Slept badly last night; made it into the office for two work meetings, and then came straight home after lunch and went to bed. Have emerged now, though not sure for how much longer. B has been quietly flitting around the house for the last few days, looking ill, wrapped in various duvets, not doing much or eating anything; my appetite has pretty much vanished as well, so I think I’ve got whatever she has had. I forecast a few days of quiet at home, catching up with work by email if and when I can.

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Further on the EU constitution

First off, there’s nothing like attending an EU-sponsored conference about something almost entirely different when major apocalyptic news like this comes down the pipeline in the middle of the first night dinner. Also striking that the Parisian passers-by seemed pretty pleased with the news – yes, Carl, I know that Paris voted massively in favour but that wasn’t obviously the case around the Trocadero yesterday.

Second, in answer to , of course the EU is just as governable now as it was last week. The constitution streamlined things a bit but not a lot. Insiders whinge a bit about the 25 taking longer to get through their prepared statements than the 15 used to (and some of the older ones remember when it was only 12) but decisions still seem to be being made. (And indeed it’s 27 not 25 these days, as the Romanians and Bulgarians already get to sit in the meetings though without voting rights.)

Third, to  – in fact all 28 of the then applicant states were fully involved with the last constitutional conference, including not only the 25 plus Rom and Bul but Turkey too, so I doubt that people are awfully concerned about the Croats and Macedonians causing a huge difference if it went back to a new intergovernmental conference. It’s also frankly difficult to conceive of any deliberative body constituted out of the political elites from the 25, or 27, or 28, or 30 states coming up with a document much different from the one they got last time. And sadly I don’t think the EU is yet ready to embrace the British Columbia model which for my money is best practice in this kind of thing.

Fourth, to ,  and  again, I don’t think they’ll rush to impose just the bits they like from the constitution any time soon. After the Dutch deliver their anticipated “no” on Wednesday I expect the EU summit next month will declare the ratification process to be suspended, and that Blair and perhaps also Schüssel will be put in charge of a “period of reflection” during the British (second half of this year) and maybe also the Austrian (first half of next) EU presidencies. This also means that the UK referendum on the constitution will be on indefinite hold.

Fifth, I do hope this doesn’t have too much impact on the coming enlargements, especially for the Croats (already knocked back by their own failures on the war crimes issues) and the Macedonians (victims of a particularly silly campaign by the Greeks over the name issue). The Turks were going to be facing bigger problems anyway with the coming German elections and with various other factors. As long as further enlargements proceed, even if delayed a year or so, I won’t weep too many tears for the constitutional treaty – I’d rather have had it, but the EU will manage without.

Finally, , are you really Swedish or just trying to confuse me?

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Done it

Just completed a work task I had to bring home for the weekend. Whew! Now I can relax a bit – until I leave for the 1740 train to Paris…

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“macs”, by Terry Bisson – revisited

Checking the referrer logs for my site I found several visitors who had come via the F&SF discussion board, on foot of a discussion of what sounds like a very silly story about a same-sex marriage between President Bush and Osama Bin Laden, in which my account of a usenet discussion a while back on “macs”, by Terry Bisson, was brought in as evidence.

Slightly stunned by a comment from none other than Ellen Datlow to the effect that

“Boy, the initial poster of the “macs” discussion completely missed the point–that it was against capitol punishment. Another person in the discussion had to point it out to him. I’m surprised anyone could read it as an “endorsement” of CP. I find that really depressing.”
As the the initial poster of the “macs” discussion, I certainly did not read the story in that way – it is and was pretty clear to me that it was satire and an anti-capital punishment story, and I completely agree with the political message. I obviously failed to make that clear to some of the people who responded, and to Ellen Datlow.

The message of the story is, in my view, fatally weakened because of Bisson’s lapse of taste in using real people from a real mass murder as the butts of his satire. Using public figures like President Bush or Osama Bin Laden is fair game, but “macs” went too far in mocking private grief. (Probably Bisson has not had any personal encounters with victims of mass murder, which explains but in my view does not excuse his insensitivity.)

