Poached eggs – summary

Well, I’m not very surprised to find that those of you who like poached eggs that don’t taste of vinegar outnumber the vinegar-lovers by almost two to one (9 to 5).

But I am surprised that the total number of poached egg fans is actually equal to the number of poached egg haters (14 each)!

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Introducing MacLeod

It’s my colleague’s birthday today. She is from Kazakhstan. I happened to have a spare copy of Ken MacLeod’s The Stone Canal which as you all know is partly set in Kazakhstan. So I’ve given it to her as a birthday present.

On reflection, maybe I should have started with The Star Fraction as the first book in the series?

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Ten books meme

Authors I own ten books by:

Brian Aldiss
Iain (M) Banks
Lois McMaster Bujold
Arthur C. Clarke
Neil Gaiman
Terry Pratchett
Sherri S Tepper
Roger Zelazny

Other authors I’ve read ten books by (I think):

Piers Anthony
Enid Blyton
Agatha Christie
Patricia Cornwell
Lindsey Davies
Philip K Dick
Robert A Heinlein
Ursula K Le Guin
C.S. Lewis
Larry Niven
Ellis Peters

Slightly surprised that some authors who I rate quite highly haven’t made it (or never made it) to ten books!

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February Books 9) Manna from Heaven

9) Manna from Heaven, by Roger Zelazny

I confess to being a little underwhelmed by this collection. Zelazny was one of my favourite authors, but all the good stories here were ones I had read before. (And what is the point of the title? One of the stories here is “Mana from Heaven” but the extra “n” changes the meaning entirely.) It was interesting to realise that the same character pops up in “Kalifriki of the Thread” and “Come Back to the Killing Ground, Alice, My Love”; and the six short glimpses of Amber give some hope that a third series of books set in that universe would have been better than the second. But I should have waited until it came out in paperback (if it ever does).

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Poached Eggs

Sitting in the Hotel Moskva breakfast room, watching the snow gradually drift down over Terazije, I realised there was an unfamiliar taste about my poached eggs – vinegar.

And then I thought, maybe I’m the one that’s weird here; maybe the rest of the world actually does cook their poached eggs that way.

So in order to find out how strange I am, here’s a poll:

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February Books 8) Cyprus: The Search for a Solution

8) Cyprus: The Search for a Solution, by David Hannay

I’ve just been given responsibility for Cyprus at work, so this book recounting the experiences of the chief British negotiator on the Cyprus problem between 1996 and 2003 seemed a good way to get into it.

Of course it will be mainly of historical interest now; much of his story depends on the personalities of the two main negotiators from the island, Clerides and Denktash, and Denktash will follow Clerides into retirement in May this year. Also the fundamental dynamics of the problem changed in 2004, after Hannay’s engagement had finished, with the Turkish Cypriots (other than Denktash) now really keen to reach an agreement and the Greek Cypriots not quite in the same place; for most of the last thirty years it had been the other way round.

I had to smile at his reference to a “group of Belgian academics of Turkish ethnicity” who eased the Turkish Cypriots (and the rest of the process) over one particular hurdle. I am pretty sure he is referring to this (Word) document, which includes me in the acknowledgements (and I think I may have written a sentence or two of the electoral system section). Neither of the two credited authors possesses either Turkish ethnicity or Belgian citizenship.

I was aware of a lot of the basics about the situation from general background reading and from previous dabbling. Two things that I learnt particularly from this account were, first, the way in which everyone (Hannay in particular, one supposes, though he is modest about this) bent over backwards to assure the maximum possible synergy between the EU accession process and the settlement negotiations; secondly, that at a late stage in the day the British added some extra lubrication to the negotiations by offering to give up almost half of the UK sovereign base territory on the islands.

Despite all this, of course, the talks failed. Hannay concludes (in a judgement that I think has general applicability):

…the negotiations between 1999 and 2003 did, in my view, demonstrate that external pressures and assistance do have their limitations and cannot, unaided, deliver a settlement. On no previous occasion were external pressures applied so consistently and in such a sustained manner; on no previous occasion was the raw material that emerged from the views of the two sides so skilfully blended and merged. And yet all that was not enough to achieve an agreement.

Or put more briefly, you can bring a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.

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Censored books – the ones I’ve read

bold if you’ve read it all
underline if you’ve read part
italicize if you own

#1 The Bible
#2 Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
#3 Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

#4 The Koran
#5 Arabian Nights
#6 Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
#7 Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
#8 Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
#9 Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
#10 Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
#11 The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
#12 Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
#13 Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
#14 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

#15 Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
#16 Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
#17 Dracula by Bram Stoker
#18 Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin
#19 Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
#20 Essays by Michel de Montaigne
#21 Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
#22 History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
#23 Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
#24 Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
#25 Ulysses by James Joyce
#26 Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
#27 Animal Farm by George Orwell
#28 Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
#29 Candide by Voltaire

#30 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
#31 Analects by Confucius

#32 Dubliners by James Joyce
#33 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
#34 Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
#35 Red and the Black by Stendhal
#36 Das Capital by Karl Marx
#37 Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire
#38 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
#39 Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
#40 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
#41 Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
#42 Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
#43 The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
#44 All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
#45 Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
#46 Lord of the Flies by William Golding
#47 Diary by Samuel Pepys
#48 Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
#49 Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
#50 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
#51 Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

#52 Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
#53 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
#54 Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmu
#55 Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
#56 Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
#57 Color Purple by Alice Walker
#59 Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke
#60 Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
#61 Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
#62 One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
#63 East of Eden by John Steinbeck
#64 Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
#65 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
#66 Confessions by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#67 Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais
#68 Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
#69 The Talmud
#70 Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#71 Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
#72 Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
#73 American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
#74 Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
#75 Separate Peace by John Knowles
#76 Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
#77 Red Pony by John Steinbeck
#78 Popol Vuh
#79 Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith
#80 Satyricon by Petronius
#81 James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
#82 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
#83 Black Boy by Richard Wright
#84 Spirit of the Laws by Charles de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu
#85 Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
#86 Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
#87 Metaphysics by Aristotle
#88 Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
#89 Institutes of the Christian Religion by Jean Calvin
#90 Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
#91 Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
#92 Sanctuary by William Faulkner
#93 As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
#94 Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
#95 Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
#96 Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
#97 General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud
#98 Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
#99 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Alexander Brown
#100 Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
#101 Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines
#102 Emile Jean by Jacques Rousseau
#103 Nana by Emile Zola
#104 Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
#105 Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
#106 Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
#107 Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
#108 Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck
#109 Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
#110 Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

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Could be worse

The original plan was to spend all day today in our Belgrade office working on a draft report. But I have some kind of immobilising tummy bug and have spent the day so far in my Hotel Moskva bed reading science fiction books. (More of that anon.) Meanwhile an old friend is going to buy me a cup of tea at around 4 o’clock to help the healing process. As I said, could be worse.

