Saturday, January 31, 2004

Do you want a pasty supper? 

I knew they had a Bobby Sands Street in Tehran. But surely a Bobby Sands Snack Bar is pushing the bounds of taste a bit too far?

Friday, January 30, 2004

Champagne Lurganois 

Too good to be true - the official Buckfast 'tonic' wine website!

Cthulhu for President 

Cthulhu, the Great Old One trapped under the Pacific Ocean until 'the stars are right', after which he will return to enslave humanity, is standing for the American Presidency. The voters are bound to go insane over him. (Thanks to James Graham for the link.)

Students can help the evil demon by joining a Campus Crusade for Cthulhu.


Who do you think his running mate should be?

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

New maturity from the Young Tories 

It's nice to see the Young Tories are such a mature political organisation - NOT!!! (Thanks to James Graham for the link.)

My 18 rated life! 

According to this silly online quiz, my life is rated:

My life has been rated:
Click to find out your rating!
See what your rating is!


Although I sort of knew that anyway. And I was very low on the violence scale. Thanks to Jade Farrington for the link.

Junk food ban gains support 

Maybe I am getting right-wing in my old age, but stories like this one in the Guardian, showing 85% support for restrictions on junk food advertising, make me despair.

Don't get me wrong, I have no brief for McDonald's and the like, although I confess to having the occasional Chicken McNuggets box. I really don't care if they ban McDonald's at all, at one level. At another level I find this a depressing example of people's unwillingness to take responsibily for their own actions. Walkers' Crisps as the latest great evil corporate killer? Give me a break! Everybody knows that in excess junk food is not good for you, if people still eat it, that's their problem. Big Kings are not addictive - although I grant that Coke probably is, with its <sniff, sniff> special ingredient.

Yes, obesity is a problem, but it would be a lot less so if many of those 85% didn't feed their kids a diet of Pot Noodle and Crisps. Or if healthier food brands got off their wanky 'we're so green and anti-megacorp' high-horse and started marketing themselves aggressively at kids as sexy, fun, products. The best good old fashioned lefty-liberal solution would, of course, be to have the state pay for school meals and give kids a real choice of healthy options. This would guarantee them one nutritious meal a day even if they went home to microwave chips every evening. It would cost a fair bit of money, but if the public health establishment are right it would save far more in the long term. And avoid the ridiculous situation where Gary Lineker's crisp advertisements were banned as an evil corporate threat to children's welfare.

Some days, I even find myself agreeing with Onora O'Neill.

12 year-old life sentence prisoner released 

Don't get me wrong, 12 year-olds who murder are bad, and need to go to prison for both as a deterrent and to protect society. But judges who lock up 12 year-olds for the rest of their lives without the possibility of parole are, to use tabloid terminology, pure evil. I mean, really, you have a 12 year old, and you lock him up for maybe 60, 70 years until he dies? (Presuming this guy was on remand from his arrest.) I mean, like, uh?

Anyway, in this case life meaning life doesn't mean life, thanks be to God.

Clark sinks, Dean surges in NH polls 

Oh dear! Well, we'll know soon enough anyway.

Teacher in hijab court case 

The Guardian reports on a case in which a Cambridgeshire teacher was accused of forcibly removing a student's hijab and being rude about her religion. Hard to know as an outsider who is right in this case, as either party could credibly be lying.

British defence policy 

Max Hastings writes lucidly in the Guardian on the inappropriateness of much current British defence expenditure. There are a few wonderfully quotable (and stingingly accurate) bitchy lines here:

Britain is about to buy 232 Eurofighters at a cost of £80m a piece. This is a folly comparable with building a modern copy of Nelson's Victory for fleet service, and much more expensive. The Eurofighter is a cold war interceptor. No strategist can devise a credible threat for it to intercept.

Diehards say: if the RAF does not have the Eurofighter, what does it have? Yet this argument possesses validity only if British defence policy is perceived as a job creation scheme for pilots and air marshals.


I like the Eurofighter on ideological grounds - but ideology is not a good reason for £16billion plus. Why is it Hastings veers so wildly from being quite sensible to absolutely frothing.

Monday, January 26, 2004

The secret of Chile's economic boom 

Like most others, I had assumed that Chile, Latin America's most prosperous economy, was a bastion of free-market economics. However, an article in last Wednesday's Washington Post paints a different picture. Instead, Chile has turned away from Pinochet's extreme laissez-faire policies of the '70s and '80s.

Labour legislation is strong, the government is actively involved in R&D, corporation taxes are high and spending on public services strong. While most sectors of the economy are open to global competition, fledgling sectors are protected. However, primary production, telecoms and the energy sector has been successfully privatised and capital controls lifted. The government aggressively promotes key export sectors like wine, salmon and copper.

As PJ O'Rourke put it in Eat the Rich - there's good capitalism and bad capitalism, good socialism and bad socialism.

Thanks to Uğur at Turkish Torque for the link. I agree with him that this holds important lessons for Turkey as another moderately-developed economy. Turkey has been doing some similar things anyway, for example on tourism (most visibly) and textiles.

Language extinction 

An interesting article in the Times (yes, I know, but it does happen occasionally) on language exinction and attempts to preserve native languages in the USA and Canada.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Turkish Kurds to be returned from Iraq 

13,000 Turkish citizens (overwhelmingly Kurdish) are to be returned to Turkey from refugee camps in Northern Iraq. I would be interested in finding out more details of this little reported four way deal between Iraq, Turkey the USA and the UN. Certainly Southeastern Anatolia is an altogether more peaceful place than Northern Iraq these days, but I wonder what sort of economic future awaits them in possibly ruined or destroyed villages, or gecekondu slums on the edge of the big cities?

WMD Chief Quits 

Just in case you've been on Jupiter for the past while... as violence continues in Iraq, the US' chief weapons finder in Iraqhas resigned, saying he did not think there had been a WMD programme in Iraq since 1991. Well, some of us thought that this time last year.

Samarra, scene of one of the latest bomb attacks, was to have been one of the towns to which Turkish troops were to have been deployed last autumn.

National Security Council backs settlement plan - sort of 

Yesterday's meeting of Turkey's powerful National Security Council produced progress, sort of. The Council which includes top brass from Turkey's traditionally ultra-secular and nationalist military, called for a resumption of talks on the future of Cyprus using the Annan Plan as 'a reference'.

