Wednesday, June 29, 2005


More cool tools from Google: via Crooked Timber I've just started messing with Google Earth! Great fun!

Second Richest, Yes. But Why?

Interesting post and comments thread over on Irish Eagle, arising from Thomas Friedman's article in the New York Times on why Ireland has become one of the wealthiest countries in the EU (no mention of transfer pricing anywhere though).

Update: Eagle makes the transfer pricing point in the comments thread to his post too. I didn't spot it the first time.

Update2: More on this issue over on Crooked Timber.

Weeklies Roundup

Just a few articles I've come across in the last couple of days, in the New Yorker and elsewhere.

First, an interesting piece in the London Review of Books on the British Museum's Views from Africa exhibition. The exhibition displays images of Europeans as seen by artists from around Africa since the 16th Century.

Then a few articles from the New York Review of Books. One is ane excellent piece by William Pfaff, entitled What's Left of the Union. It's a very sound assessment of the implications of the referendum results. Tony Judt has a not-entirely-satisfactory review of a number of books on America's place in the world. Mark Dammer has an exchange with John Walcott, arising from his previous article, The Secret Way to War. Dammer's basic point is somewhat obscure, but the general line is that Bush lied about the run-up to war (old news, but since when does it become passé to say that a political leader deliberately misled his people on an aggressive war?).

Finally, in the New Yorker, a fascinating account of the espionage arrests that have been made against a number of people working for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The account is notable for a number of reasons, although one feels some sympathy for the people at the centre of the allegations: they seem to have lost the run of themselves and their political sympathies rather than cynically engaging in what any lay person would regard as spying. But it does provide some insight into the moral grey zone that is America's political and commercial lobbying industry. Peripherally, also, the article points to the muddle that is the US classification system for documents. Unlike the UK, the fact that a document is classified in the US doesn't necessarily mean that it's illegal to disclose it (after all, you're protected under the 1st amendment. Interesting stuff.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Blue Sky Thinking

More strangely blue skies in Dublin. Long may it last!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Hygiene at Dublin Airport

This letter from one David Barnwell of Dublin 4 in Yesterday's Irish Times:
A chara, - Recently Deputy Seán Crowe received little support in the Dáil when he raised the question of the hygiene risks associated with the current chaos at Dublin airport. Yet a recent experience in the airport convinces me that the deputy's concern is justified.
Upon finally approaching the security gate (after almost 40 sweaty minutes in the disorder of the airport 'queue') passengers were instructed to take off their shoes. I noticed that the person immediately preceding me had filthy socks and foul-smelling feet.

When my turn came, I pointed out to the security agent that I wished to have the security gate area cleaned and disinfected.

His answer was a rude 'if you want to go through another gate you'll have to go to the back of the queue.' As the airport chaos had already wasted 40 minutes of my time, I was thus forced to use a dirty security area.

I am a regular traveller to the United States, in whose airports one is usually asked to remove one's shoes.

However, I have never objected, as there is a huge difference in standards of personal cleanliness between the United States and Ireland.

Given the fact that many Irish people are infrequent users of shower or bath, there are grounds for fearing that an unclean security area can become a breeding ground for nasty microbes.

And in view of its inability to manage many other aspects of the airport's business, how can we rely on the Dublin airport Authority to see to it that the security area is kept clean and wholesome? - Is mise...

Friday, June 24, 2005

Kelo v New London

There was a pretty profound ruling in the US Supreme Court yesterday where, in Kelo v. New London (oral arguments can be found here), the Court ruled by a 5-4 majority that the seizure of private property (subject to compensation) by a local government, in order to hand it over to other private parties, is constitutional. Taking property for 'public use,' against the will of the property owner, is uncontroversially constitutional: the question here was whether property might truly be taken for 'public use' if it is to be handed over to a private developer.

