My tweets

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September Books 18) Constantinople, by Philip Mansel

My friend Yalçın Vehit recommended this book to me a couple of years ago, and he was absolutely right; it is a fascinating history of a fascinating city. After the first chapter, which describes the immediate aftermath of its conquest by the Ottomans in 1453, the first half of the book looks at various aspects of the city’s life – religion, hammams, the role of the vizier and the dragoman – and then the second half is an entertainingly meandering narrative of events from 1700 to the twentieth century. I have worked a lot on various former fringes of the Ottoman empire, and of course am following the Byzantine era via Gibbon, but this was the first book I have read about the empire as a whole. While it lasted, it was a fascinating and diverse multilingual society; though probably doomed from the moment that nationalism became a political paradigm among its peoples, the Ottoman Empire still survived Allied occupation of its capital and outlasted the German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires by several years.

Apparently one of the problems for a historian of the Ottoman Empire is that there is too much source material – all in Ottoman Turkish, which is written in the Arabic script abandoned almost a century ago and has many loan words from Persian no longer used by Turks. It’s not awfully clear that Mansell used much of this primary material, but he has done a thorough job on other sources, including contemporary memoirs by foreign visitors and, for the later period, local colour from novels by the city’s inhabitants. (Though he has much less to say about the rest of the empire, noticeably pulling his punches on the Armenian genocide.) It adds up to a compelling and informative read.

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The Doomsday Quatrain, House of Blue Fire

Having whined last week about the recent “Lost Stories” of the Seventh Doctor released by Big Finish, I’m glad to report that this month’s two plays in the regular sequence, both featuring the Seventh Doctor with no companions, are a bit better.

The Doomsday Quatrain, by Emma Beeby and Gordon Rennie (who I think are new writers for the Whoniverse), sees the Doctor apparently encountering Nostradamus in sixteenth century Florence; but as so often, all is not what it seems, and David Schofield is particularly good as the seer trying to make sense of a universe, and a life, which is very different to what he had thought.

House of Blue Fire, by Who stalwart Mark Morris, has a slightly different take on virtual reality; five guest stars (led effectively by Timothy West and Amy Pemberton) play the puzzled inhabitants of an abandoned hotel; the Doctor takes ages to show up and the plot then twists rather impressively at the end of episode two. Unusually, Sylvester McCoy is not on his top form, resorting to acting by Yelling Hoarsely In Terror several times, but the rest are good.

Both stories share a questioning of reality reminiscent of Philip K Dick, and also reflected in several of this year’s TV episodes, though that is probably a coincidence. Good listening but probably a bit impenetrable for non-Who fans.

McCoy mentions on the extras track that he is off to New Zealand to appear in The Hobbit (which I knew) and that he was the reserve choice after Ian Holm for Bilbo in the Lord of the Rings films (which I didn’t know). Looking forward to seeing him as Radagast!

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Pasta and houmous/hummus/حمّص sauce

You may spell it hummus, you may spell it houmous, you may spell it حمّص; but somehow I had not thought of using it as the base for a pasta sauce before. Normally I like to cook a thick cheese sauce for my lunchtime pasta, but this weekend we were temporarily out of milk and my eye fell on a full pot of the stuff. A little recipe googling and I found various options which I adapted as follows:

1) Set your pasta boiling
2) Lightly fry a few vegetables – I did three very big mushrooms and a quarter of a green pepper, all finely chopped, for two people; I could profitably have included onion as well, or aubergine instead of the mushrooms
3) When the vegetables are transparent, turn the heat way down, tip in the houmous and a couple of spoonfuls of water per person, also salt and pepper (I regretted having no coriander leaf), and stir till it has a constant consistency
4) Drain the pasta and add to the sauce, or vice versa
5) Serve and eat

Houmous is a bit too thick in flavour to work as a sauce on its own, but thinned a bit and with the mushrooms and green pepper for extra texture, it did very nicely; the whole procedure took about ten minutes from start to serving.

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September Books 17) Storm Harvest, by Robert Perry and Mike Tucker

A Seventh Doctor novel set between Survival and the start of the New Adventures, following sequentially from Matrix by the same authors. Having just listened to the Big Finish “Lost Stories” set in the same chronological gap, I am struck by how much better both this book and its predecessor are. From the story point of view, it is a basic alien invasion of a future human colony; but there is a lot of very pleasing homage to hard sf classics, particularly the intelligent dolphins of David Brin’s Uplift series, and monsters reminiscent of the various works of Larry Niven. Ace, as sole companion, gets some very decent character development setting her up for the more mature arc of the New Adventures; Perry and Tucker remind us that she has already been travelling with the Doctor for three years by this point. So, rather a good one.

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My tweets

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My tweets

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UARS re-entry

I've woken up and am following the re-entry of the UARS satellite via the wonders of the internet. On this channel I can see it over the Pacific Ocean, in the vicinity of New Zealand; this picture shows its last couple of orbits – it's not completely clear at first, but basically UARS will end by crossing the Pacific and passing over Canada and the Atlantic Ocean; probably won't get as far as Africa. (Actually this one is better.) And of course one can follow @UARS_Reentry and #UARS on Twitter for live reactions. The internet: where we can all share the experience.

Edited to add: looks like it survived this orbit and has another to go – even more likely to come down in the Pacific now. So I’m going back to bed.

edited again: Sounds like it did come down over Quebec.

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Birthday surprise
"I've had this well of excitement and anxiety. I'm terrible – TERRIBLE – at keeping secrets and more than once I'd had to stop myself from spilling it all out. Once or twice I've had to blatantly lie, which I hate, but I'm determined this will be a complete surprise."

The four stages of happiness: anticipate, savor, express, and reflect.
"My research has shown me that a key to happiness is squeezing out as much happiness as possible from a happy event. Unhappy people don’t have fewer happy experiences as happy people, they just think about them less."

The Night They Killed Troy Davis
"And I, at that point, thought about my father, a native of Hazlehurst, Georgia who had abandoned his home state for New York in 1941. He lived the remainder of his life there, firm in his belief that a black man's life was seen as worthless in Georgia. I grew up hearing the stories of the sadistic violence that was commonplace there, about a black women he'd known growing up who was raped and tortured by white men who went unpunished. I moved to Georgia in 2001, secure in my belief that the place had changed, that our efforts had yielded success and the stories my father told me were now consigned to the horror closets of history.
"But last night, progress, hopes and a black presidency be damned, the state of Georgia had the last word. And they were determined to prove the old man right."