Meanwhile, Dick Cheney has used the World Economic Forum meeting at Davos to call for the EU to admit Turkey as a member. What good one of the most hated men in Europe will do here is doubtful.

Bad weather forces Straw to cancel visit 

The severe storms in the Eastern Mediterranean continue to cause chaos, with temperatures in Istanbul tonight set to drop to a chilly minus 10C, 13 degrees below the January average. Dozens have died, and both the Bosphorous and the Suez Canal are closed to sea traffic, but a more political casualty was British Foreign Minister Jack Straw's planned visit to Istanbul to commemorate November's British Consulate bombing.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Fallout from Fischer visit 

Joschka Fischer strongly backed Turkish accession to the EU during his visit to Turkey this week, subject to the usual conditions, including reaching a deal on Cyprus. To whit, Turkey's powerful National Security Council is discussing the Cyprus issue today, in a key test of Prime Minister Erdoğan's ability to stamp his authority on conservatives within the army. Erdoğan will meet Cyprus peace-plan architect and UN General Secretary Kofi Annan in the margins of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this weekend en route to talks in Washington with George W Bush. Erdoğan has also reiterated his view that a knockback from Brussels in December would cause catastrophic disappointment among the Turkish population.

Meanwhile, the International Herald Tribune's Thomas Crampton runs a positive article on Turkey's booming economy.

Turkey and the EU - AFOE debate 

A Fistful of Euros has an interesting debate on Turkish accession to the EU, with the usual arguments rehearsed.

Snow causes chaos in Istanbul 

OK, it may not be earth shattering news, but I couldn't resist the chance to link to a very pretty picture of the Sülemaniyah covered in snow.

The Welfare State is well fair! 

Thanks to A Fistful of Euros for the link. This beefy 62 page report is just too good to be true. Isn't it?

Clark second in New Hampshire 

The good General has climbed back into second place (although within the margin of error) in New Hampshire according to the latest ARG tracking poll, with Kerry well in front and Dean slipping into third place. Polling takes place on Tuesday.

In Arizona, which the Clark campaign seem to be going for in a biggish way, Dean leads Clark by a significant margin with the rest nowhere. Oklahoma is also still a two horse race between Clark and Dean, with Dean's lead being a mere 3% here. Conventional wisdom would hold that Clark should win Oklahoma fairly comfortably. South Carolina is a much more open field, but Edwards is not making the impact one would expect in the Carolinas. However, as we've seen in Iowa, he can be a formidable last minute campaigner.

These sates, along with Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico and North Dakota, poll a week after New Hampshire on 3 February.

Osama bin Laden captured? 

Those wacky people at the 'Northeast Intelligence Network' (found via the obnoxious allahpundit.com) are spreading a rumour that Osama bin Laden has been captured. My gut instinct is that this is yet another rumour spread by the pro-War Right to cover their abject failure to deal with al-Qa'eda effectively. However, I don't think bin Laden can hide from the Americans forever. Nor do I think that, even if they do capture him, an end to Islamicist terrorism is coming any time soon.

Despite this, I'm putting this up here for two reasons:
1. In the unlikely event than bin Laden has been captured, I can say that You Read It Here First.
2. In the more likely event that he hasn't been captured, there remains a public record of how the Hawks constantly trupmet rumours about 'successes', only to quietly dissemble when they turn out to be nonsense.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

English General Synod to hold gay debate 

The Church of England General Synod is to hold a debate on homosexuality next month. The Guardian also notes that the Affirming Catholicism tract on gay relationships, Permanent, Faithful, Stable is to be circulated to Synod members.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

SDLP call for all-Ireland smoking ban 

Former Higher Education Minister, Carmel Hanna MLA (SDLP, South Belfast) is to propose a motion to next month's SDLP conference calling for an all-Ireland smoking ban in public places. A number of things strike me about this:
We have a society where ethnic minority people are being initimated out of their homes on a weekly basis, paramilitary organisations run massive criminal empires, the police and the Criminal Assets Bureau don't touch paramilitary leaders if they're on 'ceasefire', and Carmel wants to criminalise the 35-40% of the population (higher when they've had a few) who enjoy a feg down at the local! I mean!!!!!!

* Which would be very good not only pour discourager les autres, but it'll take the apalling Micháel Martin's political career with it! :~?

Vatican political interference 

Sometimes I wonder why I ever bothered going through the hassle of converting from Catholicism (of the Roman variety) to Anglicanism in a deeply divided society like Northern Ireland.

Then I see something like this nasty piece of political interference and I know why!

Weapons of mass destruction-related program activities 

Have apparently been found in Iraq, accoring to PotUS during his SotuS.

Apparently the world without Saddam Hussein 'is now a better and safer place'. That particular offer doesn't seem to apply to residents of Istanbul, Casablanca, Riyadh, Baghdad or Southern Thailand.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Fogeyish things 

Google now ranks me number 1 if one searches for young fogey, but better yet, number 4 if one searches for fogey. This is very good news indeed!

So please, please, please link to me, keep my Google ranking high and drive traffic to me - unless, of course, you think this site is complete keke.

Terror compensation agreed 

The Turkish Justice Ministry has published a bill entitling victims of both state and PKK violence during the troubles to compensation. If properly implemented, this is potentially good news for the Christians of the Tür Abdin plateau and the plans to re-establish abandoned villages. It is also good news for the millions of Kurdish peasants forced off their land, now living in poverty in the big cities.

Northern Cyprus coalition agreement - a mixed bag 

Good and bad news on the coalition agreement of Northern Cyprus' new government, formed by pro- and anti-Annan Plan parties after December's dead heat election.

The good news is that the framework commits the government to reaching an agreement with the South before it joins the EU in May. The bad news is that it leaves the awful Rauf Denktaş as Northern Cyprus' chief negotiator.

Gül backs Athens' call for military cuts 

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül has responded positively to George Papandreou's call for mutual cuts in defence spending between the Aegean countries. Good news, although Gül was fairly coy in the way he phrased his response.


Musharraf, Fischer visit Turkey 

Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf has arrived in Turkey to discuss security concerns. I think Reuters are a bit unfair to link the level of terrorism in the two countries - yes, the Istanbul bombings were terrible, but they don't even begin to compare with the widespread anarchy and endless communal killings in Pakistan. Interestingly, Pakistan's Ambassador to Turkey publicly backed Ankara's opposition to an autonomous Kurdish region in Northern Iraq, which PM Erdoğan plans to voice to George Bush during his forthcoming visit to Washington. I rarely have much time for Ankara's line on Northern Iraq, but I can't help agreeing that ethnic democracy would be bad in Iraq, just as it has been in Northern Ireland. Any autonomy in Northern Iraq (which I'm certainly not opposed to) will have to take in account the large Arab, Turkish and Assyrian-Chaldean population, many of whom are sceptical about how they'd be treated under Kurdish rule.

