Saturday, December 23, 2006

Friday, December 15, 2006

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Saturday, December 09, 2006


I'm not sure I've posted this here before but it does feel appropriately Wintry.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Is it so very strange that I find this prospect exciting?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Monday, October 23, 2006

Biometric Open Book

This, via the Register, from Digital Rights Ireland. Apparently the biometric data on the new Irish passport is, effectively, an open book. Like the Register, I'd be somewhat less concerned about data being used by those terrorist types and far more concerned about ordinary decent criminality.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

One Eyesore Less

Liberty Hall (on the left) is to go. Let's hope it falls on Butt Bridge.

Vous ne chantez pas

Pity I don't speak a word of French. I've suddenly come over all Malian.

More here and in the comments here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

International Law Video Library

I wouldn't usually use my blog to advertise the activities of my employers, but I think the Queen's University Law School's International Law Video Library is an excellent resource. They seem to have interviewed some very significant people, including Phillippe Kirsch, president of the International Criminal Court and Judge Navanethem Pillay, President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Moreover, there are some fascinating thematic pages, with various people explaining key concepts in international law.

This really seems like an exciting innovation and provides, to some degree, an insight into the future of university teaching.

By the way, you navigate the movies through the thematic links on the right.

As always...

Nothing in Ireland is sorted until there's a good argument and a split.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Monday, October 09, 2006

What's with Ryanair?

You really have to wonder at Ryanair's move to take over Aer Lingus. Richard Delevan reports Michael O'Leary (via Slugger) as being somewhat cagey about when he (or others) came up with the move, suggesting that he doesn't remember whose idea it was but that they came up with it "only a week or two ago."

O'Leary's less-than-enthusiastic response may be rooted in the 'investor day' (pdf) Ryanair held on the 29th of September. Seemingly, Ryanair executives didn't mention the Aer Lingus idea then, much to the subsequent irritation of shareholders. Buying Aer Lingus would involve a major strategic shift even if the two companies were notionally separate, given Aer Lingus's long-haul business. It would also hit Ryanair's cost-base since it would both involve them taking on the costs of maintaining an Airbus fleet and - perhaps - being in a weaker negotiating position with their own pilots.

On top of all that, the oft repeated observation1 that Ryanair and Aer Lingus only compete on 17 routes is little more than spin. As the FT reports,2 Ryanair's rivals point out that some 62% of Aer Lingus's European destinations are also destinations for Ryanair, even if both airlines fly into different airports. The 17 routes claim assumes that we don't think that an airline flying into (God help us) Charleroi is competing with an airline flying into Zaventem, despite the fact that they both serve Brussels.

Well thought out? I doubt it.

1 Here from the horse's mouth (pdf). For some press-release copy and paste jobs, see here, here, here, here, here and here.

2 MSNBC has very kindly posted this article too.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Long time no post. Too busy really. Anyway, I do have an update to this post.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Holga Experiment

Inspired by the various Holga pictures I've seen (notably on Apparently Nothing), I decided to experiment myself. The first few shots aren't precisely awe-inspiring but it's interesting to face the restrictions of non-digital photography again. Not having to ration film and being able to see results immediately (and re-shoot), can make life a bit too easy...

Monday, August 21, 2006


So. It's not that then. It'll be interesting to learn what those guys were up to and how severe a crime an incompetent conspiracy actually is...

Friday, August 18, 2006


I've just been reading up on the Michigan wire-tapping ruling and the injunction that accompanied the ruling (both pdf). It's a sad day when a government has to be told that 'there are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution.'

According to the BBC, 'the judge's ruling is on hold' until the Government appeals it (also, the NYT). I notice, however, that further down the NYT's article (which cover's President Bush's remarks on the case), the reporter says that 'the government said it would ask Judge Taylor to stay her order at the hearing on Sept. 7.' I wonder did she do that? If she did, can an signed injunction simply be shelved?

Since the Administration is almost certainly going to lose the case, but not definitively until it reaches the Supreme Court (barring a spectacular departure from two centuries of jurisprudence), are they going to be allowed keep the programme going until then? Or will the injunction stand?

Update: That last paragraph isn't very well put is it? Let's try that again! I think the administration is going to lose the case (because they cannot refute the key constitutional and legislative arguments on the limited scope of FISA and the limited powers of the Presidency). Stop. Also, I am wondering whether an injunction can be waived during a long series of appeals. One point isn't exactly related to the other!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Asked Out

I was very struck on Friday, listening to the World Tonight on the BBC, where they were talking about UN negotiations over the resolution on the Lebanon crisis. Remember - this was before the text of the resolution had been agreed. Claire Bolderson was interviewing Warren Hoge, the UN Correspondent of the New York Times when the following exchange took place (if you want to listen, it's at 15 minutes, 45seconds, here.
Bolderson: It's interesting that you say the British were involved in these negotiations and aren't any more. Why not?
Hoge: They were asked out really. I know this from both the French and the Americans. They really felt that the British were not helping and they decided that they would resolve this more easily among themselves.
Amazingly, there was no producer roaring down Bolderson's ear to pursuethis comment and she moved on to the next question. But I wonder what that was about. If I was to guess, and this is just a guess, I wonder if the British UN team was getting a clear line from London. Very strange nonetheless.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Consumer Innocence

What an astute man Edmund King is. King, executive director of the RAC, has slammed the Bishop of London because the Bishop said that buying SUVs and the like are "a symptom of sin."
Pointing out that "sin is not just a restricted list of moral mistakes," the Bishop linked the purchase of large cars of symptomatic of people "living a life turned in on itself where [they] ignore the consequences of their actions."

But this is too much for King who wonderfully replied that the purchase of cars is a "practical," and therefore not a "moral decision." Seriously. He also suggested that the Church "should stick to what they know best." Yup - if there's one thing that 2000 years of moral thought has not been about its morality.

What I love the most is the idea that there is some sort of distinction between 'practical' and 'moral' decisions. What in hell does this mean? I thought morality was all about how we act and how we decide to do things. If I make a decision, say, that's all about reaping benefits to the direct detriment of specific others in society, then - according to anyone I know except the bold Mr. King - my decision has some sort of moral impact.

Still, all in a day's work for the RAC. In the US at least, for every extra driver who saves themselves in an accident by virtue of their having bought an SUV, four others die. There is also some preliminary evidence from Europe (where the SUV-consumer demographic might be different) that SUV drivers are more aggressive than those in other cars. In other words, they are more likely to drive, presumably safe in the knowledge that they won't pay the price of their behaviour. Of course, this fact is entirely independent of moral questions.

Is that the smell of bullshit from King's exhaust?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Fertig Sein

Left Field

Is it just me or are Kevin Breathnach's posts getting, well, longer? Where's a man supposed to get all that reading time?!


OK. Still in office. Who said boffins get the Summer off??? Oh to be in the sea!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Blue-Sky. Thinking?

Well, the Summer certainly looks lovely from my office window...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Snow and Taxes

By way of an update to this post, and the subsequent debate on Internet Commentator, over whether the US taxation authorities consider Antarctica to be a foreign country, Frank McMahon and I received an email from the place itself clarifying the matter. The full text is over on Internet Commentator.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


And here's a cool photo for the day that's in it. Go and see the Royal Hospital now before it becomes a banal building site.