For the majority on the court, this was really a competence question: it is not for the Supreme Court to rule on local governments' development plans or the manner in which those plans are to be carried out. For the dissenters, such as Sandra Day O'Connor, however, the ruling means that the homes of the poor will be demolished in order to make way for the ambitions of the wealthy and the well-connected.1

As for me, I really haven't made up my mind. I suspect that, while it isn't a court's place to rule on general policies, it is their place to ensure that everyone has some degree of equality before the law. O'Connor is correct in that this dilutes the property rights of the poor and gives the powerful some degree of sovereignty over them. Which is precisely the sort of thing democratic institutions should be in the business of preventing.

Further coverage in the FT (subs required) and the LA Times.

1 Interesting, isn't it, how the left-right split works here. I suspect it would be the other way around in Europe, with liberals (in the American sense) concerned about handing property over to business rather than the decision-making sovereingty of government and with conservatives not seeing a problem with the inclusion of business in government planning without so much regard for the integrity of property rights. Maybe I'm wrong though: I've never heard of a similar case. If you'd care to enlighten me!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

CAP and Fair Trade

At last, from David Vance's underground lair, a point I almost completely agree with! In his usual calm and carefully-toned style, David points to the results of CAP pricing mechanisms in terms of its impact on farmers in developing countries:
If the EU markets were opened up to the likes of African farmers, everyone would prosper. Africa would enjoy the cashflows of new trade and new markers, the tax-payers of Europe would enjoy the benefits of NOT paying CAP (which constitutes almost HALF the entire European budget) and lazy inefficient farmers in the UK, France and elsewhere in Euroland would be shocked into finding better things to do with their time than bank sweeter than sweet subsidy cheques.
By way of response,1 one of the most striking facts thrown at us during my economics degree was that, if the CAP was abolished, world food prices would rise by 10%, solely because of the dumping practices of the EU. At the very least this practice must be reformed.

That said, the manner in which trade is to be opened up should be addressed very carefully. Ironically, although the CAP is inefficient in public policy terms (i.e. that we Europeans produce far more food than we need), it has created massive efficiencies in the farming sector, contrary to what David says above. Given that, until recently, the more you produced the more you got, there has been a huge incentive since the foundation of the Union for farmers to produce huge amounts very cheaply, which they have certainly done. Of course, this hasn't led to low prices for the consumer, because we have dumped the surplus rather than exposing the farming industry to price competition.

The problem now is that, if completely fair trade was imposed, farming industries in developing countries would be decimated in the face of European and American (who have a roughly similar system) economies of scale. I say, let them protect their sectors (in terms of tarriffs and in terms of restrictions on land-ownership) on a diminishing scale over, say, 25 years, and expose our sectors to the competition. There'd be perverse spin-offs from such a system as well, but I doubt they'd be as perverse as the current dispensation.

1 You may have noticed that I've been a wee bit cheeky and lifted the comment I left on ATW verbatim (too lazy to write it again, ya know...). Indolence reigns!


Having come across it via Eszter on Crooked Timber, I've been messing around with YubNub all week. YubNub calls itself a 'social command line for the internet,' which means essentially that yuo can create all sorts of shortcuts to search various sites direct from your browser, if you see what I mean (Eszter has a better explanation). Anyway, things get to be really fun if you turn your address bar into a command line tool. If, like me, you're on Firefox, just go to about:config and change keyword.URL to and you're on your way. I believe you can do that anyway, but this way you don't have to go through the hassle of programming from scratch on each new station you work on.

As things stand, the following are the commands I think I'll be using most of the time (some of which I programmed myself):

amuk: search Amazon UK.

guardian: search the Guardian.

bbc: search the BBC news site.

gmaps: search google maps.

gim: search google images

gs: search google scholar

gma: goto gmail

stanphil: search Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

ct: search Crooked Timber

Europa: search any site with domain name

EU-Europa: search within domain

I also tried to set up nins to search this blog, but screwed up slightly by not specifying the search string. I think it might get fixed though which will be very handy...

