Sunday, February 29, 2004

The moral maze 

Check out my Morality! 74% liberal, 26% conservative

Only 74% liberal! Pah! A very American test, which in a very American way conflates 'liberal' with 'socialist'.

Also note how the graphs at the top don't quite add up. The personality test has me summed up pretty well though.

And as for music:

My Music Personality

And best of all - I'm 91% freak!! - although I prefer to say unique!

Net censorship stepped up in Iran. 

Both Potestas and Hossein Derakhshan report stepped up net censorship in Iran since last weekend's elections.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Neck and neck in Hamburg 

For all of you who are interested in elections as a purely spectator sport, this Sunday’s State Elections in Hamburg promise to be a classic. Today’s opinion poll from Forsa in Stern magazine showing 44% for the Christian Democrats, 30% for the Socialists and 14% for the Greens – in other words neck and neck with two days to go!

Hamburg is traditionally strong for the Left. Apart from its known Alternative-Anarchist scene, mainstream Reds and Greens have always polled well here – a massive 58.2% between them in 2002’s Federal Elections. 16.2% of this came from the Greens, their largest vote in all of Germany. In ordinary circumstances Hamburg should be a banker for a red-green coalition.

However, these are not normal circumstances. Gerhard Schröder’s red-green Federal Government – or at least its red component – is in deep trouble, with poll numbers somewhere below the cellar. Although German voters are generally canny at differentiating State and Federal politics, there will undoubtedly be an anti-Schröder protest effect.

Local circumstances in Hamburg are even more unique. Run by Social Democrat Mayors in one shape or another since 1957, the City had previously played host to ephemeral political movements when the bizarre STATT (tr. instead of) Party briefly broke into the Bürgerschaft in 1991. Set up specifically as a repository for protest votes, STATT had no policy platform and unsurprisingly collapsed in disarray within a year or so.

This prefigured the astonishing 2001 elections. Hardline local judge Roland Schill was forced to resign from the judiciary in 2000 after some rather injudicious comments on immigrants and crime. Following his resignation, he announced he would run a ticket for the next year’s State parliament elections. Running on an anti-immigration and law and order platform, Schill’s PRO (hard to translate, roughly Party for a Justice System Offensive) polled a smidgen under 20% of the vote and briefly set German politics alight, entering a State coalition government led by the Christian Democrats, who were barely the larger party, and involving the allegedly liberal FDP. Schill was named Minsiter of the Interior, the position he had coveted.

However, like most parties centred on an individual, the PRO couldn’t survive the weight of Schill’s ego, and nor could the coalition. By the early part of last year, liberal CDU Mayor von Beust had had enough of Schill’s grandstanding and sacked him from the Cabinet, splitting the PRO in the process. Schill has now linked up with an anti-Euro party, but neither it, the Liberals, nor the remnants of the PRO look like making it back into the State parliament.

Ole von Beust, incumbent Mayor, is from the left of the CDU – in a more Catholic part of Germany he’d probably be known as a Herz Jesu Sozialist (Sacred Heart Socialist). Von Beust refuses to come out about his private life, but it’s hardly a secret that he’s gay, along with a number of more open senior Hamburg Christian Democrats, much to the amusement of the German press. Von Beust is also the only senior Christian Democrat to have come out publicly against the party line of opposing Turkish membership of the EU – an astute move in a State with a big Turko-German vote. He’s also articulate, good on TV and is distinguishedly handsome, and a rather a competent administrator to boot.

All this adds up to a winning ticket in socially liberal, multi-cultural Hamburg. If the polls are right, the CDU are heading for an all-time record vote for the State and von Beust leads his Socialist opponent, Thomas Mirow by 18% in the personality polls. But, ironically, it still might not be enough to win.

Mirow is a decent, technocratic, political journeyman who was once an intern for Willy Brandt. Without meaning to be cruel, he looks like the sort of man you would want to do your accounts for you – he can’t quite shake the look of the hobbit about him. Mirow also miscalculated by refusing a head to head TV debate with von Beust. On the other hand, Hamburg is still basically Red country and Mirow will have a solid party loyalist vote to draw from. Moreover, the Greens, in contrast to the Socialists, are polling well at Federal level. Hamburg is a Green stronghold and they will poll well enough under leading candidate Christa Goetsch to keep Mirow in with a shout.

