Monday, January 30, 2006

Between Martin Luther King and the Unabomber 

You are a

Social Liberal
(88% permissive)

and an...

Economic Conservative
(71% permissive)

You are best described as a:

Libertarian




Link: The Politics Test on OkCupid Free Online Dating
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

Sunday, July 17, 2005

No Platform for Fascists? 

Other filthy Guardian readers will have noticed a 'sassy' article by trainee journalist Dilapzier Aslam in last Wendesday's Grauniad. Well, it turns out that young Dilpazier is a member of fascist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, which believes in the formation of a global caliphate state and at least two of the 7th July suicide bombers had associations with it. HuT are banned in Germany, Holland, Turkey, Syria and just about every other country they operate in. HuT have also been banned from taking part in the UK Students' Union movement for at least a decade - I remember they were used by the SDLP as a justification for keeping Sinn Féin banned in Queen's Students Union back in those days.
The Guardian are defending Aslam on the basis that HuT are not banned in the UK. The BNP are also not banned in the UK, but they have views roughly as unsavoury as HuT's and I don't see the Guardian appointing a BNP member journalist somehow.
One thought, however. Do you remember when the Socialist Workers' Party would leap around with 'No Platform for Fascists' and 'Sack this Nazi' banners everytime some fruitcake Hitler-worshipper got a job somewhere or was allowed to speak on a platform? Does anyone fancy picketing the Guardian's offices with those very same placards? Just a thought...

Saturday, July 16, 2005

A Truly Appalling Vista 

People with long memories will recall the decision of Lord Denning in deciding to ignore evidence that the Birmingham Six had been both beaten up and stitched up by the West Midlands police, when he famously said were the police to be found guilty of beating up the Birmingham Six in custody, it would open up an 'appalling vista'. An appalling vista where people might realise that sometimes that some policemen, on occasions, lied, cheated and tortured. To Denning that was a considerably greater evil than allowing people to rot in prison for years for crimes they didn't commit. It was the classic remark of someone for whom defending the establishment - or in any case his establishment of small town lower-middle class England - was more important than justice.

This crossed my mind when reading The Lancet's reaction to the Roy Meadow case. The Lancet feels that Denning's referral to the GMC 'should never have taken place' based on the evidence of the Sally Clark trial and the two appeals.

OK, let's be very clear about what Roy Meadow did at Sally Clark's trial. Roy Meadow said that there was a 1 in 73 million chance of a second natural cot death in a family the Clarks' socio-economic background dying naturally of cot death. His sums were a bit wrong. The actual probability is 1 in 77. Only out by a factor of a million or so...

Let's not forget the other people whose lives were ruined - Donna Anthony, Angela Cannings, Trupti Patel, not to mention the 5,000 or so children taken away from their families and put up for adoption because of misdiagnosised suspicions about cot death. Let's not forget that much of this misdiagnosis came because of misplaced fears about the spurious "Munchausen's Syndrome By Proxy", a syndrome discovered by Meadow and for whose acceptance he vigorously evangelised. Let's not forget how much that has contributed to the current culture in this country where adults are almost expected to want to do harm to children.

But The Lancet doesn't think any of this amounts to serious professional misconduct. I mean, like, what the hell would amount to serious professional misconduct, then?

But the fascinating thing is that they don't dispute any of the facts of the case. They worry instead that it could bring the system down, just like Denning did.

I'd say a child protection system that takes 5,000 kids away from their families for no reason is doing the exact opposite of what it's supposed to do. I'd say a judicial system that sends people to prison on the basis of uncorroborated 'expert' evidence needs a good boot up the backside. And to me that presents a truly appalling vista.

(PS - don't you think Richard Orton The Lancet's editor who fancies himself as a bit of a controversialst would have learned something from his role in the Andrew Wakefield MMR scandal?)

Why the experts aren't always right 

When somebody suggests that a debate ona given issue isn't needed because the 'experts' are all agreed, I suggest you refer them to this 1999 BBC News story on Professor Sir Roy Meadow's 'discovery' that cot death was a big scam to cover up widespread child abuse. Utterly fawning coverage by the BBC, which was to be fair only reflective of the general tenor of coverage at the time, both in the lay and the medical media. Why was he believed for so long?

