublin, so light blogging ahead. In the meanwhile, take a look at the significant intervention of Giblets into US Korea policy.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Take the Weather

I was wondering when this would kick off.

Update: And then the response.


Well, I wore a heavy coat in today in the expectation of rain. But it's lovely. There's no justice.

Is English an Option?

No, according to Abiola Lapite on Foreign Dispatches. Apparently, the South African education minister has said that English will be downgraded from a core subject to being optional. Abiola presents some good reasons why English should be maintained at the core of the SA education system: namely that it is a vehicle for economic improvement. It is simpy the international language of the rich.

I kind of agree with Abiola on this, although we should note that English is but one of eleven official languages in SA, and is in no way the most widely spoken. We should also note that the right to learn any two official languages will in practice be restricted by a simple lack of textbooks and other resources. And we should remember that most people will continue to choose English or Afrikaans as one of their choices anyway.

Moreover, the SA government is in a difficult position on the language question. The legacy of Apartheid is still to be seen in many ways, one of which is the continuing prevelance of Afrikaans among the black population. I'm guessing that the government is wary of being seen to favour the two white official languages over the many languages spoken by the remainder of the population.

That said, there is no reason why a language like English shouldn't be presented as a universal second language, as is often the case in India (which actually relies on a two-plus-one model, ie., English, Hindi and a regional language.1 There are good benefits to this economically and it wouldn't put the quality of first language learning at risk.

Of course, though, the most major constraint on social mobility through education isn't really langauge learning as such. It's the poor quality of education for children in townships combined with inadequate resource allocation.

1 Which reminds me of a recurring thought I have when people complain of the lack of bi-lingualism amongst the English. Namely, that enormous numbers of Englsh people are bi-lingual, but it isn't noticed because their second language is Urdu or Gujarati or the like.

Monday, May 16, 2005


Richard reports rumblings coming from the media underworld re an IRA announcement.

Who Said Philosophers Couldn't Sell Shit?

Via Harry on Crooked Timber, I see that Frankfurt's On Bullshit has climbed to number three on the Amazon.com sales ranking. See! Us philosophers are commercial concerns! Personally, I'm looking forward to selling several million copies of my opus on Irish nationalism when I actually get round to writing it!

Though, today is a good day. I've sent two papers off to be published, one on liberal theory and Northern Ireland and the other, written with Mel, on ethics in public administration. I'm happy with both of them, not that that's any indication of the various editors' feelings on these matters.

Now to thinking about memory, commemorations, theories of states and Northern Ireland: I have to talk about that on Thursday. Not sure what I want to say yet, or how I can cover all the topics I want to talk about without people gouging their own eyes out with boredom...

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Bloody Hell!

Having surrendured to insomnia, I set out jogging at 5:30 this morning. Got six miles under my belt without my left knee collapsing under its own contradictions. Which is quite a step for me, so to speak.

The reason I'm telling you this is so you can decide that I'm barking before I send you off to get a spot of perspective.

Two Added to Blogroll

Two additions to the Ireland bit of my blogroll this week. First, David's Place. There's not much there yet (at least that didn't appear in the comments here!) but I'm looking forward to reading David's reflections: if previous form is anything to go by, there's going to be some smart stuff appearing there.

Second, The Unemployment Adventure. Thankfully I'm a mature adult, because there's great comic potential in discussing an unemployed phallus in Fermanagh. Oh how I laugh! Anyway, I came across him (BOOM BOOM!!) via this post, with hat-tip to Paul.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

More EST Live

In work far too early on a Saturday morning and, in an effort to keep myself awake, I've been clicking through BBC Radio 3's site looking for some music to pep me up. I usually rely on Late Junction for this, but today I happened on the Jazz on 3 recording of EST in concert at the Gateshead Jazz Festival. I think the concert will be available until Friday coming, the 20th. The link to the concert is here. Marvellous!

Friday, May 13, 2005

Revenge of the Myth

Via Pete Baker on Slugger, another marvellous Peter Bradshaw review: this time of the latest and last installment of the Star Wars movies. This is up there with Bradshaw's previous review (that I mentioned a few months ago) of Bicentennial Man. My favourite passage in the Star Wars reviews slates the guy playing Darth Vader:
As an actor Christensen must show the terrible embryo of future wickedness within himself. And how does he do this? By tilting his head down, looking up through lowered brows and giving the unmistakable impression that he is very, very cross. If Princess Diana had gone to the Dark Side, she would have looked a lot like this.
I'll be off to see it next week, damn sheep that I am.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Terminal Politics

And who said old-fashioned left-right politics didn't happen in Ireland? Well, the row over the new terminal in Dublin airport is shaping up to expose some mild ideological cleavages in an unusually clear way. Of course, as RTÉ reports, the left-right division is small. And it's within the government...

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Mechanisms of a United Ireland

Here's a question arising from a conversation with Mick: people are always banging on about a dreamlike United Ireland but, in institutional terms, what precisely would the unification of the two states entail?

I've had some thoughts about this already (for example, would the people of NI be forced to abandon the NHS and adopt Ireland's dodgy healthcare system? Would they suffer the lazy predations of Eircom?) but don't have to time to post on the subject. I might do so if I have time in the next few days. Maybe I miss Young Irelander, but I'd be curious to know what you think.

