Saturday, December 04, 2004

Robert Kilroy-Silk stinks of poo

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! I'd missed this, so hat tip to The Periscope for spotting it.

"As I started to turn round a guy tipped a bucket of farmyard muck over me and then threw the rest of it over me and the car," Mr Kilroy-Silk said.

"I was totally covered, it was all through my clothes, and it stank to high heaven. It went all inside the car"

Heh! Couldn't happen to a nicer fella...

(More Kilroy twattishness here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here and here.

The Future of News?

Hat tip for this to Elusive, the chappie who helped me work out the site redesign.

For anyone following my desperate efforts to keep up with the latest developments in Ukraine a couple of weeks back (updates every five minutes, conflicting reports etc.), this may well be of interest.

The folks behind the increasingly superb Wikipedia have just launched Wikinews (in English and German). Basically breaking news stories updated by any old Tom, Dick or Harry who happens to amble by.

This could work very well - if public-minded folk like Victor Katolyk or Veronica Khokhlova start filling these sorts of pages out - like blogging from the scene. It could be a disaster - all it takes is one "amusing" 14-year-old to destroy everyone's hard work.

But it is an interesting idea nonetheless - especially how the reports will freeze up after a set period of time and become a matter of record, plus the "review" process sounds sensible.

Anyway, the current version of their Ukraine report is up, and even links to a few blogs, though strangely not to Victor's posts at The Periscope yet, or to Fistful, or even - dare I say it - here; but it does link to Le Sabot Post-Moderne, Orange Ukraine, TulipGirl and a few others to whom it should, so I guess whoever's updating it knows what they're on about.

Whether this new service is accurate or not is in the hands of the users. So, news junkies - over to you. This could be like a BBC News run by the people, for the people. It could utterly change how we look at the way news is reported. Or it could die a death. I honestly don't know.

More on the Wikipedia Foundation

Friday, December 03, 2004

Ukraine re-vote gets go-ahead

Via Tulipgirl, it sounds like the right result seems to have been achieved:

The Supreme Court has ruled that:
1. The election from November 21 is invalid.
2. There will be another run-off election, between Yushchenko and Yanukovich.
3. The election will be held before the end of December.

Good. I was getting worried again.

Let's just hope that they can ensure that no dodgy tactics come into play again. A vast fleet of international observers will be vital - preferably from impartial countries (i.e. not the US, EU or Russia). How about Japanese election-watchers? That'd do the trick.

Update: The vote will be before the 26th.

Oh, and it seems Volodymyr Campaign was first with the news.

abdymok (as it is now) has a transcript of the voting laws.

Some reactions from the Bloggosphere:

SueAndNotU: "Fuck. Ukraine elections to be held on Dec. 26. One day after Christmas. Alright, what do I do? Family, or Ukraine?"

Foreign Notes: "I think this opinion will give the court a stature that it did not have. Good for them. I might have tried to do more but I am not in their shoes. What they did do though was very, very good for democracy, for their court and for the government in the end... I read that there are members of the Court from all over Ukraine. If true, that will make it hard to argue that this is an East/West issue."

LoboWalk: "Yes, this is very good but there are reports that secret notes were passed to Parliament from the Court concerning the ruling... Also there are still questions as to any procedural changes that would take place in the re-vote; most notably concerning the issue of absentee balloting... Either way one can hardly blame the Ukrainian people for the celebratory mood."

The Argus: "Uzbekistan will undergo a process resembling an election on the 26th as well. I wonder if that creates any kind of problem for OSCE monitoring. Well, we all know that BHHRG won’t be able to be in two places at once that day…"

Ukraine, Russia, Europe, The US, Oh My!: "There are... rumors that Yanukovych will withdraw. If that is the case, and if he withdraws before the 16th, Yuschenko's opponent will be Moroz, because Moroz placed third in the first tour. However, since Moroz has firmly placed himself in Yuschenko's camp, it would seem unlikely that he will pick up the mantle to run against Yuschenko. Unless he does so only to encourage voters to support Yuschenko in the election. If Moroz withdraws, Yuschenko's opponent will be Petro Symonenko, the communist."

Victor Katolyk at The Periscope: "Yanukovych can withdraw. However, if he withdraws less than 20 days before the run-off, Yushchenko will be the only candidate in the list. In this case, he will have to get more than 'I don't support any candidate' votes."