Why did he do it? Did he just like being on TV a lot? Or did he really believe what too many of us believe, which is that many, maybe most adults, are out to harm children in some ways?

I'd like to think some good would come from this tragedy. I'd like to think that the families who had their lives destroyed to validate somebody's crackpot theories didn't suffer for no reason. But nobody wants to learn the lessons of this case because that might involve us asking ourselves some deep questions about the paranoid, negative, hypocondriac society we've created for ourselves. If an 'expert' tells us we're doing something bad, or there's some massive, dark, hidden tragedy unfolding which only they can see, then we're only too quick to believe.

I'll tell you one thing, it was Roy Meadow, and not the women whose lives he ruined, who shared personality traits with Baron Munchausen.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Chirac to plead for Turkey on TV 

Good for Jacques Chirac - he is appearing on French TV this evening to make the case for Turkey joining the EU. With the abysmal state of inter-communal relations in France, and the vitriolic opposition to Turkish accession from many 'mainstream' French politicians - to say nothing of the de Villepins or the Le Pens of this world - this is a gutsy move.

It reconfirms my view that Chirac may be a cute hoor, but when it comes to the really big issues he's on the side of the angels.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Does Northern Ireland's Voluntary Sector Do Anything On Child Poverty? 

Slugger O'Toole reports on a piece in today's Society Guardian on on how terrible it is that poverty in Northern Ireland didn't suddenly end with the troubles.

Personally, I can't stand the sort of angry middle-class poverty pests who make a career out of moaning at conferences organised by the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action. And the Society Guardian piece is full of angry moans about how particular pet projects of particular organisations might be about to be cut, without a single practical suggestion for creating more or better paid jobs. After all, that has nothing to do with combating poverty. It's much better to pay a consultant £700 a day to write reports like "Domestic Violence Among Travellers In West Belfast: A Call For Action", of course. I replied on Slugger in fairly salty terms, and an interesting debate is now in progress - please join in.

Proud to be British? 

Labour are running a campaign asking people why they're Proud of Britain (complete with lots of Union Jacks). Unfortunately they forgot to register www.proudofbritain.net and some nasty cybersquatter (chuckle) has gotten hold of it.

When right wing governments fall back on the old patriotism and crime chestnuts you know they're in trouble. But when (supposedly) left wing governments do the same thing, you know they're off their rocker.

I might write into a the official site saying:

I'm proud to live in a country where the doctrine of the white man's burden is alive and kicking.
I'm proud to live in a country where our foreign policy has been subcontracted to the most reactionary American President in history.
I'm proud to live in a country that only locks people up without trial indefinitely if they're foreign.
I'm proud to live in a country where only people of the highest moral fibre are appointed to key postions.



Hat tip to Anthony Wells.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Velvet Revolution or Civil War? 

Is Ukraine in line for a velvet revolution, similar to Georgia's, as protestors take to the streets over a manifestly stolen election? Or could civil war be on the cards.

I've always taken the view that Mikheil Saakashvili might be an arrogant, obnoxious, CIA controlled little git but he was a damn sight better for Georgia that any of the alternatives, and he pulled off a stunning bloodless coup, and has done a few good things - like take on the stunningly corrupt police - since.

I get the impression that Viktor Yushchenko is generally a better guy than Saakashvili, and Ukraine has the potential to be a much happier place for its people than it is today. But things could still go very, very, badly wrong over the next few days.

What does Ukraine mean to me? As a radio ham, a land of fast, accurate radio operators especially in morse code. At a distance of about 2,000 km from here, ideally placed for strong shortwave radio signals. Often lacking much English, rarely chatty, but I've made two good friends there who I run into from time to time on the bands, one in Kiev, one in a village outside Lviv on the Polish border.

I salute the bravery of the protestors in Kiev and across Ukraine tonight. If you're the praying type, please remember the people of Ukraine in your prayers.

Drumroll for the Blogroll 

Welcome to Buff and Blue, a regular poster here for some time, and an Englishman living in Cork.

Welcome also to the newly discovered and brilliant Nanny Knows Best, to Daily Kos, not that with its multi million hits and Guardian column that it needs it. Liberal Street Fight is another left wing American blog from the same stable.