KDP leader Massoud Barzani, however has made it clear he will withdraw his support for the occupation if Washington forces through a constitution without Kurdish autonomy, and he holds some strong cards at the moment. Expect this to get very messy over the next few months, with the nastiest haggling being over the future status of Kirkuk. This is the sort of squalid little border problem that so often leads to ethnic cleansing.

Next to do the Istanbul shuffle will be German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, who arrives tomorrow.

Otto von Habsburg fansite! 

Otto von Habsburg has a fan site (in German) with the wonderful title "Christ, Kaiser, Europäer" (Christian, Emperor, European). I rather approve of von Habsburg who has indeed been a good European and had a good war record as well. He is not, however, an Emperor nor has he ever been a Emperor. His fan club's admission that in exile in Washington during the war "unfortunately most of Otto's successes were rendered nothing through Stalin and his comrades, so also was Churchill's for a Danube Federation under Otto as Emperor" (translation mine), does not render him in the best light.

To be fair, I've always been of the school of thought that the greatest tragedy in European history was that the Habsburg Empire could not transform itself into a multi-national democracy.

More speculation on DUP in Euro-elections 

The Newsletter and the BBC both run stories on whether or not the DUP are likely to run two candidates in June's Euro-elections. Remember folks, you read it here first!

Ciarán McKeown really is an apallingly bad journalist. He tells us, The juiciest speculation was that both Nigel Dodds and Jeffrey Donaldson would be put up by the DUP, putting Jim Nicholson's reasonably secure Ulster Unionist quota under pressure. If the Ulster Unionist 'quota' (the Ulster Unionists have never got a quota in a European Election, BTW) is so secure, how come the DUP are putting under pressure? Just because the DUP hate Ciarán McKeown, doesn't make him any good.

Review to begin 

The NIO has announced that the review of the Good Friday Agreement will begin on 3 February. Reuters quotes Number 10 as saying, "it will be a short, sharp focused review".

I am not optimistic. The Unionist parties and Alliance want radical change, the Nationalist parties none whatsoever. London and Dublin might be able to bang heads together - but Blair is in deep trouble at Westminster and Ahern is EU President until the end of June. Neither will be able to give the review anything like their full attention. As the Northern Ireland parties have been so unremittingly crap over the past 6 years, why should they?

Kerry wins Iowa 

The polls got the order of the four candidates in Iowa exactly right, but significantly underestimated how well Kerry and Edwards would do. This is a big boost for Kerry, but a bigger boost for Edwards - the Midwest is not natural territory for him, and he could do very well in the South after this. It will be interesting to see how much impact this has on the American Research Group tracker poll for New Hampshire, which goes to the polls next Tuesday.

Gephardt must now be finito. I suppose he'll back his fellow Democrat machine candidate, John Kerry.

The big unanswered question is how well is Clark, who opted out of Iowa, doing.

It will probably surprise you to know that I would vote for Clark and have backed him ever since he threw his hat into the ring. For non-Americans the most important thing about American Presidents is how well they do foreign policy. In that Clark is head and shoulders above anyone else. He understands Europe and Europeans, which is kind of a good thing for the most powerful man in the world to do, especially if you're one of us Europeans. I think his instincts on domestic issues are sound - he's genuinely liberal and of the generation of US Army officers who had anti-racism drummed into them after the Vietnam fiasco. Okay, he's a bit flag-wavy for my tastes, but then again most Americans are.

He's also a very, very, very dishy man. Four years of that on TV every night? Yum yum!

Monday, January 19, 2004

Connor Diocesan Website 

My home Diocese of Connor, at long last, has a website. Congratulations to all concerned.

McShane optimistic on Turkish accession 

Just spotted a Guardian article from Friday (thanks to Uğur at Turkish Torque) where Dennis McShane, British (non-cabinet) Minister for Europe makes very positive noises about Turkish accession.

I think he is right in saying that Turkish Foreign Minister Abullah Gül is savvy, a lot more savvy than cynics like me gave credit for a year ago. However I can't quite agree with his assertion about the AKP:

"Like de Gaulle's RPR party it drags together a mix of modernisers, clever intellectuals, professors, retired diplomats, and businessmen who want Turkey to embrace modernity."

I mean the AKP have done a lot better than I'd ever have thought, but they still far more a party of small provincial businessmen, rural clergy and veiled housewives than of radical intellectual reformers. In some ways I admire them because of that - they're largely people who've dragged themselves by their bootstraps and their European-ness runs together with, rather than against their Islam. But I wouldn't recognise McShane's desciption as applying to the Gaullists, let alone the AKP.

Iraq elections not terribly democratic 

I try not to blog on Iraq, as so many others already do, but I couldn't not comment on this.

The Occupying Powers have suggested that when Iraqis elect their new government (to take over this June) that they don't have a direct election. Instead given the 'difficulties of compiling an accurate register' (in a society which was a full-on totalitarian state until last year), a series of regional and national caucuses should be held. A bit like what's going on in Iowa today except with a lot less women's rights and a lot more feudalism and sub-machine guns. It seems to be that in that situation, whoever controls the most local strongmen would sweep the board outside Baghdad, Mosul and Basra.

Senior Shi'a cleric, Iran-born Ayatollah Ali Sistani (Arabic speakers can read his website here - and then tell me what it says on it!), rather holds to the view that this is not democracy and wonders why Iraq can't have direct elections like most places. Especially as he and his friends might be expected to very well in a normal election; very much better indeed than people like Ahmed Chalabi. Now, I'm not a big fan of Shi'ite theocracy myself, but I can't help finding my self agreeing with Dr. Sistani.

I presume this explains why the right-wing US government is now going cap in hand to the UN for help. And I thought the UN was a useless forum for dictators and cheese-eating surrender monkeys which should be banished from the banks of the Hudson...

The deteriorating security situation, with possibly 25 now dead at the Assasins' Gate and bomb explosions in British controlled South-Eastern Iraq, might also explain it of course.