I don't know what you think, but I like Barry Flanagan's sculptures on O'Connell Street. They make a most pleasant change from the Sacred Heart (though this is a snap from up at the Royal Hospital)...

Monday, June 26, 2006


Off to the ALSP conference in Dublin for the week, where I'm presenting the first iteration of my latest opus, on Enron and individual responsibility. There'll be some pretty eminent thinkers speaking at the conference. I'm especially looking forward to hearing Philippe Van Parijs speak, and some other stuff in panels on global ethics. And in between sessions I'm working away on yet another draft of a paper on Northern Ireland and trust. A fun week beckons!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Wet Chads

Well, there's another way global warming can help the Democrats: this is the difference a twenty foot sea-rise level would make to Florida.

I came across the photo via Mel's post on an interesting piece on global warming in the New York Review of Books. Hansen's article, as Mel points out, is as interesting for who is writing as for what is written.


Yesterday's Guardian had an odd article about a new film documenting suicides off the Golden Gate Bridge. The Bridge was made by tracking pedestrian movements on the Golden Gate for a year and is apparently a thought-provoking piece of work, using the images as a starting-point for an examination of responses and non-responses to the suicides.

The film has also provoked some serious controversy because Eric Steel, the director, lied to the Golden Gate Bridge District about the purpose of his film. He claimed, it seems, that his project was aimed at capturing the "powerful and spectacular interaction between the monument and nature," and only revealed his true purpose shortly before the film came out. Moreover, when he interviewed the families of suicides, he didn't tell them that he had filmed their deaths.

Steel's excuse for this was that he didn't want to encourage people to throw themselves off the bridge. It seems just as likely, though, that he didn't want to be stopped from filming.

Whether his deception was worth it for his film I don't know. These films might help in developing our understanding of the world - I'm certainly open to the possibility. In which case the deception may be justifiable. The problem is that it's very hard to distinguish between a genuine attempt to understand the world and someone's presenting good reasons to elide more purient motives. Their statements might just be parasitic on good reasons, if you see what I mean.

Speaking of which, here's a Bridge District spokesperson, as reported in the Guardian, choosing not just to say that she's pissed off about being lied to and uncomfortable about a potentially grubby project:
if Steel misrepresented himself on his application for a permit, that gave us cause for concern relative to the security of the bridge. He has likely recorded patrol patterns and lighting and intrusion detection elements.
So. It's a national security issue. Hmmmm.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Name Game

A friend has emailed me a link to a BBC article on a UCL tool: the Surname Profiler. The clever people at UCL have created maps of GB in 1881 and 1998 based on the frequency of surnames in the census. I'm not sure what its research uses are, but it's great fun. I'm personally beset with the not entirely surprising news that the Kellys were and are concentrated in western Scotland and the area around Liverpool. In more interesting news, there were a few Khans, Mahoods and Mings knocking about in expected and unexpected places in 1888.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


We spent the weekend in Wicklow and mangaged to wake up very early on Sunday to take a stroll down to the harbour. Wonderful.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


There's good coverage of the recent ECJ jurisdiction ruling on Ireland's Sellafield complaint over on the EU Law Blog and on ECJBlog. Interesting stuff.

Monday, June 05, 2006


I suppose I'll be catching some games over the next few weeks, but - indolent bastard that I am - I'm just not sure I'll be able to work up the energy displayed here, here and here.

Courtesy of Crooked Timber.

Brown Substance

Gordon Brown was interviewed by John Humphrys on the Today Programme (realplayer) this morning. He was talking about globalisation but, when quizzed on the challenge posed by David Cameron, entered into the following entertaining exchange (about 9 minutes 30 seconds into the interview):
GB: [The votors] get to make their decision on substance not on style...

JH: ...not on style? Not on style? Because some people say that's how Tony Blair got in!

GB: [Laughs] Not at all! Look, we had an agenda which started with making the Bank of England independent, creating the most stable economy we've seen, investing heavily in our public services, these were the issues ... and reforming our public services ... these were the issues on which we won and continue to win power...
Precisely whose policies were these that won the elections for Labour? Heaven forfend that Brown would take the opportunity to have a dig at Blair!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Abolish the Age of Consent?

In case you don't know, the Irish Supreme Court has recently struck down the law on statutory rape as unconstitutional (the ruling is here) on the grounds that it doesn't permit someone to enter a defence of ignorance as to the other person's age. In Supreme Court-ese: "the exclusion of the defence of mistake as to age is repugnant to the Constitution." Michael McDowell, the Justice Minister is going to propose new legislation to replace the unconstitutional law. The law will equalise ages of consent between genders and will allow for teenagers to have sex with people below the new age of consent (16) provided they are within two years of age of the person who they have sex with.

I wonder though. It'll be difficult to formulate a law that can adhere to the Supreme Court's ruling - allow for ignorance of age as a defence. My feeling is that the age of consent is part of the problem. Unfortunate that the situation is (especially given this sort of opportunistic response to the situation), I wonder if it presents an opportunity of sorts. Why not get rid of the age of consent altogether, instead of adopting the proposed half-measure?

Couldn't it be left to the courts to decide whether, in a specific situation, consent had been given and that the younger/more vulnerable party was capable of giving consent? Obviously, where children are below a certain age, or where an age gap is more than x years, or where one party is obviously vulnerable, it's difficult to think of someone legitimately claiming that consent had been given, even if explicit force was not present. On the other hand, abolishing an age of consent would rid us of strange anomalies where 17 year olds end up on the sex-offenders register having slept with 15 year olds, or indeed where older people predate on vulnerable young people who simply happen to be over the age of consent.

I suppose this comes down to the incoherence of the idea of statutory rape: rape is rape and ought to be punished. But age is simply not a good marker of consent.

Update: I knew I was sticking my neck out with this one: Frank McGahon provides a convincing counter-argument in the comments.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Layd Off

Well, I was wrong: I didn't expect it, but as a jury has found Kenneth Lay and Jeff Skilling guilty on charges arising from Enron's collapse. I'm still not convinced that the prosecution actually pinned anything specific on these two (which is different from saying that I believe they're innocent). I suspect that the prosecution's success has more to do with creating the whiff of bad apples (as Senator Paul Sarbanes put it around them.

Getting a handle on this is my job at the moment, and I'm just finishing a working paper on corporate intentionality and responsibility regarding Enron. My line is that it's very hard to think of individuals in corporate contexts as being the authors for corporate actions in any absolute sense and, once you recognise that their authorship is diluted, it's hard to think of them as being entirely responsible.

Anyway, that's to come (next week I hope). In the meanwhile, I'll be curious to know whether the 'wilful ignorance is guilt' ruling, where the judge told the jury that "you may find that a defendant had knowledge of a fact if you find that the defendant deliberately closed his eyes to what would otherwise have been been obvious to him," played a role in Lay's and Skilling's downfall.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Belfast Sunset

There was a stunning sunset over Belfast last night.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Download a Camera (Seriously!)

