Children’s passport fees

Irish: €15 for a three-year passport (under threes only)
Irish: €25 for a five-year passport (ages 3 to 17)

British: child under 16 (valid for five years) £36.50 / €57.00

Well, that’s an easy decision then.

(For adults it’s a bit more competitive, €75 Irish to €88 British, but not a live issue for us right now.)

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Fury from the Deep: Dutch accents

Listening to the audio verison of “Fury from the Deep” episode 1 on my way to work, I was intrigued by the accent of one of the characters; he sounded distictly African, and I wondered if this might be the first example of a black character in a Doctor Who story set in contemporary Britain (let alone the future)?

However it turned out that the character, van Lutyens, was supposed to be Dutch; he even finishes his first scene with a Verdomme! (recorded in the script as “mutters his reply in Dutch”). The actor, John Abineri, was apparently fluent in German, but that doesn’t explain the accent in this case.

I suppose it’s simply that to a British audience in 1968 (and indeed to a British actor) a South African accent sounded more realistically “Dutch” than a Dutch accent would have done. This was, after all, years before the UK joined the EEC. (I never saw “Van der Valk”, which started in 1972; did its Dutch characters have accents? Or was it all played as if everyone spoke perfect English? Which of course is not totally unrealistic for Amsterdam.)

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Interested in election observing?

There are some interesting elections coming up before the summer, all of which will presumably have OSCE election observation missions deployed to them, which will in turn need people from OSCE participating states (Europe, former Soviet Union, US and Canada) to do the observing.

Croatia: holds local elections in May some time. Nothing too exciting expected.
Bulgaria: parliamentary elections in June. Interesting politically – how will the King do?
Albania: parliamentary elections to be held in July. Could be, er, exciting.
Kyrgyzstan: date unknown but probably the most interesting election this year!

US citizens interested will find the relevant information here, British citizens here and Canadians here. Irish citizens – I have a copy of the application form and the name of the person to send it to in Development Cooperation Ireland; feel free to contact me (but read the other websites first as they give a pretty good idea of what is required). The Dutch system is less formal but the requirements tougher. The Belgian Foreign ministry has information hier and ici. There’s also an EU form here.

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Dental advice

From Saturday’s Guardian:

Q: I am in my early 20s and considering spending £4,000 on cosmetic dentistry. I have healthy teeth, but they are crooked and that affects my confidence. Is it worth the money and the pain to have perfect teeth, or should I put the cash towards a deposit on a flat?

A: For much less than half your £4,000 you could fly to Belgrade and have your teeth corrected with a high degree of professionalism. I know of at least six high-calibre Serbian dentists who frequently treat English “dental tourists” – all very legal and above-board. You will see a new country, get a happy solution to your confidence-drop and still have money in the bank for that deposit.

I can only agree. The best dental work I’ve ever had was from a Serb dentist in Banja Luka. It would not surprise me to find that they are even better in Belgrade.

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Cultural excursion

So, it being an Easter Monday blessedly free of work comitments, I decided to take the first steps in exploring Belgium’s megaliths. F and I set off to do the cluster around Tienen, finishing up with the caves of Folx-les-Caves.

Stop 1: The Lange Steen, near Bost bij Tienen. My source said it was 600 metres south of the church, but gave no other information. Church fairly obvious; road south fairly obvious (and helpfully designated as “Langesteen”); stone invisible. I asked a woman working in her allotment if she knew of a “lange steen” anywhere near by. She did not. F darkly muttered that she might have taken it away. I felt this was unlikely. We moved on.

Stop 2: Also near Tienen, the church of Our Lady of the Stone, O.L.V.-ter-Steen. This turns out to be a real find. In fact we were there too late, as Easter Monday morning sees a procession of horseriders (many of them Dutch) pass the church in a ritual that presumably goes back to a time when the Lady of the sacred site was Epona rather than Mary.