Protestant SDLP Councillor defects to SF 

Coleraine Councillor Billy Leonard, who as far as I know is the only SDLP elected representative who is a Protestant, has defected to Sinn Féin.

Apart from getting his name wrong, I'm now sure I didn't know him as I said earlier. So sorry to all concerned. Apparently he is a Shankill born ex-RUC man and 7th Day Adventist.

This deepens an already difficult crisis for the SDLP.

There is a lively Slugger O'Toole debate on this subject.

Paisley to Quit EU Parliament 

Ian Paisley is to stand down from the European Parliament in June. The surprise decision is reported on the BBC and UTV websites.

The DUP claim this is to enable him to focus on the review process. Like, I suspect most people, I think this is more likely to be due to ill health.

The BBC claim Nigel Dodds is the most likely replacement. I suspect this is idle speculation of the sort that BBC Northern Ireland have replaced journalism with wholesale. It would be crazy for Dodds to assume a triple mandate at Stormont, Westminster and Strasbourg which he will have to give a year before his Strasbourg term of office ends in 2009. Besides, the DUP must have cottoned on to the fact that they really can win two seats here.

Pipesmoker of the Year Award - their fire has gone out! 

Sad news. Due to the new tobacco promotion legislation, The Pipesmokers Council have sadly decided to scrap the Pipesmoker of the Year Award.

I'm not quite sure how Patrick Moore and Tony Benn were supposed to 'promote' pipe-smoking in the sense of the legislation. Not exactly sex symbols, are they? Of course they do disprove the idea that smokers inevitably die young.

Iowa Polls - Dean falters, Kerry surges 

Final polls for today's Iowa Caucus, the beginning of the US Democratic Party's selection process for their presidential candidate, show long time leader Howard Dean stumbling to third place (20%), Massachussets Senator Bill Kerry leading (26%) and his North Carolinian colleague John Edwards in second place (23%). Early favourite in Iowa, Dick Gephardt, falls to fourth on 16%.

I'm not sure how to read these - if real, they would indicate that his opponents' repeated focused attacks on Dean are proving successful. However, they show such dramatic jumps from previous polls, which showed Dean and Gephardt consistently ahead, that it may well be a rogue set.

All important in a low turnout contest on a bitter mid-Winter day (BBC forecasts a daily maximum of -10C (!) In Des Moines today) will be the knock up machines of the candidates. Can Dean's internet fan club make the difference? Union support will also matter a lot in this state, traditionally a stronghold. Unions claimed that they made the difference in 2000, when Gore squeaked a win over Bush here by 0.32%.

Polls for the South Carolina primary, due on February 3, confirm the trend of the Washington DC non-binding primary, with maverick radical Al Sharpton polling well among black voters. Could he get a solid block of delegates from the South and be the unlikely kingmaker come Democratic Convention time?

American Right Supports Turkey Accession 

The Age (Australia) has reprinted Bush cheerleader Thomas Friedman's recent New York Times article urging the EU to allow Turkey to join. He even suggests the US 'subsidise' the EU if necessary! Even more bizarrely, he suggests that Turkey be admitted to NAFTA if the EU refuse to admit it!

While there aren't many stronger supporters of Turkish accession that I, my gut reaction still remains, keep your nose out of our affairs, mate. On the other hand, Friedman isn't quite as bad as the many 'nuke Mecca' nutters in blogsphere. And his discussion with Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül is very apposite.

Turkey has undertaken a huge number of reforms to get itself ready for EU membership. If, after all it has done, the EU shuts the door on Turkey, extremists all over the Islamic world will say to the moderates: "See, we told you so - it's a Christian club and we're never going to be let in. So why bother adapting to their rules?"

[...]

"If the EU creates some pretext and says 'no' to Turkey, after we have done all this, I am sure the EU will lose and the world will lose," Turkey's Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, told me in Ankara. "If Turkey is admitted, the EU is going to win and world peace is going to win. This would be a gift to the Muslim world ... when I travel to other Muslim countries - Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia - they are proud of what we are doing. They are proud of our process (of political and economic reform to join the EU). They mention this to me. They ask: 'How is this going?'. "

Yes, everyone is watching, which is why the EU would be making a huge mistake - a hinge of history mistake - if it digs a ditch around Turkey instead of building a bridge.

More 'Thaw and Sunshine' News 

Turkey's charm offensive seems to be working a treat in Tehran as much as in Damascus (or perhaps the ayatollahs are looking for friends anywhere they can get them at present). Iran has ended a long-standing policy of not-extradition by deporting two PKK suspects to Turkey, as well as giving Turkey the first ever foreign contract for new housing construction, this one in the mushrooming Tehran suburbs.

Despite its efforts to warm relations with its Eastern neighbours, PM Erdoğan made it clear during yesterday's visit to Jeddah that Turkey sees its primary links with Europe and will not be part of any Islamic Common Market.

On its Western flank, Turkey's improving relationship with Greece was highlighted when George Papendreou, leader elect of Greece's ruling Socialist Party asked for Turkey's help in reducing the two countries' defence expenditures.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

2,000 year old pipe-smoker! 

Archaeologists in Massachussets have found an intricately carved tobacco pipe, dated 500-200 BC, while carrying out excavations to allow a housing estate to be built.

Prodi positive on start to Turkish negotiations 

Romani Prodi has made the latest historic visit to Turkey, the first by an EC President since 1963. Prodi made his most positive comments yet on Turkey beginning EU accession negotiations in December. That was despite hearing the news that former Kurdish Nationalist MP Layla Zana's conviction for acting on behalf of the PKK has been upheld.

Turkey's new strategic importance has been flagged-up in a widely syndicated AP article, focusing on Turkey's new 'thaw and sunshine' foreign policy offensive, of building better relationships with Iran and Syria while maintaining close ties with Israel and the US.

Alliance Leader Defends Review Position 

Alliance Party Leader, David Ford, has an excellent article in the Irish Times today setting out why the mechanisms of the Agreement have failed and how they might be fixed. I always found the designations the most difficult part of the Agreement, fossilising people into hermetically sealed blocks and having the potential - now realised - to let the DUP wreck everything.

The stance of the SDLP is particularly bizarre. They aren't going to make a comeback against Sinn Féin anytime soon, and the current system will - even if a government can be conjured up - relegate them to a permanent second-class status. The Shinners need to have a bit more faith in the direction of political change, which they always ask others to do. Personally, I think a SF/SDLP/Alliance/UUP coalition is a lot more likely than a SDLP/Alliance/UUP/DUP one. And every country needs an opposition.