Either way, all these can be used by anyone from the YubNub site or from their search box if they add the YubNub plugin, or, if they set it up, from their Firefox address bar.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Take the MIT Weblog Survey
Via Megnut, I've just completed a survey on Weblogs. It's rather interesting, especially when you compare your information to that of other participants (the US bias is revealed by the number of people who say they never SMS anyone). Anyway, just click on the link...

Profits in Common

Interesting and amusing story over on funferal on the manner in which the Creative Commons people celebrated the first birthday of the Free Culture Movement. Well worth the read.

False Statements

I'm in the middle of trying to write an article on what the state can actually know and what it does when it runs policies based on the assumption that it can acquire information it actually can't acquire (such as asylum systems). Which makes me well disposed towards this post on Crooked Timber, on the WMD line taken before the invasion of Iraq.

I like the way the debate swings partly towards whether this is a distinction, in terms of responsibility, to be drawn between false beliefs and knowing deceptions. I suspect that there is, but that the US/British line on the matter is interesting not for highlighting the difference but for the manner in which governments seem so good at blurring the line.

Lamont's Ending

There's an interesting, though ultimately wrong-headed, piece by Norman Lamont in today's Financial Times (subs required), examining the current EU crisis from the British perspective. As with so many people, Lamont doesn't seem to get what the Single Market entails. Lamont says that
Lord Brittan, the former European commissioner, warned British politicians not to be “triumphalist” about recent events. But a certain quiet satisfaction is surely in order. Enlargement has been a great British success and John Major deserves much of the credit for seeing that it was not just correct in principle but would also result in a Europe more in Britain’s interest.
Now, however,
the EU is a cost to Britain economically and must be reduced in various ways. The tapestry of Europe’s different nation states requires some over-arching architecture. But we have built the wrong sort of Europe with the wrong sort of institutions. We need to go back to the drawing board.
According to Lamont, the new plan for Europe would involve a complete whittling down of the Union's remit, with 'much of the past legislation being repealed,' and perhaps with all European legislation requiring a vote of all national parliaments before being passed.

At base, 'The single market, which still does not exist, needs to be made a reality,' but all other activities should cease.

Apart from the fact that, no matter what side of Britain's political lines they are on, commentators seem absolutely fascinated by France. I've already mentioned Will Hutton's comments on France. Like Hutton, Lamont has a good point to make on this, saying that
the Franco-German alliance is no longer an effective instrument for projecting French interests. Enlargement has reduced its impact and Germany is less prepared to be “the stirrup holder for the French jockey”, as one commentator put it.
That said, I think that, as with so many people, Lamont is spectacularly naive on some elements of Europe. As it happens, most of the legislation coming out of Europe (generally agreed, mind, by the Council of Ministers, not the Commission) is related to the Common Market. A common market does not just come about through the repeal of border laws and the like. It involves a significant intervention in current national markets, requiring changes in long-set standards and practices.

Indeed, common markets, be they national or otherwise, are exercises in the prevention of certain sorts of competition as well as the encouragement of other forms. For example, the Second Basel Accord will regulate the manner in which banks expose themselves to risk, so that no-one attempts to compete by taking on risks or by over-exposing their capital bases. This sort of deal is crucial to the construction of a single market.

Lamont seems to imply that the regulatory burden of Europe is a function of things like the Common Foreign and Security Policy. But that's just not the case. It's the single market that continues to drive European legislation.

Of course, Lamont is mostly right on one point, which is that 'Europe’s constitutional treaty is truly dead and will be difficult to revive without riling public opinion.' Apart from the fact that whoever called it a constitution in the first place should be fired, it is true that us Europeanists are well beyond the inclinations of our fellow citizens on what Europe can be. I suspect that many people, in responding to the waves of bullshit coming from active anti-Europeanists, forgot that the bullshit sticks because it resonates with some basic problems that European citizens have.