In addition there is a pedestrian pilgrimage, the “dertienmaal”, as people walk back and forth between the church and a nearby one thirteen times. On top of that, if the right rituals are performed while wearing an iron crown inset with a semi-precious stone the local saint cures headaches and nervous disorders.

I asked about what looked to me like a megalithic standing stone tucked away behind the church; the locals looked embarrassed and flatly denied that it could possibly have any religious significance; it might, they said vaguely, have been a totally non-religious boundary marker in ancient times, for the point where three tribes’ territories met. Yeah, right.

Stop 3: Middelwinden tumulus. A tumulus is a big lump of earth, probably artificial (in this case definitely so as it was excavated some years ago). Nothing much to see, let’s move on, through winding roads across the lingusitic frontier.

Stop 4: The Caves of Folx-les-Caves. Definitely the high point of the day, for me and for F. Though I suppose topographically it was a low point? Anyway, you pull up at this ordinary-looking house by the side of the road, and in the back garden they have a gorge with stairs leading down to these caves. 4 euro gets you a guided tour in French from a little old man. The caves are completely artificial, first dug in Neolithic times, subsequently the lair of an 18th-century bandit, possibly the hiding place of the French army’s lost treasure, definitely one of Belgium’s first mushroom farms. One of the chambers boasts a tiled floor, which is not usual in caves; apparently it was the site of the village’s traditional Pentecost ball, until that event was banned by fire regulations. There are fossils in the roof, and some of the walls sport bas-reliefs created by “our Canadian liberators” in 1918. To be honest, the web-site slightly over-sells it, but for 4 euro you can’t complain. And F is small enough to get in for free. Eventually he began to worry that it might not be daylight outside, but I’d had enough by then as well so was happy enough to head home.

On the way back I saw a rarity – a hitch-hiker, trying to make it from his home near the caves to Brussels. He told me he had just dropped out of his politics degree in ULB; but since he already had a degree in physical education he was not too worried. I told him that I’d managed to get a job in politics despite having no academic qualifications whatsoever, so he can always go back to it if he really wants. Dropped him at the service station near Leuven and came home.

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March Books 15) Tomorrow’s Worlds

15) Tomorrow’s Worlds: Ten Stories of Science Fiction, ed. Robert Silverberg

A muscular collection this, of what was already old-fashioned sf when it was published in 1969 (presumably to cash in on the imminent moon landings): ten stories, set on each of the planets of the solar system plus the Moon. It’s a striking contrast to the two New Wave sf anthologies I recently read which were published around the same time, Dangerous Visions and England Swings SF. Includes two stories that I already knew, Clarke’s “Before Eden” (Venus) and Miller’s “Crucifixus Etiam” (Mars). Looking the rest up in the isfdb, all the inner planets stories are in fact widely reprinted, whereas Silverberg obviously had to scrabble a bit harder for the outer planets (Panshin’s “One Sunday in Neptune” seems to have been published first in this volume).

There are a couple of things in here that sf writers would never write about now. First up, the concept of any actual manned landing on the gas giants is generally discounted these days (indeed, Panshin knew enough in 1969 to discount it then). It’s generally considered that the surface is very far down, possibly not even a meaningful concept due to the phase changes in the lower atmosphere, and it would be impossible to recover anyone from there. Harry Harrison has to use a matter transmitter for his characters to return from Saturn in “Pressure”, and even then there are problems; Panshin’s characters don’t even try to touch bottom. On the other hand the Jupiter of Simak’s “Desertion”, and the Uranus of Weinbaum’s “Planet of Doubt”, could basically be any hostile planet anywhere in the galaxy.

Second, and tying into a previous dicussion of Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations”, we have the portrayal of women. The ten stories feature precisely three women characters between them. The narrator’s mother in Heinlein’s “The Black Pits of Luna” is straight out of Stereotype Central. Miss Stanley in Simak’s “Desertion” operates a machine that turns men into… something else. The central character, Fowler,

…wasn’t exactly afraid of her, but he didn’t feel quite comfortable when she was around. Those sharp blue eyes saw too much, her hands looked far too competent. She should be somebody’s Aunt sitting in a rocking chair with her knitting needles. But she wasn’t.