Hijab excites in both France and Alabama 

France and Alabama are supposed to be the polar opposites of the Western world at the moment, but hijab is causing a stir in both at the moment.

In Alabama, controversry has errupted about whether or not hijab is acceptable on Driver's License photographs. A similar prohibition on hijab in university ID cards caused serious riots in Istanbul in the mid-90s. That's probably less likely in the Deep South! I have to say Alabama is not a place I'd want to be a Muslim in just now.
Similar stories from 'liberal' France, where if you believe the fringe of the right, the government is bending over backwards to placate domestic Muslim opinion. Well, if it is, somebody forgot to tell French Muslims, protesting across France today against the proposed school headscarf ban.

Montreal-la-Cluse secondary school, has jumped the gun and expelled a pupil for refusing to remove hijab in PE classes. Surely some sort of sensible accommodation could have been reached on this one? It is plenty of other places.

Which political stereotype are you 

Another fun quiz from quizilla - The S. L. Grey Patent Stereotype Generator. No, not one of those ones that categorises you in a deep meaningful way, like libertarian populist high-taxer, but one that thakes the mick seriously. Unsurprisingly, I got:

woolyliberal
The S. L. Grey Patent Stereotype Generator

brought to you by Quizilla

However, due to my fondness for pipes and classical music, had I answered 'gin and tonic' rather than 'real ale' to the last question... and it was genuinely a close run thing... I would have been:

retiredmajorgeneral
The S. L. Grey Patent Stereotype Generator

brought to you by Quizilla

Young fogeys ought to be the latter, I suppose, and right-on liberals the former. The problem is... I'm both!

Hey buddy, can you spare a light? 

I just found this Daily Telegraph article - via the FOREST website - by Joe Jackson on how George Bush, the New York smoking ban and the general joylessness of Mayor Bloomberg's reign (examples here) has driven him back to London.

Who is Joe Jackson, I hear you ask? He's the guy who wrote that slushy '80s pop classic, "Is she really going out with him?/Is she really gonna take him home tonight?/Is she really going out with him?/'Cause if my eyes don't deceive me/There's something going wrong around here". His politics are obviously not the type normally associated with the Torygraph. OK, that gives him no more qualification to comment than the average blogger, but I thought this line from his article was fantastic:
America can't seem to cure Los Angeles of its noxious smog, and yet that city is now trying to ban smoking in parks and on beaches. America can't seem to figure out how to stop rampant obesity, or 11,000 gun deaths a year, and yet a former smoker turned tobaccophobe can become mayor of New York and ban smoking in bars.

Quite so. As I've always said, I'll stop smoking when you stop driving.

Friday, January 16, 2004

What's the Sinn Féin alternative on anti-social behaviour? 

Barry McElduff MLA (SF, W Tyrone) thinks that Anti-Social Behaviour Orders do not tackle anti-social behaviour effectively enough. Undoubtedly true, Barry, and as an 'traditional' Republican, undoubtedly you think the tried and tested methods of kneecapping, baseball bats, tarring and feathering and crucifixion are more appropriate?

Gerry Adams speaks at my old school 

The Independent prints excerpts from a speech Gerry Adams gave at my old school yesterday.

Unsurprisingly it wasn't all that coherent. Adams quite rightly says that what is actually less than a third of the Assembly, and an even smaller slice of the electorate, shouldn't be able to block the restoration of locally accountable democracy. Yet his party are firmly against any move to end the sectarian designation system which gives the DUP the power to block that restoration. Good generals know when to stop fighting the last war, Gerry.

The DUP may not have the power to resinstate the Unionist ethnic volkstaat we had prior to 1972, but they can exclude Sinn Féin from power very effectively just by thwarting any deal and letting the Brits and Dublin run the country. From a DUP point of view giving Dublin a say may be better than having the country run by fellow Ulstermen... if some of those fellow Ulstermen are Shinners.

Reckon the number of the beast! 

Sackcloth Ministries is a loopy American right-wing prophesy/conspiracy outfit who are convinced, based on the Revelation of St. John, that the second coming is about to happen any time now. They actually forecast the Battle of Armageddon occurring some time in late November 2005.

Predictably, the European Union (the Reformed Roman Empire, no less) is the whore of Babylon. Less predictably, the 'son of perdition' is George W Bush and we are living in the time of tribulation, which began when we was first elected.

It seems the third woe will come in 2007 when the 10 horns (the EU) burns the 'son of perdition' (George W Bush, apparently) with fire. Sounds scary, eh!

Yet another WMD-spin failure! 

You remember those alleged chemical warheads that the Danes found the other day? Well, it turns out they're not chemical at all! Even FOX News had to admit it!

Is it just me, or does anyone else notice a pattern among the 'possible weapons of mass destruction' which have been 'found'?

What do the Israeli 'security fence' and Tyrone have in common? 

Thanks to the excellent B'Tselem organisation for this map of the Israeli 'security' fence. That anti-semitism quiz got me thinking a bit about that part of the world! If you look at the map, you'll notice how the fence wiggles in to take in a lot of river valleys, the wiggles out again to leave all the nasty barren mountains in Palestinian hands. This reminds me a lot of rural Tyrone, say, or East Donegal - even today the good land in the valleys tends to be in Protestant hands, the boggy land up the hills Catholic (see, for example Sunil Prasannan's sectarian headcount maps at Cain). It's a bit difficult to believe that this isn't about Sharon annexing the best land for Israel when the whole sorry history of your country has the same basis.

PS - B'Tselem, are an Israeli group campaigning against the senselessly self-defeating Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. They are an excellent bunch of people and set out how you can help them on their website.

Apparently, I am not an anti-Semite! What a relief! 

Well I think the text below says it all. Just do the 'Am I an Anti-Semite' quiz below. It's really, really, funny.

ADL Director Abe Foxman
Congratulations, Abe Foxman is not spying on you.
Sleep soundly tonight, for you are by no means
an anti-semite. Save this link to prove this
fact to your Jewish friends who may later
accuse you of anti-semitism for playing frisbee
with their yarlmulkes.


Am I An Anti-Semite?
brought to you by Quizilla

Guardian Eulogises John Cage 

This week's seemingly obligatory Friday Guardian article on an obscure composer is a series of eulogies to John Cage - how he's the most important composer of the 20th Century and all that. Well, for the record, I disagree completely. He, and his avant-garde friends, were up their own backsides and 4'33'' is the most pompous, self-righteous, superior excuse for 'music' I've ever heard. Or, I suppose, not heard in this case!