A Fistful of Euros: "outgoing President Kuchma vetoed the recently passed law invalidating “absentee ballots” for the re-run. These ballots allowed Ukrainians to vote in other than their home districts, and were, according to numerous reports by international observers, one of the main instruments of electoral fraud in the initial run-off." (Oh, and by the way, vote for Fistful!)

Daniel Drezner: " What's becoming clear is that the correlation of forces within Ukraine are tilting in favor of a runoff election that would presumably lift Viktor Yushchenko to power. The emerging question is whether the correlation of forces outside Ukraine will permit this to happen. Will Putin tolerate the blow to his reputation that would come with a Yushchenko victory?"

By the looks of things it's all still rather up in the air...

Maggie the Movie

Sorry, this was too good not to mention. Via Anthony Wells comes the news that Oliver Stone is planning a biopic of Maggie Thatcher. Genius!

Stone apparently said "Margaret Thatcher is an amazing woman and a good subject for a film. I’m thinking about Meryl Streep to play the Iron Lady."

Europhobia's Steve got the ball rolling in an email with a few more casting suggestions:

Colin Farrell as Michael Foot (could be his shot at the Oscar - cf 'ugly' performances of Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman)

Tom Cruise as Dennis Thatcher

Joel Haley-Osmont (or is it Haley Joel-Osmont - I always forget) as Mark Thatcher

Mary-Kate (or Ashley) Olson as Carol Thatcher

John Goodman as Nigel Lawson

Christ on a bike. This movie casts itself!

How about

Billy-Bob Thornton as Ronald Reagan

Owen Wilson as Michael Hestletine

Steve Buscemi as John Major

Jeffrey Jones (of Ferris Bueller's Day Off fame) as Neil Kinnock

Any other suggestions?

Yushchenko - anti-democratic?

Now don't get me wrong here. I'm genuinely just wondering how else it is possible to interpret his announcement yesterday that re-running the elections would not be fair.

Yushchenko himself argues that the last round was rife with corruption and fraud. International observers back him up on this. Voters were intimidated and beaten, the count was flawed and - most importantly for this situation - votes went missing.

If votes went missing and those that were left were mis-counted, how can Yushchenko be so certain he was the rightful winner? He can't possibly know - no one does. The only way he can gain any kind of democratic legitimacy is for the elections to run again - utterly fairly this time - and for him to win them fair and square.

How can running them again possibly be a problem for him? If his support is as great as he claims then surely he should storm it? Naturally it would have been better for Ukraine if they could have got a clear winner from the first lot, but it has descended into chaos and near-farce now. Time to wipe the slate clean and start again, surely - and let the best man (which I am pretty sure is Yushchenko, for the record) win.

Update: There have been a couple of very good comments made to this post. If you want a better idea of the situation, I strongly suggest you have a read.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The press, politics and the bloggosphere

Still busy. Sorry. More posts soon. For now, a quickie:

There looks to be a friendly disagreement between (pro-EU) Toby of Straight Banana and (anti-EU) EU-Serf of The Road to Euro Serfdom over the merits and bias of that mighty organ that is the British national press when it comes to the EU.

As both bloggers are entertaining and eloquent chaps (well, I assume EU-Serf is a chap, I'm not entirely sure), it makes for a fun and interesting read. I'm hoping they're going to keep it up - I'd weigh in myself, but truly haven't the time to formulate a decent post. Rest assured, the run-down is roughly as follows:

Enter Straight Banana, stage left:

- The UK Press is generally anti-Europe and perpetuates myths in a manner which, were they to apply similarly slack levels of fact-checking to any other area of public life, would result in public outcry. But at least the myths are amusing...

Enter EU-Serf, stage right:

- Ah-ha! But what about the BBC, eh? They're always spouting pro-European pap! We need the likes of the Sun to balance out the state-sponsored selling of our sovereignty!

The great thing about this is, Toby at Straight Banana (though always enjoying a dig at the Eurosceptics) is no fool, and so desn't stoop to mindless, one-sided attacks. Liewise, EU-Serf (though always enjoying a dig at pro-Europeans) is also no fool, and likewise avoids silly, one-sided attacks. My silly little summaries really don't do either of their posts justice - they are both well worth a read, and both make several very good points.

Even though EU-Serf was responding to Straight Banana's post (and Toby may not even be aware of this yet), there is a mutual respect here from two people from different sides of the European argument, because both can acknowledge the other's intelligence and sensible arguments when they are presented.

