Saturday, December 20, 2003

The joys of areo-cycling 

I had been hoping to take my bike home to Belfast for Christmas. Taking it on the 'plane means dismantling it a bit. I can't , however, seem to get one of the pedals off, even with my shiny new 15mm spanner, as it's wedged on so tightly. That's one of the reasons why I'm up at this ungodly hour.

A few hours kip, then I'll pester my neighbours to help out!

US criticises Turkey on religious freedoms - France next? 

The US State Department has criticised Turkey in its annual International Report on Religious Freedoms for, among other things the headscarf ban for state employees and school pupils. After Jacques Chirac's recent comments, is this the pretext for the next US-France catfight?

Denktaş and Erdoğan clash publicly! 

The fallout from the Turkish-Cypriot elections continues to send the Geiger counter crazy. Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has publicly called on Turkish Cypriot President Rauf Denktaş to negotiate on the Annan plan. Using fairly unheralded language, Erdoğan called on Denktaş to sack his advisors and compromise rather than walk away from the negotiating table. President Denktaş was not a happy bunny, sending a fairly tart reply back via the press.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Evil thought 

I've just had an evil thought... Could a Paisley plus Donaldson ticket balance ahead of Nicholson in the Euro elections? Especially as both Nationalist candidates will probably be below the Quota on Stage 1, and therefore Nicholson would have no source of transfers.

Same-sex marriage in NI? 

The Northern Ireland Office has announced that it is consulting on proposals to allow same-sex civil partnerships to be legally registered in Northern Ireland. The legislation will be complementary to that being pursued by the Edinburgh and Westminster parliaments.

Special congratulations to all those in NIGRA and CoSo who have kep this on the agenda and ensured our religious fundamentalists have not been allowed to make Northern Ireland a 'special case' this time.

O'Farrell Patronises the Natives 

John O'Farrell is usually a bore of the first order, but today's 'funny' Guardian article pretty much sums up the patronising attitude the English have towards us Norn Iron people.

Azeri leader, Heydar Aliyev dies 

No chance of such democracy further East in the Turkic world! I had missed the fact that old KGB Commissar turned President of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, died this weekend in the USA after a long illness. Naturally, Ilham Oğlu, his son, was safely installed as president before Daddy departed this earthly life. You have to dig the guy's megalomaniac website, though. He has the cheek to "express most cordially" his "thanks to Azeri citizens, Azeri nation for the rendered trust and election as a President of the Republic of Azerbaijan." Election of course being the sort Heydar Bey was used to when he was head of the Azeri KGB in the '70s.

With the departure of Sheverdnadze in Georgia, it means two of the ex-KGB kleptocrats who beggar much of the former USSR while receiving plaudits in the West have departed the scene in a matter of weeks. Whether this brings any relief to the benighted Caucasus is, of course, another matter.

Turkish Cyprus: Northern Ireland not the only place with deadlocked parliament! 

After the cliffhanger dead heat in last weekend's Turkish Cypriot General Election, the Turkish Daily News reports that jockeying for position among the parties has begun in earnest. Havıng lost in terms of the popular vote, the anti-agreement parties seem to be making rowing back from their hardline rhetoric in the campaign. On the other hand, the pro-settlement left is seeking to press its advantage home, with Republican Turkish Party leader Mehmet Ali Talat repeating his demand that he replace President Denktaş as chief negotiator on the Turkish Cypriot side.

Particularly revealing were Turkish PM Tayyip Erdoğan's comments that the Northern Cypriot polls demonstrated the need for participation of new politicians, given the guarded way Turkish politicians speak about Cyprus. One could, with a little imagination read that as, "piss off Denktaş, your time is over".

Ankara meanwhile is sending out signals that it will significantly soften its line in return for progress on Turkey's accession negotiations. This strikes me as astute politics. If Southern Cyprus enters the EU alone next May, the likely outcome is a further growth in anti-Ankara sentiment North of the Green Line, with a consequent loss of benefit to Turkey from any settlement.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Off to the dustbin of history 

Jeffrey Donaldson has announced his decision to leave the UUP, and live on UTV to boot. Given the constellation of forces in the Assembly, this is probably of marginal importance in the short-term, though in the medium-term makes it easier for Trimble to hang on as leader. If that is itself of any importance these days.

He has not yet decided whether or not to join the DUP.

Addendum at midnight

The Daily Telegraph thinks this plunges Trimble into the greatest crisis of his leadership. On the contrary, I think it's probably the best thing that's happened to him in the period of his leadership. If he'd have had the balls to do it in April '98, his party might not be in the sorry mess it is now.

'Liberal' Unionism: Sneering Superiority dated ca. 1953 

I've always been rather torn about the desirability of a United Ireland. But Eric Waugh's recent article in the Belfast Telegraph on the economics of the matter struck me as particularly bizarre - it sounds like the sort of guff a particularly economically illiterate 'liberal' Unionist might have come up with in 1953. I know Eric's an old man, but he must have noticed Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic have all moved on over the past decade.

