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.