So, perhaps the question we should be asking is not "why is the press biased one way or the other?", but "why are the respective leaders of the pro- and anti- EU campaigns so insistant in presenting everything in overblown and fraudulent terms?" On the evidence of these two posts from two people with very different takes on the EU as a whole, there is - between the lines - much agreement. Both recognise many shades of grey. But in the current climate it is very hard to admit this. Pro-Europeans feel if they acknowledge bad points that shows the EU is flawed; anti-Europeans feel if they acknowledge good points their argument is likewise weakened.

The Yes Campaign routinely claims that the EU is not a leech on British sovereignty, almost everything it does is great, and anyone who can't see the benefits must be a fool. This is obviously nonsense.

The No Campaign likewise consistently alleges that the EU is destroying the British nation, introducing mindless and petty laws, forcing foreigners in, and will destroy everything you know and love. Equally rubbish.

The truth, as ever, is somewhere between the two, but we are only ever presented with binary opposites. Either you are pro-Europe, or you are Eurosceptic. This is a nonsense (and the fact that "Eurosceptic" - in current usage - doesn't actually mean what it says and the term should probably be "Eurocynic" is simply a further complication - I am sceptical about the EU in many ways, yet I am certainly not a Eurosceptic as the term is used today).

If we as a nation are going to come to a decent conclusion over this whole mess - and not just Europe, but also my pet topic of the lack of a viable opposition - we need intelligent people from all sides of the political divide to sit down and talk like rational human beings. Avoid the name-calling that is so endemic in the Republican/Democrat split of the US, and debate reasonably without any of the petty point-scoring and one-upmanship which can be witnessed day-in-day out on the floor of the House of Commons.

This country's current poltical system was built (largely) in the 18th century (largely) on reasoned and sensible debate - even if this seems to have fallen out of fashion these days. Likewise, the 18th century saw a boom in political pamphleteering from the likes of Addison, Defoe, Swift, Paine and Johnson (and umpteen more which Europhobia's Matt could tell you far more about than I).

They used intelligence and wit to get their point across, and it worked. The good arguments and viewpoints rose to the surface on merit. Because, lest we forget, (almost) everyone really wants the best for the country: whether you're pro- or anti-Europe, Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem - even (at a stretch) UKIP. We may all disagree on the best means - and even the best ends - but in the final analysis that is what we all want, because the best for the country we live in is likely to be the best for us as individuals.

The comparison between blogs and pamplets has been made before, and discussed many times, but it remains a fair and good one.

There is a need today for the same kind of intelligent and witty debate as took place in teh 18th century if our stagnant polity is to be revived. As it stands at the moment, I wouldn't liken any blogger to any of those great figures of yestercentury - and I certainly can't name a single MP capable of delivering speeches of the kind that were reported given by the Disraelis and Sheridans of days gone by. At the moment I'd say we are more at the level of the English Civil War pampleteers and nascient parliamentarians (in the broadest sense - not just the Roundheads) of the 1640s than those of the Golden Age post-1695. But we might - just - be on our way there.

With the sort of dedication our 18th and 19th century forebears showed, and through avoiding the infantile rants and spats which are so prevalent online, bloggers - and (perhaps especially) the choices and responses of their readers - have a genuine chance to make a positive impact on current political debate.

As you may have guessed, this is a bit of a pet idea at the moment. The trouble is, for every restrained, amusing and reasonable voice like those of Toby at Straight Banana and EU-Serf at The Road to Euro Serfdom, there are ten thousand rabid maniacs who have yet to get over the novelty of internet anonymity and realise that even under a pseudonym it is possible to maintain a sense of dignity and intelligence. Hell, half the most influential and successful pamphlets of the 18th century were written under pseudonyms. Today Private Eye is largely written under pseudonyms, and it's probably the best political magazine going.

The difficulty we face is that, in democratic systems like those in which we are lucky enough to live, our political class - and our fourth estate - reflects what it perceives to be the character of the people it has been elected to represent. The fact that our polticians and newspapers are (for the most part) obsessed with petty-minded and childish attempts to make those they disagree with look silly is an indictment on our whole society.

It is time for a change. We live in a democratic society. So the change has to come from us.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Ukraine, Blogging and Democracy

Le Sabot Poste-Moderne is reporting that a compromise has been reached. There will apparently be a re-vote, and both sides have renounced violence.

Let's hope this is not another of those false starts, of which there have been so many over the last week or so. There are still a lot of questions. Yep, much is undecided.