If one thing is guaranteed to appeal to my nerdish nerditude, it's a pdf camera. How great is that! Saves on seeking out Holgas, that's for sure! Lifehacker suggests a link to a flash animation for assembling the pdf camera. I get a 403 error on the link they provide but you might have more luck.

Antarctica is Not a Foreign Country!

Missed it at the time, but (via the Swedish Law Blog, itself via Opinio Juris), it seems that, for the purposes of American tax collection, Antarctica doesn't count as a foreign country.

Update: Apart from correcting my shoddy spelling (still visible in the permalink), spoilsport Frank McGahon clarifies the issue quite plausibly both on his blog and in my comments.

Update 2: Though he's not entirely accurate, as I set out on his comments.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Suck the Wasters?

I'm entirely undecided as to whether Enda Kenny is 60% Equalizer and 40% Daniel O'Donnell or whether the proportions are the other way around. I don't know who is running FG's new strategy, but I'm certain they have a sense of humour.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Channelling the Professional Spirits

I've just finished reading 'Channellers, Cowries and Conversations with the Gods: Explaining Multiple Divination Methods in an Afro-Brazilian Religious Tradition,' a book chapter/working paper by Emma Cohen, at the Institute of Cognition and Culture here at Queen's. It's a fascinating piece whose basic question is 'why do people who can access information from the spirit world directly (through possessed mediums) also seek information from other forms of divination (like reading signs in shells etc)?'

Cohen spent some time in a Brazillian terreiro, a 'cult house,' where people can, for a fee, receive guidance from spirits. A spirit would possess the local head honcho and pass on priivleged information about the future, or about a person's love life or the like. What puzzled Cohen was that the house leader's 'customers' also sought information from the specialised use of various runes. Why wouldn't they just go for the possession stuff, since this would give them direct, and presumably more reliable, access to the spirit world?

The theory that Cohen formulates is that, though people patently believed that the 'pai-de-santo' was possessed, they were held back by simple cognitive barriers. The manner in which the brain processess information about familiar faces means that it is very difficult to make the cognitive leap to entirely accepting that the same body can, through possession, become the vessel of another person. Our brains are hardwired, when we see a familiar face, to retrieve all sorts of information about that person, enabling us to predict their attitudes, read their expressions etc. We may, at some level, believe that possession turns them into someone else with an entirely distinct identity, but that belief can never be total. I can never fully believe what I believe I believe, to put in nice and simply (Cohen explains it so much better in her paper)... So I often opt for runes of various sorts because seeing a medium 'read' the runes is more cognitively comfortable than seeing them possessed.

OK - enough description. The dodgy bit is next...

One of the many problems with us boffins is that there is literally no piece of academic work on the planet that we can't be made to believe is really about what we're doing. So here goes... For some reason (waking up at 4 this morning maybe) Cohen's work - very obliquely - touches on stuff I am doing at the moment on professional ethics. I'm just finishing a piece that at root acknowledges the dilution of responsibility within professional roles. In Ethics of an Artificial Person, Elizabeth Wolgast talks of 'role moralities,' where people, in their professional lives, behave in a way that they themselves would find morally repugnant if they did the same thing outside of their roles.

One striking example of this involved some asbestos cases, where lawyers for liable companies put barrier after barrier in the way of class action suits coming to court, up to and including harrassing people on their deathbeds, because, knowing they would lose the case once it got to court, they figured they could save a few bob for their clients if the case was delayed long enough that many plaintiffs would die.

It strikes me - and here's where I come back to Cohen's point - that there is some small resemblance between possession rituals, where we believe that possession entails one person disappearing and another manifesting himself, and professional life, where we believe that many aspects of a person's identity - primarily the sense of virtue they generally profess - must disappear and a professional identity takes over. Though it may not be to the same extent, they become another person.

So, why don't we judge the asbestos lawyer more harshly? Why do we think that his or her playing a role makes their actions excusable? Why does the role act provide moral distance to the general person? Cognitively, if Cohen is right, we ought not to be able to separate different sets of behaviour out in response to formal changes in role.

One reason might be that moral narratives have profound unifying force. The asbestos lawyer, in acknowledging the problematic nature of their strategy, can plausibly appeal to a higher moral priniciple. It is a basic precept of our legal system - highly valuable in itself - that a lawyer ought to attend as closely as possible to the interests of his or her client. The doing of some repugnant things must be forgiven since the role serves a higher ideal.

On the face of it, this ought to be implausible. The virtues of the legal system might explain the lawyer's dirty hands, but that needn't render the lawyer's actions forgivable. Moral tragedy cannot simply be collapsed into moral equivocation.

Cohen's thesis isn't designed to address these questions but, stretching them a bit, it might be possible to argue that the imperative is not to begin with the moral axioms and wonder at the cognitive/moral dissonance that - given those axioms - must be involved. Instead, one begins with the concrete person and then seeks an explanation as to how that unified being can make all the decisions in their lives. The 'higher principle principle' does that work quite well. Personal identity maintains its single moral narrative.

It does so, however, by disregarding the role morality per se, instead relying on a general ends-based moral system. If this is true, moral theorists might be just as well accompanying their study of role moralities with an awareness of the strong motivations presented by narratives of personhood. You protect the unity of the self not by pigeon-holing behaviour in a formal role but by explaining the role through some story about the self.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Last Week for the Enron Trial

So, the Enron trial has entered its last week. I'm unsure as to what the outcome will be, though I suspect that Lay and Skilling may meet different ends.

I don't think, though, that anyone has directly produced evidence of either man - nasty though many of their actions were - actively seeking to break the law. Lying to analysts about the health of your company is, I imagine, par for the course. Prosecuters would ordinarily need to do better than that in order to get a result. I suspect, though, that they're trying to push for conviction by simply presenting Lay and Skilling as all-round bad eggs. They are, but being a greed is good shit is hardly illegal.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Lonely in Dublin?

If you are, and if it's any comfort, you're not alone.

That is, according to the eminent Google Trend Labs (hat tip the Register).

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Animal Rights Argument Was Lost When it Should Have Been Won

The last few months have seen a major backlash against the animal rights movement. It's not the first backlash, but it's the most damaging and the movement has brought it on itself.

The interests of animals ought to weigh in our thoughts about how we should act. That’s not to say that I regard animals as having rights – inalienable interests that cannot be trumped by the interests of others. Nevertheless, I believe that some animals, great apes for instance, have interests that are so morally weighty – given evidence we have about their self-awareness and about their capacity for suffering – that it’s hard to conceive of anything that can override them. Other animals, say rats, may have less weighty interests, in line with their capacities.

Given this, animal testing is, on the face of it, an incredibly dubious practice. It is difficult to imagine justifying actively causing the suffering of one being as an object for the benefit of the other. Everything from simple exposure to the 50% test – increasing dosages of chemicals until half the animals have died – cannot be reconciled with any obligations we have towards animals.

Of course, things rarely exist in a state of moral simplicity. As I said, first, it doesn’t seem logical to treat all animals alike. To put it crudely, harming a spider seems different to harming a cat which itself seems different to harming a chimpanzee. Second, the manner in which animals are cared for seems important. Captivity has different forms. Third, and this is most important because it has totally been lost in the recent debates about animal testing, testing is done for different reasons. The differences between those reasons matter.