There are such elementary mistakes in terminology here - Britain is the fourth largest economy in the world, not the fourth richest, Eric. (The last data I saw on this in The Economist had Ireland in about 8th and the UK at about 20th in the world in PPP terms.) Criticising the Republic for gross levels of inequality is fine, but he seems to have missed the only European nation which is worse is the UK. In fact the UK and the Republic have remarkably similar economic systems, both have been very successful at generating wealth over the past 10-15 years and both rather bad at distributing it effectively, both are probably the strongest champions of deregulation and economic liberalism in the EU.

Eric seems to think that the whole Celtic Tiger Wirtschaftswunder was based on Eurosubsidies, and while they undoubtedly helped jump start it - that's what they're their for - he needs to go and read an Economics text book if he thinks that's all it was about. And ideally not this one. If subsidies were a panacaea why haven't we seen a Spaghetti Tiger in Southern Italy? Northern Ireland remains a public sector dominated, anti-entrepreneurial society, very different from both Britain and the Republic.

His grateful Uncle Tom colonial mentality is even more infuriating - "God bless you Massah for letting me hitch my star to the 4th largest economy in the world". He seems to think it's somehow better to susbist on London subvention than it is to subsist on Brussels subvention. Is this all that remains of the proud self-reliance of the Ulster Prod? Who says you need to be big to be successful? Tell that one to the Luxembourgers (with the highest average income at PPP in the world), the Hong Kongers, Singaporese, Norwegians... The new success stories of Eastern Europe, the Slovenes and the Estonians...

As I said earlier, I'm not persuaded of the case for a United Ireland, but Waugh makes a particularly bad case against it.

The Homosexual Menace! 

I've been out of touch with Tom Tomorrow's comic strips recently. But this one is a masterpiece!

Paese Offizale and Paese Reale 

The Newsletter reports that unemployment in Northern Ireland is at an all-time low of 5.9%. This stands in complete contrast to the inability of the electorate to actually elect a functioning government.

Increasingly, I find myself thinking Northern Ireland is becoming like Italy. There's the paese offiziale which is mired in chaos, constantly collapsing coalitions and bureaucracy. Then there's the paese reale which actually works very well and has made Italy one of the world's leading economic powers. Certainly when I go home, Belfast doesn't feel like a city teetering on the brink of chaos - it's a damn sight more lively and energetic than any comparable English provincial city. Now if only we could have a few Italian style all-night café pubs. And some Italian weather...

Election Poster Enforcement Action! 

The NI Department of the Environment is, amazingly, threatening to take action against politicians who don't take down election posters. I'll believe it when I see it. We'll still have dogeared portraits of Gerry Kelly staring down at us come next Christmas.

The graffito on the wall of Henry Place Graveyard nearest Carlisle Sqaure, telling voters to VOTE AUSTIN X, is presumably still there from the 1983 UK General Election! Is this a record?

Blogs and bloggers 

Rebecca Blood, apparently author of the weblog handbook, writes a rather uninspiring article about Blogs in the Guardian.

The hijab meets the French state 

Madeleine Bunting writes on the incipient conflict in France over the right of Muslims to wear headscarves in school. My gut instinct is that Chirac ought to have the wit to leave well enough alone. If the French state is silly enough to push this they will be crucified at the European Court of Human Rights and rightly so, with nothing to show for it but a legacy of anger from French Muslims.

One of the fascinating things in Turkey is seeing teenage girls pouring out of provincial secondary schools at the end of the day, tying their headscarves over their head as they do so. Covered heads are, of course, banned from schools and other state-funded institutions in Turkey, though I suspect the AKP government will change this as soon as they think it is safe to do so. However, Bunting's line that, "France's schools were the vehicle to turn Catholic peasants into French republican citizens", was just as true of the education system of Kemalist Turkey. It wasn't just Liseler that the Turks borrowed from the French!

Of course, like many secularists she falls down in seeing liberalism and religion as polar opposites. The failure of Bunting to recognise the possibility of Liberal Christianity as a sustaining philiosophy highlights the limitations of her own world view.

What has become of the Old Rectory? 

David McKie writes about Old Rectories and the Colonel Blimps who now seem to inhabit them, the poor old CofE now being too poor to maintain its clergy in such style. Of course, it could be that the Church is not as class-ridden as it used to be, and no longer needs to own the second best house in the village after the squire...

Living in an Old Rectory is supposed to be a Young Fogey-ish thing to do, but as I am an employee of the state, I'm unlikely ever to be able to afford one. I have an allergy to villages anyway.

Polly Toynbee gets sucked in by a 419 scam! 