Update: Paul has found a link to an interesting article in the Blanket. Lots to think about here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A Likely Story!

Man hooks weed.

World Poverty and Human Rights

I see that Ethics and International Affairs has a symposium on World Poverty and Human Rights. Thomas Pogge's piece is available here (pdf). Pogge, who has already written a more extensive treatment of this topic, is an engaging and provocative cosmopolitan thinker. Always worth the read.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Hermon for UUP Leader?

In an interview with RTÉ, Sylvia Hermon has said she's considering going forward for leadership of the UUP. Interesting.

EST Live

I'm generally looking forward to the Esbjörn Svensson Trio concert in Vicar Street at the end of the month. Viaticum is a wonderful, bleak, album, just about up there with Seven Days of Falling. They're great in concert (they're also playing here in the Elmwood Hall) and it'll be a marvellous night, methinks!

Miburn for PM?

I've been wondering all weekend: I know he's gone back to spending more time with his family (and I believe him on that front), but is it possible that Alan Milburn might stand against Gordon Brown for the leadership of the Labour Party?

I don't mean that he might think he could win, but someone from the Blairite faction will have to stand. They'll want to flex some muscle before Brown gets in, seeking to avoid complete decimation in the cabinet under the new PM. I wonder if Milburn is the man for the job?

PR in Northern Ireland

PS over on Balrog has an interesting speculative post as to how the seat distribution would break down if there was some form of PR in Northern Ireland. Of course, as some commenters point out, it's impossible to predict since voters would adjust to using the new tool, but the analysis looks pretty interesting to me.

More on the NI Election

I've already engaged in a small spat over this, in comments to Paul's post and in my own post yesterday.

Well, I am blogging today though, after a rather late night, I'm not quite awake. So I'm settling for a quick comment on the DUP. David Vance, Paul and (another) David have raise interesting points in the comments to my previous post, but I think they miss something fundamental. That is, that elections are as much about electioneering as they are about principle.1

David holds the UUP responsible for selling the Unionist electorate a pup in the GFA, while Paul thinks that Trimble was let down by Republicans (et. al?) in such a way that his authority was shattered. The other David thinks that the GFA was a shoddy document but that Trimble was sincerely doing his best.

But it all seems to boil down to the fact that Unionists turned to the DUP is because they don't want to see terrorists in government. Chats with Unionist friends does confirm this almost trivially basic point: for Unionists, UUP = Adams in power.

Thing is, I would suggest that the same is true of the DUP. Indeed, Eamonn Mallie was on Irish radio this morning (not sure where: I got this second-hand), saying that Paisley had told him that he wanted to die as the Prime Minister of NI. I'm not sure how much credence to put on this, but the fact that it seems plausible is itself the point. As Tom Griffen points out, Paisley could well be 'the new Dev!'

We need to remember that the DUP were a polaroid away from going into power with the Shinners before Christmas. I guess that they'll enter some sort of power-sharing arrangement with SF sooner than we think.

Given that the distinction people made between the two parties is probably unwarranted, the chief reason that the DUP swept the board is that they managed their campaign very well. They were spectacularly professional. Despite the fact that it was nothing of the sort, they set an agenda that presented the election as a referendum on whether Adams should be in power or not.

Simultaneously, the UUP were banging on with their muddled and vaguely offensive 'decent people' and 'simply British' campaigns without any real focus to their message (beyond an attempt to play the DUP on their own ground, a mistake that they consistently made in the last number of years). Where, for instance, was the effort to encourage tactical voting from nationalists?

Elections are, at some level, about the constructions of beliefs in the minds of the electorate. And the DUP did a first-rate job. If you want to know why they won, the play of principles will only tell you so much. You need to find out who Peter Robinson has brought into Dundela Avenue and how they decided to play the electoral game: how the captured and shaped the themes of the election. And indeed, how they captured and shaped the initiative in Unionist politics for the previous 8 years (perhaps 40 years!).

Not, by the way, that this sort of thing is unique to the Unionist camps. The SDLP were lucky to get away with this election: they could easily have been routed for exactly the same reason. Why, instead of playing the Shinners on Shinner turf, did they not try to construct the choice facing the nationalist portion of the electorate as between them and the mafia?

Every time Durkan was on the television he should have been saying 'we stand for law and order. They knife people outside bars.' That's the sort of stuff that wins elections. Instead, the SDLP effectively ran the SF united Ireland campaign. It's baffling.

In short, as Mick put it over on Slugger, this election marked the death of amateur politics in Northern Ireland.

And in the meanwhile, some of us return to one of NI's Summer sports: assaulting children.

1 I should say that this point is a bit more limited to the manner in which I proposed it yesterday. In other words, I take on board a lot of what Paul and others had to say about the position the UUP found itself in.

Galloway v. Paxman

Via Mel, a video of the spat between George Galloway and Jeremy Paxman is available here. I'm not sure if I'm more amused or depressed by it.

Also, Daniel over on Crooked Timber has an interesting piece on Gorgeous George. I don't agree with all of the post, but the fundamental explanation for what went on certainly has something to it.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Is Irish Nationalism to Blame?