I can think of three motives for animal testing: scientific research, cosmetics testing and medical research.

Scientific research seems too case specific for a discussion of general principles. Electrocuting dogs for the benefit of psychology undergraduates can hardly be justified. Groundbreaking research involving animal testing – say something that has no direct imaginable benefit but adds to a somehow important body of knowledge – might in certain circumstances be justifiable.

I can’t think of any circumstance that merits cosmetics testing. I think the law has changed on this in the UK, but it’s worth saying. Performing the 50% test on 1000 dogs in order to develop a new lipstick seems pretty repugnant.

Medical research is a strange one. I think that genuine medical research – where new drugs are developed – seems in any circumstance I can imagine to be justifiable, although the comfort of animals ought to be accounted for and their interests in not suffering ought to be kept in mind, at least in concentrating minds on not crossing the line to gratuitous suffering.

Much medical research, however, does not involve attempts at the development of new drugs. Rather, it’s focused on creating value-added products through which one set of pharmaceutical companies compete with others. If, say, I add a lemon flavour to a headache pill (when generic paracetamol works better anyway) and, in doing that, I have to perform the 50% test on animals, I just can’t be regarded as doing something defensible. Or if I am developing drugs that might intervene in, say, the heart disease market, when my drug won’t actually improve anybody’s life prospects, again, it’s hard to see how I can justify animal testing.

In other words, animal testing for human well-being might be justifiable, though to a varying extent for different animals. It is not justifiable when it is rooted in simple profits.

Saying this, of course, means that I don’t have much time for political and scientific opinion on the matter. The elision of these various categories and practices on the part of Britain’s scientific, political and testing business communities suggests a certain degree of moral laziness, at least on the part of those people who are genuinely interested in moral argument. I've gone totally (perhaps unfairly) cynical, but I can't help but think that Blair’sargument’ that Britain’s place in the scientific world is a reason for animal testing is more rooted in his wanting to construct a moral panic that doesn’t involve him than in a moral attachment to the virtues (in terms of human knowledge) of testing.

Not drawing the distinction between various sorts of animals and sorts of tests allows plainly immoral testing to continue. It allows the profit motive for some tests to remain hidden in the background, parasitic on the good arguments for other tests. Lumping the whole industry together to defend it may be easier, but it also taints those who argue in favour of testing with its seamier side.

I also set myself apart from many people who have interests in animal rights, however. Human interests, for them, do not justify animal suffering. I simply don’t agree with them. Testing can be justified, but it has to be explicitly justified. Human interests can trump animal interests, in very specific circumstances where genuine and serious interests are at stake.

The animal rights movement has three primary problems. One is its political naivety. The other is the friends it keeps.

Most of the animal rights people I’ve met are profoundly pacifistic and moderate. They really wouldn’t hurt a fly. At their worst moments they can be a bit like the eponymous (and on this issue, self-aware) hero of Coetzee’s fascinating Elizabeth Costello: fervent, alienating and intense, and upset, frustrated at how they can't change the world. They are certainly neither violent or threatening.

Perhaps because of this, in my experience, the loudest voices in the movement have tended to be those of people who are most sympathetic to justifying whatever means are necessary to – they imagine – achieve their ends. Apart from the obvious immorality, these people are profoundly, childishly stupid. They simply serve to provide their enemies with the means to deny the movement the voice it ought to have.

Combined with this is total political naivety. The animal rights movement (I’m thinking specifically of SHAC and other groups) has never really adopted a tone that would have brought action. They tend to prefer the rhetoric of Greenham Common or Twyford Down when sticking a suit on and getting a haircut would, in this case, be more likely to work. In other words, they’ve never really taken the steps to put themselves in a position where they could persuade.

Combined with this has been the lack of any tactical attempt to decide on what the movement can actually achieve.

All-or-nothing campaigns often end up with, well, nothing.

The movement ought to have attacked the far more invidious testing-for-profit, which is the spectacularly unspoken Achilles' heel of the testing industry. They ought to have specifically said that, while all animal testing is regretful, some might be necessary (perhaps, though I’m personally sceptical of this line of argument, until computer modelling is up and running). That way, they might have kept the public onside, presented the pro-testing lobby with a difficult position to defend and got some of what they want.

Anyway, as I’ve set it out, I think that that line is not only politically sensible, but (even if it wasn’t) is the most morally defensible. Animals may not have inalienable rights, but they do have interests. The pro-testing lobby is so simplistic that it implicitly – and unintentionally I’m certain – denies that there are any circumstances in which those interests can trump human wishes. But those circumstances do exist.

The animal rights movement’s morally dubious higher bar for the status of animals has lost it the argument. It has alienated the movement from the society it must persuade. It has undeservedly gifted the moral high ground to pro-testers by allowing them to – as the antis do – treat all testing as being on a moral par. And it has allowed silly extremists to destroy any chance that the movement has for the foreseeable future.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Sunset in Hyde Park

Another of the crop of photos from London.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Testing Testing

Just testing a new tagging system for Firefox and Greasemonkey. I hope it works! Also, I'm looking for a hack that totally rejigs my blogroll. I'm sick of having tonnes of blogs listed alphabetically. What I would like is for them to be listed in the order in which I last read them (or in a 'most-read' order) I'll be looking around over the next while, but if anyone has any suggestions I'd be most grateful!

Update Oh well. That wasn't compatible with other scripts in my template. So now to try del.icio.us2blogger

Update2 Well, that works well on Firefox, but not so well on IE. I can't imagine why.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Enron Trial

I've been following the Enron Trial over the last while: fascinating stuff. I'm not convinced that it will see anyone going to prison, though this bit of news makes it more likely. Trial transcripts are towards the bottom of this page (hat-tip the Law Librarian Blog).

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


There's a highly enjoyable, even thrilling, trolling orgy over on John & Belle have a Blog (as John Holbo says "Keep scrolling. Further. Further. Ah, there") that descends to the sort of linguistic flights that are generally only found in Finnegan's Wake. Try this for size:
Phuck yr little J-Edgar spam-game, too, bozostein. Yr a human reject, a ham-fisted, talentless, ineloquent, literal-minded male-shrew: as you prove more convincingly with each yip and yap. Scottie the LIT. Poodle! Roll over n play MORT, Scottie the LIT. Poodle!
Almost beautiful in its trollilicious perfection and that's before the real madness sets in.

Albert Memorial

Another glorious day in Belfast. Though this picture was taken at the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park on an even more glorious day!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Spot the Ball

I was in London at the end of last week and (after work) headed for Greenwich to sit in the heat. World Cup fever abounds.

Lazy Journalism, Lazy Blogging

United Irelander has been making hay (and here) recently over this article in the Irish Examiner. According to a sentence at the bottom of the article,
Since French and Dutch rejection of the Treaty, support [in Ireland] has collapsed to just 15% - it once stood at 78% with Irish voters.
Or, as UI has it,
The figures contained in the latest Eurobaromoter survey show that support for the EU Constitution now stands at just 15% - it once stood at 78% with Irish voters.
I've been a bit confused by this: such huge drops don't tend to happen. So, instead of doing what UI did - ie taking the report at face value - I went to look at the stats to try and find out what the Examiner is on about.