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Rainy day in Belgrade

Heavy heavy morning of Serious Political Discussions. Followed by afternoon of eating, email, and an interview with a passing Montenegrin film crew.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee finally published its report on the Balkans (pdf). It quotes me, oh, once or twice…

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My alter ego

Nick Whyte, president of the Huron County Federation of Agriculture, said during a phone interview that the move to delay municipal farm taxes until fall should be helpful to Huron East farmers.
“It is a very helpful move, and thoughtful and considerate. Hopefully, cash will be more readily available to farmers in the fall,” he said. “I would encourage every municipality to follow their lead.”

Full story (which is as exciting as the above extract suggests) here. Yes, , I know this doesn’t answer your question.

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More flight woe

My nice quick connection via Munich has been cancelled. Luckily there’s another via Zurich, two hours later…

Edite to add it later turned out that this was all to protect President Bush.

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7 friends meme

From :

Go to your info page and find the seventh name listed on your friends list. Go to their info page and find the seventh name on their mutual friends list (or friends list if no mutual friends list). Repeat until you are seven LJs from your own. (If you come across someone who doesn’t have seven friends or the seventh friend is a journal you have already visited on this trip, randomly pick another name and continue).

1) What is the title of this journal (NOT the user name)?
“We’re Coming to Get You, Barbara!

2) How many communities does this person belong to? None

3) List any interests you share in common with this user: None.

4) List any friends you have in common with this user: None.

5) Where does this user live? Beaufort, South Carolina

6) What is the seventh sentence in this user’s most recent journal entry?
“Hmm. Boobs.”

7) What is the first sentence in this user’s seventh most recent journal entry?
“I’ve realized that my days of only good news are over.”

8) Go to LiveJournal Connect and see what the shortest number of hops between this user and you:
-> -> -> ->

All fairly pointless really. And discriminates in favour of those with usernames near the beginning of the alphabet.

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My interview in Vreme


За Македонија е подобро Косово да стане независно


– Во својот последен извештај за „Косово – кон финалниот статус“, пишувате дека работата е сега или никогаш. Но, Косово е уште далеку од исполнувањето на стандардите на Обединетите нации за да стане независна држава. Не мислите ли дека градите однапред пропадната
– Без определување на конечниот статус, Косово навистина ќе стане пропадната држава! Ако сакате да проработи економијата, да привлечете странски инвеститори, да ви дојдат Светската банка и другите меѓународни финансиски институции, мора да знаете кој ви е финалниот статус. Точно, административната способност на Косово сега не е многу силна – но се плашам дека тоа важи и за некои други држави од регионот. Вакви структури може да се формираат ако им дадете доволно власт, а притоа меѓународната заедница од нив бара одговорност. Каде Косово во моментов киксира? Најголемиот проблем на Косово е што тоа е протекторат на неопределено време, каде што не е јасно дали од УНМИК или од избраните власти на Косово може да се бара одговорност за тоа што се случува на Косово. Нели би било умно ова да се реши? Имаме ситуација меѓународните власти на Косово да работат се, а локалните власти – ништо. Можеме да бараме одговорност од тамошните власти, но ако тие немаат овластувања да направат нешто, не можеме да го кажеме тоа.

– И во Босна имаме ситуација меѓународните власти да ја управуваат земјата, но не се случило Босна да ја нападне Хрватска или Србија, како што Косово, со тие малку овластувања што нивните власти ги имаат, веќе влијаеше на нападите врз јужна Србија во 2000 година и врз Македонија во 2001 година. Вие барате на Косовците да им се дадат уште повеќе овластувања?
– Босна не е добар пример. Мислам дека вистинската разлика е што законските рамки на Босна се мошне јасни. Босна ќе си остане Босна и нема зошто да се војува. Факт е дека статусот на Косово не е решен и луѓето имаат избор дали ќе го решаваат преку насилство или преку демократски средства. Секако, ние повеќе би сакале да го решат преку демократски средства и би требало да добијат механизам тоа да го направат. Тоа ние го бараме.

– Македонија ја гради својата држава со децении и секогаш била спремна да попушти кога нешто и било побарано – Охридскиот рамковен договор, Уставот, знамето, јазикот. Зошто тогаш на косовските Албанци би требало да им биде дадена независност само затоа што се фрустрирани, како што вие велите, и затоа што фрустрирани може да предизвикаат неволји.
– Како што знаете, МКГ отсекогаш ја поддржувала Македонија за прашањето за правилната употреба на името на земјата и е против територијалната поделба на Македонија меѓу етничките групи. Ние нашите процени ги правиме реалистички. Едноставно, не гледаме можност косовските Албанци во иднина да учествуваат во државни структури што се поврзани со Белград. Тоа просто нема да се случи. Оставнината на насилствата од белградското владеење на Косово едноставно е премногу голема. Може да се додаде дека Белград малку прави за да ги признае своите стари гревови. Мора да се постави прашањето, кој ќе им наметне друго решение на Косовците? Не може да се каже дека Косовците се морално дефицитарни, како што вие велите…

– Не, можеби само нивните водачи.
– Да, многу политички водачи се морално дефицитарни. Но, мора се земат предвид интересите на Косовците. Тие многу јасно кажаа дека не се враќаат под власт на Белград.

– Косово сега е зафатено од националистичка еуфорија.
– Точно дека мнозинскиот политички поглед кон светот на Косово не е многу добар. Но, тоа само по себе не е аргумент против нашите ставови. Ние исто така бараме Косовците да го сменат начинот на кој гледаат на работите, да почнат да зборуваат со Србите и нивниот напредок кон независност ќе зависи директно од тоа колку разговараат со Србите, и со другите малцинства, Турците и Бошњаците.

– Не мислите ли дека независноста за Косово може да ги испровоцира другите фрустрирани народи на Балканот? Србите во Босна, Турците во Бугарија?
– Ова се позитивни примери. Босанските Срби учествуваат во босанските државни структури веќе една деценија. Турците никогаш не ја повлекоа својата поддршка за бугарската држава.

– Нашиот премиер Владо Бучковски ја спомнува 2010 година како година за наш прием во Европската Унија. Мислите ли дека тоа е можно?
– Мислам дека тоа не е невозможно. Преговорите веројатно нема да почнат до 2006 година, но Македонија многу добро се подготвува.