Why am I so agitated about this? Because Cage and the rest of his ilk have done permanent damage to the world of classical music. By writing music to a formula, and one which is incomprehensible to most people, people were scared off 'serious music'. New composers find it hard to get work performed because audiences, after decades of Cage, Stockhausen and Boulez shy away from anything new. "When is a British orchestra going to play the Dance Four Orchestras?" asks Christopher Fox - never being the answer, firstly because it's shit, and secondly because costs a lot of money to put on.

Prize for pompous eejit of the day goes to Martin Creed, Turner Prize winning artist who said of Cage, "I want what I want to say to go without saying." Wow, man, that's so like... deep. You're so clever. That's why you can see 'a sheet of A4 paper
crumpled into a ball' is a work of art when we normals are too slow to realise.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

DUP-SF deal possible? 

Well, the bitter ex-SF hardliners of the Blanket certainly think so. A remarkably perceptive piece despite some rather dodgy hypotheses - like Loyalist paramilitaries being actively directed by the London government. Then again, this is The Blanket. Interesting that they propose a Beevorian second degree of confict, namely that between revolutionary and constitutional means. Interesting idea, especially as it means we constitutionalists won hands down!

Colton asks gays' forgiveness 

In his Christmas sermon, Paul Colton, Bishop of Cork, said it is time to ask gay people to forgive the Church for they way it had treated them. He claimed the Church's treatment of gays called into question its Christian commitment to 'those on the edge'. It is a radical departure for a CofI Bishop to be so openly affirming. Well done and thank you Paul!

Eames Commission begins work 

The Church of Ireland Gazette reports that the Eames Commission has begun work. The Commission will examine issues around homosexuality and the nature of what it means to be in communion.

The Commission will operate in some secrecy. Evidence considered by the Commission will "generally" (whatever that means) be published on their website. While submissions can be sent to the commission unsolicited, these should be limited to one A4 page, which leaves lots of room to unpick those difficult theological issues! Sessions of the Commission will be held in private. While I've no doubt they will seek a diverse spectrum off views, it looks like our prelatical leaders have decided that this issue is too important for us ordinary in-the-pew Anglicans to have any say. After all what would we care. It's only our Church. Unfortunately fellow liberals like Inclusive Church seem to be going down the same over-clericalised road.

Oh well, all we can do is pray the Commission somehow manages to support justice and keep the Anglican Communion together. How they manage that, I don't know.

Mars Rover Strolls Free 

The Mars Rover has moved its first three metres and sent back pretty pictures. Well done NASA!

Hamill killers still roam free 

The Irish News reports that seven years after the murder of Robert Hamill, no-one has yet been convicted of his murder, though the Police Ombudsman has made some progress in relation to the.... eccentric... behaviour of the police that night.

Lies, Damn Lies... and FOX News 

According to FOX News' Mansoor Ijaz Kurdish Peshmergi smuggled some chemical warheads into Iran to sell along with their silence (doo doo doo it's so dramatic), then when they were rebuffed by the Iranians they smuggled them back into Iraq. In order to drop on Baghdad from a 'desolate area'... I mean, like, yeah, right...

It's a classic of example of throw enough mud and some it will stick. See, for example, this BBC story spuriously linking some empty mortar shells with an Iraqi chemical weapons programme, depite the fact even the US Military think they're irrelevant. Sorry folks, there was no Iraqi WMD programme in the 1990s beyond the level of a Primary School chemistry kit in someone's garage. Even Tony Blair has admitted as much.

Among the questions I'd love to ask Mansoor about his 'report':

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Deep grammar - the debate continues 

Fascinating article in The Economist this week about 'deep grammar', a theory which some linguists are now apparently moving away from. Dr. David Gil, a researcher at Leipzig's Max Planck Institute. He has concluded that the Riau dialect of Indonesian has no distinction between nouns and verbs, and indeed that linguists (the bulk of them educated Westerners) have seen classical Greek and Latin grammatical structures even where there is little evidence for it. In particular, a language with no distinction between nouns and verbs would sit very ill at ease with Chomsky's theories on how children learn languages.

Me, I'd need to see a bit more evidence before changing my mind, but some fascinating ideas nonetheless.

All Ireland vote for president 

Nelson McCausland has described the SF Youth campaign for an all-Ireland franchise as fantasy. While being no fan of SF Youth, I can't see why the Republic of Ireland can't grant the vote to citizens resident abroad (even those, like me, who've never lived in the territory of the state!) - especially as Presidential elections have no territorial component. For example if I were a British citizen resident in the UK (and indeed am), and were my other nationality to be, say, South African, I would also have a vote in South African general elections. I've never heard the DUP object to this. Funny that!

Now the Belgians want to ban hijab 

Scott Martens on the excellent A Fistful of Euros reports on the plan by two Walloon Senators to ban the hijab in Belgian schools. Martens pulls no punches in attacking this plan as naked religious prejudice dressed up as concern for women's rights. I like the Canadian example he cites of the uniform for Sikh Mounties - a blue turban secured by a maple-leaf pin - recognising both Sikhness and an explicitly Canadian way of being Sikh. If only we could have a bit more Canadian common sense in the immigration/assimilation debate here!

Washington DC voters denied democracy 

Continuing the theme of imperfect American democracy, yesterday's non-binding Democratic primary in the District of Columbia highlighted the lack of democracy for voters in the capital city of the 'world's greatest democracy'. Local Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is denied the right to vote on legislation - is this, just maybe, to do with the fact that she and most of her constituents are black? (She's also an Anglican, by the way!)

Turkey abolishes Death Penalty in all cases 

Turkey has abolished the death penalty even for crimes committed during times of war and national emergency. The European Commission stated that this, "represents a significant step for Turkey on its way to becoming a fully fledged democracy fully respecting European standards in terms of human rights". Two EU+candidate countries retain the death penalty in times of war - Greece and Latvia. Does this mean they are not fully fledged democracies? While, of course, I welcome Turkey's decision from a Christian point of view as much as anything else, is this a case of one standard for Muslims and one (lower) standard for Christians, as seems to be usual for accession countries?

By the way, does this mean the USA is not a fully fledged democracy?