First, I looked in the latest Eurobarometer report (pdf), which was published late last year. Well, the news there is rather positive for supporters of a European Constitution. Strangely enough, in fieldwork last October and November, 60% of Irish respondents expressed support for the idea of a constitution for the EU with only 19% expressing opposition (p. 25). Which is not to say that they support the constitutions as it stands. 22% of European citizens surveyed expressed the opinion that the constitution ought to be re-negotiated with only 13% saying that it ought to be totally dropped (I can't open the Irish country survey for some reason so can't say what it was for the Irish survey).

The Examiner got its line from a more recent (May 2006) and smaller survey (pdf) on 'The Future of Europe,' where the fieldwork was carried out earlier this year. And here's where the Examiner's (and UI's) mistake lies. The 15% figure doesn't refer to support for the constitution. In fact, there's no way that the figure could even be construed as denoting support for the constitution.

The question (p. 154) asked in the survey is 'which two of the following would you consider to be most helpful if anything, for the future of Europe?' Respondents were given six specific options (a common language, well defined external borders for the EU, the introduction of the Euro in all EU countries, comparable living standards, a common army, a common constitution) with the choice of putting in one's own answer, saying nothing would help the future of Europe, or saying that one doesn't know.

Apparently 15% of Irish respondents (according to the discussion from p. 37-9) named a European constitution either as their first or second choice. They were more likely - get this UI - to name the introduction of the Euro across the Union as the thing that would be most helpful.

So there you go, a total mangling of the statistics by the Examiner and United Irelander. For the Examiner it reads just like a piece of lazy misreading. I suppose UI can claim to be the innocent victim of the Examiner's report, but he should recognise that there is, as always, nothing like reading something for yourself.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Trolleys and Roadmaps

Via Crooked Timber, I see that the BBC has posed a number of 'philosophy 101' thought experiments, where you can vote on what you would do when faced with a moral dilemma (presumably they've been reading this book).

One of the more controversial thought experiments is contained in Judith Thompson's 1971 essay 'A Defense of Abortion,' where she introduces the following thought experiment:
You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, "Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you—we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you." Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation?
Essentially, Thompson argues that, though you would be very nice to accede to the situation, you're under no obligation to do so. By analogy, if you find yourself pregnant you're under no obligation to maintain the pregnancy to term.

This argument has had a number of detractors in the academy, but her important contribution to the debate is that she separates rights from interests (ie., you may have profound interests but that might not translate into a right) and the abortion debate from the 'what constitutes a person' debate.

Anyway, the BBC's essay is fun, but - as I said before - I have a problem with the idea of philosophy being approached like this.

Voting on these issues - forcing the binary yes/no decision - detracts from the really interesting thing about imaginary dilemmas. Simply opting for one conclusion or other is not the point of these hypotheticals. Why the answer is difficult and what that says about our moral thoughts is the important thing. That you arrived at your destination is far less intersting than the map you used.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Hey Wayne

I don't know much about football, but seeing this, followed by this, I'm left feeling, um...

Sunday, April 30, 2006


Just flicking through, well, Flickr and I came across this, by Lorissa of the spectacular Apparently Nothing at All photoblog. It's the only time when making a dog's dinner of a photograph is a good thing...

Saturday, April 29, 2006

More Questions on Deporting Irish Citizens

Following on from yesterday's post, I asked a colleague in the Law School here about this issue. He suggested that the answer might lie in the idea that no right to abode is absolute. Theoretically, British citizens could be denied that right too. The problem is that since, under international agreements, a state can't render a person stateless. So the UK can't restart its 'send the convicts down under' policy. But, if this is the answer, it's not entirely satisfactory. If 'references in any Act of Parliament, other enactment or instrument whatsoever, whether passed or made before or after the passing of this Act, to foreigners, aliens, foreign countries...shall be construed' as if Ireland is not a foreign country, then how can practice be different for UK and Irish citizens?

Moreover, this raises some interesting questions about here? Northern Ireland works under the Good Friday Agreement treaty, but nonetheless a few questions are worth asking:

1. Does an Irish citizen deported from GB have a right to reside in Northern Ireland?

2. Does a Northern Ireland judge have a right to deport an Irish citizen to the Republic (even if they are actually from Northern Ireland?)?

3. What is the legal status of the deportations (that do happen) of people from GB to Northern Ireland? Is it the same as deportation to the Republic or different?

Answers on a postcard or in a comment box please!!!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Can Irish citizens be deported from the UK?

If you live in Ireland or the UK you're sure to have seen all the furore over foreign prisoners who were not deported at the end of their sentences. It's my understanding that foreigners are not automatically deported, but that - at least in part - the deportations happen on the recommendation of the judge at the person's trial. But are those orders necessarily legal in the case of Irish citizens? I don't think so.

The plurality of the prisoners came from either Jamaica or Nigeria (figures here) presumably largely involved in drug-running. But 50 of the prisoners were Irish. This is interesting. I haven't been able to google a case, but I know that, very often, when British people come before Irish courts, they are booted out of the country. And this obviously happens in the other direction too. But is it legal?

Well, I'm not sure. A Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK, in place since the 1920s, ostensibly removes immigration control from between the two islands. In other words, free movement exists (in practice at least). As Lord Filkin said in the Lords (in reply to a question by Lord Kilkooney),
The objective of the common travel area is that all the territories should be treated as a single unit for the purpose of travel within the area. A person's arrival in the United Kingdom from within the common travel area is not, therefore, subject to control except under very specific circumstances as outlined in the Immigration Act 1971 and the Control of Entry through the Republic of Ireland Order 1972...
The specific circumstances include
persons who are subject to directions given by the Secretary of State for their exclusion from the United Kingdom on the ground that their exclusion is conducive to the public good.
I assume these are the grounds under which deportations take place. But I doubt they can be effective. After all, there is no formal procedure for passport control between the UK and Ireland (though the ROI has instituted some limited controls in recent years).

Moreover, I'm not so sure that those special circumstances can be upheld in law.

The status of Irish people in Britain is unclear. According to an article published by Bernard Ryan in 2001 in the Modern Law Review,1
Even after the treaty of Amsterdam [where Ireland and the UK gained a derogation from the Schengen Agreement], it remains the case that the content of [the Common Travel Area] 'arrangements' have not been publicised by the two states.
According to Ryan, the agreement, motivated by the status of Northern Ireland, the need for Irish labour and the sheer difficulty in enforcing a border, started off essentially with free movement on condition that the Irish remained under the British border control umbrella. With the exception of WW2, this freedom based on a 'shared' immigration policy continues.2

Moreover, as Ryan notes, under the 1949 Ireland act, "'the Republic of Ireland is not a foreign country for the purposes of any law in force in any part of the United Kingdom' and 'references in any Act of Parliament, other enactment or instrument whatsoever, whether passed or made before or after the passing of this Act, to foreigners, aliens, foreign countries...shall be construed accordingly.'" I don't know how this is supposed to sit with the idea that there are special conditions under which the Irish right of abode in the UK can be removed.