– Има и други аналитички групи што нудат совети, но вие сте некако премногу активни. Имате луѓе на терен што дури се изложуваат на ризици, не ви пречи да се борите за своите идеи, пишувате текстови за најмоќните светски весници, избирате кога ќе ги објавите своите извештаи за да имате најсилен ефект врз изборите во државите за кои пишувате. Што ако грешите? Кој ќе ја плати цената на вашите грешки?
– Точно е дека сме поактивни од другите аналитички групи. Многу групи објавуваат извештаи и потоа дозволуваат тие да собираат прав на Интернет или во библиотеките, додека некој не ги заборави. Ние сме и целосно посветени на борбата за нашите идеи и тоа е дел од нашата организација. Ако грешиме, ќе платиме со нашиот нарушен кредибилитет. Нашите постојани напори да ги промовираме извештаите би биле попусти кога извештаите би биле неточни. Затоа нашите извештаи и нашето истражување на терен е подложно на интензивна проверка од моите повисоки колеги и од членовите на одборот.

– Ја обвинивте владата на Љубчо Георгиевски за корупција како во Африка, и тоа пред самите избори. По изборите, го повлековте г. Едвард Џозеф, вашиот човек во Скопје, и веќе нема такви извештаи. Дали сегашната македонска влада е чиста кога се работи за корупцијата?
– Прво, не сте во право. Во извештајот никаде не се спомнува зборот „Африка“. Г. Џозеф остана во Скопје речиси цела година по изборите. Мислам дека повеќето набљудувачи ќе се согласат дека претходната влада беше недостижна во корупцијата. Но, проблемот не е исчезнат и ќе забележите дека во нашите најнови извештаи за Македонија се спомнува корупцијата како проблем што трае.

– Кажете со што сте особено горд, каде МКГ предизвикала промени?
– На Балканот мислам дека имавме особено добри резултати во Босна и Херцеговина и во Македонија. Во двата случаи побаравме подобар ангажман на меѓународната заедница. Мислам дека успеавме и дека двете земји извлекоа полза од тоа. Не заборавајте дека дури и неколку години по Дејтонскиот мировен договор никој не веруваше дека Босна ќе биде една држава во 2005 година. Сите велеа дека Босна ќе се распадне за неколку години, а не се распадна. Мислам дека дел од причините што не се распадна е што ние носевме решенија што…

– Под „ние“ мислите на меѓународната заедница?
– Мислам на Меѓународната кризна група. Истиот песимизам го имавме и за Македонија во 2001 година. Сега е јасно дека двете земји некаде во иднината ќе влезат во Европската Унија во своите сегашни граници. Тоа не беше сигурно пред ние да ја почнеме нашата работа. Во светски рамки моите колеги што работеа на кризата во суданската област Дарфур имаа особено силно влијание врз светската јавност. Но, јас сум горд со мојата соработка со сите мои колеги и во областите во кои беше многу потешко да се постигнат позитивни промени.

ICG’s Whyte: It’s Better for Macedonia if Kosovo Becomes Independent

Nicholas Whyte

According to ICG’s website, Nicholas Whyte co-ordinates International Crisis Group’s field research, analysis, policy prescription and advocacy activities in relation to the Balkans, Moldova and the Caucasus. Reality Macedonia presents unabridged version of the interview, conducted February 16, 2005, and published in the daily newspaper Vreme February 22.

By Cvetin Chilimanov

Vreme: In your latest report, “Kosovo’s Final Status,” you argue that it’s now or never, 2005 or bust, yet the standards the UN has set out for Kosovo are miles away. Don’t you think it will be failed state building?

Whyte: Without resolution of the status question, Kosovo will indeed become a failed state before it has even become a state! If you want to get the economy going, to attract foreign investors, to have the World Bank and other international financial institutions working properly, you have to have a resolution of the final status situation.

Agreed, the administrative capacity of Kosovo at present is not strong – but I’m afraid that is true of some other states in the region as well. The way you establish such structures is to give them responsibilities and have the international community hold them accountable.

What is failing in Kosovo at the moment? Isn’t it true that the biggest problem is the open-ended protectorate, where it is not clear whether UNMIK or the Kosovo elected officials themselves can be held responsible for what happens in Kosovo? Wouldn’t it be sensible to resolve this?

Vreme: But in Bosnia we also have a viceroy situation, but the Bosnians haven’t attacked, for instance Serbia or Croatia. While Kosovo, with the little authority the locals have, has used the KPC and KPS to attack South Serbia in 2000 and Macedonia in 2001. And you ask for even more authority for the Kosovars?

Whyte: Bosnia is not a good example. I think that the real difference is that the Bosnian legal frames are pretty clear. Bosnia will remain Bosnia and there is no reason to go to war. The fact is that the Kosovo status is not resolved and the people there have a choice to solve it through violence, or through legal democratic means. We would much more prefer if it is solved with democratic means and they should have the proper mechanism to achieve it. That’s what we’re asking for.

Vreme: Macedonia has been building it’s state for decades, always ready to give in when someone (Greece on the flag and the constitution, Albanian minority on their rights, Bulgaria on the language) asked for something. That’s why I’m having trouble understanding why the K. Albanians should be given independence just because they’re frustrated and might cause trouble. Doesn’t that argument of yours strike you as childish, not on your part, but on the part of the Albanians? Don’t you think it might provoke other frustrated nations in the Balkans, like the Bosnian Serbs, or the Bulgarian Turks?

Whyte: As you know, we’ve been very supportive of Macedonia on the question of the international use of the correct name of the country, and in opposing any division of Macedonia territorially between ethnic groups. Our judgment is essentially a realist one. We simply do not see a possibility of Kosovo Albanians agreeing to participate in any state structures which are connected to Belgrade. It just won’t happen. The legacy of the abuse of Belgrade rule in Kosovo is simply too great. (In addition, it has to be said that Belgrade has made little effort to acknowledge its own past failure to discharge its responsibilities to its own ethnic Albanian citizens.)

Your examples are good ones – the Bosnian Serbs have been participating in the BiH state structures for almost a decade now, and the Turks never withdrew their consent from the Bulgarian state. The situations are very different. We have to ask the question, who will impose a different solution to the Kosovars? You can’t say that the Kosovars are morally deficient, as you’re implying…

Vreme: …No, maybe only their leaders..

Whyte: Yes, many political leaders are morally deficient. But we have to take the interests of the Kosovars in consideration. They have clearly said that they’re not coming back under Belgrade authority.

Vreme: There are differing opinions about Kosovo indepence. Even the ICG states that independent Kosovo will not have the right to integrate with Albania, like some other independent state would be able to. Do you think some other formula might win over the argument, like independence without an army, or shared sovereignty and independence only upon joining the EU like the former Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato proposed?