Jesus' General is not new. But it is the funniest thing on the web and deserves the plug again.

PS - not a blog, but those annoyed at the American election result might want tosay something very rude indeed to the South.

Why I've Flip-Flopped On Foxes 

A few years ago, I was a keen supporter of the fox hunting ban. It had nothing to do with animal rights - I've always subscribed to Bertrand Russel's view that the logical extension of animal rights is votes for oysters. But I hated the old establishment, and I wanted to see them get a good kicking. Over the past few years, I've come to realise that the old establishment are broken and powerless, and that the new establishment are every bit as unpleasant. The craven cowardice of New Labour in the face of an illegal war of aggression which most of it hated is testament to that. And, most of all I don't like majoritarianism.

Often, majoritarianism means picking on an unpopular minority to curry favour with the majority. Robert Mugabe's farm occupations are a good example, George Bush's use of the gay marriage issue to drive up turnout among Evangelical Protestants is another.

Some things are, at least in my view, wrong even when supported by majority opinion. Slavery was always wrong even when supported by a majority of the population; the death penalty was wrong even when it was supported by a majority of the population; locking gay people up and 'curing' them by giving them massive injections of hormones and electric shocks was wrong even when supported by the majority of the population; forcibly settling gypsies and making them live in barracks if they refused (a la Norway) was wrong even when supported by the majority of the population. Ratko Mladic's undoubted democratic majority in Republika Srpska didn't imbue the Srebrenica massacre with any legitimacy.

But even majoritarians are on on shakier ground with the fox hunting ban because Labour have never got much more than 40% of the vote in the past couple of general elections, and public opinion on the issue isn't clear although judging from most polling it seems to have swung against a ban since 1997. But there's a more fundamental question here - does the majority have the right to impose restrictions on the actions of a minority when those actions pose no threat to their wellbeing? But be very careful if you answer yes to that question, because if you do you open the door to all sorts of barbarity.

For example, if this bill passes successfully it's likely the animal rights lobby will move on to their next target, the banning of ritual slaughter for religious minorities, already their top target in Sweden and Germany, countries where animal rights activists work closely with their counterparts in the UK. Is it right to force vegetarianism down the throat of Orthodox Jews and Muslims? After all, they're considerably smaller minorities than the fox hunters are. If the majority find halal/halacic slaughter offensive, are they right to stop a minority doing it?

Personally, I don't like fox hunting. I find it a bit off. I live in an urban area which is riddled with foxes (I saw one walking home from the bus tonight) and rather like the creatures. I'd rather people didn't do it.

But at the end of the day, any society worth living in has to give people space to do things that other people find repugnant. Thirty years ago having shoulder length hair or a partner of the same sex as yourself could be the end of your career. Now hunting foxes with dogs could land you in jail. To me, those are just two aspects of the same question, and to me anyway, both attitudes stink.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Psychologically Disturbed Misanthropes 

The abandonment of the Enlightenment by elements of the Right, particularly in the United States is fairly well documented, but it seems increasingly clear that elements of the Left are ditching their intellectual heritage just as quickly.

For example, when Labour MP Tony Banks lays down an Early Day Motion in Parliament stating that " that humans represent the most obscene, perverted, cruel, uncivilised and lethal species ever to inhabit the planet and looks forward to the day when the inevitable asteroid slams into the earth and wipes them out thus giving nature the opportunity to start again", one does wonder about the ideological (and mental) state of he and those who sympathise with him. Isn't the Left supposed to believe in progress, the potential of humanity to rise above its baser instincts and create a better world, and the power of science and technology to liberate? When, exactly, did it become right on to call for the annihilation of the entire human race? In the bourgeois brasseries and campus common rooms, it's now hip to believe that science is evil and humanity is a cancer in the body of Gaea.

Before you accuse me of exaggerating, just think how many otherwise intelligent, well adjusted friends of yours believe in astology.

All the same, Banks at least he does have some principles. Unlike his colleagues who somehow managed to vote to ban the killing of foxes (because its cruel) and also to authorise the killing of human beings in Iraq (because its cruel to be kind). People who think its terrible to kill a fox but OK to bomb high density residential areas really do have disordered priorities.