So we're left with a bizarre situation. First, removing Irish people from the UK is probably illegal. Second, it's unenforceable. Third, it's happening. How strange.

1. I have a copy of Ryan's article, so give me a shout if you want it, replacing [*at*] with '@'.

2. Which in part explains the Constitutional Amendment to the constitution, adopted in 2004, removing the automatic right to Irish citizenship from the children of non-national parents.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Google Fight

Via In Fact, Ah's Rugby Musings, I came across Google Fight. Looks like I have a little way to go, though everyone gets beaten in turn.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Following on from my post on Robert Moses, Mel has some interesting links by way of an obituary for the prominent urban ecologist Jane Jacobs.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hmmm Haughey?

Er, is it just me or do you get a link to Charlie Haughey's obituaries when you type 'charles j Haughey' into the search function on the Irish Times's front page? Sadly even logged in you don't get to read the article, but methinks someone's confusing their public and private access rights in IT central!

Update Thanks to Dick O'Brien, I've put the link right.

Update 2 It seems the Irish Times have fixed their issue. I've kept a souvenir jpeg but it would be cruel (and in breach of copyright methinks) to publish it!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Hall on Start the Week

Radio 4's Start the Week began yesterday morning with a discussion of Waiting for Godot. Andrew Marr was speaking to Peter Hall, who was the first to stage the English translation of Godot. He was followed, by the way by, by a discussion of Orson Wells. On a scale of 1 to 10, how ashamed ought I to be that I've never seen Citizen Kane?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Guarding Snips

I know! It is just downright silly, but how often do you get a picture of a heavy policing contingent outside a wig shop?

Redz Quare

OK: so not really up there with my previous ponderous post on public celebrations of armies, but I like it nonetheless! Other pictures here.

1916 and Republicanism

Gerry O'Quigley has a great review of elements in the 1916 debate over on the consistently excellent ie-politics. It sits well, in a way, with his subsequent post on a paper by Robin Wilson and Rick Wilford here in Belfast.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Coffee's Clarendon Lectures

I see that John Coffee will be presenting the Clarendon Lectures in Oxford's Saïd Business School (next door to the railway station) on the 24th to the 26th of May. He'll be speaking (his current book is billed as the Clarendon lectures) on why the oversight and transparency systems (the 'gatekeepers' as he puts it) in the corporate world failed, thus leading to the collapse of Enron and other firms. Pity I won't be across the water for that. Coffee's a very engaging writer and I'm sure will be enormously rewarding in person.

Podcasts Etc

Via a mail (and here) on the Philosophy List Serve, a whole stack of philosophy anoraky listening pleasure!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Armies are Not a Source of Pride

One of the more bizarre images from the First World War – in hindsight at least – was occasioned by the start of the battle around what was to become the Ypres salient in 1914. Apparently, the people of the town all gathered on top of Ypres’ medieval walls in order to view the excitement. The town museum has photographs of the people, all presumably expecting a visual confirmation of the romantic stories of warfare that were the belligerent currency of the time. Of course, as we know now, what was to come was utterly beyond the imaginings of the people on the wall.

Mechanical, mass warfare would, within a few weeks, literally demolish the town, scatter the survivors of the bombardment and turn the region into a spectacle of graveyards.

I wonder how the people on the Ypres’ impotent, obsolete, comical ramparts would have felt if they had had an inkling of what the coming war would mean for the soldiers – buttons polished – who had marched through the town's gates to meet the German advance. Or what it would mean for them as the military machine enveloped them in its embrace.

But they could only see the world through the romantic sentiments about military life that were current at the time. Militaries were a source of national pride because they presented not just a vision of strength but because they presented a distillation of the national virtues: courage, loyalty, self-sacrifice and the like.

As Sunday’s festivities in Dublin suggest, people don’t seem yet to learn that armies are not sources of pride and grand spectacles only serve to obscure their true function in society.

There are two special elements in the story told about the Irish army. First, the army is the legitimate heir of Óglaigh na hÉireann. Ministers haven’t taken this line solely because they have made the foolish decision to compete with the Provos on their own ground. They also see the Irish army as the guarantor of freedom for the nation and as such as more than a facet of statehood. Second, people have spoken about the army’s proud record in United Nations peace-keeping operations, for instance in Katanga or more recently in East Timor and Sierra Leone.

It may well be that on some level these claims are true. But, if so, they are true not because of some special characteristics of the army as a corporate entity. They are true because Irish governments and society chose to employ the army as a tool in the name of some laudable aims. As such, pride in the army seems misplaced, except insofar as the army acts as a symbol of national virtues (I don’t actually think nations can have virtues, but that’s an argument for another day – my point is only that seeing things this way would be more coherent than simply having pride in the army per se).

So where does this leave the army? Well, it leaves the army where it belongs: as a tool of state power, and certainly not necessarily as a tool of state virtue. Given what they are designed to do – no matter how laudable the political aims behind their actions – one ought to regard armies as at best a sad necessity of statehood. Morally speaking, we’d be better off without them. Even if, pragmatically speaking, they are necessary, that doesn’t make them a good thing. It’s hard to see, in that case, armies are any more worth celebrating than rat-catchers.

That’s not to say that individual soldiers don’t display some of the virtues that we attach to armies. Soldiers might well be courageous, loyal and the like. But that only makes those soldiers admirable individuals. Their virtues can’t be transferred to the army itself.

Sunday’s parade was wrong because it celebrated the most unfortunate side of statehood: the necessity for states to reserve the use of force. Like the citizens of Ypres, we mistake the romance attached to armies for virtue.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Rising? When?

Here's a challenge. Without looking it up, do you know precisely what date the Easter Rising took place on in 1916? I got caught out on this a few days ago. Looked it up since (here)!

Friday, March 31, 2006

Bob the Builder

One of the unspoken factors in reflection on government is the acquisition, use and abuse of power. Of course, we do find ourselves turning to Foucauldian-style critiques of ‘Power,’ or in analyses of how, at some macro level, certain classes maintain their privileges to the disadvantage of others, or how will (of the people, of the leader) is transformed into action through a sequence of formal procedures. What we tend not to notice is the manner in which individuals can and do pursue power, ruthlessly and obsessively and then hold on to it against all forces. Blind as we are to how such people circumvent formal technologies of government, we tend not to see the full story of how societies, states and cities are shaped.

I’ve just finished Robert Caro’s mammoth (over half- million word) study of power in practice: his biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker.

Chances are that, if you’re from my side of the Atlantic, you never heard of Bob Moses. Chances are, also, that if you’ve ever been to New York, you enjoyed and suffered the consequences of his forty-year stranglehold over the city’s landscape and infrastructure. Moses was New York State’s Parks Commissioner and the chair of a number of NYC’s public authorities, most notably the Triborough Bridge Authority and the Housing Commission from the 1920s until the 1960s. Starting off as Parks Commissioner he constructed some of the most beautiful city and state parks in the US, starting on Long Island, as well as the ‘parkways’ that provided the new car-owning society with access to those parks. Through Triborough he built the bridges (and partly the tunnels) and highways that determined the shape of New York’s sprawl out from Manhattan.