Denktaş backtracks on Annan Plan 

I'm a bit slow with this one, but IslamOnline reports on Northern Cypriot President Rauf Denktaş rescinding his previous outright opposition to Kofi Annan's peace plan for the island.

Not that he has much choice with Ankara breathing down his neck and a new Northern Cypriot PM committed to reaching a deal with the South. If only we had as much wriggle room in Northern Ireland...

Iran: Protesting MPs rebuff Khatami 

Unsurprisingly, Liberal Iranian MPs have rebuffed President Khatami's request for them to call off their sit-in in parliament to enable him to reopen talks with the Guardian Council. This is, in my view, a good call. The Guardian Council has never had any intentions of reaching any form of meaningful accomodation with Liberals.

Why do the BBC persist in talking about 'Reformists'? It is clear that Khatami's faction is completely spineless and idelologically meaningless - it is those more radical than Khatami who are making the running now, through the sit-in and elswhere.

So if turnout in February's elections were to be as high as now seems to be expected after the Bam tragedy, and if Liberals (or, if they're all blocked from standing, spoiled votes) do particularly well, what's the betting that the Islamic Republic will be in deep trouble by March?

Interesting Article on Âlevis 

David Zeidan, and Israeli Messianic Jew living in England, has written probably the best article on Âlevis Islam I have ever seen in English. What the hell is Âlevi Islam I hear you ask! Âlevism is a branch of Shi'a Islam, native to Central and Eastern Turkey - it has a close theological relationship with the Alawites of Syria and Lebanon (the denomination of the al-Assad family), the Ali Ilahis in Iran and some of the more heterodox Shi'ite sects of Azerbaijan. While certainly Shi'a in its core, it contains numerous elements of clear Christian and pagan antecedence.

Âlevis make up somewhere between 20-30% of the Turkish population, yet their existence is not officially acknowledged, with most Western observers preferring to repeat the trite fiction that '99% of the Turkish population is Sunni Muslim'. Yeah, right.

Weaknesses of the article: it ends in the mid-90s, and therefore misses the PKK cease-fire and the continued Âlevi revival both among the diaspora and in Turkey; I think he rather overplays the extent of official Islamicisation during the '80s and doesn't mention the rôle of American in encouraging in (it's always worth reminding Americans of their rôle in creating contemporary Islamic fundamentalism); finally it is written from an expressly Christian and evangelistic viewpoint rather than a detached one. Then again, he doesn't pretend otherwise and this doesn't detract from the lucidity of his analysis.


John Schindeldecker has also written an interesting an long article in English on contemporary Âlevism. To surf to it (awkward - confound that damned javascript!) click on this link, then on 'Alevilik' on the left-hand bar, then on the link which magically appears below saying 'Turkish_Alevis Today'. Schindeldecker is a little less comprehensive, but better at presenting the atmosphere and sheer diversity of Âlevi belief.

Âlevis have usually played a key rôle among liberal and pluralist elements of Turkish society.

The London Cemevi has a website, sadly riddled with broken links!

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Christians rebuild in Turkey's South East 

Shlomo and Bshayna! I've just spotted Rev'd Stephen Griffith's 2003 report on the situation of the Christians of the Tür Abdin plateau in South-Eastern Turkey. It confirms the hopeful situation I found there in November. Some of his reports from the late '90s (available via the same link) make depressing reading.

Certainly for those of you who take your view of Christianity in South-Eastern Turkey from William Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain (now, remember 10 years old) it makes for optimistic and uplifting reading. The interesting thing is the position of the diaspora - while contributing enormously, both in financial and human terms, to the rebuilding of the shattered communities of the Tür Abdin, diasporas tend to be more defensive of communities in the homeland of national 'purity', particularly in later generations. Certainly the campaign to have the 'Sayfo' recognised as a genocide reminds be an awful lot of Irish-American attitudes to the famine.

Turkey to ship water to Israel 

The Guardian has an interesting article on water politics in the Middle East, in the context of Turkey's recent agreement to ship water to Israel. It also examines the rôle of water politics in the continuing Israel-Palestine conflict. An interesting demonstration of how Turkey's moderately Islamist AKP government has no intentions of weakening Turkey's special relationship with Israel.

It would be interesting to know what Syria thinks of all this. The recent thaw in relations with Ankara notwithstanding, Damascus has hardly been happy with the Turkish damming of the Upper Tigris and Euphrates as part of the South-East Anatolia Project.

Property prices - up or down? 

OK, so it's boring and bourgeois, but it happens to be rather important to me: are property prices going to go up or down in 2004. ODPM's house price survey - based on sales completed rather than mortgages awarded - showed a drop in house prices across the UK in November 2003.

I love this article on findaproperty.co.uk - "The consensus view, promoted by property market insiders (lenders, agents etc), is contested by the independent analyst Roger Bootle of Capital Economics" - i.e. those with a stand to make lots of money if prices rise think they will, those without vested interests think they'll fall. Who would you trust?

Anyone else think the mortgage lenders and estate agents have been talking up the market to suit themselves for years? Higher prices means higher commission on sales and higher interest repayments on mortgages.

My favourite piece of double-speak comes from Andy Gray of the Woolwich - "Consumers clearly believe that 2004 will be a much more stable year for house prices than previous years. The massive fluctuations we have seen are beginning to even out as inflation drops in line with consumer confidence in the economy as a whole. "

The number of times the English languages is twisted like a WWF wrestler here is amazing. We haven't seen any fluctuations in recent years, just unsustainable rises; if consumer confidence is growing why is the rate of increase in house prices slowing down?; consumers believe 2004 will be more 'stable' than previous years, does that mean they believe there will be no house price gains this year.

Other lenders point to economic 'fundamentals' holding up the property market, while chosing to ignore fundamentals that don't suit them, such as record levels of personal indebtedness, the collapse of rental yields in the South East and the virtual disappearance of first-time buyers from the market over large swathes of the South and Midlands. And ignoring the biggest fundamental of them all - the value cycle of assets tends to overshoot at the top and undershoot at the bottom.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Peter Grimes woos the critics! 

The LSO's current concert production of Peter Grimes gets good reviews in both the Times and the Guardian - both approving of Colin Davis' intensity, and, according to the Guardian, ability to bring out the essential violence of the score.

This is just as well as that's where I'm going now!

So you think you have troubles... 

A six-week old but interesting Gurdian article on Mehmet Ergen, an Turkish theatre director based in London who has recently opened a Turkish translation of bloody the Lieutenant of Inishmore in Istanbul. Martin McDonagh's black comedy attacks terrorism and tolerance of it, particuarly the traditional Irish tolerance of it.