Variations on a theme by Niemöller 

They came for the bogus asylum seekers, and I did nothing because I was not an asylum seeker (except for nod sagely at a few Polly Toynbee and Jackie Ashley columns in The Guardian).
Then they came for the teenage chavs, and I did nothing because I was not a teenager, and chavs were a walking rebuttal to my bourgeois social democracy anyway.
They came for the junk-food lovers, and I did nothing because like all good middle-class people, I only lived on fresh African pulses and olive and walnut ciabatta.
Then they came for the smokers, and I did nothing because I couldn't stand to see poor people be tools of the Evil Tobacco Industry. After all, they needed my help.
Then they came for the fox hunters, and I did nothing because fox hunting was sadistic and I didn't know how it could be tolerated in any civilised society
So by the time me and the rest of my Guardianista friends had created a populist right-wing backlash, and were locked up by Blunkett's military junta, there was no one left to speak up for me.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Heaven Knows, I'm Miserable Now 

Bow Quarter, the trendy new ‘artists' district’ in London’s East End, has banned its residents from putting up window boxes for fear of insurance claims.

Norwich Union, the insurer of the exclusive ‘gated community’, identified the window boxes as an “avoidable event”. And, of course, they’re right. Window boxes are entirely avoidable - we don’t need them. We can just look at grey concrete and red brick instead of flowers. In fact while we’re at it, there’s a vast amount of prime residential development space in Central London, currently being utterly wasted . Let’s build some useful gated communities over this under-utilised green concrete

Of course, the Bow Quarter community was originally intended as an latter-day artists colony, attracting the new haute bourgeoisie to this previously dowdy part of East London. And indeed there are quite a few artists there mixed among the management consultants, currency traders and commercial lawyers. And of course, artists are always known for their vanguard rôle in any struggle where the rights of the individual to free expression are at stake. Demonstrating this bulldog, tenacious, spirit, local resident Joanne Moore said, that:
“Living in a flat, you don't have a garden. The flowers that we had in the pots really brightened the place up.
“Obviously we would be absolutely horrified if the pots hurt someone, but I'm worried about whether fixing them to the window ledge could fall foul of listed-building regulations.”
Naturally no sensible person wants to hurt anyone else. But it’s interesting that her response isn’t that Norwich Union should mind her own business, and that her landlord should keep it’s nose out of residents’ private business. Instead she says she’d be happy to secure it - but she’s worried about listed building regulations!
What if the insurers are right, I hear some of you ask? Well the Daily Telegraph says that:
“According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), there may be as many as 60 injuries linked in some way to window boxes.”
Of course, having a window box dropped on your head isn’t going to do you any good - just think we could be saving 60 people a year from death or serious injury!
However, while we could be doing that, it’s rather unlikely that we would doing that. The sixty a year figure is another classic example of the abuse of statistics:
However a [RoSPA] spokesman, Roger Vincent, emphasised that the window box peril is an extrapolation from just three incidents in 2002, where window boxes were referred to in a survey of 18 hospitals. As a consequence, the figure may be unreliable.
…and better yet…
Rather than dropping on heads with their cargo of busy lizzies or geraniums, the main threat they pose to life and limb seemed to be people standing on them for support, or banging their heads on the boxes from beneath, he said.
There were no records of any flower pots falling off window sills on people's heads in the same survey, he added.
Indeed, the hazards of falling pots and boxes pale into insignificance when compared with those posed by flowerpots on the ground, where they were linked to around 5,300 accidents by the survey.

I think there are two points worth learning from this. Firstly, how negative and defeatist may people are on issues like this. If you bring up issues of health and safety, no matter how marginal or even silly, you can trump any counter-argument, no matter how strong, 9 times out of 10. I’m afraid that in some cases issues like personal freedom, the appearance of our environment, the need of people to learn to assess risks or even the stimulus people get from doing outré and slightly risky things is more important.
Secondly, people not only accept that insurance companies can stop fun and beautiful things happening, but also that this is a result of the ‘compensation culture’. This isn’t necessarily the case. Difficult as most people would find this to believe, insurance premiums don’t usually cover the cost of claims in any given period. Instead the insurance companies make their money from returns on investments made from premium payments before claims are made. Insurers were as prone as anyone else to throw their money at dodgy dotcom shares in the late ‘90s, and the rest of us are reaping the reward of several years of flattish stock market performance now.
My most recent encounter with the no risk culture was that I can’t turn the way my desk faces at work - couldn’t let me trip over all those scary wires, could they? So, now I have to spend all winter looking at a whitewashed interior wall, with nobody in my line of sight, and no natural light. Maybe I could sue for psychological damage?