Notionally, all Moses’s work was done at the behest of the various mayors and governors under whose administrations he worked. But Moses had, early on, used his brilliant drafting of laws to remove himself from their influence. The legislation that created the great parks he built, for example, included clauses giving him absolute authority within the parks.

It was in Triborough that his real genius was invested though. Since, after years of Tammany Hall’s misrule, NYC was for all intents and purposes bankrupt, money for Moses public works was (formally) raised through bond issues – essentially through mortgages with the city’s banks. Moses devised the bond contracts to give Triborough absolute sovereignty in the city, making the organisation untouchable and making the organisation’s chair unimpeachable. And given that contracts are guaranteed under the US constitution, once they were issued nothing could be done.

But this is the real stroke of genius and the tragedy of Moses’s reign. By law, Authorities were established in order to do a specific thing (build a bridge for example) and, once the bonds were paid off (say through a toll on the bridge) they had to go out of existence and the infrastructure would be handed back to the city. Moses figured that, instead of simply paying off the bonds, he could simply use part of the revenue from one piece of infrastructure as collatoral on new bonds to build new pieces of infrastructure. So long as he kept doing this, his authority could never be shut down (since it would always have constitutionally-guaranteed debts to service).

But this all relied on Moses being able to continuously build. If he stopped he’d lose his empire. As with most empires, the only way to keep going was to keep moving.

In order to pull this off, he built up a coalition of (sometimes very dodgy) bankers who wanted the huge profits from the bonds, trade unions who wanted continuous well-resourced work, and politicians who wanted to be seen to be getting-things-done and who wanted their palms well-greased. Using the acclaim he had received from building the great parks, he scrupulously maintained his public image so that elected officials who got in his way, say as he sought to demolish a neighbourhood and displace its occupants for a highway, could at best not get a public hearing and would at worst be subject to scurrilous and vicious public attacks.

It also helped Moses obscure the fact that, in having the city build supposedly marginal elements in his projects (though in fact they were often far from marginal), Moses was diverting almost all city funding from education health and from his primary competitor – public transport.

In essence, Moses used politics (and a reputation for being above politics) to engage in a more than three decade frenzied building programme that gave New York most of its bridges major highways. Which was all very well except that the programme was obviously not, after a while, designed with the needs of commuters or with ease of movement in mind. It was designed around Moses lust for power and around his own ego and whims.

It rapidly became obvious that the building of highways was only leading to gridlock and that, as new highways were built, new cars were coming onto the roads. Not only was each new road blocked, but all the old roads would get busier as the new ones were built. But Moses was blind to this. He refused to fund public transport or even to leave space for public transport around his roads. This was partly because of a deep antipathy he had for people, mainly black and Puerto Rican, who depended on mass transit. Indeed, by displacing funding from public transport to cars, he was actively chasing anyone who had a choice away from trains and buses and funnelling them instead through the traffic jams and toll booths on his bridges.

Moses use of power often seemed petty and mean. His parkways, for example, were the only route to his parks. But he built all the bridges over the parkways 11 feet high. Inadvertant or not, because of this, buses (that require a minimum clearance of 14 feet) could not use the parkways and (until the building of the Long Island Expressway) could not get to the parks. Moses guaranteed that his parks, such as that at Jones Beach, would not be available to the poor.

Moses's reasoning was sometimes utterly obscure, such as when he destroyed an old mixed community in Fairmont in the Bronx by running the Cross-Bronx expressway straight through it (directly demolishing 1500 homes) instead of taking an alternative route that was no less convenient to drivers but would have led to the demolition of 6 homes.

Two things eventually started Moses downfall, though so late on that Moses was in his 70s. The first had to do with his grasping on to the chair of the city’s slum-clearance programme. Moses was not at all interested in slum clearance but had grabbed the programme because it presented an opportunity to spread largesse to his various clients. But the corruption in the programme was so spectacular that it actually created larger slums on the sites of the old ones. The scandal that arose from the corruption of the programme provided the first openly visible stain on Moses’s public image.

The second part in Moses downfall was an attempt to build a car park in Central Park in order to serve the Tavern on the Green, then run at an enormous profit by one of Moses acolytes. This was utterly insignificant compared to Moses’s activities in the Bronx and in Haarlem, but this time Moses took on the moneyed classes of the city and refused to back down. The spat turned the media against him and he never regained his reputation.

Eventually Moses was sidelined by Nelson Rockefeller who combined political power as governor and, crucially, as a member of the family that owned Chase Manhattan, was able to face down the banks in whose hands Moses’s bonds lay.

Although the narrative that Caro constructs is a tale of events, the important story is the manner in which, through ambition, patronage, pr and bullying, Moses managed to construct and maintain a personal empire for so long. He was the ultimate boss – a supreme manipulator of all the interests that matter in politics. At the same time, though, his motivations were never financial: Moses manoeuvres had a purpose.

Getting Things Done might have ultimately become an end in itself but this was largely accompanied by a serious, if often stubbornly bull-headed and misguided, will to improve the city for the city's people. Theory finds it very difficult to capture the sort of phenomenon represented by Moses and, as a result, our understanding of society is much much poorer.

Men Shall Know Commonwealth

Just listening to Leonard Cohen's sublime new album, Dear Heather, as I work. One of the best albums I've heard in a while. The quasi-prose-poem Villanelle For Our Time is my favourite, methinks. Well worth the outlay.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Best Front Page Photo

The FT is not renowned for humourous coverage, but the photo (from Getty Images) on their front page today is excellent, if somewhat subtle.

According to the FT, it's a picture of Neil Aspinall, head of The Beatles' Apple Corp, as he 'arrives at the High Court where the record label yesterday renewed its long-running legal battle with Apple Computer. Apple Corp, owned by band members and their estates, is accusing the US company of breaching a trademark agreement by "selling music" through its online iTunes music store, which uses the Apple name and logo. It is the third time Apple Corp has sued the computer group over use of the Apple name.'

Haughey 'Seriously Ill'

Apparently he's been taken to the Mater Hospital in Dublin. RTÉ news coverage here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Turkey in the EU

There was an interesting debate from Istanbul on the BBC World Service last Sunday, prompted by debates in Turkey over modernity, driven in part by the question of membership of the EU.

It's a surprise to hear some of the comments and questions that are being seriously considered, notably on the role of the military, on minorities and on religion. Then again, it doesn't take much recollection of the sorts of debates that took place in Ireland over Irish membership of the Union to reveal how European Ireland has become. I assume the same will happen to Turkey and, to my mind, that's no bad thing.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Joint Sovereignty in the Here and Now

So, having met up in Brussels, Bertie and Tony will come over to Belfast for a last ditch attempt at getting the whole thing rolling. I’m not so sure they’re going to be successful, at least according to the standard they’ve set themselves: the stable running of an assembly with an executive.

Isn’t it time, though that we recognised the more fundamental fact about Northern Ireland politics? That, functioning Assembly or not, joint sovereignty exists in the here and now.