For one thing, immigration and globalisation have become conflated with the European project and Europe has been dragged down by the resultant backlashes. Second, Europe's leaders, in Britain and beyond, are reaping what they sowed in blaming Europe for economic and social problems that they had either created (viz an Italian minister calling for the return of the Lira) or push legislative initiatives onto Europe, vote for them in council and then blame Europe when legislation is passed in national parliaments. Third, many of Europe's peoples are rather jealous of their nations' integrity. Some strong leadership might have alleviated some of these woes (there is some real crap talked about sovereignty, with very little understanding as to either what sovereignty means or how it might be affected by EU integration), but that would have required a lot of imagination and a lot less riding on issues like immigration.

But the fact is that, although voting arrangements will have to be changed to fit Enlargement, the constitution is more or less gone. And it's a pity. If only this had happened over rubbish Nice and not over this preferable treaty. But them's the breaks.

So I suppose on this point Lamont is correct. Still, I don't agree with him on the direction the Union should take. My feeling is that we should continue with the 2007 englargment, give it a few years for everyone to adjust and for the Eastern states to catch up a bit (hopefully) and then see what sort of Union we have and what sort of Union we want. This isn't a perfect solution. For one thing, our diverse interests probably lie more with each other than they do, say, with America. While we are resting they'll be getting on with pursuing their narrower aims. Still, ad hoc coordination might be enough to keep European eyes on that ball.

One thing is for sure. The single market will not exist as a self-contained entity. It itself has and will bring enormous changes to the way we think about our world.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Swedish Interest Rates Cut

There's an interesting piece over on A Fistful of Euros on the Swedish interest rate cut and the increasing pressure on the Euro.

OO Heat

Interesting thoughts from Paul. Essentially, he is claiming that republicans are going to seek to bait loyalists through the marching season this year and that, in the light of this, the Orange Order should back off and not rise to the challenge. I'm not sure I'd follow this line on several fronts, though it is an interesting way to see things.

First, if I was a republican I wouldn't be entirely interested in baiting loyalists like this. I'd be more interested in driving a further wedge between loyalists and the state and PSNI. What international reputation the OO had has been, to say the least, badly damaged by events in Portadown over the years, but perhaps their most important and lasting effect will be that the Garvaghy Road has emphasised that policing in NI does not happen for the benefit of one community. In a certain sense, this is a good thing. In a politically strategic sense, it seems like pretty good news for republicans (which is different to saying that they necessarily arranged for this to happen).

Second, I'm not convinced that republicans are all that enthused about provoking loyalists. It might be a good way of deflecting attention from their own travails, but, as we know from experience, it would come at a significant price.

Third, the (I'm sure Paul would agree) rather pie-in-the-sky idea that the current situation would lead, for the first time, to someone seeing sense and moderating their behaviour would be lovely, but moderation has to be handled well. Ironically, I suppose, backing off is good news generally but saying 'if x happens, I'll back off' is sometimes bad news, because it just encourages x to happen. Moderation has to be mutual and simutaneous, which requires trust, which is, well, somewhat lacking.

Mel Mutual Appreciation Roundup

Ah well, it had to happen. Mel is gone back Stateside and I've no-one to faff my days away with. Worse luck. I think I'm going to miss him a lot: he's been one of the major influences on me in the two years since I arrived in Belfast. Not only does the work we've done together stand in it's own right, but it has had the extra effect of making me bring some of the more interesting latent ideas in my, ostensibly separate, previous work (for example on nationalism 'n stuff) to the fore. And it seem's I'm not the only blogger sorry to see him go: so is Stephen!

And he gave me his remaining EST CDs and led me towards a few marvellous albums, notably Lyle Lovett (he bought Step Inside this House for me when I was off to Texas in December gone) and Bruce Springsteen's The Rising, a stunning post-9/11 album that I'm actually listening to right now.

And he introduced me to the joys of the Americano: a drink I took to so much that I've had to lay off the coffee completely!

Still, there's very little time to miss Mel: he'll be back with Randi over the Summer. In the meanwhile Mel, thanks for your thoughts and talk with you soon!