Monday, October 18, 2004

First thoughts on the Windsor Report from a sceptical gay Anglican 

My initial reading of the Windsor Report into the nature of authority in the Anglican Communion has, being a political scientist, focused more on the changes to structures of governance proposed in the report arather than the theological background behind them. The proposals on the future of Anglican "structures of unity" and consequences for the nature and placement of authority within the Communion strike me as being radical indeed.

The enhancement of the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury has been noted as a radical departure by many commentators, but the promotion of the Anglican Communion Office as a de facto Curia worries me rather more; the interaction of a highly powered ACO with a federation of churches used to local, synodical and dispersed authority is a recipe for conflict. Moreover it would mark a radical re-clericalisation and centralisation of authority.

The tentative proposals to strengthen the authority of the Lambeth Conference also pose a number of fundamental questions about the nature of authority in Anglicanism. The empowerment of an Archepiscopal College in a Communion with a history of synodical goverment and considerable lay authority is a radical departure, particularly when the report tentatively proposes some sort of executive authority for the Conference based on
supermajority votes. I think the Commission has underestimated the likely resentment of laypeople in theologically liberal parts of the Communion to being handed down diktats by Lambeth, forgetting that the pressure both for the appointment of Gene Robinson and blessing of same sex relationships in New Westminster came primarily from the laity in both Dioceses.

While the report didn't and couldn't consider the matter of homosexuality itself, it did strike me that the laying of blame was squarely at the liberal door. No mention of how the bullyboy tactics, tub thumping and none too subtle anti-White racism of some of our fathers in God may also have led to the collapse in mutual confidence which afflicts us now. No mention of how Jeffrey John's opponents claimed not to be opposed to his lifestyle but the fact that he opposed Issues in Human Sexuality (I mean, where are we? Eighteenth Century Italy?)

In Lambeth Resolution 1.10, given almost scriptural authority by some, the Bishops of the Anglican Communion committed themselves to listening to the experiences of gay churchpeople. When I see some evidence of this I might have a bit more confidence that this isn't just a prelude to a rerun of 1998, with a superduper anti-gay resolution in 2008 given executive force, and banishment for all who disagree.

I also wonder what happens to Gene Robinson and those who participated in his consecration. It seems Robinson is to be treated as a pariah by the rest of the Communion and those who participated in his consecration asked to exclude themselves from episcopal gatherings - presumably including the Lambeth Conference with its enhanced authority.

Anyway, there was never a chance of the Commission coming even close to a resolution with its current mandate. At the end of the day, the gay issue is only a proxy for the real issue: what is the nature of the supreme authority we grant to scripture. If we are going to have a meaningful conversation about the issues that divide us, I suspect that's where we have to start.

Hold on to your seat folks. I don't think the bumpy ride is quite over yet!

Friday, October 08, 2004

EU to join Turkey? 

The North Sea Diaries report on the Turkish Grand National Assembly giving the go ahead for the European Union to join Turkey. (For the humourless: a spoof.)

More seriously, EUPolitix names and shames the bad boys in the Commission's internal debate on Turkey.

Unsurpising names - Franz Fischler who has expressed his views before, Frits Bolkestein, I used to think was a good Internal Market Commissioner but now realise is a racist old bigot, Michaele Schreyer (given the general nonsense from the German Christian Democrats).

More surprising names - Loyola de Palacio(thought she'd have had more sense), Pascal Lamy (ditto), Jan Figel' (Slovakia is a strong supporter of Turkish membership, and it also has the flakiest democracy of the 10 states to join this year and ought to have a little more understanding).

Sort of not surprising - Markos Kyprianou, although I'd hoped the Greek Cypriots might have shown a bit more humility given they scuppered this year's peace deal.