People Being Stupid About Shakesp… or Someone Else
"The problem with Anonymous isn’t primarily that it gets so many things wrong. It’s that it’s a boring story, first and foremost"

The Ice Mummy: Little Known Facts
"Ötzi's body is covered with over 50 tattoos made with fine incisions into which charcoal was rubbed. In the shape of lines and crosses, they were probably used as pain-relieving treatments. Indeed, the tattooed areas correspond to skin acupuncture lines, which predate acupunture in Asia by two thousand years."

The Robot Population of Deep Space
"Right now there are 13 active deep space probes: Messenger [Mercury], Venus Express [Venus], Akatsuki [Vensu], MER-A, B [Mars], Mars Odyssey [Mars], Mars Reconnaissance [Mars], Dawn [Vesta, and Ceres], Rosetta [comets inc. 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko], Cassini [Saturn], New Horizons [Pluto in 2015], Voyager 2 [in interstellar cruise mode at 96 AU, over 3X the distance to Pluto] and Voyager 1 [also in cruise mode, now at 117 AU, almost 4X the distance to Pluto]"

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Rethinking Privacy and Publicty on Social Media
"The hyperbolic statements center around the idea that digital content is immortal and searchable by millions of others. While (mostly) true, it should also be noted that the vast majority of all digital content is seen by virtually no one. Maybe we just like the thought that everything we do is being recorded for all time, but the reality is very few people are looking at your latest tweet or photo. Sorry."

Embark on a flyover of giant asteroid Vesta from the perspective of NASA’s Dawn spacecraft
This is amazing.

Delivering the Book
Paul Scoones has finished The Comic Strip Companion: An Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who in Comics 1964 – 1979.

Representations of the Minotaur in Doctor Who
Just what it says.

No-show professor had excuse: He died in April
I actually knew him, but that was thirty years ago.

Abkhazia Boasts IKEA Goods and Pricey Sports Cars, but No ATMs

Cages, kids and the media
Rosi Sexton attempts to puncture the latest media hysteria before it gets started. "If this same contest had taken place in a sports centre with everyone dressed in martial arts outfits, the Daily Mail would have been utterly uninterested."

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More links

Israel and America on the Wrong Side of History – Gareth Evans – Project Syndicate

Mysterious paper sculptures – Weirdness in Edinburgh libraries.

The Beauty of The Kalevala – The great Finnish epic.

Victorian Visions of the Year 2000

Hugo Nominees: Conclusion – "I’ve learned that I still love Dune despite everything, and that the alien sex really is the only bit worth remembering from The Gods Themselves."

: Another week, another crisis – "Greek default would not be Armageddon"!

Massive Biometric Project Gives Millions of Indians an ID

: Across the digital divide – On the importance of paper books for those who can't afford gadgets.

Putting Into Words the Importance of Space Exploration: Apollo XI, September 16, 1969 – "We have taken to the moon the wealth of this Nation, the vision of its political leaders, the intelligence of its scientists, the dedication of its engineers, the careful craftsmanship of its workers, and the enthusiastic support of its people. We have brought back rocks. And I think it is a fair trade."

Where will the votes fall at the next election? – My article for last Friday's Tele.

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Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland – my input

Northern Ireland Boundary Commission proposals 2011 – observations by Nicholas Whyte

0. Introduction

I maintain the Northern Ireland elections website at, the most substantial archive of electoral information regarding the region available anywhere. Although I have not resided in Northern Ireland since 1997, I maintain a strong interest in these matters and was invited by BBC Northern Ireland to participate in their live telecasts of the election results in both May 2010 and May 2011. I was a candidate in North Belfast in 1996, and electoral agent for a local council by-election in 1995, but am not at present a member of any Northern Irish political party.

1. Overall observations

The Provisional Proposals of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland in most places make the best of a bad job. In particular, the proposals for three Belfast constituencies, while a little ragged at the eastern edges, are an elegant solution to the problem of reducing the city from four seats to three. Once the Commission had (correctly) made the strategic decision to make more changes in the northern seats than in the south, most of the proposed boundaries are generally as good as is possible given the legislative constraints under which the Commission works.

There are exceptions. Rather than creating a new Mid Antrim seat, the existing South Antrim and East Antrim seats can be altered to improve both on the Provisional Proposals and on the current situation; details are given below. A number of further amendments to the Provisional Proposals are also suggested, of which the largest is that six wards of Dungannon district, rather than Omagh district, should be transferred to Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

2. The numbers

But before getting to the detail, there is an important general observation to be made regarding constituency sizes. One gets a sense from the Provisional Proposals that the Commission has interpreted its mandate more tightly than is required by the legislation, and has favoured arrangements which bring Northern Ireland constituencies as close as possible to the UK quota of 76,641 electors.

If this is the case, the Commission may have misdirected itself. Its duty is simply to produce proposals for new constituencies where the electorate is between 70,583 and 80,473 electors. It should be agnostic as to where within that range the proposed constituencies’ sizes are to be found. There is no obligation to produce any more seats in the 76,000-77,000 range than in the 79,000-80,000 range.

In Northern Ireland specifically, the conditions under which the Commission may choose to exercise its discretion in proposing constituency sizes between 70,583 and 72,810 (which is the lowest permissible figure for most of the rest of the UK) are not perceptibly different from those applying to the range from 72,810 to 80,473. Exactly the same considerations under Rule 5 apply to both ranges. The Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland has been given greater freedom of manoeuvre than its counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales, and it should not hesitate to use that freedom.

It would not have been unreasonable for the Commission, in its Provisional Proposals, to have produced a set of constituency boundaries which rather strictly satisfy the mathematical criteria, in the realistic expectation that any Rule 5 issues, resulting from seats that are in the correct numerical range but otherwise have undesirable features, will be resolved through the consultation process. But that is not what it claims to have done (Chapter 5.3 and 3.25). The Provisional Proposals also refer to a ‘Northern Ireland electoral average’, which has no statutory basis. (It appears to be identical with the quantity N in 7(2) of Schedule 2 to the Act; but Parliament rejected amendments which would have enshrined a ‘Northern Ireland electoral quota’ in the legislation.)

In summary, the Commission has no obligation to consider any question relating to constituency size, other than ensuring that a proposed constituency has more than 70,583 and less than 80,473 electors.