Results should start coming in from about 6 pm UK time. election.de will have their usual excellent coverage, NDR are the local broadcaster, and Deutsche Welle’s English service will help those of you who don’t speak Foreign.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Nicaragua and the nature of language 

The Economist has an article on what the spontaneous development of a sign language among deaf people in Nicaragua can tell us about the nature of language. (subs not required for this article)

The language began to develop among pupils at a school for deaf children in the late 1970s. Older speakers, who learned an older form of the language, cannot learn to communicate with the same subtlety and differentiation as today's children. This reminds me of the difference between the pidgin of the first generation of a community without a common language, and the creole which their children fashion.

However, they make too much of the fact that
The order the signs come in is important. It is also different from the order of words in either English or Chinese. But it is the same, for a given set of signs and meanings, in both America and Taiwan.

Curiously enough, the signs produced by children in Spain and Turkey, whom Dr Goldin-Meadow is also studying, while similar to each other, differ from those that American and Taiwanese children produce. Dr Goldin-Meadow is not certain why that is.


This doesn't imply very much - English has a very similar word order to Chinese although they are linguistically unrelated, while French, a close cousin of English, has quite different word order.

Also, just as onomatopoeic words are the same in many spoken languages, so there must be a certain subset of deaf vocabulary - relating to a physical action, for example - where the sign chosen must be obvious.

Affirming Catholicism update 

The Affirming Catholicism website has just been updated, and included a link to this blog! Thank you!

Macedonia's Methodist President dies 

Finally, Macedonian President Boris Trajikovsky has died in a plane crash over Bosnia, ironically on the day Macedonia was to submit its application for EU membership. This is a tragedy for one of Europe's poorest countries - Trajkovski was a stabilising force through some very difficult times in the South-West Balkans. Trajkovski was a Methodist Lay Reader - in a country with only a few thousand Methodists. He was also a personal friend of Nicholas Whyte's.

Turkish and Romanian accession - better news from Commission 

EU Observer carries reports from the Turkish press that EU Expansion Commissioner, Güntter Verheugen, believes that Ankara can meet the Copenahgen Criteria , although the commission is backpedalling on this. An opinion poll in Germany showed 38% in favour of Turkish membership with 57% against. According to yesterday's Frankfurt Allegemeine Edmund Stoiber, CSU leader and defeated candidate for Chancellor in 2002, has come out against Romania and Bulgaria joining the Union in 2007. The German right seem determined to lock themselves into "Festung Westeuropa". Sorry I can't link to this story as I read the FAZ print edition and the electronic archive needs subscriptions.

Better news for Romania from the Commission, however, who have reiterated that Romania can join the EU in 2007 if they accelerate their domestic reform process. This follows last week's European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee vote asking for accession negotiations with Romania to be reviewed. Personally, I've always thought that Romanian accession by 2007 would be a tall order, but here's hoping the Romanians can up their game.

A very politicised patriarch 

It's the done thing - and has been for a long time - for Anglo-Catholics to rave about the wonders of the Orthodox Church. I've never been quite so convinced. While there is undoubtedly a wonderful reservoir of prayer and spirituality in the Orthodox Churches, there's also an undercurrent, and sometimes a surface current, of ugly racist, woman hating ultra-nationalism there. Of course you can't judge 200 million people by their ugly fringe - as an Anglican I wouldn't want to be judged by the standards of Peter Jensen or Peter Akinola myself.

However, this 'sermon' from the Metropolitan of Athens really did get my blood boiling. According to Ekathimerini:
Dismissing the United Nations blueprint for the reunification of Cyprus as a bid to “de-Hellenize” the island, the head of Greece’s Orthodox Church on Sunday urged an Athens congregation to engage in frenzied prayers against the peace deal.

[...]

In December, the archbishop came under heavy criticism for calling the Turks “barbarians” with no place in Europe, which he described as “the family of Christians.”


Hardly the language of a servant of Christ, is it? If anything goes wrong on Cyprus, it's always the Turks who get blamed for being backwards and intransigent. But at the risk of stating the obvious, it takes two to tango.

I found this via Changing Trains, an excellent new South Cyprus-based weblog. Thanks a lot, lads, and keep up the good work.

War on Terror - update 

The Eyeranian has a hilariously selective series of quotes from US government officials on the 'success' of the war on terror. Example:
Q - Are you saying that Al-Qaeda has in fact weakened or is even wiped out?