Surprising and worrying - Olli Rehn, the Finn who will become the EU's new enlargement Commissioner as of November. It's especially worrying to see someone so crucial to the accession process to be so negative.

Sitting on the fence but whipped into line by Chirac: Jacques Barrot.

Especially good boy - Stavros Dimas - the Greeks really are trying their best to put their differences with their oul' enemy behind them. More power to them. The brave stance of both main Greek political parties on the Turkish accession issue deserves more credit in the rest of Europe.

Any and all of these Commissioners - but especially Rehm given his key rôle - are worth a quick e-mail to from any citizens or residents of the EU, just to keep the buggers honest.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Forgive Me Lord, For I Bear Collective Responsibility... 

Former leader of the Swedish Left Party, Gudrun Schyman has proposed that men pay a "man tax" simply for being male, to make us all aware of our supposed collective responsibility for domestic violence.

I must say that I have some positive views about Schyman. Anyone who annoys the holier-than-thou Swedish political and media establishment enough to be forced out as party leader must have a good side to her - not the tax evasion side, but the side that caused lots of sanctimonious Swedish tongues to cluck about her drinking. In many ways she sounds like the sort of person you want to have a few beers with.

All the same, this proposal is the sort that is easily dismissed as crazy, but actually very dangerous. Firstly, the notion of collective guilt has pretty much been expunged from comtemporary political discourse. The Holocaust saw to that, and rightly so. I'm afraid its all too typical of the contemporary far-left to propose all sorts of illiberal drivel on the basis that it's supportive of equality, or the environment, or public health. The libertarianism of the sixties left - which Schyman was a part of - seems to have departed.

Secondly, as even the folks at feministing point out, this is the sort of thing that provokes a backlash. Why the hell should I pay a tax because some scumbags beat women? If I obey the law and social norms and get penalised anyway, what conclusion can I draw but that the law is an ass and the people who propose laws like this are arses.

But at its simplest, this is the sort of misandry that gives feminisim a bad name. It makes it all the easier for anti-equality chauvinists to argue that all feminists are man-haters with a secret castration fixation. And while that's a dreadfully inaccurate statement, I can't help feeling it's correct in the case of Gudrun Schyman.

And before you think I am wasting by breath on a crackpot Communist whose political career is in terminal decline - today's lunacy often becomes tomorrow's common sense (look at how much previously faddist gibberish has become conventional wisdom as part of the obesity panic). Don't be too cocky about issues like these...

Nuts about Nuts 

What is more frightening? The fact that a rather stupid headmaster in Cumbria has banned children from playing conkers without wearing industrial goggles? The fact that children like Danielle Armstrong are being brainwashed into thinking that zero risk activities are dangerous? (Danielle says that, "It doesn't stop you from having fun because you still play the game. It's just protecting your eyes at the same time." And I'm sure the head teacher didn't put her up to saying that.)

Or is the most frightening thing some of the truly idiotic reaction from some of the posters on the BBC's online message board.

Dave Brown from Bishop's Stortford tells us that:
The fact is that if children play dangerous games without taking precautions, someone is going to get hurt, sooner or later. The question is, would you be so relaxed if it was your child who was hurt? Because it could be!
No Dave, it couldn't be, because conkers is not a dangerous sport. There is just a teeny difference in danger between conkers and, say, drag racing.

"Conker Law", UK, tells us that:
Having to go to court over someone else's injured child is the most stressful experience going - and there will always be people who think it is your fault, regardless of any outcome.
How are children going to be 'injured' playing conkers. Maybe the head teacher, like Norwich City Council, thinks the pupils might slip and fall on mulched conker?

Heather from Stockport suggests that:
Surely it would be more sensible, fairer and cheaper to ban the kids from playing conkers at school?
Dear me, I hope you don't have any children, Heather, because if you do I bet they have really miserable lives.

Isobel from Salisbury adds that:
But now I know conkers really can damage the eyes, I think it's the most sensible compromise. Well done Mr Halfpenny!
Now, Isobel, how do you know that conkers can really damage the eyes? I mean, if I went up to you and told you that I was actually an alien from the planet Zarg, and the son of the Zargian demigod of love, would you believe me?

At least some schools have a more positive approach to the pastime.