Bizarrely, Ergen was in Istanbul for rehearsals when the bombings happened, one of them, the British Consulate bombing, in the heart of Istanbul Theatreland.

It opened at the Kenterler in mid-December. I'll try and track down some reviews in the Turkish press. I also must try and see something at his East London Arcola Theatre - I hadn't heard of it as such before, although I had heard good things about their production of Crime and Punishment in Dalston.

Can't beat up Catholics? Beat up ethnics instead! 

The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and the News Letter have all noticed the depressing erruption of racist attacks in Belfast. Angelique Chrisafis of the Guardian naively asks when the Loyalist paramilitaries are going to make a statement or even a 'move' (which judging from the context means a few punishment beatings) against the attackers. This is sadly typical of the guff we've had to put up with from eulogising left-wing journalists ever since David Ervine learned to spell. As the Daily Telegraph notes, the UVF have been actively involved in threatening estate agents who let to ethnic minority tenants.

Dr James Uhomoibhi, an African community leader in Northern Ireland says that racism has risen as 'the issue of sectarianism has largely been removed'. Sadly, I have to disagree with him - sectarianism and racism can exist side by side, fed by the same hatred of 'otherness'.

Personally I don't buy into this guff about educating people to be tolerant. Everybody, even overt racists, knows that racism is wrong. The real problem here is that racist attacks, like sectarian and paramilitary attacks in Northern Ireland, rarely go punished. A few exemplary sentences would go much further to stop these attacks than any amount of 'information fun days'. Has anyone ever been arrested, let alone convicted, for years worth of initimidation of Catholic students and nurses in The Village? Having, as a society, given the green light to sectarian attacks, we can hardly be surprised that thugs feel free to carry out racist attacks.

Victory for Ulster! Victory for a secular society! 

To start with some random gloating - Ulster walloped Leicester 33-0 in yesterday's Heineken European Cup Rugby match in Belfast.

Even better news was the response to the match being scheduled on a Sunday. The Irish Times reports that in contrast to a sell-out 12,000 crowd inside, a derisory number of Free Presbyterian fundamentalists protested outside at the breaking on the 'sabbath'. Rugby has traditionally been a largely Protestant game in Northern Ireland, and yesterday marked the death of sabbatarianism as much as anything else.

The Belfast Telegraph saw this, and last week's North of England Education Conference held in Belfast as signs of a city transformed, albeit not completely. In large part this is true, but the recent spate of violent racist attacks and a population as segregated as ever shows that prosperity can exist alongside hatred, both ancient and modern.

Erdoğan to visit Washington 

The Guardian, unusually, devotes a leader to Turkish affairs: specifically to Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's upcoming visit to Washington.

It said very little of substance, other than the usual snide implication that Cyprus is all Turkey's fault really, but the very fact it what there was more interesting, demonstrating Turkey's massive geo-strategic importance at present.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

You are vile so I will take your grave... 

A bit dated now, but 28 Days Later was definitely the film of Christmas for this very, very, occasional film watcher (my usual attention span for the moving image is about 10 minutes). All the more relevant as male lead Jim (played by the boyishly-sexy Cillian Murphy) is a London-Irish cycle courier. Spiked, as usual, produced the goods with this interesting (and 14 months old) article.

The early shots of an empty London are some of the best location shoots I have ever seen, and there some good thriller bits - the Blackwall Tunnell wheel change, for example.

The soundtrack was also excellent - the In Paradisum from Fauré's Requiem as Manchester lies burning in the distance was seriously effective.

The end scene in the army base was a bit too much of a testosterone filled slug fight for me. Besides, if these soldiers had managed to get electricity going, then surely they could have fired up a Medium Wave radio and picked up broadcasts from the rest of Europe apparently unaffected by the Rage virus? In fact that goes for the rest of them - put a few batteries in a Medium Wave radio and you can pick up broadcasts from Russia to Morocco after dark. A wee bit of French or German and you'd know Britain is in quarantine, stock up on supplies and barricade your self in your flat like Frank and Hannah until it all passed over...

I suppose films like this are all about suspending disbilief for a while though.

Honourable mention must go to Village of the Damned, a superbly low budget 1960 British film adaptation of John Wyndham's the Midwich Cuckoos which was on Sci-Fi channel late on Sunday night. Given the budget constraints, it's actually a very well done Invasion of the Body Snatchers type thriller, with some serious quality actors (George Sanders and Laurence Naismith) doing some serious quality acting. The great thing, however, is how wonderfully plummy the whole thing is. Anyone of any consequence has a cut-glass RP äccént, including the wonderfully spooky and immaculately groomed mutant children with their hypnotising stares and prep school uniforms. The hero of the film is a Professor and local squire, with the Doctor and Vicar in despatches. The southern-country accented villagers are the same as the red uniformed dudes in Star Trek, fit only to be hypnotised or impregnated by strange alien space rays.

I'm making this film sound worse than it is - it is actually a very good thriller, and worth a look if you get a chance.

Assad's state visit to Turkey 

Good news from the Middle East comes rarely and gets less news coverage, but Bashar Assad's state visit to Turkey, the first ever to Turkey by a Syrian head of state, really is historic. Turkey and Syria have been at daggers drawn pretty much since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, and only 6 years ago came close to war over Syrian assistance to the PKK.

Syria provided prompt and effective help to Turkey in the investigation into November's Istanbul bomings, including the extradition of 22 suspects. The thaw in Turko-Syrian relations leaves Turkey as the only regional power enjoying cordial relations with both Syria and Israel. Given the general state of disorder in the Middle East, this can only be A Good Thing.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated! 

Apologies for neglecting this blog for the past fortnight. I have had very limited internet access while I've been away.

I did manage to get my bike pedals detached and on the plane - thanks to the folks at BMI and their usual quality service.

Cycling in Belfast isn't so different from cycling in London, except it's hillier in Belfast and there are less of us about. Just like London we have signposted cycle lanes in Belfast which end in the most dangerous place conceivable (like the on pavement permission on Queen Elizabeth Bridge), and others which have not been redone after
major rearrangement of road traffic (like the one on High Street). Just like London, many look like they've been done by road engineers who've never been on a bicycle since they were kids.

Congrats to all, however, on the very nice cycle facilities on Ormeau Embankment/Stranmillis Embankment.

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