And in the end Fowler almost seems to be escaping from Miss Stanley as much as from humanity.

The third woman character is both the most interesting and from the oldest of the ten stories, Weinbaum’s “Planet of Doubt” which was first published in 1935. Pat Hammond (née Burlingame – she apparently hooked up with our hero, Ham Hammond, in a previous story, “Parasite Planet”) is an expert biologist, is deferred to on science issues by the men she shares the spaceship with, and works out the scientific puzzle on which the plot is based. Although admittedly she also bickers with her husband, wanders off and gets lost, and has to be rescued by the men, I was surprised to discover Weinbaum, whose brief career’s reputation rests much more on sensawunda than on social issues, writing such a strong female character, and frankly puzzled that none of the other nine authors managed to do so. Perhaps if Weinbaum had lived, he might have taken Astounding and science fiction as a whole in a completely different direction.

I’m sure there’s something to be written about attitudes to race (especially from Miller’s immigrant Mars in “Crucifixus Etiam”) and homosexuality (what are all these men locked up in spaceships doing to relieve tension?) but will have to leave that for others.

Spoilers below

Nine of the ten stories are basically about various displays of heroism in the process of planetary exploration. In Clarke’s “Before Eden” Man unwittingly destroys life on Venus. Man struggles with the alien world and overcomes it in Silverberg’s “Sunrise on Mercury”, Heinlein’s “The Black Pits of Luna” and (with the help of Woman) Weinbaum’s “Planet of Doubt”. The protagonists of Miller’s “Crucifixus Etiam”, Simak’s “Desertion” and Niven’s “Wait It Out” accept that their destiny is to be Changed by their environment (Mars, Jupiter, and Pluto respectively) so that they are no longer human. The two most recently written stories, Panshin’s “One Day on Neptune” and Harrison’s “Pressure”, both interestingly take the much simpler line of looking at how planetary exploration will change the relationship of the explorers to one other – Harrison’s hero invokes the death of Yuri Gagarin (who was killed shortly before this anthology was published, 36 years ago last Saturday) in his self-sacrifice, and Panshin’s first man on Neptune loses his friendship with his colleague because he comes out with a memorable quote to describe their achievement (prophetic, that, in view of Buzz Aldrin‘s post-1969 problems).

The exception is Raymond Z. Gallun’s “Seeds of the Dusk”, in which a dying earth hosts a decadent and nasty post-human civilisation, intelligent wildlife and an invasion by Martian spores. It obviously owes a lot to H.G. Wells (The War of the Worlds meets The Time Machine, perhaps) and in turn was very suggestive of Aldiss’ Hothouse stories. His pessimistic take on the future of humanity is more understandable since it was published in 1938, and apparently the author was teaching English to German refugees in Paris at the time he wrote it.

The best sentence from the best story in the book, starting off with boring detail and then ending in a quite unexpected alliterative lyricism:

The encampment was at the north end of the Mare Cimmerium, surrounded by the bleak brown and green landscape of rock and giant lichens, stretching toward sharply defined horizons except for one mountain range in the distance, and hung over by a blue sky so dark that the Earth-star occasionally became dimly visible during the dim daytime.

From Miller’s “Crucifixus Etiam”, of course.

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Pleasant day

Good and relaxed.

Went to Mini Europe with F and his aunt and uncle for most of the day. They’ve still got embarrassing gaps for eight of the ten new member states. For Poland they had the Gdansk town hall and monument to the shipyard workers, with little models holding Solidarność banners. For Cyprus they had the arena from Limassol. (The Cypriot and Greek national anthems sounded suspiciously similar.)