3. Proposed alterations to the Provisional Proposals

The following proposals are made below:

  1. The proposed constituencies of South Antrim and Mid Antrim should be divided east-west rather than north-south, resulting in an amended South Antrim centred on Antrim district and Ballymena town, and an amended East Antrim including all of Larne and Carrickfergus districts with most of Newtownabbey.
  2. The proposed North Antrim should not include Carnlough ward and should be renamed to either Causeway Coast or North Antrim and Coleraine.
  3. The proposed Fermanagh and South Tyrone should include six more Dungannon wards rather than the six Omagh wards currently proposed.
  4. The proposed Mid Tyrone constituency should include the six Omagh wards currently proposed for transfer to Fermanagh and South Tyrone rather than the six Dungannon wards in the Provisional Proposals; and it should be renamed Mid Ulster.
  5. The ward of Lissan should be included in the Mid Tyrone / Mid Ulster constituency rather than the proposed Glenshane constituency.
  6. The ward of Loughbrickland should not be transferred from Upper Bann to South Down. Though it is not strictly necessary, the ward of Killinchy could be transferred to South Down from Strangford.
  7. The ward of Loughries should be split between Strangford and North Down.

3.1 South Antrim and Mid Antrim / East Antrim

The Provisional Proposals create a new seat of Mid Antrim which brings much of Ballymena district together with most of Larne and Carrickfergus districts. It is internally divided by a major geographical barrier (the Antrim mountains). There is no good quality road connection between Ballymena and Larne, let alone between Ballymena and Carrickfergus. Compared with the alternative option presented below, this seat is inconveniently shaped, has poor internal communications, breaches the local government boundaries of three district councils, breaches the boundaries of two existing constituencies, and ignores local ties between Ballymena and Antrim, on the one hand, and Larne/Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey, on the other.

It would be preferable instead to apportion the southern part of County Antrim as shown in the map (the thick blue line being the proposed improvements, and the Provisional Proposals which are to be changed in dim purple):

South Antrim East Antrim
  1. The whole of Antrim local government district, with 33,771 electors.
  2. The seventeen Ballymena wards which the Provisional Proposals would transfer from North Antrim to Mid Antrim (Glenwhirry, Kells, Grange, Ballee, Ballykeel, Moat, Castle Demesne, Summerfield, Fair Green, Dunclug, Harryville, Ardeevin, Park, Ballyloughan, Academy, Galgorm and Ahoghill), with 29,756 electors.
  3. Three Newtownabbey wards (Doagh, Ballyrobert and Mallusk) with 10,662 electors.
  1. The whole of Larne local government district (including the ward of Carnlough, which the Provisional Proposals would put into North Antrim), with 22,502 electors.
  2. The whole of Carrickfergus local government district, with 27,178 electors.
  3. Eleven Newtownabbey wards (Ballyclare North, Ballyclare South, Ballyduff, Ballynure, Burnthill, Carnmoney, Hawthorne, Jordanstown, Monkstown, Mossley and Rostulla), which the Provisional Proposals include in South Antrim, with 24,914 electors.
This seat would have a total electorate of 74,009, which is within the acceptable range of variation from the quota. This seat would have a total electorate of 74,594, which is within the acceptable range of variation from the quota.

Tested against Rule 5 of the regulations, there can be no doubt that this arrangement is better than the Provisional Proposals on almost every count. Larne and Carrickfergus districts are maintained intact rather than split, the close connection between Antrim and Ballymena rather than the tenuous connection between Ballymena and Larne is reflected in the boundaries, and Newtownabbey is kept within the East Antrim seat apart from its three westernmost wards.

3.2 North Antrim

The proposed North Antrim seat should not include the Larne ward of Carnlough, which should remain in the East Antrim seat described above (or be retained for the proposed Mid Antrim seat). Carnlough looks towards Larne rather than Ballycastle, and the constituency boundaries should reflect this. It is not needed mathematically. Removing Carnlough, which has 1442 electors, from the boundaries proposed for North Antrim in the Provisional Proposals still leaves North Antrim with 74,206 electors, which is within the acceptable range of variation from the quota.

In addition, the name of the proposed North Antrim seat should be changed, perhaps to Causeway Coast or to North Antrim and Coleraine. The largest town in the proposed constituency is now Coleraine, which has never been in County Antrim (and indeed was the seat of a county in its own right between 1583 and 1613).

3.3 Fermanagh and South Tyrone

The Provisional Proposals would transfer the Omagh District wards of Dromore, Drumquin, Fintona, Newtownsaville, Sixmilecross and Trillick (‘the six Omagh wards’), with a total of 9,685 voters, from West Tyrone to Fermanagh and South Tyrone. It would be preferable instead to transfer the Dungannon wards of Altmore, Coalisland North, Coalisland South, Coalisland West and Newmills, Donaghmore and Washing Bay, with a total of 10,836 voters, from Mid Ulster to Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

The six Dungannon wards specified together constitute the Torrent District Electoral Area of Dungannon and South Tyrone District Council. They were in fact part of Fermanagh and South Tyronefrom the creation of that constituency in 1950 until the 4th Periodical Review in the 1990s. They border Dungannon town, which is one of the two nuclei of the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency. Their links with the current Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency are much stronger than any connection between the six Omagh wards and Fermanagh or Dungannon. The six Omagh wards look to the town of Omagh, and should ceteris paribus be in the same parliamentary seat.

This change to the provisional proposals would bring Fermanagh and South Tyrone up from 78,664 electors, to 79,815, which is within the acceptable range of variation from the quota. The Provisional Proposals note with apparent pride (Chapter 5.4) that Fermanagh and South Tyrone is the only proposed constituency which differs by more than 5% from the ‘Northern Ireland electoral average’, but, as argued above, the Commission should attach no importance to that fact.

3.4 Mid Tyrone / Mid Ulster

As noted above, the seat of Mid Tyrone described in the Provisional Proposals should not include the six Dungannon wards of the Torrent DEA, currently in Mid Ulster, but should instead include the six Omagh wards, currently in West Tyrone, which the Provisional Proposals would transfer to Fermanagh and South Tyrone. This would bring the proposed seat from 77,713 electors to 76,562, which is within the acceptable range of variation from the quota.

In addition, the name Mid Ulster should be retained for this constituency. Its borders are very similar to the Mid Ulster constituency which existed from 1950 until the 4th Periodical Review in the 1990s, apart from the fact that Magherafelt is not included. It bears much less resemblance either to the 1929-72 Stormont constituency of Mid Tyrone or to the 1885-1918 Westminster constituency of Mid Tyrone. As far as there are historical associations, they are with the concept of Mid Ulster.