The real tragedy is that which paranoiacs with too much time on their hands like Sean Halfpenny come up with nonsense like this, real safety at work issues – like the use of undertrained casual staff on building sites – go ignored.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Gary Lineker: rebel with a cause? 

Mick Hume compares in today's Times the relative rebelliousness of middle-aged middle-class nice guy football commentator Gary Lineker and recent Big Brother evictee, the lesbian anarchist Kitten Pinder. He concludes that Gary Lineker is much moreso, for daring to continue to advertise Walkers crisps in the face of hysteria and societal opprobrium, whereas Kitten just thinks what all the '60s generation who run the country think - only with more swearing and less personal hygeine. Pretty spot on, I think.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Expanding the EU - reply to Georg 

Georg from Ostracised from Österreich asked me to put together my own case for Turkish accession to the EU in response to my link to Mehmet Ali Birand's Hürriyet article. I couldn't fit my response in the comments field in less than 5 posts (!) so here is my, at this stage quite untidy, response:

Georg: will try and put something together - obviously I know a lot more about Turkey than Ukraine or Algeria!

Turkey is at least as ready to join as Romania, or on some measures, Slovakia, Bulgaria or Latvia. Ukraine is some way behind (members of the opposition have a habit of disappearing and the economy is in a real mess!) and I'm not sure if it's even ready to begin serious pre-accession talks. Of course that's no reason not to begin what will inevitably be a very long process.

Morocco and Algeria are different concepts. I have no objection in principle to the North African littoral joining the EU, and while Morocco's path to democracy has been steady it has also been inordinately slow.

The EU has just introduced some assistance to help Algeria in recovering from the (partly French and American caused) Civil War and in stabilising democracy. Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are further behind yet. These are very long term projects indeed. And the psychological shift required both among the EU élite and the general public to accept North African accession can only take place, in my view, following a successful Turkish accession to the EU and some sort of resolution of the Israel/Palestine problem... otherwise the Arab World will simply be seen as a No No.

In those circumstances, there's an argument for saying that the Levantine littoral in an ideal world would be an easier place to start than North Africa. A democratic and post-settlement Holy Land, in whatever political form, would be an 'easy' expansion, Lebanon would also be manageable in that context, given it's successful transition to post-conflict democracy and reasonable economic state, and a democratic Syria would be secular and educated enough not to frighten too many horses. Jordan is managing the transition to democracy in a strongly Islamic country perhaps better than anywhere else (Turkey is just not Islamic enough to compare!), has a more robust economy than Algeria or Morocco, and doesn't have a big enough population or generate enough emigrants to frighten the horses either.

But let's face it, optimistically we'll be talking about Turkish accession in 2012-15, in a best case scenario Ukraine in 2020-2025 and the Arab countries not for a long time after that. Look at how long it took the USA to expand from 'sea to shining sea'!

But I agree that the EU should be built on values, not geography and certainly not religion, and that whatever the final status of the EU is we cannot erect a 'Belgian curtain' magically locking instbaility in the ex-USSR or the Arab world. In the short term, free trade agreements, mutual exchange of civil servants, and better managed migration from the EU's periphery would go a long way to making our neighbourhood 'stable'. Democratic political parties in the 'periphery' should be invited to join the EU political groupings on an 'observer' basis. And it would be great if the EPP could bring itself to deal more seriously with the 'Islamic Democratic' parties like Turkey's AKP.

And all this, bear in mind comes from someone from the EU's furthest North-Western fringe, where Newfoundland is almost as close as Ankara.

Election fever in London 

Well, not exactly as far as most of the public are concerned, but Simon Hughes and a big crowd of LibDems were leafleting Queensway at lunchtime today, while the Respect Coalition were driving round Maida Vale in a big van playing, oddly enough, Aretha Franklin's Respect when I went to the dry cleaners this afternoon.

Right, I'm off to review some pubs for Fancy A Pint?

Very hard vocab quiz 

Found via The 6th International, via Nicholas Whyte - a very hard but rather fun vocab quiz. Nicholas scored 189, Mrs. Tilton scored 190, whereas I managed a paltry 165 out of 200. Diddums!

Friday, May 28, 2004

A history of Communism in Ireland 

Via Workers' Republic - an interesting history of Communism in Ireland.

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