People – especially across these islands – tend to think sovereignty is a simple question of which flag flies over their public buildings. Sovereignty seems to mean total freedom from outside interference.

But sovereignty is never absolute. Legislative and political decisions cannot be made free from the influence of other institutions or factors. Indeed, we’re not even free from the influence of our own past decisions. Ireland, for example, is not totally sovereign because, through referenda, the Irish people handed a small part of their sovereignty over to the European Union.

In any case, and this is just as analogously important to a discussion of joint sovereignty over Northern Ireland, even if Ireland wasn’t a member of the EU, it wouldn’t be sovereign in a full or absolute sense. Ministers would still be trapped in their decisions by their calculations over the vicissitudes of international markets and Ireland’s place in them. Sovereignty implies autonomy and that is just impossible to have in full.

On the formal level, the Good Friday Agreement, and the Anglo-Irish Treaty before that, saw Westminster handing some portion of sovereignty over to the Irish state. Just as when it joined the EU, the UN and the IMF. So, on a formal level, the implementation of the GFA treaty in Northern Ireland is a matter for the consideration of both the Dublin and London governments.

Moreover, informally, no British government will move in Northern Ireland without some degree of collaboration with Dublin. We shouldn’t mistake a much-vaunted Parliamentary sovereignty either for freedom of action or for a wish for freedom of action.

But let’s not lose the run of ourselves. Joint sovereignty doesn’t mean that decisions are made on some sort of 50:50 basis – that authority is split down the middle. Ireland’s influence over Northern Ireland is probably more akin to Germany’s influence over French policies through the EU. But, on major decisions, Northern Ireland is not best thought of as being solely at the mercy of Westminster. Whether or not there’s an assembly makes no difference to this.

This fact, as it stands, represents better news for Unionists than they may think and worse news for Nationalists than they may think.

Given the Irish state’s general credo that a little of something for free is better than having it all at a price (viz NATO) I suspect that they’re rather happy with the status quo. They are seen to be a strong voice for nationalist interests in London and (given how much higher Northern Ireland is on the Irish agenda than it is on the British one) they can set the Northern Ireland agenda without actually paying much for the place. This is probably deemed much preferable to the hallowed United Ireland. And, given that, the Nationalist’s best friend may very well not share their ultimate goals.

Unionists for their part should actually loudly welcome the Irish role. Instead of harping on about British sovereignty they ought see the Irish role as being a price worth paying for making Northern Ireland habitable for Nationalists in perpetuity. They should think of it as renting out one field so they can keep the farm. Indeed, given the fact that, ultimately, the Irish state is on their side (i.e., it’s interests lie in Northern Ireland remaining in the UK) Unionism should welcome joint sovereignty as a symbol that, on the big questions, they’ve won.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Role of the Media

I'm sure there's no real need for me to link to posts on Slugger O'Toole. If you're here you've most likely been there. But there's a fascinating debate on the role of the media in society (sparked by Michael McDowell) in the comments section of this post.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


I've just taken a look at the new Schmap city guide: pretty impressive.* This is the sort of Web 2.0 thing that will be hitting us over the next few years I suppose. It takes various bits of freeware or creative commons stuff (photos etc) and sticks it all in something between an e-book, a photo slideshow and Google Earth.

It's still in beta and I think there are a few flaws both fiddling (I think the font is too small) and more substantial. Primarily, there's no option for downloading new guides from within the player. I couldn't figure out whether I should store files I download myself or awkwardly copy it into the Schmap folder in the administrative bit of my docs and settings. After all, that's where the original city file I downloaded with the player resides. Also, newly irritatingly evangelical Linux afficianado that I am, pity it's Windows only.

But don't let that stop you having a glance. Shmap is well worth the look and I think will be a formidable addition to online work distractions as the Summer rolls in!

* Full disclosure: they have shortlisted one of my photos off Flickr for the Dublin Guide, which is how I came across it. As their blog mentions reveal, that shortlisting process is an astute marketing ploy! I should also mention that it's not entirely clear that use of the photos is compatible with the Creative Commons licences under which pictures are used. Like others, I suspect it's not. Which is why they get you to accept another licence agreement.

Friday, March 24, 2006

As they say in Dublin...

...or at least, as they said when I was in the first bloom of youth:


This has to be the most entertaining bug report I've ever read! Courtesy of The Register.

Georgetown podcasts

Since Intelligent Securocrat Pixies poisoned my water this week1 thus leaving me less able for typing-style research, I took the opportunity to listen to a few of the excellent podcasts from Georgetown Law School's site. Of those that I listened to, two stand out for me.

The first is a witty and interesting interview with US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer2, who tries to give an insight into how the USSC works, and his take on various legal/political questions doing the rounds, including the concept of originalism in constitutional interpretation.

The second is a largely calm and well informed debate on Civil Defence v Civil Liberties.3 It's generally a good debate, with only one person really engaging in hyperbole. The phone-tapping affair and the ongoing detention of people in Guantanamo is addressed. Very interesting.

1I deny the unproven 'tummy bug' theory being spread about by evil Darwinist Protestant atheists.

2I can only get the audio (mp3) to work.

3And again...

Monday, March 20, 2006

Modernism in the V&A

I'll be working in London for a day in May and must make time to pop over to Kensington to see the modernism exhibition in the V&A. It looks like it's going to be fascinating. Good preview in Saturday's FT here.

Something Tells Me It's All Happening At...

...the zoo. But not quite at Belfast Zoo. We headed up there on Saturday and - thanks to the cold cold wind - all the animals seemed wisely to have hidden themselves away. We saw some penguins, some seals (which were presumably enjoying some proper weather for a change), a couple of antelopes and a peacock. And that's it. Oh, and some guys sweeping an empty elephant compound.

An zoo without creatures provides confirmation, if it was needed, that Belfast is straight out of Father Ted. Which is to say, bonkers but marvellous! I want to go back next weekend and marvel at the place!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

From the Curragh

This is another picture of the Grand Canal: the water coming in under this bridge is drained off the Curragh, thus presumably preventing it being a lot damper than it is. Oh the joys of Victorian engineering!

Monday, March 13, 2006

O'Connor Criticises the Republicans

The Guardian and NPR report a speech where Justice Sandra Day O'Connor 'blasted' the US Republicans for their attempts to undermine the judiciary in the States. There's a webcast about O'Connor over on the Georgetown site. I haven't been able to find her speech so won't comment on the substance but it's always a surprise to see judges let fly, even when they do so with some justification.

Off the Books

Via a friend in Dublin, this article comes to light, outlining some of the pre-Act of Union laws that are about removed from the Irish statute books. Apart from the legislation that would make Andrew McCann shiver with joy (like the law from 1360 "against people associating with the Irish, using their language, or sending children to be nursed among them" or from 1366 preventing the English marrying the Irish) there's this one that I think many of you (especially given the video of the recent Blog Awards) would be interested in:
Among those laws about to be consigned to history is the Tippling Act 1735, which prohibits a publican from pursuing a customer for money owed for any drink given on credit.
Update: I knew it was a familiar story: George Burns posted on it over on Slugger ten days ago. Us academics are so ahead of the curve!