3.5 Glenshane and Mid Tyrone / Mid Ulster

The ward of Lissan should be included in the new Mid Tyrone (or, following the proposal above, Mid Ulster) rather than in Glenshane. Lissan is more integrated with Cookstown than the other two Cookstown wards to be included in Glenshane, and shares with it the BT80 postcode. This would ensure that the urban centre of Cookstown is not cut off from its immediate hinterland, and would also slightly ameliorate the considerable problem of internal accessibility in the Glenshane constituency.

With Lissan, the new Mid Tyrone seat will have 79,169 electors, or 78,018 if the above proposal regarding the Dungannon and Omagh wards is adopted. Both of these figures are within the acceptable range of variation from the quota.

Without Lissan, the new Glenshane seat will have 71,616 electors, which is within the range of discretion allowed to the Boundary Commission by Rule 7. This is clearly a case where that discretion should be applied in line with the principles of Rule 5.

3.6 Upper Bann, South Down and Strangford

The ward of Loughbrickland should not be transferred from Upper Bann to South Down. It looks to Banbridge, which is in Upper Bann, and has only poor quality road connections with Newcastle and Downpatrick, the main population centres of South Down. Transferring it from Upper Bann leaves the town of Banbridge cut off from its hinterland, with the urban centre in a different constituency to three of the four wards which border it.

If Upper Bann includes Loughbrickland, it will have 75,123 electors, which is within the acceptable range of variation from the quota. If South Down does not include Loughbrickland, it will have 72,092 electors, which is within the range of discretion allowed to the Boundary Commission by Rule 7. This is clearly a case where that discretion should be applied.

Alternatively (as illustrated), the Killyleagh ward could be transferred to South Down from Strangford, which would bring South Down up to 74,039 electors, and reduce Strangford to 73,112 electors, figures which are within the acceptable range of variation from the quota. Killyleagh is much closer to the South Down population centre of Downpatrick than it is to Comber, Newtownards, Dundonald or Carryduff in Strangford.

3.7 Strangford / North Down

The requirement on the Commission to take account of local government ward boundaries is in fact rather weak. Although in most cases, it is reasonable to take local government boundaries as building blocks, since they are the smallest well-defined units available; but there is already one split ward (Derryaghy, divided between West Belfast and Lagan Valley). In addition, the current ward boundaries will be substantially revised if the Review of Public Administration is ever brought into effect. The Commission should therefore be open to cases where division of a ward will improve the constituency boundaries.

The necessary transfer of the Ards Peninsula to North Down leaves the Loughries ward as a peculiar salient of Strangford into North Down territory. In fact the shape of the Loughries ward does not reflect the distribution of its population at all; around 90% of its electors live in the westernmost sliver of the area, in the houses on and off Strathearn Heights, Old Forge Lane and the northern part of Abbot Drive in Newtownards. The Commission should divide the ward of Loughries as illustrated by the thick blue line on the map to the right. Its eastern part, up to and including the townlands of Ballygrainey, Gransha and Loughriscouse, should be transferred to North Down. This change primarily affects the settlements of Loughries itself and Six Road Ends, and better reflects the communications network within both North Down and Strangford. The number of electors involved is not known, but cannot be more than a few hundred, and will not shift either North Down or Strangford out of the acceptable range of variation from the quota.

3.8 Other constituencies

Given the constraints, the Commission’s recommendations for the three Belfast constituencies and for Newry and Armagh, Foyle and Lagan Valley are acceptable, and no change to the Provisional Proposals is advocated here.

4. Conclusion

As I reside and work in Belgium it is unlikely that I shall attend any of the public hearings. I wish the Boundary Commissioners and their staff well in the coming months.

Nicholas Whyte, 20 September 2011

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September Books 16) The Way Through The Woods, by Una McCormack

A good, spooky Who story, one that you could easily imagine being an episode from the current series – indeed, it has a number of plot similarities with The Girl Who Waited which I suppose is coincidental. The actual plot, concerning a mysterious woodland in which people vanish without trace every sixty years, is allowed unusual primacy over the regular characters, with most of the viewpoints coming from inhabitants of the village near the woods. Very nice characterisation of the Doctor. I must say that in general this year’s crop of Who novels have felt more assured than last year’s.

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Dalek prototype

I had a pleasant breakfast with , and Abi over at Pendrift’s the other day, and our hostess mentioned that she had seen what she described as a ‘granddaddy Dalek’ in the Royal Military Museum, ten minutes’ walk from my office.

I popped over at lunchtime to look at it myself, and it’s clear that it’s one of Davros’s earlier designs – the Mark One, Two or Three, perhaps.

In fact it’s a German artillery piece from the 1890s, set on rails (not sure if that’s for transport or to deal with recoil).

There is just space inside for a small German (or Kaled) soldier:

But it must have been rather uncomfortable. Also, noisy.

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September Books 15) The Sharing Knife: Passage, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Somehow several years have passed since I read the first two books in this series, so a lot more time has passed for me than for the characters. But it is relatively self-contained; our newlywed heroes, Fawn and Dag, travel down river and further explore the nature of the powers shared by Dag and his people, while also delving a bit further into human nature and the relationships between two groups of people who have been brought up to regard each other with deep suspicion. Satisfying but relatively undemanding.

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An eighteenth century incident

On the recommendation of Lois McMaster Bujold, I got hold of the autobiography of Davy Crockett, and was stunned by this account of one of his uncles:

By the Creeks, my grandfather and grandmother Crockett were both murdered, in their own house, and on the very spot of ground where Rogersville, in Hawkins county, now stands. At the same time, the Indians wounded Joseph Crockett, a brother to my father, by a ball, which broke his arm; and took James a prisoner, who was still a younger brother than Joseph, and who, from natural defects, was less able to make his escape, as he was both deaf and dumb. He remained with them for seventeen years and nine months, when he was discovered and recollected by my father and his eldest brother, William Crockett; and was purchased by them from an Indian trader, at a price which I do not now remember; but so it was, that he was delivered up to them, and they returned him to his relatives. He now lives in Cumberland county, in the state of Kentucky, though I have not seen him for many years.

Presumably James Crockett was not actually deaf, but had a severe learning disability. In any case, it is extraordinary that the Cherokees decided to spare his life after killing his parents, and the mind boggles at the circumstances of his seventeen years as a prisoner/slave. I imagine that long-term captivity of whites by Native Americans wasn’t that uncommon, but surely the captors would have generally preferred to take those they could communicate with more easily.