A - "Al-Qaida has spread its radical agenda to other groups that now pose the leading threat to the United States"..."dozens of smaller Islamic extremist organizations with ties to al-Qaida have emerged"


Fear and authoritarianism in West London 

Mick Hume writes in The Times on the absurdities and dangers of a society which drafts authoritarian laws but is too afraid to enforce them.

Some bedtime reading for Mr. Blunkett, perhaps?

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Clerk of the closet? 

It's always been a nasty Anglo-Catholic in joke to refer to particularly camp clergy as 'Chaplain to the Closet'. So imagine my amazement, when browsing the Diocese of Derby website (of all things), to find that an official post of 'Clerk to the Closet of Her Majesty the Queen' actually exists. (If you click the link - it's the 11th question down the list) The current holder of the post is the Bishop of Derby - and he's a married man as well!

My republican mind boggles as to what this post actually entails in practice. I knew that the royal family always attracted a certain type of gentleman, who despite being obviously gay, liked to keep it all quiet. Having a whole closet of them, hoever, and an offical chaplain is staggering!

I am I, Robot 

At last an online quiz which gives me an answer that's appropriate:




You're I, Robot!

by Isaac Asimov

While you have established a code of conduct for many generations to
follow, your demeanor is rather cold and calculating. Brought up to serve humans, you
have promised never to harm them, to follow orders, and to protect yourself. Living up
to this code has proved challenging and sometimes even drives you mad. If you were a
type of paper, you would be pulp.



Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.



How did they know I'm an Asimov fan? Still and all, The Robots of Dawn is the best of the Robot books.

Abbey ashing 

I've just come back from Mass and Imposition of Ashes at Westminster Abbey - yes, you atheists, it's Ash Wednesday today!

I'm relieved that the Dean makes a relievingly large and recognisable cross on your forehead - rather than the embarassed little scratching one is so accustomed to in the South East of England.


Support for EU falls below 50% 

The proportion of those in the existing 15 member states believing their country's membership of the EU is a good thing has fallen below 50% according to a Eurobarometer poll.

One would think that the Commission and those pushing for a two-speed Europe might take stock of results like this and ask themselves how they can start reconnecting with ordinary Europeans. But that would mean coming out of their protected Euro-élite ivory towers, and talking to voters as adults and co-determinants of Europe's future. Sadly for those of us who believe in the European ideal, there's as much chance of that happening as Geogre Bush taking his summer holidays in the Dordogne.

McShane: only the mad, bad or stupid want to stop Turkey joining the EU 

UK Minister for Europe, Dennis McShane, writes in the Spectator on why Turkish accession would be good for the EU. Those friendly to Turkish accession must take the battle to where it is most difficult, he says - the geographical and intellectual heartlands of the German and French right.

Particularly perceptive was the comment that:
To be in Istanbul or Izmir today is to be in no doubt that one is in a modern, bustling, energetic European city. One million Brits visit Turkey each year, and its western coast on the Aegean Sea has the feel of Andalusia or California — a mix of blue skies, blue water and a restless economic energy.
Of course Izmir is a culturally long way from, say, Van or Erzurum, but even in the East few Turks doubt their own European-ness.

EU asylum claims tail off 

The UNHCR reports a dramatic fall in the number of people seeking asylum in EU countries in 2003, although a significant rise in the 10 acceeding states.

There has been a particularly dramatic fall in the number of citizens of raq, Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia seeking asylum. Is the great migratory wave which resulted from the collapse of Communism - both the former Soviet bloc and the Middle East - subsiding?

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Race, common culture and immigration 

The Guardian reprints David Goodhart’s article on the tensions between maintaining a welfare-state and diversity. Overall a powerful and stimulating piece, but I would take issue with it on a number of points:And why does he pick on the Slovenes, the richest people in the 10 accession countries, as likely migrants for badly paid manual work? He obviously knows very little about Eastern Europe. If I could speak Slovene, I would seriously consider going there to live. It has a much better quality of life than Britain.

Oi fatso! 

Researchers in Leeds have found, yet again, that children are fatter than a generation ago. This has been clearly established time after time, so why is public money being wasted in confirming what we already know? Also what validity does a survey with a paltry sample size of 315 have?

More to the point, we also have spiralling rates of anorexia and bulimia in teenage girls, so is fat hysteria necessarily a sensible course of action? Especially when the BBC irresponsibly tack a picture of a humongously fat teenage girl in a bathing costume on to the story. Really responsible journalism, lads, congratulations.