I admit I have an additional cultural problem in trying to understand why there is even a debate about capital punishment in America, but that’s a different matter.

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Many many thanks to

…for helping us out with a domestic emergency last night. Obviously you got home OK, and I hope had a good night’s sleep eventually.

And “Tarzan” was a great success.

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Makes sense I suppose…

…and ties in with being Giles in the “Which Buffy character are you” meme:

You Are The Wayfarer Guide
“I’ll show you the way.”

Your deep insight and quick wisdom never ceases to amaze those around you. You are the guiding light for many of those you know and are not afraid to help anyone else who asks. Not very many acknowledge your tremendous help and effort, but you do not mind that so much. You’ve seen what is in store for them, and will be there should they need your help. You enjoy people in general, but are very selective of who you let see the real you. Others see you as an enigma of sorts, a mystery that is seemingly ever changing.

Which Classic Story Role Do You Play?
brought to you by Quizilla

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“Sir, you have never been to Minsk.”

Representative Ford: If you had known that the Soviets would send Lee Harvey Oswald to live in Minsk, what would your reaction have been?
Mr.Snyder (US ambassador in USSR): Serves him right.
Ford: Why do you say that?
Snyder: Sir, you have never been to Minsk.

Thanks to ‘s latest post (an extract from the Warren Commission testimony). One of my colleagues once interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald’s ex-girlfriends in Minsk. Small world.

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So, am just back from this rather weird conference – run by NATO and the Swedish government; I was on a panel with three foreign ministers, two members of parliament and one senior US diplomat (#3 in the State Department, Condoleeza Rice being #1 and Zoellick #2). Basically everyone made speeches, and then I tried to inject some sense into it (speaking last – will post the transcript tomorrow). Then the chair (one of the foreign inisters) took contributions from the floor, starting with another foreign minister who happened to be in the audience and then a deputy foreign minister, then down to NATO ambassadors. The only two others of lesser rank who spoke were a rather strange Canadian diplomat and a friend of mine from the Belgrade NGO community.

The whole thing was meant to be a dialogue between us policy types and the actual policy makers. But the dialogue didn’t really happen – once the chair had allowed the first long speech to be made, everyone else felt they could do the same. The French and American panellists managewd to bring out the worst in each other (uncharacteristic I know for the American, and I’m told by those who know him also unusual behaviour for the French guy). And the ambassadors were just awfully boring.

The lesson for me is that if you have a time limit you should stick to it, no matter who the first speaker is. Once you have done that, the rest of the meeting will go smoothly.

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My worldcon programme

I’m rather pleased about most of this:

Thursday 6:00pm  The Digital Divide
       Jon Courtenay Grimwood
       Christopher Rowe
       Don Sakers
       Renee Sieber
       Nicholas Whyte
Are we rushing to build a web-enabled society that disenfranchises those unable or unwilling to adopt the online lifestyle? Governments justify the push for e-services on the basis of cost savings, but even aside from privacy considerations, what are the implications for those happy with society as it is?

I admire both JCG and Chris Rowe’s writing. Dunno who the other two are, but will now find out!

 Friday  11:00am  The High Frontiersmen
       Keith DeCandido
       Ken MacLeod
       Ian McDonald
       Nicholas Whyte
   Is it inevitable that space will become the next battleground for geopolitics?

Excellent topic, and one that I’d been planning to read up on anyway – I love both Ken and Ian’s work, and I guess I can provide a voice from the professional international politics community.

 Friday  12:00 noon Dr. Who retrospective: The Best Years
       Chris Barkley
       Paul Cockburn
       Paul Cornell
       Kathryn Sullivan
       Nicholas Whyte
   What were the best years of Dr. Who?  While part of the discussion can include “who made the best Doctor,” it goes beyond that.  Which years had the best scripts?  The best set-ups (e.g, comparing the UNIT years with the more free-wheeling years with the years that included major arcs).

