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.

Monday, July 04, 2005


Back from London, but terribly busy here. Had a good weekend: a reminder of why London is such a marvellous, diverse, exciting city to be in (until you run out of steam!).

Anyway, given the day that's in it, I might recall an American friend's tour of the Tower of London some years ago. He and the other Yanks were asked by the beefeater what they called the 4th of July. When they replied that it's Independence Day, the beefeater quipped that "that's strange: we call it Thanksgiving..." American friend not amused...