Then home, for a large Easter dinner (not awfully traditional – roast beef, potatoes, endives, red cabbage, broccoli), and then re-watching of Once More, With Feeling. Cor, what are Willow and Tara up to at the end of “Under Your Spell”?

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Hugos part 2

Congratulations to and !

Three cases of people with three nominations who won one but lost two (and since is competing against himself for Best Novella, he can’t win more than two anyway):

Larry Niven, 1976
won for The Borderland of Sol (novelette) but lost for:
ARM (novella)
Inferno [by LN & Jerry Pournelle] (novel)

Bruce Sterling, 1999
won for Taklamakan (novelette) but lost for:
Distraction (novel)
Maneki Neko (short story)

Michael Swanwick, 1999
won for The Very Pulse of the Machine (short story) but lost for:
Radiant Doors (short story)
Wild Minds (short story)

More details here supplemented by Rich Horton here.

Also congratulations to for one nomination rather than three…

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SDLP and Sinn Fein prepare for Westminster battle

Sunday Business Post
27 March 2005
By Paul T Colgan

With expectation mounting that the British general election will be called for early May, the SDLP and Sinn Féin are preparing to face off for the most critical battle in their recent history. Having endured more than three months of unprecedented criticism from the Irish, British and US political establishments, Sinn Féin will seek to drive home the message that it is unbloodied. At the same time, the SDLP leader Mark Durkan is still fighting for his political life.

The SDLP holds three Westminster seats. John Hume is making way for Durkan in Foyle, former deputy leader Seamus Mallon is handing over the reigns to Dominic Bradley in Newry and Armagh, while Eddie McGrady is again standing in South Down.

SDLP insiders concede that Mallon’s seat is all but lost to Sinn Féin’s coming man Conor Murphy, leaving the real battles to retain Foyle and South Down. McGrady is deemed safe having represented the constituency since 1987 and built up a strong personal vote.

But Durkan’s fate is finely balanced and the bookies are hedging their bets. Paddy Power is this weekend giving even odds that the SDLP will retain Foyle. The bookmaker is offering 5/1 that the party will win no seats, 9/4 that it will salvage one seat, and 5/1 that it will hold all three.

Nicholas Whyte, the Alliance party’s former director of elections and one of the North’s more respected number crunchers, believes Foyle is up for grabs and that the prospect of Durkan losing the seat is a distinct possibility.

“The chances of Sinn Féin picking up in Newry and Armagh are very strong,” he said.

“They are only 1,500 votes behind in Foyle going on the last Assembly election results. If they do pick up two seats then the second seat will be there.”

In 2003, Durkan watched his party’s share of the Foyle vote slump by almost 12 per cent, bringing Sinn Féin’s combined support to within 1,500 votes of the SDLP. Hume had benefited from a huge personal vote in 2001 and topped the poll with almost 12,000 more votes than Sinn Féin chairman Mitchel McLaughlin.

The thought that Durkan might lose out to McLaughlin in May is not one the SDLP party leader dares to contemplate. Were he to lose, serious questions would hang over his leadership and the very future of the party.

Whyte said, however, that as May’s election will be first past-the-post – unlike the Assembly poll, which was by proportional representation – Sinn Féin will have to work hard to bridge the healthy margin bequeathed to Durkan by Hume.

But Durkan is taking the threat seriously. The SDLP last week embarked on a new campaign designed to win over republicans in light of the Northern Bank robbery and the killing of Robert McCartney. Last Monday it unveiled a policy document outlining its pursuit of a United Ireland.

‘A Better Way to a Better Ireland’ envisages that referendums in the two jurisdictions be held simultaneously on the constitutional question.

The new campaign comes just a month after the launch of a similar one by Sinn Féin, leading to claims by republicans that the SDLP is jumping on the unity bandwagon. Sinn Féin has called on the government to prepare a green paper on Irish unity – a request that was last week rebuffed by foreign affairs minister Dermot Ahern who called it a “red herring” while weighing in behind the SDLP.