Am a little awed by being asked to speak on this. Really, if anyone feels they would do a better job, I’ll give up my place to them. (And then heckle from the audience…)

 Saturday11:00am  Byzantium at our Borders in the 21st century: the Future of Europe.
       Keith Brooke
       Jon Courtenay Grimwood
       Patrick J. Gyger
       Irma HirsjSrvi
       Nicholas Whyte   (M)
   Would we have had to [have] had a different past to have a different future? What would be the consequences if “recognition of Europe’s Christian heritage” is inserted into the constitution.

Of course, the constitution per se may well be dead as a doornail by this time next week… but this may turn into a rather interesting AH panel. Shouldn’t be too difficult to moderate.

 Sunday  10:00am  Is the American Empire on the Verge of Collapse?
       Ken MacLeod
       Patrick Nielsen Hayden
       Lawrence Person
       Robert Silverberg
       Nicholas Whyte

A strange glyph in my email indicates that I may be expected to moderate this, which on the one hand makes me feel I am not worthy, I am not worthy but on the other hand sounds really pretty exciting. Apart from the fact that it’s at 10 am on the Sunday…

 Sunday   2:00pm  Is The Future Asian? (1.5 hrs)
       Mari (Tatsumi ) Kotani
       Glenda Larke
       Klaus ¦. Mogensen
       Cristina Pulido Ulvang
       Nicholas Whyte
       Liz Williams   (M)
   What is the impact on the economy, ecology and military of the re-emergenct China on the West? As the Chinese economy grows, there is a greater need for natural resources and the competition for these resource[s] will increase. How does [this] affect the policies of each country?

I’ve begged to be let off this one as I don’t really know much about Asia, let alone China.

 Monday  11:00am  The World We are Making Now: Politics
       Claire Brialey
       John-Henri Holmberg
       Klaus ¦. Mogensen
       Caroline Mullan   (M)
       Nicholas Whyte
   Today’s adults are setting the stage for the next half-century. Our careers, our causes, and the decisions we take now will determine both [who] has power half a century hence and what they will use that power to do. What kind of world is being made now?

A good forward-looking panel into which I can inject some of my ideas (inflicted on some of you over the last few months) about careers and choice in the 21st century.

Right, guess I better get on with adding those of my co-panellists on livejournal to my friends list…

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My two worlds come together

Extraordinary – I see that the white knight who has paid Robert Sheckley’s medical fees and transport home from Ukraine is a member of the Board of my employers.

I’ve met him a couple of times at work things but had no idea he was an sf fan.

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Azerbaijan article, etc

I suspect the first of many we’ll be seeing this year, from Transitions On Line ().

Also, if folks are interested, we published a new report on Uzbekistan today. Not my department, but certainly worth reading.

All being well, I should have a new one out on Kosovo tomorrow, to tie up neatly with the one on Serbia earlier this week.

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My boss continues

The ex-Prime Minister of Portugal has been appointed the new UN High Commissioner for Refugees. So my boss stays with us. Oh well, he seemed in fairly good form generally this morning, so I think I can stick it out for a while longer.

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What I’m doing in Sweden

Panel 4 – “Acting in concert in the Balkans and elsewhere – how can institutional cooperation make the world more secure?”

Chair: Dimitrj Rupel, Foreign Minister of Slovenia and Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE

– Pierre Lellouche, Member of the French National Assembly and President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly
– R. Nicolas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Department of State, United States
– James Elles, MEP and Chairman of the Transatlantic Policy Network

– Kastriot Islami, Foreign Minister of Albania
– Nicholas Whyte, Director, European Programme, International Crisis Group
– Jamie Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for External Relations, Public Diplomacy Division

The funny thing is that I have already had long conversations with Rupel, Islami, Shea and to an extent Burns this year. So the public discourse catches up with the private…

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May books 6) Iron Sunrise

6) Iron Sunrise, by Charles Stross

Rather interesting experience to read this so soon after Banks’ The Algebraist. Strong points of comparison and contrast between the two books, most of which I think rebound in Stross’ favour. More when I do my mega-meta-Hugo nominees review.

