Friday, May 25, 2007

Brave Serbian Judges!

Nata Mesarovic and Radmila Dicic Dragicevic, Serbian judges, sentenced the organizers and assassins of the late Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. These men, members of Milosevic’s secret service death squads and criminal gangs, were sentenced to maximal sentences of 40 years of imprisonment. Despite enormous pressure from the underworld and retrograde political forces in Serbia the judges carried on with the process and pronounced their verdict. In this way many argue that the Serbian judiciary passed the test and managed to impose itself as a true and independent third branch of government. For more on this sentence see here, here and here.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Milan on Top

Three finals and 2 cups in five years: you can hardly do better than that!!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Mickey goes fundamentalist...

Cartoons and Islamic fundamentalism don't always mix; there are, however, some exceptions, as this clip, from a Hamas TV station (and taken from the website of the Palestinian Media Watch organisation), amply illustrates. It depicts a man in a Mickey Mouse costume leading a children's TV programme, leading them in songs about Coming to Jerusalem for the Time of Death, and the ubiquitous problem-solver that is the AK-47.

This is all assuming, of course, that the subtitles provided are accurate; I am unsure about what the nature and agenda of that organisation is, so this is an important caveat to make. However, if they are at all reflective of the message being portrayed, and whatever one's view on the complexities of the Israeli-Palestine issue, it is difficult to be anything other than disturbed by the message, and in particular the intended audience, of this piece of rhetoric.

Even if, as some may argue, Mickey has been an instrument of child-targeted propaganda for many years before now...

Sunday, May 06, 2007

2007 UK Law School Rankings

This is the Times good universities ranking:

1 Cambridge
2 Oxford
3 Univ Coll London
5 Aberdeen
6 Durham
7 Nottingham
8 Edinburgh
9 King's Coll London
10 Manchester
11 Leeds
11= Warwick
13 Glasgow
14 Strathclyde
15 Queen Mary
16 Dundee
17 Queens, Belfast
19 Bristol
20 Kent

This is the Guardian's Ranking:

London School of Economics
King's College London

Sarkozy Wins.

Sarkozy wins, he claims he will be the President of everyone. But social unrest and conflicts are ahead. Will he be able to cope with them?

French Elections: A Preamble

Be it Sarkozy or Segolene, France will have to steer away from the past, the present past and the more remote past.

The present past saw a clear decline in social and economic terms. Social conflicts in France is under the eyes of everyone, although people started acknowledging it only recently. I still remember 1998, when France won the World Cup. Many French friends of mine used that as an example of perfect integration of immigrants a la francaise. I thought back then, and I still think, that the french republican model of integration dramatically failed, despite its good will. A republican model means for French mainstream ideology a value monist system of values based on French Constitutional history since 1789. Multiculturalism, and value pluralism, have always been rejected as impracticable and 'anti-french.' In other words, living in France required people to become French; no alternative was/is possible. This situation needs to be radically reformed.

The more remote past concerns the institutions that moulded the French Nation in the past two centuries. Elite institutions as the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, Ecole Polytechnique, Ecole Normale and all the bodies of the state that go with them are in need of a deep reform as well. Those institutions had an extraordinary success during the age of nations, more or less up to WW2 and few decades after that. Globalisation, however, showed the intrinsic limits of institutions that work within a rigid (french) republican mould. The inability to compete with other institutions in the world is becoming staggering and the only option left is the overhaul of the whole system.

It is unclear whether Segolene or Sarkozy will manage to push forward these massive changes. There is no easy recepee to bring France out of the present stagnation. Perhaps something can be learned from Tony Blair's bitter sweet (more bitter than sweet) rule. He acknowledges nowadays that the greatest battle was the one for the change of attitudes of people ( a cultural change in relation to the way of doing politics in a completely different international landscape). French people are at the moment skeptical, afraid of globalisation, incapable of competing on a wider scale than the national one, and tired of the old Chiral like type of politics. May the next President achieve the difficult mission of change!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Scottish elections/ Does the UK need a "genuine" constitution?

The actual results for the Scottish election are as follows: the Scottish Nationalists won 20 seats to take their total to 47, and to become, for the first time ever, the largest party in scotland, ending 50 years of Labour domination; Labour lost 4 seats, moving down to 46; the Tories and Lib Dems lost one each, to move down to 17 and 16 respectively; and, in many ways the biggest losers of the night, "others" (such as Greens and Socialists) lost 14 seats - only two greens and one independent remain. There is already a lengthy wikipedia page on the results.