Whyte: Of course, there are many possibilities. We’ve made our recommendations because we think they are the best option. But there will be a lot more debate on these points in the next few years.

Vreme: Our prime-minister Vlado Buckovski has floated the year 2010 for our entry to the EU. Do you think it’s possible? Is there a chance we might be lumped together with Turkey?

Whyte: I think it’s not impossible – the negotiations will probably not begin until 2006, but Macedonia has been preparing pretty well. I don’t think any country will be lumped together with Turkey (which will not join the EU before 2015) as the processes are very different.

Vreme: There are many other think-tanks which offer advice, analysis and comments on the state of the world. But you strike me as particularly activist. You have your people on the ground, ready even to undertake risks to get the story. You also don’t mind pushing for your ideas, offering op-eds in the most influential newspapers, timing your damning reports with elections you could influence. Are you sure you know best? What if you are wrong? Who pays the price?

Whyte: It’s quite true that we are more activist than some others. Most think tanks publish a report and then allow it to sit on the internet or in libraries until it is forgotten. We have a definite commitment to push for our ideas, as you put it, and it’s part of what makes our organization what it is. If we are wrong, we ourselves will pay the price in terms of damaged credibility. Our strenuous efforts at advocacy will be no good at all if what we publish is simply incorrect. That’s why as well as our extensive field research, our reports are subjected to intense internal scrutiny by my senior colleagues and by members of our board before publication, and often discussed with other experts and officials working in the same field.

Vreme: You accused the former Government of Mr. Georgievski of Africa style corruption, just before the elections. After the elections you withdrew Mr. Joseph from Skopje and no more such reports. Do you think the new Macedonian Government is clean?

Whyte: I’m afraid your information is incorrect: the word “Africa” does not appear anywhere in the main text of that report, and in fact Mr Joseph stayed in Skopje for almost a year after the elections. I think most observers would agree that the previous government was in a category of its own in terms of corruption. However the problem has not gone away, and you will find that our most recent reports on Macedonia did indeed mention corruption as an ongoing problem in Macedonia.

Vreme: The ICG prides on the number and variety of it’s members. They are also people of influence. Would you mention something you’re especially proud of a change you or the ICG has instigated? Also, where do you feel your influence is strongest, and where do you think your experts are actually have-beens?

Whyte: (I’m not sure what the last part of the question, about “have-beens,” means, so I can’t answer it.) In the Balkans, I think we have had particularly good effects in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Macedonia. In both cases we urged a better quality of international involvement; I think we succeeded, and that both countries have benefited as a result. – don’t forget that even for several years after the 1995 Dayton Agreement, nobody believed that Bosnia would still be a single country in 2005; and the same kind of pessimism was heard from some about Macedonia in 2001. But we have initiated good solutions…

Vreme: By “we” you mean the international community?

Whyte: No, I mean the ICG. It is increasingly clear now that both countries, in their current boundaries, will be joining the European Union at some point in the future. That wasn’t obvious before we began our work.

Worldwide, my colleagues who have worked on the Darfur crisis in Sudan have had a particularly strong impact on world opinion. But I am proud to work with all of my colleagues, including in areas where it has been much more difficult to achieve positive change.

Vreme: Mr. Trifun Kostovski has been made a board member of the ICG, but he is also mentioned as a donor on your web site and you are proud to say you’re a “Trifun Kostovski fellow. Would you care to elaborate some more on the relationship between the ICG, and you personally and Mr. Kostovski?

Whyte: You have correctly and fully described his relationship with the International Crisis Group. On a personal level I have always got on well with him and enjoy his company.

Vreme: You mean Mr. Kostovski pays for your research?

Whyte: That’s right. My job description is Director of Europe Program; Trifun Kostovski Research Fellow.

Vreme: In your report you say that now Macedonia is stable enough, but that a favorable epologue for Kosovo is worth risking Macedonian stability. Do you think Macedonia can be risked for a greater cause? Is Mr. Kostovski aware of this report?

Whyte: I don’t think we say that. I think it says that, if Kosovo is handled well, then there is no risk for Macedonia. On the other hand, if Kosovo is not handled well, then there is risk. I think that there is a long term risk for Macedonia if this situation is not resolved, if it’s not clear how will Kosovo be resolved. I can’t comment on who said what in our reports. I can only confirm that Mr. Kostovski has seen the report.

Vreme: Thank you and good night.

Whyte: It’s always good to hear the other side.

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Queen of Wands

Bye-bye, Queen Of Wands. I don’t know why this story of three flatmates and their not especially complex relationships absorbed me, but it did. Anyway it’s going to run again from Monday, being reposted on a 7-days-a-week basis, so those who hadn’t yet caught onto it can enjoy. Also there’s a community on livejournal.

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Almost incomprehensible

Reproduced without comment from Novosti:


MOSCOW, February 22 (RIA Novosti) – In his interview with Radio Slovensko and STV company (Slovenia) Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted Russia’s interests in certain CIS countries.

However, the Russian leader expressed concern about the fact that some stormy events in the CIS countries are happening outside of the law and constitution.

“Everyone should understand that democracy means proper laws and the ability to observe them,” Mr. Putin stressed.

“Why some countries and nations have this privilege – to live in conformity with the law and within the framework of stability – and others are doomed to permanent revolution? Permanent revolution is Lev Trotsky’s theory. Why should we use it on the post-Soviet space?” Vladimir Putin wondered.

In his opinion, it is necessary to introduce the law and democratic institutes on the post-Soviet space and to solve the problems by constitutional means and on the basis of stability. This is highly important for all the post-Soviet space.

“This is our main concern. We do not care for changes,” Vladimir Putin said.

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I’ve never seen William Shakespeare’s play Pericles, Prince of Tyre, and now that I’ve read this summary I don’t think I need to.

From the summary of Act 4 Scene 5:

A SKEEVY MAN: Can you believe it? A prostitute preaching divinity?
ANOTHER SKEEVY MAN: I know! It’s made the sex act completely unappealing to me.
FIRST MAN: Let’s go listen to some vestal virgins sing.
SECOND MAN: I am done with rutting forever.

Shakespeare’s original:

Mytilene. A street before the brothel.

Enter, from the brothel, two Gentlemen
First Gentleman Did you ever hear the like?
Second Gentleman No, nor never shall do in such a place as this, she being once gone.
First Gentleman But to have divinity preached there! did you ever dream of such a thing?
Second Gentleman No, no. Come, I am for no more bawdy-houses: shall’s go hear the vestals sing?
First Gentleman I’ll do any thing now that is virtuous; but I am out of the road of rutting for ever.