Nonetheless, some lessons learned from blogging the revolution:

  • It is practically impossible for anyone in the west to understand the complexities of the Ukrainian situation, and certainly not the sheer enthusiasm involved - we have never experienced anything like this
  • Many people have confused "Yushchenko for President" with "Democracy for Ukraine" - they are not necessarily interchangable
  • Wearing orange to show support for Ukrainian democracy, even if that is your only intention, actually only shows support for Yushchenko
  • Pointing out the last point often leads to irritated - and perhaps justified - rebuttals from Ukrainians who see in Yushchenko hope for the future
  • That hope can blind them to his flaws
  • Pointing out that Yushchenko has flaws is not the same as saying he is not the better candidate, but it will usually be interpreted that way
  • It is next to impossible to find any pro-Yanukovych views online, despite the fact that he gained the support of a sizable chunk of the population, even after fraudulent results are taken into account
  • The one-sided feed of information makes informed comment of the overall situation utterly impossible - like reporting a US election using only Democrat sources, or on the EU while only reading pro-European blogs and articles
  • Most importantly, after more than a week of covering and following the elections, I have yet to see a run-down of either candidate's actual policies - and without seeing the policies, how is it possible to form a decent opinion?
Finally, the response of the bloggosphere has been incredible. While it took the mainstream media three days to pick up on how serious the situation was, bloggers were on it within hours. They will continue to keep on it, and I with them.

Even if we get it wrong sometimes, and even if we often fall foul of the lure of leaping to the obvious conclusions, this whole affair has convinced me of the good that us bloggers can do. With a UK General Election coming up - perhaps as soon as May - and with the ongoing preparations for Britain's EU presidency and the vote on the European Referendum, I am going to give serious consideration as to how I can help foster debate through this blog. Maybe Blog:Vote is the way forward, maybe something else entirely.

I am entirely open to suggestions - let me know which direction you'd like this blog to go in. It will remain Eurocentric, normally with a heavier emphasis on international relations and foreign affairs than domestic British politics, but beyond that I'm entirely open to ideas.

One thing is sure - this blog will try to remain entirely unpartisan. As the Ukrainian election crisis has demonstrated, it is impossible to reach any conclusions without looking at the claims of all sides. Although I am loosely pro-European, there will be anti-EU posts on here as well, when this is merited. No one political party will be endorsed or slagged off more than any of the others... Well, except for UKIP and the BNP, obviously. But they aren't proper political parties anyway.

Oh, one final final thing - I am fully, utterly aware of how arrogant and self-righteous this all sounds. But such is also the nature of blogging. We're mostly a bunch of semi-anonymous, egomaniacal obsessives who think our views may actually be of merit, and who normally seem to get riled beyond belief when someone disagrees with us. But in that we're hardly different from the mainstream press, or indeed politicians themselves - so what does it matter, eh? Humour us. Fan our egos. Fan MY ego. Go on... Please...?

Nations Reunited?

The invasion of Iraq saw the UN in both good and bad lights. Kofi Annan doggedly trod a middle path in an attempt to appease the American desire for conflict, so the eventual condemnation he dished out had real moral authority (something the Americans helped consolidate with Colin Powell's laughable attempt to present the Iraqi situation in the same uncompromising way as Adlai Stevenson did the Cuban Missile Crisis). However, French gamesmanship with the proposed American resolution and subsequent accusations of corruption against Annan's family have somewhat besmirched the UN's record.

And now, at last, to the point: the UN has announced plans for"the most sweeping changes in its history". This New York Times article puts the motivation for such changes down to "bruising division over the Iraq war" leaving the organisation "feeling ill-equipped to meet modern challenges represented by terrorism, failed states, nuclear proliferation, poverty and violence." Bruising division is certainly correct but ultimately the "challenges" to the UN remain the same: how to deal with permanent Security Council members who, with their veto and, in the case of the US, Russia and China, impressive military strength, can pretty much ignore any resolution they choose.

The proposed big shake up here is the expansion of the Security Council from 15 to 24, either by introducing a mind-bendingly complicated system of temporary members, or by increasing the number of permanent members - likely candidates are Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, Egypt and Nigeria or South Africa (according to the NY Times). This really boils down to so much PR guff. Though better regional representation is desirable, the back-room politics would remain the same, with stronger nations trying to bribe weaker nations to vote their way or, ultimately, just ignoring the final outcome if it does not suit them. If there is a way around this particular obstacle, this report has not found it.