Paul over on N.Irish Magyar makes a quite persuasive case that Irish nationalism should take the rap for the fall of Trimble and the demise of Unionism's moderate wing. I objected to this line in the comments thread, but I really can't answer Paul's and David's responses there. Still, I think there's something to be said for the effectiveness of the DUP machine in explaining things. I'll just have to have a think about how much weight should be put on that aspect of things. If I'm awake tomorrow I might try for a longer post.

Update: Oh, and an interesting from the Sociable Geek, on the human impact of the Election. I'd hate to be a politician.

Update 2: More here.

Monkey Business

Just came across this wonderful photo, from Beyond. Take a look!

Interesting Times

A few months ago I posted on why the Tories were going to be in a mess in this election. Well, I was right and wrong.

I was wrong in that the Tories have done a very good job of gaining seats at the expense of Labour. So good news from them there. I was right, however, in that they haven't increased their share of the vote at all. I've posted an update of the graph I posted before, combining General Election results with Mori Polling Records. For a larger size, click on the graph.

On the face of it, this is mixed news indeed andI think it's far less positive than Tories would like to think. A closer look at a number of seats across GB and one finds that, although the Tories gained from some canny targetting of marginals, they largely gained from a switch from Labour to the Lib Dems.

Reading East, for instance, was a Conservative Gain, with Labour losing its 5,588 majority and the Tories getting in on a 475 majority. Now, Reading East is admittedly a special constituency, with all sorts of internal problems in the local party (which led to Jane Griffiths being de-selected). Nevertheless, it's pretty obvious that Tony Page, the popular local councillor, didn't retain the Labour seat because just over 2500 people switched from Labour to the Lib-Dems, just a hundred fewer than switched towards the Conservatives. If 20% of the Lib-Dem switchers had voted Labour, Page would have won the seat.

My guess is that people had seriously entertained a Tory victory, many of them would have voted Labour. In other words, they couldn't stomach voting Labour this time and with Blair's large majority, they felt secure in switching to the Lib Dems. Next time, however, they may regard the election as less of a referendum on Blair and more as an opportunity to express simple preferences between Labour and the Conservatives. Which would be bad news for both the Tories and the Lib Dems. The Tory vote might hold, but the Lib Dem vote would fall as people switched back to Labour.

Given the UK's unfair electoral system, and if the Reading phenomenon is generally true, then this election could represent a peak in the number of Tory seats.1

One thing is certain. This time around, roughly 60% of people who voted opted for either Labour or the Lib Dems. The Conservative problem is that not many of these people might not be available to vote Conservative. And once the election becomes a real contest between the two main parties, people will switch back to Labour.

1There's a whole load of riders to this. First, the election is a long way away and we just don't know what the issues will be by then, or what the economy will be doing. Second, I haven't examined very many constituencies, so don't know exactly how widespread this phenomenon is. Third, the Tories might get their act together, reform their leadership election system, and get someone in power who can combine Howard's ruthlessness with just a smidgen of charisma.

Thursday, May 05, 2005


Why did I only discover the world of mashups this morning??? I was too late to download ccc's revolved, but I'm currently enjoying their hour-long radio show (takes a minute to get into it).

Update: some good stuff here too. Especially 'Nothing in its Right Place' (mp3), featuring the Roots and Radiohead.

Democracy Inaction

Well, I did my duty and went out to vote. As is always the case in the UK, my simple preferences don't get much of a look-in on election day. Rather, I have to account for the expected preferences of my fellow constituents and, in that light, vote according to the least dissatisfactory result I can hope for.

In Northern Ireland, however, my perceptions of the least worst results are, well, not particularly inspiring. Booby prizes all round!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Rainy Spire

Rainy Belfast has given way to some lovely sunshine! Just can't wait for the place to warm up now!

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

And finally...

I have a rather sore head after running the second-last stage of yesterday's rather bizarre marathon. Not that it compared to the people who ran the whole thing (well done them), but my six miles was great fun. It's a pity about the route, which took us along the motorway past the airport. Not much fun for either the runners or the motorists, some of whom seemed stuck trying to get into the City Airport. Nevertheless, myself and my running partner had a blast.

And my sore head? Well I got burned by the unexpected sunshine so am suffering a little bit now. Ah well: off home to slap something on it.

Gay Marriage and States' Rights

Don Herzog has an interesting post over on Left2Right on states' rights and gay marriage. Some interesting points to note.

What Boris Will Watch

Boris Johnson's blog (which is different to saying Boris Johnson) has posted a good review of some significant seats for Thursday. How some of these go will certainly have a bearing on the makeup of the 2005-9 parliament. Worth printing off.

How strange...

I'm busily looking up articles on the Good Friday Agreement on Google Scholar (lazy first step only, I swear!) and I came across this set of references. Notice that the second-from-bottom article is apparently written by "I Elections and G Us a Break"! A pissed off copy-editory, methinks!

Sunday, May 01, 2005

In Hiding

Not much to say today, and it's a little rainy out, so I thought I'd just continue my self-indulgent habit of posting pictures rather than words!