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The Wedding

Steph and William’s wedding:

Preparing to make their vows

Just married

Caroline playing music (sorry for darkness)

Caroline, Ken, Ian, Deirdre

More Dublin folks (or at least the backs of their heads)

Steph’s friend making a speech

A lovely ceremony; we wish them many happy years together. Just sorry I didn’t take a few more pictures but no doubt there will be more. Meanwhile William’s own photo of the wedding party leaving the scene is here.

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US trip – day 7

First full day in Boston, so of course we had to go to the Boston Children’s Museum. Full of many exciting opportunities for intellectural exploration, but the only thing F was really interested in was the new big exhibition on Clifford the Big Red Dog, which wasn’t even supposed to open until the following day. Some readers may not be aware of Clifford the Big Red Dog; he is a cartoon character whose name is Clifford and he is a red dog. Also quite big.

U had a chance for some heavily supervised water play as well:

And even Anne had fun with bubble mixture (though I have to say the results here reminded me of a giant condom):

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US trip – day 6 – Whales

The tasks for the day seemed simple: return the hire car from yesterday’s journey, and then go whale-watching with Boston Harbor Cruises. The first bit was achieved with no difficulty, but the bloody useless Boston Harbor Cruises had booked us on the 10 am sailing rather than the noon one, and then cancelled the noon trip, and of course I found out at 10.30 am. So sharp words were exchanged. Then a desperate scramble to deliver, as promised, F’s whale-watching trip, which in the end meant booking a cruise out of Gloucester, 40 miles away, and renting another car to get there. Full marks by the way to 7 Seas Whale Watch who were excellent.

It all ended up much more expensive than I had thought, but there are some things you can’t put a price on.

Seeing real whales, really up close, is just fantastic. Difficult to capture on camera but I think these are the two best shots, of a long sleek body and then of the flukes (both humpbacks – though we did see fin whales as well)

Even U appeared sufficiently impressed to shed her usual apprehension of the camera:

So all ended well.

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US trip – day 5

A rather quiet morning as we got sorted for the journey to Boston. We got out to the Riverside Park and met up with my old friend David Feige for a pre-lunch drink.

Then rapid sorting out of rental car – the last time I drove an automatic was in Bosnia in 1997; I had to call the company to ask how to get the key out of the ignition once I’d stopped. they asked, rather sweetly, “Have you put the car in Park, sir?” I hadn’t. All was well.

So we set off, from the Island At The Centre Of The World to Cambridge, Massachusetts. It took, to be honest, a bit longer than the train would, even though I did not try the pointless detour to Providence, Rhode Island. The traffic in southern Connecticut was awful, and poor U, having been happily gnawing an apple for the first half of the journey, then brought most of it back during the second half, which meant more stopping.

Then arrived in Cambridge at R and T’s, getting slightly lost in the final stages but T talked me through the final stages in the manner of the grizzled veteran talking to the tyro pilot in an air disaster movie. And we slept very well.

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US trip – day 4

We're staying on West 83rd St, so nice and handy for Central Park, basically the first place we went to explore. There are of course many things to do there, but we concentrated on the Diana Ross playground (presumably named for the singer):

F at playground

Then a bit of a walk, and the Natural History museum, first of all for food in the cafe (which Anne was very impressed by) and then of course to look at the dinosaurs:

Family and dinosaurs Dinosaur on its own

I hadn't realised that the entire museum was a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt.

A wander on my own in the afternoon gave me no joy as I attempted to cash a cheque drawn on Citibank of South Dakota – Citibank New York didn't wan to know, and even Western Union turned up their noses at it, obviously suspicious of the issuer's credit rating, understandably enough. But I bought the four-volumes-in-two edition of Wolfe's Book of the New Sun at the nearby Barnes and Noble. Also decided to travel to Boston on Wednesday by car rather than train.

In the evening we went out with S and E to a restaurant called Serendipity, and met there my cousin A. The kids are not in fact particularly used to restaurants but the restaurant was used to children and happily provided F with the requested plain pancakes and plain ice cream.

They also provided us with a fright wig which had to be tried on in turn by most of us present:

The fright wig
Me Anne (with
nestling U)

And so to bed.

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