The Ayatollah Blogs 

Iranian vice-president, Mohammad Ali Abtabi, has a blog in English (and Farsi and Arabic as well). I wonder if he writes the English bit himself or gets it translated from Farsi for him.

More Smoke and Mirrors 

Australian researchers have found that the level of environmental smoke in non-smoking areas of pubs and restaurants was 50% lower than elsewhere, but not eliminated entirely. This is, they claim, because ‘smoke drifts’ something humans have known since the dawn of time and scientifically able to explain since the 17th Century.

Of course, as the health effects of second-hand smoke are far from proven (see for example here and here, the public health implications of this study aren’t exactly obvious.

In their report, the BBC carry two anti-smoking commentators, both of whom claim that this demonstrates the need to ban smoking in pubs and restaurants. Despite the fact that this is an issue of key importance to the hospitality trade, they carry no comment from the hospitality industry associations. Which hardly meets the BBC’s obligations to be impartial.

If you want to complain to the BBC about this bias in their coverage – and I already have – you can contact the Programme Complaints Unit via an online form.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Lancet lanced! 

I have always had an animus against The Lancet since they proposed making all tobacco products illegal. This struck me, apart from being personally inconvenient, as a classic demonstration of how medics have become so obsessed by extending ‘years of life’, that they become completely blind to the quality of that life, or the social and cultural implications of what they propose. I’ve therefore enjoyed watching them squirm over their unwise decision to publish Andrew Wakefield’s ‘study’ linking the MMR vaccine to autism.

Via Jackie D I was alerted to a fantastically bitchy article on the subject by Theodore Dalrymple in The Telegraph, with fantastic lines like:
”The reason that there will be rejoicing at the egg on The Lancet's face is that the tone of its editorial commentary is so unrelentingly sanctimonious that it makes the late Ayatollah Khomeini seem positively broadminded. Its piety is, however, without the excuse of religious belief. Relentlessly castigating the pharmaceutical companies for their venality, lecturing the medical profession upon its duty to the Third World, and adopting as its own every tenet of political correctness while brooking no debate, it has been well and truly caught with its trousers down. The research about MMR and autism that it now wishes it had never published started a health scare that might have done real damage to the public health about which it has been hectoring us poor doctors for years.”
It hasn’t just been hectoring you doctors, Theodore, it’s been hectoring us poor taxpayers who fund the NHS and keep you lot in work!

But there was better, and more serious to come:
”Health scares in our societies are created by arcane statistical associations, or alleged associations, between one thing and another: for example, the connection between eating green potatoes and spina bifida.”
Last month’s smoked salmon scare was a classic of this genre – a small scale study with methodological flaws, producing statistically insignificant results being blown out of all proportion by the media. You’ll remember that eating smoked salmon more than once a month was supposed to be bad for us, because of dioxin and PCB concentrations in farmed salmon. Of course, the authors of the study hadn’t actually bothered to look at whether or not this had any effect whatsoever on human health, and plucked a one a month figure out of the air because it sounded impressive.

Perhaps the most important thing Dalrympe had to say was:
”a population that has no transcendental or religious belief views death and disease as the evil of evils. It is therefore surpassingly easy to panic.”
This has hit a very important nail on the head. We don’t really believe in fate or karma, or the capriciousness of the gods anymore. Most of us don’t believe in anything after death. And most of us live very long, very healthy, very wealthy lives. Few of us, thank God, have experience of a baby child, or a baby brother or sister dying. Therefore if you die young, it’s a much more serious thing than it was to any previous human society. While it’s a natural and vital human instinct to always look for bigger and better, in the case of health might it not do us all a lot of good to settle down for a while and enjoy the fruits of our labours?

Bloggers blocked in Tehrān 

Potestas is one of many young Iranians who began blogging during the recent election campaign. Unusually, (s)he blogs in English. He reports Iranian web-surfers experiencing widespread interference since the election:
more and more websites are blocked.even those ISP's who were free of filters are now filtering.every website of hossein derakhshan are filtered.even proxies are filtered and one cant reach to them.we need more proxies.you anyone?
Of course, Iran theoretically has an open Internet policy, but theory and practice are diverging more and more as Iran's panicky hardliners try and re-exert control. Any of you techie people out there able to help?

The Hossein Derakhshan blog referred to above is absolutely first rate.