Monday, June 20, 2005

Fifth Republican Blues

I had meant to post this link last week, but am rather busy at the moment. Anyway, Will Hutton had a very interesting piece in the Observer last week, suggesting (plausibly, I think) that the French republic is entering into a major crisis and that the no vote was a symptom of that. If Hutton is correct, this is not the best news for any of us.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Phoenix Park

Two amazing things: cricket in Dublin (not normally associated...) and a completely blue sky. Just to remind us that these things do sometimes happen on this damp rock. Click for full size image.

Lecture Movements

I see that the political philosopher Jürgen Habermas is delivering the European Journal of Philosophy Annual Lecture in London on the 1st of July, on religion and the public sphere: right up my anoraky street! Habermas will be asking "how does the constitutional separation of state and church influence the role which religious traditions, communities and organizations are allowed to play in the political public sphere and in the state in general, but above all in the political opinion and will formation of citizens themselves?"

It's all a little obscure, but I've heard him saying very interesting things about this before (also in UL), when he delivered a paper published in Philosophy as "Religious Tolerance: the Pacemaker for Cultural Rights" (pdf, subs required). Mmmm: it's at moments like this that I really miss living in England. Still, I have to be near London on the 2nd so now I'm wondering if it wouldn't be too much trouble for me to travel via Malet Street. Must ponder...

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Funny Vidyer!

Just received this from the brother: it's a large file but trés funny!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Liveable Acreage

Gordon Burn has a marvellous meditation on nostalgia in today's Guardian Review, linked to the fading relationship he has with Newcastle in the wake of his father's death. His quote from Toni Morrison in the second to last paragraph sums Burn's thoughts up:
"They straightened up the Mississippi river in places, to make room for houses and liveable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places. 'Floods' is the word they use but in fact it is not flooding, it is remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has perfect memory and is trying to get back to where it was. Writers are like that; remembering where we were, what valley we ran through, what the banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place."
Well worth taking the time to read the whole piece.

Props of Virtue

Good, though depressing, article on the lobbying industry in Washington in the current New York Review of Books, focusing on moves to essentially vet the membership of lobbying organisations in order to ensure that only Republicans lobby the administration. I suppose it makes the drafting of legislation that much easier.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Dream a Highway

I just came across this marvellous profile of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings in last year's New Yorker. I've recently discovered Welch's music thanks to a friend in South Africa and am absolutely stunned. The profile serves to add depth to the music (something that only New Yorker profiles do, to my mind) which is wonderfully unusual.

Where Now for the New EU?

Well, actually, I'm not going to answer that question as it relates to the constitution! Such questions are dealt with to a far higher degree than I could manage at A Fistful of Euros, The Fundamental Principles of the European Constitution and, with a far more local bent, at About EU. Anyway, I'd hate to be accused of being Brusselsbureaucraticesque!1

Instead I'll just share an idea that I heard being debated between two friends (a German and a Hungarian) when I was in Brussels, relating to the status of May the 8th in European history. I'm sure people like Paul have come across this before. Essentially, for people from Western Europe (perhaps those of us on these islands excluded, who continue to us the triumphalist 'VE Day' tag), May the 8th is regarded as a day of liberation. It is the day that Nazi rule was overthrown and long-term and stable democracy established across Europe. For (western) Germans especially, the day is focused on the emancipation that they experienced from totalitarianism.

For those people unfortunate enough to have lived towards the East of the continent, however, May the 8th marked the beginning of another - far longer - period of totalitarian repression. For them it wasn't a day of liberation at all.

Instead, it represents a continuous period of illegitate rule. And, I should say, once we take the holocaust aside, Nazism and Stalinism seem to belong in roughly the same moral categories. That is, as a deliberate piece of industrialised murder, I think it belongs in a thankfully underpopulated moral category that can be distinguished from the murderous ravages of Stalinism and (I'm stretching a bit here) maybe even from the brutality of Rwanda-style genocides. Though this is all an intuitive impression I have - correct me if you take umbrance to any component of these thoughts.