Note also that this account was written in the 1830s; James Crockett was still living then, almost sixty years after his parents were killed in 1777. He may have been very young at the time, of course, which makes it even more extraordinary that his brothers recognised him in 1795 (when his nephew David would have been nine, old enough to remember the discovery of a long-lost uncle); though I find one source suggesting that he was born in 1758 and died in 1830 (so David, writing in 1834, was not up to date with family news; or the source is wrong).

Anyway, it makes me realise how little I know about care for those with learning disabilities in the past. (See here for a much earlier period.)

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September Books 13) British Science Fiction & Fantasy: Twenty Years, Two Surveys

This fascinating volume includes the answers given by 84 writers, mostly British, all in some way sf and fantasy writers, to two questionnaires about sf, circulated in 1989 and 2009. The 1989 survey answers are compiled and edited by Paul Kincaid, and the 2009 responses (rather longer due to more writers participating) by Niall Harrison, but structured in both cases as a series of conversations, relevant snippets sewn together to make a warm and friendly but thought-provoking whole.

It’s a book that deserves a much longer review than this, but just to pick three highlights: the fact that so many authors respond to the question of why they choose to write sf or fantasy by saying “it chose me” or words to that effect; the debate on the nature of Britishness in the genre; and the answers in the 2009 survey to the question of what the most significant developments of the previous 20 years had been. Strongly recommended.

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Irish elections: the Presidency and the SDLP

Two interesting political developments yesterday.

The presidential race in the Republic, having lost a lot of its sparkle when David Norris was forced to pull out, and again when Fianna Fáil failed to persuade one of their celebrity options to stand, is now heating up again. Not only is David Norris now trying to get back into the race, not only is Fianna Fáil now embarrassed by Tipperary senator Labhrás Ó Murchú who is determined to run his own backwoodsman bid, but it now seems that Martin McGuiness will stand for Sinn Féin.

I can’t believe that he will win, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he seriously embarrasses Fine Gael, whose candidate Gay Mitchell looks pretty unelectable. I would have thought that the race is between Michael D Higgins and David Norris if the latter actually runs, and that Higgins is a pretty sure bet if Norris remains on the sidelines. But it certainly makes things more interesting.

Meanwhile in the North, after the hapless Margaret Ritchie announced her intention to stand down as leader of the SDLP, no less than four candidates are racing to succeed her – three from Belfast and one from the West. I know all four slightly, and can see strengths and weaknesses to each: my early sympathies were with Patsy McGlone, but I have cooled on him since he made it clear that he resents not being a minister – though not to the extent that I prefer any of the other three to him.

The SDLP has two problems: its weakness at the polls (which has been augmented by a deliberate culture of keeping heads in the sand about the size of their electoral challenge) and its lack of a unique selling point that Sinn Féin is not providing better. As I did with the Ulster Unionists this time last year, I look forward to close analysis of what the candidates actually have to say for themselves on those subjects.

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Northern Ireland election site updates: councils and old Westminster elections

The excellent Conal Kelly has sent me updates for the elections in the 26 local councils of Northern ireland: Antrim, Ards, Armagh, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Banbridge, Belfast, Carrickfergus, Castlereagh, Coleraine, Cookstown, Craigavon, Derry, Down, Dungannon, Fermanagh, Larne, Limavady, Lisburn, Magherafelt, Moyle, Newry and Mourne, Newtownabbey, North Down, Omagh and Strabane. He has also sent me pages on the more distant Westminster elections of 1970, 1966, 1964, 1959, 1955, 1951, and 1950. All good stuff.

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Three Doctor Who tales

Tom Baker is back, with another series of five Fourth Doctor audios by Paul Magrs: the new Serpent’s Crest audios follow the Hornet’s Nest and Demon Quest sequences of 2009 and 2010. The first story has some promising elements: rather than narration by one of the main characters with occasional interjections from others, as in the previous audios, we have a proper full cast drama; and Richard Franklin’s Mike Yates is dropped from the story in the first scene, leaving us with the much more interesting Susan Jameson as the Doctor’s companion, Mrs Wibbsey. The story takes us to a distant cosmic empire where cyborg rulers are struggling to maintain control both of themselves and of their subjects: the Tsar is played by Michael “Valeyard” Jayston, and Tom Baker doubles up as the sinister Father Gregory, forty years after the two of them played Nicholas II and Rasputin respectively in Nicholas and Alexandra. Suzy Aitchison gets a slightly better deal here as the Tsarina than Janet Suzman did in 1971. It’s a surprisingly mainstream sfnal tale for all the Whovian trimmings – a little too pleased with itself, but could have been worse.

Reprinted from Doctor Who Magazine #88-#107, Voyager contains the adventures of the Sixth Doctor and his alien companion Frobisher, a shape-changing alien Whifferdill who prefers to look like a penguin, all illustrated by John Ridgway who gets a two-page interview at the start. The first half of the book has stories by Steve Parkhouse, which are visionary and surreal and take the Doctor to strange places in inner and outer space, swirling around the sinister magician Astralabus, but including of all things a Rupert Bear pastiche. The second half, by Alan McKenzie, is a little (though not much) closer to the TV series, even bringing in Peri for the last story, but is still rather better than the TV show was at the time. Ridgway’s art is superb as well. It is well established that I am not a Sixth Doctor fan but I recommend this volume.

I can’t be as enthusiastic, I’m afraid, about Blackout, a new audiobook by Oli Smith, read by Stuart Milligan (who played President Nixon in this season’s opening two-parter). It is a rather undemanding alien invasion romp which doesn’t make enough of its 1965 New York setting. Despite valiant efforts, Milligan does not quite succeed in capturing the accents and characterisations of Smith, Gillan and Darville; more seriously, he is white and the main viewpoint character is explicitly African-American. There’s an intriguing continuity reference to the Doctor’s knowledge of his impending death, but otherwise this really suffers from appearing in the middle of a run of TV episodes which are much better.

I couldn’t really recommend any of these to non-Who fans. For Whovians, Voyager turned out to be rather a gem.

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The last two times I posted my Delicious links by hand, Delicious posted them again a couple of hours later. I've turned off Delicious posting once more, though even that has not always been a smooth process ion the past, so hopefully you'll only see these once (unless you're following me on Twitter, in which case you may have seen them already).

Social media, black humour and professionals… – Anne Marie Cunningham queries the use of derogatory language in public spaces.

Raad van bestuur Belgacom dreigt met opstappen – Trouble at the top of my least favourite telecoms company!

Framework & Guidelines for Use of Social Media for Government Organisations (PDF) – Guidelines for (Indian) government officials on professional use of social media.

DUP could be biggest loser in the shake-up of boundaries – I get quoted in the Belfast Telegraph.

Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did – "He ended the terror of living in the South."

Why US Pays More for Health Care Than Other Nations – "Despite spending nearly twice as much, our results compared to other nations are disappointing. Take infant mortality rates. Studies show we have some of the worst results in the developed world. We pay for a Porsche but get a Yugo."

Ellen Ripley Is Clearly the Best Female Character in Scifi Film, and That's a Problem – (1) She's not a sidekick, arm candy, or a damsel to be rescued… (2) Ripley isn't a fantasy version of a woman… (3) The character is strong enough to survive multiple screenwriters… (4) Ripley was lucky enough to be played by Sigourney Weaver.

Digested read: Honey Money by Catherine Hakim | The Guardian – "In the unlikely event that a woman does not want to become a prostitute, my theory, which is mine, recognises there are other ways a woman can cash in on her erotic capital."

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Belgium: directly elected senators to be abolished

The Belgian papers this morning are full of the deal reached last night by politicians on the obscure but complex and painful issue of the partition of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde. I was fascinated to read that one of the details is that the directly elected component of the Belgian Senate is to be abolished. 

The meat of the deal is that voters in the six faciliteitengemeenten / communes à facilités will get to choose between Flemish and Francophone lists of candidates for the European elections, and between Brussels and Flemish Brabant constituency lists of candidates for Chamber elections, and this will be anchored in the constitution. (Up to now, everyone in the whole of BHV got to choose from both lists for the European elections, so this will now be restricted to Brussels and the six gemeentencrazy plans to introduce directly elected members of the UK's House of Lords are being discussed, Belgium is going the other way…

Edited to add – I had missed the crucial point that the royals are to be kicked out. So Belgium is removing both directly elected members and hereditaries from its upper house.

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 9-14-2011

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Balkan reading list

A friend of mine recently asked me for recommendations of books on the Balkans – not textbooks on history or politics, but more interesting stuff, novels for preference. This was my reply.

Dear X,

When we were on the phone earlier, I strongly recommended the classic Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West – not really fiction, and madly pro-Serb, but the Macedonian and Bosnian bits are very good – and Bosnian Chronicle/The Days of the Consuls by Ivo Andrić. A few other thoughts:

Contra my hasty statement on the phone that there is no worthwhile fiction about the conflicts of the 1990s, Joe Sacco has written two excellent graphic novels about the Bosnian war: Safe Area Goražde and The Fixer. Also Bosnian, not quite fiction but rather unusual, is Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipović  – she was 11 when the war started and is of course now almost 30 and living in Ireland.

Kosovo politician and intellectual figure Veton Surroi wrote a novel looking forward to the independence negotiations called Azem Berisha's One and Only Flight to the Castle – you won’t find it in shops but I can lend you my copy (which I will want back, as it is autographed). It’s very short.

I’m a big fan of the world-famous Albanian writer Ismail Kadarë, and have read his Three Elegies for Kosovo, The General of the Dead Army, The Successor, Chronicle in Stone, and particularly recommend The File on H.

I’m also a big fan of the Serbian magical realist writer Zoran Živković, whose books are more difficult to get hold of than Kadarë’s (though Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue always seems to have them in stock); see especially Impossible Stories and Hidden Camera. Unlike Kadarë, there is not much overtly about his country in his work (though I think it’s always there implicitly).

Olivia Manning’s Balkan trilogy takes place in Romania and Greece so I suspect is no good for you.

Lawrence Durrell wrote several not terribly good books about Serbia (his muse was better inspired farther south); I have read his comic short story collection Esprit de Corps, which is set in the British embassy in Belgrade in the 1950s, and a James Bond ripoff called White Eagles over Serbia.

On similar lines a rather dim CIA agent wrote an account of spying in Macedonia during the 2001 conflict, Lindsay Moran’s Blowing My Cover. Harvey Pekar wrote a graphic novel about the same conflict simply called Macedonia but to be honest the main interest for me was spotting the characters based on friends of mine.

I still can't think of any mainstream fiction based on the more recent Balkan conflicts (even Veton Surroi's book has magical realist elements), at least none that is worth reading; any suggestions?

Edited to add: rightly suggests Fitzroy Maclean’s Eastern Approaches in comments; kicking myself for forgetting it. Over on Facebook, a Croatian correspondent has the following suggestions:

Sarajevo Marlboro, a short story collection by Miljenko Jergović. Amazon has it. Just like his novels Ruta Tannenbaum and Buick rivera. Haven’t read any of them, but he won awards for the books. A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, a short story collection by Danilo Kiš. “A portrait of a country and a people in turmoil, a portrait of how Communism both creates and devours its sons.” Read it a long time ago, don’t remember anything except that it was great. Also on Amazon. BTW, there’s also a SSC by Andrić on Amazon, Damned Yard and Other Stories. That might be more accessible than The Bridge. The stories are really good. That’s for mainstream. Fantastic… Possibly Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife. Then, there’s Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić on Amazon. They also have her The Ministry of Pain, a novel about exiles from Yugoslavia in Amsterdam, which obviously is not fantastic.

I take “not fantastic” in that last sentence to mean “not sfnal” rather than “bad”. I also endorse Andrić’s The Damned Yard and Other Stories ahead of Bridge on the Drina. And I seem to remember reading a recommendation from Stephen Schwartz for A Tomb for Boris Davidovich.

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Northern Ireland: the new constituency boundaries

Here is my projection of the three most recent election results in Northern Ireland – the 2010 Westminster election, the 2011 Assembly election and the 2011 local council elections – onto the sixteen proposed new constituency boundaries. For each constituency I note the old constituencies from which its voters have been drawn, the changes proposed, the projected results and the likely consequences for Westminster and Assembly representation.

(See also my BBC commentary here.)

North Belfast (89% from old N Belfast, 11% from old W Belfast):
Takes in three Shankill wards.

DUP UUP Oth U Alliance Oth SDLP SF
2010 W 40.6% 8.8% 0.0% 7.3% 1.0% 11.2% 31.1%
2011 A 37.9% 10.3% 0.0% 5.9% 6.7% 10.7% 28.6%
2011 lg 38.2% 8.4% 1.7% 6.9% 5.5% 11.7% 27.6%

DUP position consolidated at Westminster. For Assembly, SF and DUP have two safe seats; last two are between SDLP, 3rd DUP, UUP, Alliance.

South West Belfast (71% from old W Belfast, 29% from old S Belfast)
Loses Shankill, takes in whole of Balmoral electoral area and central Shaftesbury ward.