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What causes a war

A few weeks, maybe even a few months ago, I found a link to this essay on the American Civil War (quite possibly via or ), and printed it out. I am of course fascinated by the Civil War, even though it wasn’t my country; at one point I was completely addicted to the GDW version of classic boardgame A House Divided, and since then I’ve come to appreciate the political sentiments of a war which to a certain extent was fought on a moral issue.

So I was looking forward to reading the Stephen Z Starr essay, and eventually did so last night. What I hadn’t expected was that certain parts of it would be of more general application. After a long introduction on the historiography of the war, he offers his own analysis, starting with the evils of slavery, and concluding (and I’ve added emphasis to the phrases I found particularly compelling):

Granted that the abolitionists saw only the evils of slavery, and that they refused to see that emancipation alone would not solve the underlying race problem. They were, in fact, single-minded fanatics. But for every antislavery fanatic in the North, there were dozens of proslavery fanatics in the South. And if we must make the choice between fanatics for freedom and fanatics for slavery, the choice, I think, is simple. The abolitionist fanatics, never more than a tiny minority, did not control the politics or even the public opinion of the North. The proslavery fanatics, on the other hand, did control both public opinion and politics in the South, and went to war for the sake of an institution condemned not merely by the abolitionists but by the moral judgment of the entire civilized world. The South attempted to secede for the sake of slavery not just from the United States, but also from the nineteenth century, and one of the object lessons of the Civil War, with a special significance for our own day, is that you cannot escape from your own place and time in the stream of history by taking refuge in the past or in some romantic world of make-believe.

I’ll repeat that last phrase again: you cannot escape from your own place and time in the stream of history by taking refuge in the past or in some romantic world of make-believe. And of course, the more lengths you have to go to to invent your past, the more tempting it is to found it on a escape from reality.

Starr goes on to discuss the internal polics of South vs North in the immediate prewar years, concluding:

…in 1860… the Cotton State delegates walked out [of the Democratic Convention] and thereby wrecked the Democratic Party. Thus, the South practically assured the election of a minority, sectional president, the very thing that caused it to announce a few months later that it was no longer safe in the Union. Is it any wonder that Northern historians saw in this a deeply laid plot to make secession inevitable? Their only alternative would have been to assume the Southern leadership had taken leave of its senses. To a great degree, the latter is the explanation I favor.

Here, I think, is a crucial point. Often we tend to over-analyse grand historical events which lead to awesome consequences. But the simple fact is that sometimes people – especially politicians of only average intelligence, thrust into positions of important political leadership by circumstances almost completely outside their control – sometimes they do make very stupid decisions. My one serious point of difference with Starr is that to say, as he does, that they had taken leave of their senses begs the question of whether they were up to the job in the first place.

His final section is even more powerful, dealing with the cultural gap between the South and the North. Having pointed out how little rooted in fact Southern mythology about their own origins, and asked “Where are the Southern Bancrofts, Motleys, Prescotts, Emersons, Bryants, Hawthornes, Lowells?”, he goes on to say:

Granting the existence of cultural differences between the North and South, can we assume that they would necessarily lead to a Civil War? Obviously not. Such differences lead to animosity and war only if one side develops a national inferiority complex, begins to blame all its shortcomings on the other side, enforces a rigid conformity on its own people, and tries to make up for its own sins of omission and commission by name-calling, by nursing an exaggerated pride and sensitiveness, and by cultivating a reckless aggressiveness as a substitute for reason.

There’s no need to put special emphasis on any parts of this last quotation; apart from the words “North and South”, they could apply to almost any of the conflict situations that occupy my working hours.

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Hunter S Thompson’s obituary of Richard Nixon

‘He was a crook’ 

(Rolling Stone, Jun 16, 1994)


DATE: MAY 1, 1994




“And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is becoming the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.”–REVELATION 18:2

Richard Nixon is gone now and I am poorer for it. He was the real thing–a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time. He lied to his friends and betrayed the trust of his family. Not even Gerald Ford, the unhappy ex-president who pardoned Nixon and kept him out of prison, was immune to the evil fallout. Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that “I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon.”

I have had my own bloody relationship with Nixon for many years, but I am not worried about it landing me in hell with him. I have already been there with that bastard, and I am a better person for it. Nixon had the unique ability to make his enemies seem honorable, and we developed a keen sense of fraternity. Some of my best friends have hated Nixon all their lives. My mother hates Nixon, my son hates Nixon, I hate Nixon, and this hatred has brought us together.

Nixon laughed when I told him this. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I, too, am a family man, and we feel the same way about you.”

It was Richard Nixon who got me into politics, and now that he’s gone, I feel lonely. He was a giant in his way. As long as Nixon was politically alive–and he was, all the way to the end–we could always be sure of finding the enemy on the Low Road. There was no need to look anywhere else for the evil bastard. He had the fighting instincts of a badger trapped by hounds. The badger will roll over on its back and emit a smell of death, which confuses the dogs and lures them in for the traditional ripping and tearing action. But it is usually the badger who does the ripping and tearing. It is a beast that fights best on its back: rolling under the throat of the enemy and seizing it by thehead with all four claws.

That was Nixon’s style–and if you forgot, he would kill you as a lesson to the others. Badgers don’t fight fair, bubba. That’s why God made dachshunds.

Nixon was a navy man, and he should have been buried at sea. Many of his friends were seagoing people: Bebe Rebozo, Robert Vesco, William F. Buckley Jr., and some of them wanted a full naval burial.

These come in at least two styles, however, and Nixon’s immediate family strongly opposed both of them. In the traditionalist style, the dead president’s body would be wrapped and sewn loosely in canvas sailcloth and dumped off the stern of a frigate at least 100 miles off the coast and at least 1,000 miles south of San Diego, so the corpse could never wash up on American soil in any recognizable form.

The family opted for cremation until they were advised of the potentially onerous implications of a strictly private, unwitnessed burning of the body of the man who was, after all the President of the United States. Awkward questions might be raised, dark allusions to Hitler and Rasputin. People would be filing lawsuits to get their hands on the dental charts. Long court battles would be inevitable–some with liberal cranks bitching about corpus delicti and habeas corpus and others with giant insurance companies trying not to pay off on his death benefits. Either way, an orgy of greed and duplicity was sure to follow any public hint that Nixon might have somehow faked his own death or been cryogenically transferred to fascist Chinese interests on the Central Asian Mainland.

It would also play into the hands of those millions of self-stigmatized patriots like me who believe these things already.

If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.

These are harsh words for a man only recently canonized by President Clinton and my old friend George McGovern–but I have written worse things about Nixon, many times, and the record will show that I kicked him repeatedly long before he went down. I beat him like a mad dog with mange every time I got a chance, and I am proud of it. He was scum.