Disputes and Violence Follow Iran Poll 

A dispute has broken out over the turnout in last weekend’s Iranian parliamentary election, with the Reformist led Ministry of the Interior claiming a turnout of 51%, and the Conservative Council of Guardians saying the turnout is in the high fifties. In some ways it’s fairly irrelevant – either result is a big slap in the face for liberals encouraging a mass boycott after the religious authorities disqualified 2,500 candidates.

I think the Liberals got their tactics wrong. It’s always hard to convince people not to use a hard won right to vote – especially in a fairly repressive state where one’s identity card is marked with a stamp if one votes. The reformers would have been better off encouraging people to spoil their votes – you get the pretty stamp, and no-one can pretend your rejection of the political system is just apathy. Still, hopefully they’ll learn from this election and be better prepared for next year’s Presidentials.

It’s obvious that people do care deeply about the future of Iran – in small town Central Iran, eight people were killed in post-election protests. The liberals need to learn how to turn this passion and anger into subverting the electoral system.

So round 67 in the great culture wars actually goes to the bloke with the burqa and the lash – but I’m still convinced Nokia and McDonald’s will make a big comeback in the next one! And I’m still convinced the most likely way this régime will go is through an internal crisis of legitimacy.

Schröder Visit to Turkey 

Much press on Gerhard Schöder’s visit to Turkey, the first by a German Chancellor since 1993.

Of particular interest is a piece from the English-language edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Weekly on the two century old ties between Germany and Turkey.

Süddeutsche Zeitung (in German) and Hürriyet (in Turkish) both note Schröder’s warm words on Turkish accession. Turkish Press (in English) quotes Shröder as saying that Turkey can rely on Germany’s support for accession.

In terms of German domestic politics, the Turkey issue is beginning to cut across party lines. Säddeutsche notes that Germany’s Federal President, Social Democrat Johannes Rau, has described himself as ”always more sceptical” than colleagues about Turkish accession, and has claimed that is might take many years. On the other hand, Ole von Beust, likely Christian Democrat winner of next Sunday’s Land elections in Hamburg has commented that, ”Turkey must of course have the option of acceding to the EU.”

I also found this rather simplistic, but essentially accurate, article in English of Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel’s earlier visit to Turkey from The Times.

Northern Ireland Truth and Reconciliation Commission 

There is much talk on Slugger O’Toole at present on the possibility of a South African style Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Northern Ireland.

At one time I was quite keen on the idea of a Northern Ireland TRC, but like I suspect a lot of other people, the Bloody Sunday enquiry has rather put me off the idea. None of our belligerents are willing to commit themselves to anything like full disclosure. In our context it would more likely be a self-promotion and propaganda commission, and possibly a useful unemployment scheme for highly paid barristers feeling the loss of Criminal Bar work since the various ceasefires.

In any case the limits of South Africa’s TRC are becoming more and more apparent. In this week’s Economist, Desmond Tutu derides the paltry levels of compensation available to victims, while some police and soldiers judged not to have disclosed fully enough are being arrested for apartheid-era crimes. Neither of which is in the spirit the TRC was set up in. (Sorry, the article is subscription only.)

Sunday, February 22, 2004

More online quiz fun... 

Ah, the wonders of internet. Firstly, I am not half as geeky as I though I was:

You are 43% geek
You are a geek liaison, which means you go both ways. You can hang out with normal people or you can hang out with geeks which means you often have geeks as friends and/or have a job where you have to mediate between geeks and normal people. This is an important role and one of which you should be proud. In fact, you can make a good deal of money as a translator.

Normal: Tell our geek we need him to work this weekend.


You [to Geek]: We need more than that, Scotty. You'll have to stay until you can squeeze more outta them engines!


Geek [to You]: I'm givin' her all she's got, Captain, but we need more dilithium crystals!


You [to Normal]: He wants to know if he gets overtime.

Take the Polygeek Quiz at Thudfactor.com



OK, OK, the test probably wasn't callibrated right.

And I have visited the following parts of Great Britain:

County map
I've visited the counties in yellow.
Which counties have you visited?

made by marnanel
map reproduced from Ordnance Survey map data
by permission of the Ordnance Survey.
© Crown copyright 2001.



Westminster cycling news 

Latest from the Westminster Cycling Campaign.

The proposals around Green Park/St. James's Park, which I use every day on the way to work, are the most interesting. I fail to see why the Hyde Park to Lambeth Bridge route has to take such a long detour - right along The Mall, then down Horseguards Road, especially whn both roads are perfectly pleasant and safe to cycle on anyway. I can understand why they want to divert cycle traffic away from busy Buckingham Gate and Artillery Row. However, off the top of my head that route would be about a mile and half shorter than the route they propose and I would almost certainly continue to use it.