SDLP strategists make no bones about the party’s republican credentials and say that the document had been in “gestation” for some time. “We would hope that referenda would be held as soon as the political institutions are bedded down and working properly,” said a SDLP source.

“We’re not shy about referenda and we don’t see why they would necessarily be defeated – we believe a majority for a united Ireland can be won.”

Fianna Fáil has again tacked its colours to the SDLP mast, just as it did before the Assembly elections of 2003.

Dermot Ahern last week attended the Newry launch of the ‘Better Ireland’ document and compared those calling for a green paper to “snake-oil salesmen”. While Ahern no doubt intended that his remarks be directed at Sinn Féin, he also managed to ensnare former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds with the barb.

Reynolds had earlier been reported as calling for just such a green paper.

The Dublin political establishment is certainly hoping that Durkan survives May’s challenges. Flanking the SDLP leader in Dublin last week were Liz O’Donnell of the Progressive Democrats and Labour’s Liz MacManus.

While such camaraderie may lift spirits in the SDLP camp, it is unlikely to transfer into extra votes. Bertie Ahern’s endorsement in 2003 did nothing to stop Sinn Féin consolidating its lead over the party – taking 24 seats to the SDLP’s 18.

Neither did the presence of a contingent of political advisers drafted in from Fianna Fáil, Labour and PD gene pools to assist with the SDLP campaign.

A recent opinion poll carried out for the Belfast Telegraph will have set SDLP nerves on edge showing support for it and Sinn Féin at level pegging on 20 per cent each. Given that the poll was conducted amid sustained criticism of Sinn Féin over the IRA’s alleged involvement in the Northern Bank robbery, a money laundering operation and the killing of Robert McCartney, republicans took solace from the healthy showing.

A poll for the same paper in the days before 2003’s elections significantly underestimated support for Sinn Féin and predicted that the SDLP would emerge as the largest nationalist party.

The respectable showing by Sinn Féin’s Meath by-election candidate Joe Reilly, who actually increased his share of the vote by 3 per cent, suggested to many observers that the party had not been heavily damaged by recent events.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin is preoccupied with the prospect that only one unionist candidate will run in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and that the SDLP may stand aside in West Tyrone to make way for independent Kieran Deeney.

The Ulster Unionists and the DUP are debating whether to proceed with a pact in Michelle Gildernew’s constituency, while reports last week suggested the SDLP was split over whether Deeney, an Assembly member, should be given a free run at Sinn Féin’s Pat Doherty.

A unionist pact would cause Gildernew problems. Were the DUP’s Arlene Foster (who defected from the UUP along with Jeffrey Donaldson) selected as a unity candidate, Sinn Féin would have to work hard to hoover up support from SDLP voters.

Gildernew beat the UUP’s James Cooper by 53 votes in 2001 and many believed the unionist was deprived of the seat after the decision of independent anti-agreement unionist Jim Dixon to run.

Hah, I like being “respected”. Unfortunately I had to end my political career and leave the country to get that accolade…

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Hugos – first take

Best Novel

  • The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks – must buy
  • Iron Council by China Miéville – next on my “to read” list
  • Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross – must buy
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke – have read it; liked it
  • River of Gods by Ian McDonald – have read it; liked it

As  points out, an all-British list.

Best Novella

  • “The Concrete Jungle” by Charles Stross
  • “Elector” by Charles Stross – have read it; liked it
  • “Sergeant Chip” by Bradley Denton – have read it; didn’t like it
  • “Time Ablaze” by Michael A. Burstein
  • “Winterfair Gifts” by Lois McMaster Bujold – have read it; liked it

Best Novelette

  • “Biographical Notes to “A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes” by Benjamin Rosenbaum” by Benjamin Rosenbaum
  • “The Clapping Hands of God” by Michael F. Flynn
  • “The Faery Handbag” by Kelly Link – have read this; liked it
  • “The People of Sand and Slag” by Paolo Bacigalupi – have read this; liked it
  • “The Voluntary State” by Christopher Rowe – have read this; loved it

Best Short Story

  • “The Best Christmas Ever” by James Patrick Kelly – have read this; didn’t really like it
  • “Decisions” by Michael A. Burstein
  • “A Princess of Earth” by Mike Resnick
  • “Shed Skin” by Robert J. Sawyer – have read this; didn’t really like it
  • “Travels with My Cats” by Mike Resnick – have read this; didn’t really like it

Will update as time goes on with news of what’s available on-line.