Let there be no mistake in the history books about that. Richard Nixon was an evil man–evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it. He was utterly without ethics or morals or any bedrock sense of decency. Nobody trusted him–except maybe the Stalinist Chinese, and honest historians will remember him mainly as a rat who kept scrambling to get back on the ship.

It is fitting that Richard Nixon’s final gesture to the American people was a clearly illegal series of 21 105-mm howitzer blasts that shattered the peace of a residential neighborhood and permanently disturbed many children. Neighbors also complained about another unsanctioned burial in the yard at the old Nixon place, which was brazenly illegal. “It makes the whole neighborhood like a graveyard,” said one. “And it fucks up my children’s sense of values.”

Many were incensed about the howitzers–but they knew there was nothing they could do about it–not with the current president sitting about 50 yards away and laughing at the roar of the cannons. It was Nixon’s last war, and he won.

The funeral was a dreary affair, finely staged for TV and shrewdly dominated by ambitious politicians and revisionist historians. The Rev. Billy Graham, still agile and eloquent at the age of 136, was billed as the main speaker, but he was quickly upstaged by two 1996 GOP presidential candidates: Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas and Gov. Pete Wilson of California, who formally hosted the event and saw his poll numbers crippled when he got blown off the stage by Dole, who somehow seized the No. 3 slot on the roster and uttered such a shameless, self-serving eulogy that even he burst into tears at the end of it.

Dole’s stock went up like a rocket and cast him as the early GOP front-runner for ’96. Wilson, speaking next, sounded like an Engelbert Humperdinck impersonator and probably won’t even be re-elected as governor of California in November.

The historians were strongly represented by the No. 2 speaker, Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s secretary of state and himself a zealous revisionist with many axes to grind. He set the tone for the day with a maudlin and spectacularly self-serving portrait of Nixon as even more saintly than his mother and as a president of many godlike accomplishments–most of them put together in secret by Kissinger, who came to California as part of a huge publicity tour for his new book on diplomacy, genius, Stalin, H.P. Lovecraft and other great minds of our time, including himself and Richard Nixon.

Kissinger was only one of the many historians who suddenly came to see Nixon as more than the sum of his many squalid parts. He seemed to be saying that History will not have to absolve Nixon, because he has already done it himself in a massive act of will and crazed arrogance that already ranks him supreme, along with other Nietzschean supermen like Hitler, Jesus, Bismarck and the Emperor Hirohito. These revisionists have catapulted Nixon to the status of an American Caesar, claiming that when the definitive history of the 20th century is written, no other president will come close to Nixon in stature. “He will dwarf FDR and Truman,” according to one scholar from Duke University.

It was all gibberish, of course. Nixon was no more a Saint than he was a Great President. He was more like Sammy Glick than Winston Churchill. He was a cheap crook and a merciless war criminal who bombed more people to death in Laos and Cambodia than the U.S. Army lost in all of World War II, and he denied it to the day of his death. When students at Kent State University, in Ohio, protested the bombing, he connived to have them attacked and slain by troops from the National Guard.

Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism–which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.

Nixon’s meteoric rise from the unemployment line to the vice presidency in six quick years would never have happened if TV had come along 10 years earlier. He got away with his sleazy “my dog Checkers” speech in 1952 because most voters heard it on the radio or read about it in the headlines of their local, Republican newspapers. When Nixon finally had to face the TV cameras for real in the 1960 presidential campaign debates, he got whipped like a red-headed mule. Even die-hard Republican voters were shocked by his cruel and incompetent persona. Interestingly, most people who heard those debates on the radio thought Nixon had won. But the mushrooming TV audience saw him as a truthless used-car salesman, and they voted accordingly. It was the first time in 14 years that Nixon lost an election.

When he arrived in the White House as VP at the age of 40, he was a smart young man on the rise–a hubris-crazed monster from the bowels of the American dream with a heart full of hate and an overweening lust to be President. He had won every office he’d run for and stomped like a Nazi on all of his enemies and even some of his friends.

Nixon had no friends except George Will and J. Edgar Hoover (and they both deserted him.) It was Hoover’s shameless death in 1972 that led directly to Nixon’s downfall. He felt helpless and alone with Hoover gone. He no longer had access to either the Director or the Director’s ghastly bank of Personal Files on almost everybody in Washington.

Hoover was Nixon’s right flank, and when he croaked, Nixon knew how Lee felt when Stonewall Jackson got killed at Chancellorsville. It permanently exposed Lee’s flank and led to the disaster at Gettysburg.

For Nixon, the loss of Hoover led inevitably to the disaster of Watergate. It meant hiring a New Director–who turned out to be an unfortunate toady named L. Patrick Gray, who squealed like a pig in hot oil the first time Nixon leaned on him. Gray panicked and fingered White House Counsel John Dean, who refused to take the rap and rolled over, instead, on Nixon, who was trapped like a rat by Dean’s relentless, vengeful testimony and went all to pieces right in front of our eyes on TV.

That is Watergate, in a nut, for people with seriously diminished attention spans. The real story is a lot longer and reads like a textbook on human treachery. They were all scum, but only Nixon walked free and lived to clear his name. Or at least that’s what Bill Clinton says–and he is, after all, the President of the United States.

Nixon liked to remind people of that. He believed it, and that was why he went down. He was not only a crook but a fool. Two years after he quit, he told a TV journalist that “if the president does it, it can’t be illegal.”

Shit. Not even Spiro Agnew was that dumb. Hhe was a flat-out, knee-crawling thug with the morals of a weasel on speed. But he was Nixon’s vice president for five years, and he only resigned when he was caught red-handed taking cash bribes across his desk in the White House.

Unlike Nixon, Agnew didn’t argue. He quit his job and fled in the night to Baltimore, where he appeared the next morning in U.S. District Court, which allowed him to stay out of prison for bribery and extortion in exchange for a guilty (no contest) plea on income-tax evasion. After that he became a major celebrity and played golf and tried to get a Coors distributorship. He never spoke to Nixon again and was an unwelcome guest at the funeral. They called him Rude, but he went anyway. It was one of those Biological Imperatives, like salmon swimming up waterfalls to spawn before they die. He knew he was scum, but it didn’t bother him.

Agnew was the Joey Buttafuoco of the Nixon administration, and Hoover was its Caligula. They were brutal, brain-damaged degenerates worse than any hit man out of The Godfather, yet they were the men Richard Nixon trusted most. Together they defined his Presidency.