The proposal to close part of the complex Buckingham Palace intersection is a good idea though. This is much more capacity than it needs, is confusing to cyclists and drivers alike and could even result in needing less delays at traffic lights around the Palace. It would also lessen the (currently high) possibility of tourists becoming roadkill around there.

Lots of feasibility studies underway across the City - always a useful substitute for action!

The cycle lane up the central reservation of Park Lane is the most interesting proposal, especially if combined with route through the middle of Marble Arch and on to Great Cumberland Place. This would take commuter cycle traffic away from the busy Broad Walk in Hyde Park, where tourists constantly fail to respect the cycleway and end up getting flattened for their pains!

I'm less convinced of the benefits of allowing cycling on the Chelsea Bridge footways. They already to this on the Wandsworth side of the river along Queenstown Road. As I remember from my days communting in from Tooting, the footway is unsuitable for cyclists, badly maintained, and results in constant conflicts with pedestrians and motorists turning into/out of side roads.

Silly hysterical story of the day... 

The Observer runs a story on a leaked Pentagon paper suggesting that climate change is a bigger threat to US national security than terrorism. Now, don't get me wrong, I agree that climate change is a serious issue. I agree the world, especially rich countries, and even more especially the USA has a responsibility to reduce the production of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. I agree the ripping up of the Kyoto Treaty and the environmental policy of the Bush administration more generally is silly, shortsighted and wrong.

Notwithstanding that, there are a number of big problems with this story.

Now I haven't seen the report, but anyone claiming that Britain will have a Siberian style climate in 16 years time is, to give them the benefit of the doubt, pushing the absolute envelope of worst case scenarios from a small, and selective, number of computer climate modelling techniques to their absolute limits. To not give them the benefit of the doubt, these blokes are obviously nuts. It may feel like Siberia in London today, and it may have been 38 degrees one day last Summer, but there really is no evidence at all for climate change on that scale even in the long term, let alone in the next 16 years.

Secondly, the report also apparently claims that "the planet is carrying a higher population than it can sustain." Yawn! People have been coming out with that sort of rubbish since Malthus. The planet can easily feed and water 6 or 7 billion people. Birth rates are falling across the world very rapidly indeed and the planet's population is likely to peak at a much lower level than we were all brought up to think. Yes, we have famine, drought and desperate poverty in the world. This isn't because we don't have enough resources, but because they are distributed unequally and inefficiently.

Finally, why compare this with terrorism? If we're going to be really dispassionate about this, even in 2001 the number of people killed due to terrorism in the USA was vastly less than the number who died from car crashes, industrial accidents or gunshot wounds. The only reason you compare this with terrorism is because you know the Bush administration care a lot about terrorism. It's one of the few things they care about more than their former colleagues in the oil industry. Wittering on about terrorism is a sure fire way of getting the American government's ear.

Perhaps some people think the ends justify the means, and if this gets Bush to take climate change a bit more seriously, it's fair enough. The trouble is that oil industry scientists and lobbyists will laugh such a hysterically speculative and unscientific piece out of court. And in the long term this only damages the environmental case.

Sadly, you can count on the Observer to latch on to even the silliest piece of deep-Green propaganda.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Why the SDLP are finished 

22 year-old Sharon Haughey is undobutedly a bright young thing of the SDLP. But her article in yesterday's Irish News (thanks to the NewsHound) demonstrates why the SDLP are finished. There's not a single concrete policy proposal in it, not a single good reason to vote for the SDLP. Just a lot of rhetoric about being strong and rejuvinating tired minds and bodies, and building a New Ireland where everybody hugs one another and plays ring-a-ring-a-rosie round the gorse bushes.

If all you can say is that you want a new Ireland where everyone is nice, there's no point in your existence. How is this different from Sinn Féin's rhetoric? Frankly, these days, how is it different from the DUP's rhetoric?

The article reminds me a bit of Howard Dean's post-Iowa Caucus speech without, of course, the scream. The sooner the SDLP merge with Fianna Fáil or wind themselves up the better, especially when their silly attempts to look greener than the Shinners - like refusing to talk to the DUP - damage the prospects of finding an early settlement to our internal problems.

Anti-Americanism a universal phenomenon 

Martians respond to the landing of American Spirit.