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Look folks, let’s be honest.

It was good.

Eccleston is good – seriously alien and believable. Piper is good – not just screaming. Even Clive was good – the comic, self-referential moments didn’t overwhelm it. The settings were good (even if, thanks to , I now know that some of them were in Cardiff not London). The background music was OK, certainly not as bad as Sylvester McCoy warned. The only thing that didn’t quite gel for me was the climax, which I thought was drawn out a bit too long.

Ken from Dublin via Antwerp and Anne’s sister were here to help us watch it. I’ll be in America next weekend, and Albania three weekends from now, but hope to catch all the rest.

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Сяньня ў Кіргізстане, заўтра ў Беларусі

Or will it? Things are never as simple as they seem.

Via I’ve been skimming ‘s journal, generally written biligually in Belarusian and English (where you will find the translation for the headline above). He has a very interesting post about why Belarusians tend not to use Belarusian. As far as I can tell more than half of the comments are actually in Russian rather than Belarusian.

And now I’ve just found the community, advocating Ukraine’s European destiny, with its user info written in Russian rather than Ukrainian. (My attention was drawn to this rather indirectly by .)

I still have a lot to learn.

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March Books 14) Emerald Magic

14) Emerald Magic: Great Tales Of Irish Fantasy, ed. Andrew M. Greeley

Collection of fifteen fantasy stories set in Ireland, thirteen of them published here for the first time. Another one for my list. Thanks to for tipping me off about this in the first place.

The authors are a stellar array: Diane Duane, Tanith Lee, Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple, Judith Tarr, Elizabeth Haydon, Charles de Lint, Ray Bradbury, Andrew M. Greeley himself, Jane Lindskold, Fred Saberhagen, Peter Tremayne, Cecilia Dart-Thornton, L. E. Modesitt, Jr., Jacqueline Carey and Morgan Llywelyn.

All of these are competent enough, but few really grabbed me. Most of them are either cut-n-paste from Celtic mist themes (merrows; the wee folk; a rather pedestrian retelling of the Oisin legend) or else simply transplant well-worn fantasy tropes into an Irish setting (a couple of vampire stories, one including Bram Stoker; a little girl with a ghost kitten).

My expectations may be too high. Being Irish myself, I hoped this collection might be of stories that didn’t drip too much of Celtic mist, and didn’t equate being Irish with being funny. (I’ll always remember a non-Irish friend who told me that she’d been speaking to a colleague on his mobile phone and {*giggle*} he was in an Irish pub at the time. “Yes,” I replied, “That’s because he’s in Dublin, and you don’t in fact get other kinds of pub there.”) I tend to sympathise with the heroine of Charles de Lint’s “The Butter-Spirit’s Tithe”, who is chided for her lack of fervent Celtiosity by the narrator:

I shrugged. “I don’t know. It just seems that for a woman born in Ireland, who makes her living playing Celtic music, you don’t care much for your own traditions.”

“What traditions? I like a good Guinness and play the dance tunes on my box – those are traditions I can appreciate. I can even enjoy a good game of football, if I’m in the mood, which isn’t bloody often. What I don’t like is hen people get into all that mystical shite.” She laughed, but without a lot of humour. “And I don’t know which is worse, the wanna-be Celts or those who think they were born to pass on the great Secret Traditions.”