DUP UUP Oth U Alliance Oth SDLP SF
2010 W 8.3% 5.6% 0.0% 4.4% 0.9% 25.4% 55.4%
2011 A 8.0% 4.5% 0.2% 5.9% 5.6% 17.7% 58.1%
2011 lg 6.5% 4.4% 0.0% 5.5% 8.1% 19.0% 56.6%

SF dominance of the old West Belfast preserved at Westminster; SDLP strong second but very much second. For Assembly, 4 SF, 1 SDLP, last seat probably DUP though could be SDLP.

South East Belfast (65% from old E Belfast, 35% from old S Belfast)
Loses Dundonald, takes in rest of South Belfast apart from Carryduff.

DUP UUP Oth U Alliance Oth SDLP SF
2010 W 29.1% 19.5% 3.5% 29.8% 1.0% 15.4% 1.8%
2011 A 36.5% 10.8% 8.7% 24.3% 3.7% 9.1% 6.9%
2011 lg 32.1% 12.9% 7.5% 27.5% 4.9% 8.8% 6.3%

Very tight between Alliance and DUP for Westminster; Alliance just ahead on 2010 figures, and though behind on 2011 votes have tactical potential. For Assembly, 2 DUP seats, 2 Alliance, probably 1 UUP and 1 SDLP.

South Antrim (82% from old S Antrim, 18% from old E Antrim)
Loses Glenavy, takes in all of Newtownabbey not in North Belfast and three Greenisland wards from Carrickfergus.

DUP UUP Oth U Alliance Oth SDLP SF
2010 W 37.2% 30.2% 5.7% 7.7% 0.0% 7.6% 11.7%
2011 A 40.8% 18.1% 5.1% 14.4% 0.4% 8.8% 12.3%
2011 lg 37.9% 22.4% 2.9% 14.9% 2.3% 9.3% 10.2%

DUP Westminster position slightly consolidated. For Assembly, 2 DUP seats, one each for UUP, SF and Alliance; last seat probably 3rd DUP though could be UUP in a better year.

Lagan Valley (91% from old Lagan Valley, 5% from S Antrim, 4% from Upper Bann)
Gains Glenavy from S Antrim and Aghagallon from Upper Bann.

DUP UUP Oth U Alliance Oth SDLP SF
2010 W 46.8% 20.4% 8.0% 11.3% 0.0% 6.5% 7.0%
2011 A 49.8% 19.4% 2.8% 12.2% 1.5% 7.5% 6.8%
2011 lg 48.6% 20.7% 1.9% 11.5% 1.9% 7.2% 8.2%

DUP remain dominant at Westminster. They have three Assembly seats and UUP one; last two could go to a Nat candidate slightly more likely SF), Alliance, fourth DUP, second UUP in that order.

Strangford (65% from old Strangford, 18% from old S Belfast, 17% from old E Belfast)
Regains Dundonald from E Belfast and Carryduff from S Belfast; loses Ards Peninsula to N Down.

DUP UUP Oth U Alliance Oth SDLP SF
2010 W 41.6% 26.1% 4.7% 14.0% 1.5% 10.2% 1.9%
2011 A 45.6% 18.1% 5.8% 16.9% 1.5% 8.3% 3.8%
2011 lg 44.8% 17.1% 3.1% 18.4% 6.2% 7.7% 2.7%

DUP remain dominant at Westminster. 3 DUP seats in Assembly, 1 UUP, 1 Alliance, last could be SDLP, fifth Unionist.

Mid Antrim (59% from old E Antrim, 41% from old N Antrim)
Unites most of Larne, most of Carrickfergus, and 17 Ballymena wards from North Antrim. Poor Ballymena separated from its northern hinterland.

DUP UUP Oth U Alliance Oth SDLP SF
2010 W 49.9% 19.5% 12.3% 5.5% 0.0% 5.7% 7.0%
2011 A 50.2% 15.6% 9.4% 10.1% 1.2% 5.0% 8.5%
2011 lg 40.5% 16.3% 8.9% 12.6% 11.4% 5.7% 4.7%

DUP hold all Antrim seats at Westminster and will continue to hold this one. For Assembly, three DUP, 1 UUP, probably 1 Alliance, and probably 1 Nationalist more likely SF) though 4th DUP has a chance.

North Antrim (59% from old N Antrim, 36% from old E Londonderry, 6% from old E Antrim)
Loses Ballymena, gets back three Moyle wards and gains Carnlough, gets three of four Coleraine DEAs leaving Coleraine separated from its western hinterland.

DUP UUP Oth U Alliance Oth SDLP SF
2010 W 42.0% 14.2% 13.7% 4.9% 0.0% 10.9% 14.3%
2011 A 43.6% 10.5% 12.5% 5.8% 0.2% 10.5% 16.9%
2011 lg 37.6% 16.1% 6.0% 3.8% 13.2% 9.7% 13.6%

Merges good DUP territory in N Antrim with better end of E Londonderry, so DUP keep Westminster seat. 3 DUP at Assembly, 1 UUP, 1 SF, likely last is TUV but poss SDLP in a better year.

Glenshane (52% from old E Londonderry, 48% from old Mid Ulster)
Limavady, Magherafelt, two Derry wards, three Cookstown wards and Bann DEA from Coleraine.

DUP UUP Oth U Alliance Oth SDLP SF
2010 W 21.8% 13.3% 7.1% 3.7% 0.0% 16.6% 37.6%
2011 A 23.8% 9.2% 7.9% 3.3% 1.8% 16.4% 37.5%
2011 lg 22.6% 12.5% 5.2% 1.4% 3.1% 16.8% 38.4%

SF well ahead for Westminster; single Unionist candidate, though just ahead on paper, would likely provoke tactical vote by other Nats. For Assembly, 2 SF, one each for DUP, SDLP, probably UUP and last seat awfully tight; probably third SF, could be second DUP.

Foyle (93% from old Foyle seat, 3% from old W Tyrone)
Takes three Strabane wards 100%as it had before 1996)

DUP UUP Oth U Alliance Oth SDLP SF
2010 W 13.8% 5.1% 0.0% 0.6% 7.2% 41.9% 31.5%
2011 A 20.5% 1.6% 0.0% 0.8% 10.7% 32.9% 33.5%
2011 lg 17.4% 4.4% 0.5% 0.9% 7.7% 35.6% 33.5%

Durkan is OK for Westminster. But new territory from Strabane is enough to put SF neck and neck at other elections. For Assembly, 2 SDLP, 2 SF, 1 DUP; last seat most likely goes to more transfer-friendly SDLP but Eamonn McCann still in with a chance.