Why the EU musn't shaft Turkey after a Cyprus deal 

Excellent article from Uğur Akıncı from Turkish Torque on why it would be a really bad idea for all of us if Turkey helps ram through a Cyprus deal, then gets shafted by EU.

As a secular, gay, leftie, Christian I would never have imagined supporting the AKP in the past, but as Uğur points out the AKP are no retread fundamentalist party, and the Turkish left are retreating into populist flag-waving nonsense. As John Hume is oft quoted as saying, you can't eat a flag. If I were a Turk, I might even consider voting AKP in next months local elections, which is quite shocking coming from me!

Letter to Der Spiegel on Turkish Accession 

Wrote this letter to Der Spiegel in repsonse to an article on Angela Merkel's visit to Turkey:

Laut Angela Merkel ist die Opposition ihrer Partei zu einem Türkischen Beitritt der EU aufgründe der Zustand der Union. Aber die Kopenhagener Kriterien setzen die nötigen Bedienungen vor, Erweiterung mit EU-Stabilität durchzuführen. Aber Merkel stimmt auch zu daß die Türkei in Richtung erfüllung der Kopenhagener Beitrittskriterien schon „dramatische Fortschritte“ gemacht hat. Hier stimmt irgendwas nicht. Für Rumänien, das auch große Menschenrechtsprobleme und aüßerst große Wirtschaftsprobleme hat, spricht keiner von einer neokolonialistischen „priviligierte Partnerschaft“. Die Unionsparteien sollten mal endlich mit diesem Lügerei aufhören, und zugeben daß sie gegen einen Türkischen Beitritt der EU aus Islamfeindlichen gründen sei.

Diese Stellung ist unlogisch für einen älter werdend Kontinent, aber auch unlogisch vom geopolitischen Standpunkt. Es ist sicherlich viel sinnvoller eine regionale Großmacht im instabilen Nahost fest in der demokratischen Welt zu verankern, statt ein Christenklub „Festung Europa“ aufzubilden. Trotz Türkei-Gegner dies schädet die EU nicht, sonderes dadurch könnten Wir die Integrierung der Millionen Islamischen EU-Mitbürger die schon zusammen mit uns leben beibringen.


Or in feet and inches:

According to Angela Merkel, the opposition of her party to Turkish accession to the EU is on the grounds of the state of the Union. But the Copenagen Criteria set out the necessary criteria for carrying out expansion with EU stability. And Merkel also admits that Turkey has made "dramatic advances" towards fulfilling the Copenhagen Criteria. Something doesn't add up here. No one speaks of a neo-colonialist "privilleged partnership" for Romania, which also has large human rights problems and extremely large economic problems. The Christian Democrat parties should cut out their lying, and admit that they are opposed to Turkish accession to the EU on Islamophobic grounds.

This position is illogical for an ageing contintent, but also illogical from a geopolitical point of view. It is certainly more sensible to firmly anchor a regional great power in the unstable Middle East to the democratic world, rather than forming a Christian Club of "Fortress Europe". Contrary to Turkey-opponents this would not damage the EU, but rather through this we can bring about the integration of millions of Muslim EU fellow citizens, who already live among us.


Bet they don't publish it. I repeat myself too much and have made too many sloppy grammatical mistakes. Still, it's the most significant piece of German I've written since A-Levels.

Friday, February 20, 2004

SDLP phoenix from the ashes - no chance 

Mark Davenport explores prospects for the future, quoting one young activist who says it needs to rise like a "phoenix from the ashes". No chance. The SDLP has fulfilled its rôle in the political history of Northern Ireland and is well on its way to disappearing.

Kinnock to head British Council 

After he retires from the European Commission later this year, Neil Kinnock is to head the British Council, which sounds like a worthy sort of thing for a retired Socialist politician to do.

This presumably means Patten will remain the UK's sole Commissioner after expansion. Here's a wee thought: Romano Prodi, a Southern Socialist, is about to retire (or become Italian PM, as the case may be). Is his logical replacement a Northern Conservative. Like Chris Patten?

Gay Penguin for President 

I know American politics is in a bad state, but really, running a gay penguin for President is taking it a bit too far...

Iranian bloggers report boycott 

Thanks to Harry's Place for this link to the excellent IranFilter, translating excerpts of Persian blogs into English.