Of more practical interest is the serious condemnation of the bureaucracy, both in terms of the UN as a sprawling gravy train for diplomats and of the decadence of certain of its bodies (a specifically quoted example is Cuban and Libyan membership of the Human Rights Commission). These subsidiary bodies are where the UN has the potential to do most good but stories of scandal and corruption have left them weakened and under as much attack as the 'talking shop' of the General Assembly.

As with the EU, it's difficult to predict the future of the UN, but while the former is on an upward path to warm and sunny climes, the latter is drifting gradually downward, paid lip-service (if that) in geopolitical terms and constantly sniped at by members for whom its decisions are inconvenient. This would not be altered by any of the 'big changes' proposed. However, the noble and optimistic ideal at the heart of the UN remains, and a sweeping set of open institutional reforms could help restore confidence in those areas where it actually does good work.


I've had a fiddle with the site, as you've probably noticed. Hopefully in-site navigation is a bit easier, and links to various other places are also more obvious. Thanks to a chap who goes by the name of Elusive, from b3ta, for working out how to set up a three column thing for me, and talking me through the coding process.

Sorry I haven't had any updates for the last few days - excessively busy at a time when I've started getting more visitors than ever. I'll try and get a proper post up later.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Ukraine crisis continued - one week on

For a chronology of events and a by-the-minute look at the boom in global coverage over the last week: one, two, three , four, five, some analysis, and six - between them these provide a chronology of events and coverage from 7pm on Monday 22nd November until 11pm on Thursday 25th (London time), as well as an almost insane number of links to other blogs covering events, articles, news sources and the like.

Since then, the mainstream media seems to have picked up the job of covering events rather better, and I've been massively busy for the last couple of days - sorry for the lack of updates. If you want a good overview of the last couple of days' developments, try All About Latvia, No Illusions or Le Sabot Post-Moderne. For an ever-growing compendium of Ukraine-related links, try this site, or Fistful's rather handy Kinja digest.

If you've liked my coverage, please consider bunking a vote my way in The Deutche-Welle International Weblog Awards, where this blog has been nominated in the category Best Journalistic Blog (English) - it'd be much appreciated.

An article in the Kyiv Post highlights many of my own thoughts over the last couple of days:

"it remain[s] unclear whether opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko w[ill] take the presidency of Ukraine through a street-side revolution or by legal-political means – if he t[akes] it at all."

This has to be a legally valid election, no matter who the eventual victor is (no pun intended), or a large chunk of the Ukrainian population will be left feeling cheated and disaffected. Emotions are high, there are still thousands of supporters - both blue and orange - on the streets, and there still remains the fear that violence could kick off at any time.

Without a result which none can argue with, the country will never be able to get over this, and large sections of the population will feel disenfranchised. That is, after all, why Yushchenko's supporters have been on the streets for the last few days. Declare him the winner without democratic and legal support, and his people will simply be replaced by Yanukovych's equally upset supporters.

Most are agreed that the second round of the presidential elections, held one week ago today, were riven with vote-rigging, intimidation, and every kind of dodgy tactic in the book - hence the Ukrainian parliament's vote of no confidence in the Central Elections Committee. But because of this, a simple re-count will not do it - the election has to be run again. After all, what's the point of re-counting ballots which may have been falsified, and where some voting papers may have been destroyed?

One thing's for sure, the sense of collective, national identity and pride is booming. Reports of little acts of human kindness are flooding in from all over. There are thousands - perhaps millions, of Ukrainians feeling just like TulipGirl's friend Lena. There are thousands of people, like Foreign Notes' Scott Clarke's mother-in-law helping the protestors with food and warm clothes, and even the protestors helping out others. Meanwhile, supporters of Yushchenko continue to mobilise, and plan ways to spread the word. There are reports of protestors from each side showing restraint and respect, and doing their utmost to avoid violence.

As has been pointed out on Ostracised from Österreich, there are two kinds of non-Ukrainian supporters for the Ukrainian protestors: those who identify ideologically with Yushchenko and want to see him win, and those who want to see democracy win. The Russian Dilletante sums it up nicely.

Please remember, if you're planning on wearing orange tomorrow to support democracy in Ukraine, that Orange is the colour of just one party. Spare a thought for those who genuinely voted for Yanukovych as well. It is vital that those who are pro-Yuschenko don't forget that him gaining the presidency through a popular revolt is just as bad for Ukrainian democracy as Yanukovych gaining the presidency through rigging the election.

As it stands at the moment, there is still no clear solution beyond holding the elections again to ensure that whoever wins has a clear democratic mandate. And that could still take some time...

Europhobia's Ukraine coverage continues here.

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