Of course, this being a Charles de Lint story in this particular anthology, she is in fact drawn into the “mystical shite” in one of the three particularly grabbing stories of the anthology. And of course, I too am susceptible to well-told stories in this genre; it’s just that my demands of the authors are probably higher than the book’s target readership.

On of the two other standout stories for me was Jacqueline Carey’s “The Isle of Women”, an episode from the Mael Duin saga, but told for a change from the point of view of the women, in Carey’s typically sexy prose (though she tones it down here compared with her novels). I’ll pretty much buy anything with her name on it these days.

The other great story was the very first, “Herself”, by Diane Duane. I happened to catch the end of the story when the author read it at P-Con back in 2003, and was delighted to recognise it immediately. Rooted very much in the reality of 21st century Dublin, but the leprechauns etc are still trying to eke out a living in today’s world; threatened, quite literally, by the Celtic Tiger. A hilarious bit of satire, which will have completely mystified those readers who only know Ireland from folk music and cinema.

Right I have to see if I can pull these thoughts together into a longer piece on Ireland in sf and fantasy. But the weather is good so it may take a while.

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My Northern Ireland election predictions

East Belfast: The UUP have been talking tough here, pointing out that they were only 2000 votes behind the DUP in the Assembly elections and suggesting that they are snapping at Peter Robinson’s heels. However, leaving aside the wider political situation which does not seem to point to massive UUP gains at this election, the DUP’s Westminster election performance here has always been ahead of their result in other elections. I don’t foresee any change.

North Belfast: This year, Dodds (DUP) is probably safe enough. For future elections, watch the growth of the Sinn Fein vote.

South Belfast: This could be very interesting. The SDLP have been talking up their own chances, since they came second in both Westminster and Assembly elections here; in my view, their Westminster election result is inflated by around 1700 voters who would have voted for a pro-Agreement UUP candidate, had one been available. This year the UUP candidate is indeed pro-Agreement, but that will also mean the DUP eroding votes from them on the other side; and the DUP were only 1900 votes behind them in the Assembly elections.

West Belfast: Adams (SF) seems pretty safe here.

East Antrim: This seat will be at the top of the list of DUP potential gains. They lost to the UUP by only 128 votes in 2001, and were almost 1700 votes ahead in the 2003 Assembly election.

North Antrim: Paisley (DUP) looks safe here.

South Antrim: On the numbers, the DUP must have a fair chance of regaining their by-election victory of 2000. They were only 1000 votes behind in 2001, when the UUP were helped by tactical voting, and actually 100 votes ahead in the 2003 Assembly election.

North Down: This is Northern Ireland’s most volatile constituency, and it’s likely that the 2005 election will feature major parties who stood aside in 2001. Much may depend on whether or not Robert McCartney (UKUP) decides to stand again. In the Assembly election the UUP were a comfortable distance ahead of all others, but 900 votes behind the UKUP and DUP combined.

South Down: Of the three SDLP seats, this is the least likely to fall to Sinn Fein, with the biggest numerical mountain to climb and with McGrady (who has repeatedly been able to reach voters that other SDLP candidates cannot reach) the only incumbent SDLP MP running for re-election.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone: There has been much talk about the potential for a Unionist unity candidate here, but given the circumstances and personalities involved, it seems unlikely. Under those circumstances Gildernew (SF) will likely retain her seat.

Foyle: SF were only 1500 votes behind the SDLP in 2003, and with the departure of John Hume will be hoping for another gain here to add to the likely capture of Newry and Armagh.

Lagan Valley: Donaldson’s defection to the DUP probably means, at the very least, that this constituency will not deliver the best UUP result in Northern Ireland, as it did in the last three elections. Donaldson needs to bring with him roughly 40% of his 2001 Westminster vote, or a similar proportion of his personal vote from the 2003 Assembly election, to win again here for the DUP.

East Londonderry: If the DUP can maintain their electoral momentum, Campbell is safe.

Mid Ulster: Looks pretty safe for SF.