Polly Toynbee confesses to being a victim of a Nigerian money-grabbing scam. To be fair, hers was a handwritten letter and very plausibly done, but even so you wonder why she didn't ask basic questions like why they were writing to her in the first place. I'm amazed at her claim that 1% of people answer e-mail scams positively - unless some of the 1% are like me - I strung along a senior civil servant in the Iraqi Oil Ministry (allegedly) for a month or so earlier this year for a laugh.

Two of my acquaintances, one an Anglican clergyman, the other a small businessman in Germany get these sort of begging letters regularly. The letters to the former are always about a very bright student who is an AIDS orphan and can't afford school fees. The letters to the latter always involve $11.5M (or thereabouts) sequestered in a secret Swiss bank account. Both have easily accessible addresses - via Crockford's and the German Company Directors' register respectively.

As to her question, "Should the police waste time on "victims" so venal and dumb?", I leave you to decide!

On the other hand, if you really are Slobodan Milosevic's second cousin and want to give US$100,000 for giving you my accountant's address...

Telegraph review of LPO/Litton doing Mahler 3 

The Telegraph seem to be the only people who've bothered reviewing Tuesday night's magnificent Mahler 3, performed by Andrew Litton and the London Phil. Ivan Hewett gets it dead right about the magnificent Trumpet and Trombone solos - but his watch must have been broken, I clocked the performance at closer to 90 minutes, which I thought was about average for this piece - and just right on the night!

STV Elections in Turkey 

You know you're sad when you spend your evenings working out hypothetical STV election resuls for Turkey. I had to make assumptions about transfers and also assumptions about larger electoral districts which would need to be split for STV purposes; Istanbul 3rd District, for example, currently has 25 seats.

Of course, due to the ridiculous 10% barrier, the real results were AKP 363 CHP 178 Inds 9.

Using 2-8 seaters with a preference for 5-7, and merging no provinces (hence the 2 seaters), I get the following results:

AKP 222 (Moderate Islamist)
CHP 135 (Social Democratic, ardently secular)
DYP 61 (Centre-right)
MHP 48 (Far-right)
DEHAP 39 (Kurdish nationalist and far-left)
GP 31 (Loony Populist)
ANAP 7 (Centre-right)
BBP 1 (God knows from their website, but probably far-left)
Inds. 6

Interesting that the Independents seem to lose out under STV - I think the Turkish rule that they only have to pass the d'Hondt quota in their constituency helps them with the current fragmentation of the Turkish party system.

Anavatan would be the big losers under STV as their vote is too widely spread and they tend to lag behind their potential transfer donors most places. Then again they only obtained 5.1% in the General Election in 2002, and with the AKP hoovering up secular centre-right support all over the show at the minute, I think they're history anyway.

Otherwise the results are remarkably proportional - DEHAP are helped slightly by the concentration of their vote in the South East and a few neighbourhoods in the big West and South Coast cities.

The Grand Unity Party's (BBP) single seat would be in Sivas, which is presumably where their party leader is from: he'd have been elected in 2002 if he'd stood as an Independent, which is a tactic some of the micro-parties like the Liberal Democrat Party use.

None of the parties would win a seat in every constituency. Even the AKP would lose out in places which are ultra-secular and small in the West (Edirne, Kirklareli) secular and full of minorities in the East (Ardahan, Artvin, Tunceli), or staunchly Kurdish (Hakkari, Igdir). On the other hand, with a halfway decent balance they could still win 6 seats out of 8 in Kayseri!

Just for interests sake, I have Istanbul overall at: AKP 29 CHP 23 GP 8 DYP 4 MHP 3 DEHAP 3.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Young Fogeys are not Young Tories 

This article by Harry Mount in The Spectator rather gives lie to the idea that Young Fogeydom in its heyday was a lifestyle that appealed exclusively to those on the right.

I think four piece tweed suits are a bit much, even for me, though!

Cold night, hot Mahler! 

The husband and I went to the Festival Hall last night for a performance of Mahler 3, with Andrew Litton conducting the LPO. It was a rather fine performance, especially given Litton was a late-ish stand in. It was not reviewed in today's qualities - possibly tomorrow. The LPO do seem to be on better form this year, however.

I think The Guardian got their review of the Aida I enjoyed with my friend James last month just about right (3 stars). I thought it was fairly tame, but some of the more, er... um... traditionalist among the Covent Garden audience went ape at it. David McKie also had an interesting Guardian article on composers and fashion. Perhaps we may yet spark a surge of interest in Yoshimatsu and Rautavaara!

The weather is gorgeously cold and clear here at the moment - we've just finished with a gorgeous sunset and I'm looking forward to my ride home through an empty Hyde Park tonight. We must be heading close to zero tonight though, with such a clear sky.

My Parish, All Saints, Margaret Street are the Church featured on today's Choral Evensong on Radio 3. Unfortunately reception in a sealed building is always a bit dodgy so every once in a while I get horrible EM hash over the top, but overall a good effort.

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