Still, I wonder if this is going to prove one of the major issues for those of us interested in common political identities (by which I mean having ideas sufficiently in common so that people can collaborate in a shared political space) to tackle in the coming decades: not only the radically different experiences of the 20th Century, but the very different collective memories that have been built around these experiences.

That is not to say that people in accession states hold us westerners responsible for abandoning them to Soviet power

(although Hungarians seem (justifiably?) aggrieved at western passivity in 1956). Rather, I am suggesting two things. First, on a political level, easterners may approach the idea of freedom in very different ways to those in the western half of the Union. Second, on a historical level, the story of the Union cannot remain a simple linear tale of the recovery from WWII, but must include the east as more than a 'unit' in stasis until 1989.

On the first point, I'm not suggesting that easterners are less accustomed to freedom, or are less motivated by democratic procedures. On the contrary, I suspect that easterners are more enthused about these things in certain ways. My point is rather that they may be more willing to embrace the less regulated markets than westerners. Of course, this is a gross generalisation - there are perfectly libertarian westerners, who are rather hostile to state intervention. And there are perfectly interventionist easterners, both from conservative and from liberal perspectives. Nevertheles, I do wonder if easterners are understanably wary and suspicious of the state in a way that westerners, who are accustomed to the post-war social settlements, are not. Will this lead to tensions? If I'm correct, then it's inevitable.

Of course, such tensions are no bad thing. The post-war settlement is certainly not working properly, only in part as a result of the libertarian wrecking-job in recent years, and some new settlement that guarantees freedoms without abandoning those who benefit least from society is required. Perhaps this will come from the new member states. At the same time, it would be a pity to surrender to the idea that the state is a generally malign force, only suited to incarcarating drug addicts and wasting Arabs, as some people seem to think. I think a new settlement is inevitable. Whether it'll be just or not is open to question.

On the second point, I think we face just as important a challenge, not unrelated to the first one. In order to fully understand the place of the accession states, we (by which I mean all Europeans) need to understand the new ideas that accession brings to the table. We also need to discuss the vision that we have for the Union as it is now. In other words, it's not for the easterners to fit into the old story. We should come up with a new one to suit our new dispensation.

And May the 8th seems like a good place to start. Instead of merely regarding it as 25 national moments, we should also think about what it means for messy, complicated Europe as a whole. A club with new members is, in many ways, a new club. And the recognition of this requires some hard work.

Update: A colleague points out that the term 'westerner' denotes Americans as well as 'western' Europeans. Quite right: I was being a bit sloppy there. Anyway, that conflation might itself suggest some differences between old and new member states that we'll need to contend with.

1 Though I should say that I'm a fan of bureaucracies by first principles: if you want to have a single market, you do need to regulate the convergence towards it. Complex markets don't happen by magic: they are functions of bureaucratic interventions.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


Well, I'm back from a marvellous few days in Brussels, doing some very useful work and meeting some great people and engaging in very Belgian beer-drinking at rather too Irish a pace! So I think I'll need a few weeks of moderation in order to get myself back onto an even keel. Anyway, I'll post up a few thoughts on the visit at some stage. For the moment I thought I might point your way towards a very interesting article I came across in Monday's Financial Times (subs required), analysing the current state of the United Nations. It's a very good piece, so if you can get a hold of it do (or, if you're really interested, email me). The authors' basic line is that the UN has been given a remit by the great power(s) that it was never designed to fulfil and, in the circumstances, is doing rather well. That said, there is obvious need for reform, perhaps starting with giving the Secretary General some power to act, rather than tying his hands and then blaming him when nothing happens.

Speaking of which, I must post on the referendums at some stage: the EU as nation-states' whipping boy anyone?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I Ate Us

Light blogging for a while: I'm off to work in Belgium for a week. Or rather, three days of work, three days of beer. Perhaps to run as six concurrently. If you're in NI, enjoy the weather!!!