Newry and Armagh: Without Seamus Mallon, it seems unlikely that the SDLP can hang on here; in 2003 they won only one Assembly seat to SF’s three, a result foreshadowed in the 2001 local government elections.

Strangford: Absent a huge swing against the DUP, Iris Robinson looks pretty safe for now.

West Tyrone: There’s been some speculation about the prospects of Kieran Deeney running as an independent candidate to stop Doherty (SF) winning again. It seems unlikely that he would secure the necessary backing from the other political parties, though.

Upper Bann: On the numbers, the DUP must fancy their chances of claiming Trimble’s scalp. They were only 2000 votes behind in 2001, less than 400 behind the UUP in 2003.

So in summary, DUP to win 7-9 seats, SF 5-6, UUP 3-5, and SDLP 1-2. Not especially good news.

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Orthography poll results

Everyone can see the incorrect Romanian ţ, Greek τ, Cyrillic т and ќ, and, interestingly, Hebrew ת and Arabic ﺕ (so standard installation obviously includes weird Cyrillic as well as standard Cyrillic, Latin, Hebrew and Arabic).

Two-thirds of you can see the Georgian თ and Armenian տ (and if you can see one you can see the other).

About 60% of you can see the correct Romanian ț. It’s odd that this character, used by ten times as many people as the Macedonian ќ, is not more widely supported.

About half of you can see the Han 偸.

Very few of you – about one in six – can see the Cherokee Ꮦ and the Ogham ᚈ. (I can’t see either myself; my screen just shows question marks.)

Two of you, both living in Edinburgh, can see the Cherokee Ꮦ but not the Ogham ᚈ – why is Edinburgh more tuned in to Cherokee than to Ogham?

An interesting experiment. Thank you all for participating, and please excuse the font fascism of this entry.

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Moldova – the inevitable happens

by Brussels Gonzo (originally published on A Fistful of Euros)

As I end my two weeks here as a guest blogger, with events turning dramatic in Kyrgyzstan, the revolution that didn’t happen is fizzling out in Moldova. (See today’s RFE/RL Newsline, which unusually has no less than five stories from the forgotten republic.)

Those few of you who have been following the story may recall that the ruling Communist Party won the recent elections with 56 seats out of 101 in the parliament. However, President Vladimir Voronin will require 61 votes to get re-elected by the parliament on 4 April. The leaders of the two opposition factions who between them won the other 45 parliamentary seats pledged that they would boycott the vote, thus ensuring that no president would be elected and triggering new parliamentary elections.

Well, it’s not difficult to work out the political mathematics. If you’re an opposition MP, do you vote for new elections in which you might lose your seat, or see if you can get a deal from the President?

Former speaker of the parliament Dumitru Diacov has found an answer to the equation by splitting with the larger coalition as part of which he was elected, and now leads a faction of 8 MPs. It would be very foolish at this point to bet against President Voronin’s re-election in ten days’ time, probably by 64 votes to 0.

It is probably for the best. President Voronin is not the rabid anti-democratic Communist painted by the Moldovan Christian Democrats, the PPCD, any more than he is the enlightened pro-Western ruler depicted by Vladimir Socor in his Wall Street Journal columns (or by the Russians, if with a slightly different nuance); he is a not especially talented apparatchik who happens to have been in the right place at the right time and ended up running the country. He is not especially good at it, but fresh elections would almost certainly not have brought a better government to power.

Moldova will almost certainly sink back into torpor, with occasional sabre-rattling across the Dniester. And I’ll continue to read A Fistful of Euros for insights and information into what’s going on in this crazy, complex continent of ours.


Nice post. I’ve written some more on Moldova, quoting you. AFOE’s trackback isn’t working at the moment, though, so here’s the link.

Posted by: Andy at March 25, 2005 07:14 PM


Very interesting post. Like your entire Blog, very informative. Keep on blogging!!

Dancing With Tears In My Eyes


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