It would be easy to forget and forgive Henry Kissinger of his crimes, just as he forgave Nixon. Yes, we could do that–but it would be wrong. Kissinger is a slippery little devil, a world-class hustler with a thick German accent and a very keen eye for weak spots at the top of the power structure, Nixon was one of these, and Super K exploited him mercilessly, all the way to the end.

Kissinger made the Gang of Four complete: Agnew, Hoover, Kissinger and Nixon. A group photo of these perverts would say all we need to know about the Age of Nixon.

Nixon’s spirit will be with us for the rest of our lives–whether you’re me or Bill Clinton or you or Kurt Cobain or Bishop Tutu or Keith Richards or Amy Fisher or Boris Yeltsin’s daughter or your fiancee’s 16-year-old beer-drunk brother with his braided goatee and his whole life like a thundercloud out in front of him. This is not a generational thing. You don’t even have to know who Richard Nixon was to be a victim of his ugly, Nazi spirit.

He has poisoned our water forever. Nixon will be remembered as a classic case of a smart man shitting in his own nest. But he also shit in our nests, and that was the crime that history will burn on his memory like a brand. By disgracing and degrading the Presidency of the United States, by fleeing the White House like a diseased cur, Richard Nixon broke the heart of the American Dream.

(This next bit is from the same source, but seems to be from the early 1970s:)


It is Nixon himself who represents that dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character that almost every country in the world has learned to fear and despise. Our Barbie-doll president, with his Barbie-doll wife and his boxful of Barbie-doll children is also America’s answer to the monstrous Mr. Hyde. He speaks for the Werewolf in us; the bully, the predatory shyster who turns into something unspeakable, full of claws and bleeding string warts, on nights when the moon comes too close….

At the stroke of midnight in Washington, a drooling red-eyed beast with the legs of a man and head of a giant hyena crawls out of its bedroom window in the South Wing of the White House and leaps 50 feet down to the lawn … pauses briefly to strangle the chow watchdog, then races off into the darkness…toward the Watergate, snarling with lust, loping through the alleys behind Pennsylvania Avenue and trying desperately to remember which one of those 400 iron balconies is the one outside Martha Mitchell’s apartment.

Ah…nightmares, nightmares. But I was only kidding. The President of the United States would never act that weird. At least not during football season. But how would the voters react if they knew the President of the United States was, according to a New York Times editorial on Oct. 12, presiding over “a complex, far-reaching and sinister operation on the part of White House aides and the Nixon campaign organization … involving sabotage, forgery, theft of confidential files, surveillance of Democratic candidates and their families and persistent efforts to lay the basis for possible blackmail and intimidation?”

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The Green Death

Yesterday at PicoCon, Jon Courtenay Grimwood was saying that he reckoned all good British sf was now being written by people from the left side of the political spectrum, and someone, either he or Brian Stableford, went on to argue that this was all a reaction to Thatcherism, which was admittedly a deeply traumatic and formative political experience, even on those of us from parts of the archipelago less affected by her economic and social policies (ie both parts of Ireland).

Yet here we have a Dr Who series arguing that Big Business is bad, the destruction of the mining industry will have horrible consequences and (in slight contradiction to that last) protecting the environment is of the utmost importance – made in 1973, when Thatcher was still a lesser light in the Heath government, and even four months before the 1973 oil crisis. I find it difficult to remember a Dr Who series with such an overt and relevant political message (but bear in mind this is perhaps the first time in over five years that I’ve sat down and watched one from beginning to end).

The acting is good, and the plot fairly tight; can’t quite say the same for all the special effects – the maggots are OK, the colour separation overlay painful to look at, the giant fly rather unimpressive; but the eerie glows – the green flesh of the maggots’ victims, and the saturated lighting in the climactic scenes with Stevens and his evil computer master (reminiscent of the death of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey) – are particularly good, and Stevens has another brilliant moment earlier in the last episode when his master speaks using his mouth. Indeed the computer, BOSS, is an engagingly horrible villain, which helps us forget the fact that its evil plan for world domination is utterly implausible.

Jon Pertwee really does command the show. The development of Jo’s relationship with Professor Jones seems a bit abrupt over the two and a half hours of the DVD, but I take the point that it would have felt a lot more natural over the six weeks in which viewers would have originally seen the show. And the final shots of the Doctor driving away alone from her engagement party, a single bright star in the sky, fading out to the loneliness of the theme tune, do bring a lump to the throat. (Or at least did to mine). It would have been particularly poignant for the cast watching at the time, as Roger Delgado, who played the Master, had been killed in a car accident only a few days before the last episode of the Green Death was shown.

The extras on the DVD are also excellent; interviews with writer Roger Sloman and with the actor who played Professor Jones (and was at the time Katy Manning’s boyfriend), and a marvellous spoof documentary set in the present day, at the end of which it is revealed that Stevens survived his final encounter with BOSS and is now doing a very interesting job indeed… There’s also a bit on the special effects of creating the maggots but I haven’t watched that yet. All in all I felt this was a good purchase.

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Ten things meme

Ten things I have done that you may not have:

  1. Won a postal game of Rather Silly Diplomacy version 2.5, unless knows different – I was playing the Mastermind
  2. Administered a book prize which was won by my father posthumously
  3. Explored a ruined observatory in the west of Ireland and found some pages from the first edition of the works of Tycho Brahe
  4. Rediscovered (I think) the birth date of Eleanor of Aquitaine
  5. Set up a website for a political party, the first such website in Northern Ireland
  6. Stood for election to public office for two different parties in elections using two different electoral systems
  7. Telephoned a cabinet minister’s direct line from a pay-phone in Heathrow airport
  8. Done a hand-delivered mailshot to all 626 Members of the European Parliament, a couple of times with reports we’d produced in CEPS and also with educational literature for the anti-spam campaign of three years ago
  9. Appeared on “Questions and Answers” on CNN, and told the interviewer that he should have read our report before asking me about it
  10. Driven from Belfast, Northern Ireland, to Banja Luka, Bosnia, with a three-month-old baby
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I’ve been using livejournal for the guts of two years now, but only just bothered downloading Semagic as a client. Wow, what a nice smooth interface comapred to either the standard web-based LJ update window or indeed its RTF version! And you can switch between HTML and WYSIWYG interfaces pretty effortlessly. And it times the update from when you finish writing rather than when you started. I like it already.

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Saturday at PicoCon

Well, I much enjoyed PicoCon – full marks to the organisers for thinking to chalk directions to the event on the pavements near the academic wasteland that is Imperial College on a Saturday, and for the fascinating presentations by Gwyneth Jones, Jon Courtenay Grimwood and Brian Stableford, and the entertaining custom of taking obnoxious plastic toys linked with more or less famous TV series and films, dumping them in liquid nitrogen and then destroying them with a large hammer. Good to put faces to and , and to talk (in some cases only briefly) to , , (who impressed me by posting an lj entry from his PDA) and who I see has already written it up. I guess was there but didn’t identify him.