Mid Tyrone (61% from old W Tyrone, 39% from old Mid Ulster)
Comprises most but not all of Cookstown, Strabane and Omagh, with Torrent DEA of Dungannon.

DUP UUP Oth U Alliance Oth SDLP SF
2010 W 16.0% 11.8% 2.6% 1.9% 0.9% 14.7% 52.1%
2011 A 18.7% 9.4% 1.7% 1.8% 4.9% 11.5% 52.0%
2011 lg 14.4% 14.7% 1.7% 0.9% 10.5% 13.6% 44.2%

SF dominant at Westminster 100%this seat from parts of two they hold). For Assembly, probably 3 SF, 1 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 SDLP, though SDLP a bit shaky and dissidents did well in local election; and UUP at risk.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone (88% from old FST, 12% from old W Tyrone)
Gets six Omagh wards added to current boundaries.

DUP UUP Oth U Alliance Oth SDLP SF
2010 W 1.9% 1.4% 40.5% 1.1% 0.5% 8.4% 46.2%
2011 A 23.9% 18.1% 2.3% 1.8% 2.5% 9.5% 41.8%
2011 lg 20.9% 21.8% 1.3% 0.6% 6.7% 13.1% 35.5%

SF reinforced here at Westminster level. For the Assembly they probably get three seats, and UUP and DUP one each; last seat should go to the stronger or smarter Unionist party but SDLP have a chance.

Newry and Armagh (all from old Newry and Armagh)
Loses Tandragee to Upper Bann.

DUP UUP Oth U Alliance Oth SDLP SF
2010 W 12.3% 18.2% 1.4% 1.2% 0.0% 23.9% 42.9%
2011 A 12.6% 17.9% 1.9% 1.6% 0.2% 24.1% 41.7%
2011 lg 11.5% 18.1% 0.6% 0.0% 5.9% 23.2% 40.6%

SF consolidated at Westminster. No change at Assembly, 3 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 UUP, 1 DUP.

Upper Bann (97% from old Upper Bann, 3% from old Newry and Armagh)
Gains Tandragee from N+A, loses Aghagallon to Lagan Valley and Loughbrickland to S Down. Banbridge now rather isolated at southern end of constituency.

DUP UUP Oth U Alliance Oth SDLP SF
2010 W 34.8% 27.1% 0.1% 2.7% 0.0% 12.0% 23.2%
2011 A 28.1% 26.0% 3.2% 6.3% 0.0% 10.8% 25.5%
2011 lg 30.4% 25.1% 2.8% 4.0% 3.4% 11.7% 22.6%

DUP remain in front for Westminster, though UUP not that far behind. Assembly remains 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 SDLP, 1 SF.

South Down (97% from old S Down, 3% from old Upper Bann)
Gains Loughbrickland from Upper Bann.

DUP UUP Oth U Alliance Oth SDLP SF
2010 W 9.3% 7.8% 3.5% 1.3% 2.1% 47.6% 28.5%
2011 A 12.9% 11.0% 5.5% 2.2% 2.6% 35.1% 30.7%
2011 lg 9.5% 14.0% 5.6% 2.2% 5.3% 35.2% 28.1%

SDLP lead reinforced. But Assembly seats unchanged at 2 SDLP, 2 SF, 1 UUP, 1 DUP.

North Down (83% from old N Down, 17% from old Strangford)
Gains Ards Peninsula from Strangford

DUP UUP Oth U Alliance Oth SDLP SF
2010 W 6.3% 20.8% 57.5% 6.8% 3.0% 3.8% 1.7%
2011 A 43.5% 11.6% 8.0% 18.4% 11.6% 5.1% 1.9%
2011 lg 38.3% 13.9% 3.8% 18.3% 20.3% 5.3% 0.0%

Lady Hermon remains dominant at Westminster; without her, DUP are much the biggest party. No change at Assembly level – 3 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 Alliance, 1 Green.

So, I give the DUP 7 Westminster seats (down 1), SF 5, the SDLP 2 (down 1), Lady Hermon 1 and Alliance 1 (just). At Assembly level, while there is much more margin of error to my calculations, I put the DUP on about 33 seats (down 5), SF on 27 (down 2), the UUP on 14 (down 2), SDLP 13 (down 1), Alliance 7 (down 1) and Greens and TUV keeping their single seats; I think David McClarty is in trouble. (Edited to add: I may be wrong about the TUV seat in North Antrim being salvageable – certainly Jim Allister seems despondent.)

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth to come, I think.

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Delicious LiveJournal Links for 9-13-2011

  • What a load of nonsense!
    (tags: children)
  • Notes from my radio appearance on Sunday.
  • 1)  Military peacekeeping has grown in scale … yet lost operational impact. 2)  Peacekeeping is cheap …  but it is also still too expensive. 3) All peace operations are political … but not all are guided by credible political strategies and few peacekeepers are good at politics. 4)  Peacekeepers promote democracy and justice … but democracy and justice don’t always promote peace. 5) Emerging non-Western powers play a major role in peacekeeping … but may not want it.
    (tags: war peace)
  • A modern constitution needs to be legitimate in the eyes of the people, but achieving this is a challenge. Often national and international constitution-makers feel out in the cold as there has been no comprehensive resource on the options for constitution-making and reform. The design, implementation and management of these processes, in an inclusive way, create the foundations for lasting peace. The stakes are high. If the process goes wrong the seeds of future conflict and violence will be sown.
    (tags: war peace)
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SpongeBob ‘may impair concentration’ – What a load of nonsense!

New Borders, new names? – Notes from my radio appearance on Sunday (and there is more to come on this).

Five Paradoxes of Peace Operation, by Richard Gowan (PDF): 1)  Military peacekeeping has grown in scale – yet lost operational impact. 2)  Peacekeeping is cheap – but it is also still too expensive. 3) All peace operations are political – but not all are guided by credible political strategies and few peacekeepers are good at politics. 4)  Peacekeepers promote democracy and justice – but democracy and justice don’t always promote peace. 5) Emerging non-Western powers play a major role in peacekeeping – but may not want it.

The first of its kind – a constitution-making handbook for peace: “A modern constitution needs to be legitimate in the eyes of the people, but achieving this is a challenge. Often national and international constitution-makers feel out in the cold as there has been no comprehensive resource on the options for constitution-making and reform. The design, implementation and management of these processes, in an inclusive way, create the foundations for lasting peace. The stakes are high. If the process goes wrong the seeds of future conflict and violence will be sown.”

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