Bloggers seem to be reporting a very low turnout in today's Iranian parliamentary elections. They report that most voters are elderly - in one of the youngest countries in the world which has a voting age of 14 - and voting for Conservative candidates. This may be wishful thinking on their part, of course, and they seem only to be reporting morning voting. However as Friday is the day off in Iran, the evening rush concept won't apply. The BBC reports steady voting, but much slower than in previous elections.

Despite the fact that it's well after midnight in Iran, no results seem to have come in. I wonder do they count tomorrow rather than tonight.

There's a wonderful line in the BBC report:
Iranian state radio said voting was extended by several hours because of a high turnout.

You can bet that's a lie! If voting was extended by several hours, it was because the turnout had been dismal.

Addendum: Interesting article by Amir Tarehi in today's New York Post (of all things) found via the apalling Instapundit.

Tarehi claims that:
The key lesson to Iranians is that the alternative to this regime cannot emerge from within it. It is possible, and to some extent even happening now, that large segments of the establishment drift away from it. But, unless they are absorbed into an opposition, they will amount to nothing but flotsam and jetsam of a turbulent political life.


This specific point I disagree with. The interesting thing is what message this election sends to the régime. As Tarehi notes, the establishment is already fragmenting, including large chunks of the religious establishment. If this boycott is for real, it means more and more of the establishment are likely to drift off. The Revolutionary Guard are hardly that strongly pro-régime these days. The Council of Guardians can't run a country of 70 million with only the assistance of a subset of the country's mosques and an army of Old Age Pensioners, can it?

Like Eastern Europe's Communists, Iran's Islamic Revolutionaries started off as idealists - no matter how much might disagree with their ideals. The Revolution is clearly dead from the waist up now. Like, say the Polish Communists after Soldarity, the hope must be that they wake up one morning, and think to themselves, "Shit, we've failed. The country is corrupt, the economy is in a mess, the population spend a large part of their time thinking about how they can flout Shari'a law and all the young people hate us." Round 67 in the great ideological game to Nokia and McDonalds.

PS - cool pictures of Tehran road junctions at Tehran Traffic. Looks dead quiet there even if it is 1.30 a.m.!

Big Blunkett is Watching YOU! 

Nice to know that someone has set up a blog to keep an eye on our prison warder, sorry, I mean Home Secretary, David Blunkett. Big Blunkett reports when the former leader of the People's Republic of Sheffield wants to lock up asylum seekers, lock up people who have committed no crime, lock up teenagers if they dare to be out of the house after 9 p.m...

But if your ever in need of some Blunkett related light entertainment, the David Blunkett policy maker provides you with, "draconian rhetoric, when you want it."

My favourite policy was, "Jail everybody, and then lock them up."

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Cyprus - Now We're Talking! 

Important breakthroughs have occurred in the Cyprus peace talks in New York. Northern and Southern Cypriot leaders have accepted a three stage process leading to referenda in April. The two Cypriot governments will reconvene for talks in Nicosia on 19 February. Should they not reach a deal by 22 March (some chance), the Greek and Turkish governments will become involved. Any issues still unresolved by 29 March will be decided by Kofi Annan before the plans are put before the people. The provision allowing Annan to deceide unresolved issues is a courageous one from both sides.

One thing that worries me about the process is that if either part of the island votes against the deal, the Southern Cyprus is admitted to the EU and Northern Cyprus is not! Surely this a little unfair and bad tactics - where is the 'stick' to encourage Greek Cypriots to make compromises.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Serious talks on Cyprus 

While there are many big issues to be resolved, Denktaş and Papdapoulos are talking seriously in New York. It seems impossible for a Cyprus deal to be agreed in time for a referendum in April. However, in Northern Ireland, remeber that this time in 1998 Jeffrey Donaldson was pretending to be an action man by ripping up the joint declaration, Sinn Féin and the Loyalist paramilitary parties had been suspended from talks and a vicious sectarian murder campaign was under way. By April we had a deal.

Athens and Ankara both have big potential gains from a settlement, and politicians either side of the Green Line are having their necks breathed down by their traditional backers.

France's Shame! 

Hardly news, but thought I'd better put on record how shameful I feel the French headscarf ban in state schools is.

Good news for Westminster residents! 

Wesminster Council may be about to recover some of Dame Shirley Porter's missing millions.

Friday, February 06, 2004

David Hasselhof - the man who reunited Germany 

Occasionally, just occasionally, the BBC News website produces a piece of real genius. They do get the title of his late '80s hit wrong, though, it was actually Auf dem Weg nach dem Süden.

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