Had to leave early for my plane home, and despite my confusion about which terminal to go to in Heathrow I caught it successfully, and it actually landed fifteen minutes early. That is much better than the two and a half hours late I had on the way over…

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February Books 7) Theft of A Nation

7) Theft of A Nation: Romania since Communism, by Tom Gallagher.

Romania is a puzzling place. I first went there on a family holiday when I was eight, and not paying a lot of attention; I recently discovered the roots of my grandmother’s interest in the country; and I’ve had a certain amount to do with Romanians through my various thinktanky activities. In that context I’ve always found it puzzling that Romania punches well below its weight, as the largest country in south-east Europe: where you find bright Bulgarians and Serbs all over the place, Romanian experts seem about as numerous as those from the smaller ex-Yugoslav republics, which have perhaps a tenth the population. I don’t know why; Gallagher mutters here a bit about the failures of liberal activists, civil society and the education system but I think there’s more to be told.

Tom Gallagher is a lovely guy, and I have very much enjoyed his recent couple of books on the politics of the Balkans, while also wondering at the same time at the energy of an academic author who can turn out 350 pages of densely-researched text at such regular intervals. While I was slightly embarrassed to receive a review copy of his latest, since I don’t write regular reviews for any academic source, I feel I can discharge the obligations of expectation and friendship by writing it up here.

There are some very good things about this book. Gallagher’s account of Romanian politics in the decade after the 1989 revolution is detailed and probably definitive. I certainly came away with a much better understanding of the shifts between the various political parties. The account of the rise of Ceauşescu and of the West’s fervent but short-sighted and ill-fated embrace of him and his wife is also pretty compelling. On a personal level, I was pleased that two people in Romanian politics who I know and like, Adrian Severin and Daniel Dăianu, get good write-ups from Gallagher.

The other real strength of the book is its description of Corneliu Vadim Tudor and his extremist right-wing Party for a Greater Romania. Gallagher gets deeply into the party’s support base, its rhetoric, its leader’s very dubious past, and most crucially its links with the state security services. I found the whole story very reminiscent of the Serbian Radical Party and its allies immediately west of Romania, and almost wonder if there is some merit in doing a comparative analysis.

He’s also very good on the broken promises of the West to Romania after the government’s difficult and unpopular position to support the NATO campaign on Kosovo. But to be honest if I get started on the genesis and early history of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe (in Gallagher’s phrase, “less than meets the eye?”) I may never stop. I know from my own conversations that the Bulgarians had similar concerns to those Gallagher suggests the Romanians might have had at the time. The one serious puzzle I’m left with is, why did they not join forces? They would have been in a very good position to get more out of the West as a united front.

Gallagher’s basic argument about Romania’s future is that Romania is stuck between the former communists, led by Ion Iliescu, and the far-right forces of Corneliu Vadim Tudor; that the democratic centre-right is so badly burnt from its disastrous experience in government in 1996-2000 that is it now unelectable; and that the EU is not sufficiently monitoring the accession process.

This would have been a really good and timely message if the book had been published in 2001. However at the end of last year Iliescu retired, and the centre right managed to win both the parliamentary and (narrowly) the presidential election over the ex-Communists, with Vadim Tudor’s nationalists doing badly in the presidential vote (though picking up a bit in parliament). That very important development of Romanian politics kills much of Gallagher’s thesis in the final section. It rather mirrors the one serious weakness of the mid-section of the book, that we never really find out how it was that Romania went from effectively a single-party state in 1992 to a fragmented democracy in 1996.

Also, given that the EU is crucial to Romania’s future and to Gallagher’s argument, it’s rather a shame that he doesn’t seem to have done much research on the view from the EU itself, almost entirely sourced from media reports as far as I can see. His one extended comment on the topic, on p. 326-327, appears to argue that both euro-sceptic and europhile nations appear to be supporting Romania’s membership bid for diametrically opposed reasons. I’m not so sure. From the mutterings I have occasionally overheard in the corridors, I think there is a very interesting story to be told about the Romanian accession process as it has played out in Brussels. My own perception is that to a certain extent Romania has been able to piggy-back on Bulgaria’s relative success.

For what it’s worth I think he’s right to be very worried about the consequences for the EU of Romanian membership, but wrong to be too apocalyptic. Romania is probably in a worse mess now than any EU candidate state has ever been two years before accession. The explicit conditionalities of accession do indeed disappear in 2007. But as the ten new member states are now finding out, they are replaced by a whole new set of demanding rules of how to play the game – look at how Hungary’s championing of its minority in Vojvodina has backfired with the other 24. If one looks at the recent history of Greece, Portugal or even Ireland there’s no real reason to feel that Romania cannot make the same kind of progress given the right policies at the top.

I find myself at the end a bit puzzled by the book’s title – Theft of a Nation – there’s not in fact much evidence that national assets have been stolen on the same large scale as in Russia or Serbia, except for the EU structural funds, which the nation never got hold of in the first place. I also had to smile at an accusation against one of the main political forces – that, “under the guise of conducting polls, party employees reportedly telephoned several hundred thousand voters and while quizzing them propagated negative views about the opposition” p. 136 – <IRONY>scandalous behaviour which would not be tolerated in any western democracy.</IRONY>

So much work and knowledge has gone into this book that it is depressing to have to report that the editing seems pretty poor. There are numerous repetitions and awkward transitions between topics which could and should have been smoothened by a guiding eye. Some errors are obvious even to the non-specialist, for instance, that Valter Roman, the betrayer of Imre Nagy, was the father, not son, of Petre Roman (p 53). The word “algorithm” gets a horrendous mangling especially on p 155 where it is part of a sub-chapter heading. The use of Romanian diacriticals is annoyingly inconsistent: Constanţa is spelt Constanta throughout, but balanced by Petrovici being spelt Petroviçi; Adrian Năstase on p. 125 becomes Nāstāse, in a sort of Latvian way; and I even spotted an ã somewhere near the end. If you can’t get the orthography right, it’s better not to try it at all.

But for anyone interested in Romania, this really needs to be on your shelves. Now.

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Tablet on Buffy

See the 12 February issue of the Tablet, an ultra-Catholic British weekly magazine, for a fascinating article about the Christian sub-texts of Buffy. Good for them in publishing something that will make many of their traditional readership sit up in surprise. By Gavin White, described here as a “former lecturer in church history at Glasgow University”. I wonder what he is doing now?

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