Not huge losses for Labour, then, but significant enough to see them lose the symbolic status of largest party in Scotland, and, more importantly, to make it likely that SNP leader Alec Salmond will be the next First Minister. There was a significant swing from Labour to SNP; this was bolstered significantly, however, by the fact that most of the supporters of the Scottish Socialist Party seem to have opted to vote for the Nationalists after the fairly spectacular, if grindingly inevitable, implosion of their first-choice party; and it is this that largely accounts for the fact that labour are only 4 MSPs down, despite the Nats gaining 20.

We are, it seems, set for some interesting times in Scotland; and this, at least, is to be welcomed. Indeed, it may be that the devolution arrangements, so clearly designed with Labour governments both sides of the border in mind, will be tested in the next few years by an SNP-led executive in Edinburgh dealing with the Tories in Westminster. The inevitably messy politics of coalition are also playing out in Scotland now, with minority government a real possibility as the Liberal Democrats have stated fairly publicly and clearly that the largest party has the "moral authority" to govern, and that a unionist coalition to stop a nationalist government was thus not on the cards (although it remains to be seen whether they will hold firm to this, or perform a laughable u-turn to match that of their 1999 "pledge" on university tuition fees - the jury is out on this one).

The biggest issue, however, has, as one commentator put it fairly early on last night, is "not the count but rather the counting". Lorenzo is correct to note, in his post immediately below, that the Scottish elections turned out to be a shambolic, shameful embarrassment in many ways: hundreds of postal votes not issued in time through nothing other than ineptitude; numerous counts postponed until the next day through teething problems with the new computer systems; and, most importantly, over one hundred thousand spoilt or rejected ballot papers. To try to put that last figure in perspective: let's assume a possible electorate of something like 4 million voters, and a turnout of around the 50% mark (unfortunately, I haven't been able to find accurate figures for these; any info on this would be welcome). That gives us around 2 million people actually casting their votes, of whom 100,000 - or a massive 5% - have been effectively disenfranchised (excepting, of course, the few that will have spoilt their papers on purpose). The reason for this seems clear enough - the decision to switch to a single transferable vote system in the local elections which took place at the same time, and which, for the first time, required not simply putting a cross beside a candidate's name, but providing a set of numbered preferences. There seems to have been clear confusion over which ballot paper requried which marks, with one election officer suggesting that around 60% of those voting were less than sure of exactly how to do so when entering the polling stations.

This much is clear. What is significantly less clear, however, is the extent to which this in any way reflects on the absence of what Lorenzo refers to as a "genuine" constitution - by which, I suppose he means a clear, written document, laying out systematically the "nature of devolution, the place of the House of Lords, and the status of the Human Rights Act". Firstly, it seems clear that none of the difficulties encountered last night would have been in any way reduced by such a move. We do not have to look to ancient history to find that serious electoral difficulties have arisen in states that have provided models for the whole world as to what a "genuine constitution" looks like; and attempts to introduce the constitutional question in these terms and at this time begins to look a little like disingenuous back-door constitutionalism.

Secondly, and at a more general level, it is far from clear that the heirarchy and pre-commitment involved in constitutional entrenchment of the sort that Lorenzo envisages is always entirely desirable; that very often, the attempt to formalise and systematise everything leaves no space for the common sense that has long been a part of the British, and particularly the Scottish, political, social and philosophical mindset (indeed, this is one of the source of one of the most commonly criticised caricatures of the EU in the UK).

Put simply, there is, in the UK, a genuine sense that we don't need a "genuine" constitution; that, for all of their formal imperfections and lack of clear conceptual divisions, the UK political institutions generally function in a largely satisfactory manner. And, in defence of such a viewpoint - which, I think, is the unspoken - perhaps even unconscious - starting position of many of my compatriots - we have in the UK a history of functional political stability, and liberal democratic credentials, that stand up to comparison with even the most heavily constitutionalised of European or American states.

Considerations such as these are not, of course, conclusive one way or the other; they do, however, call for serious engagment from those for whom the UK's lack of a written, or "genuine", constitution is major ethico-political issue. Perhaps we must, in exploring these issues, revisit the classical debate on the French Revolution between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine; in any event, I hope it is a call that Lorenzo will take up in more detail here...

Scottish Elections: the chaos wins

Everyone expected the results of the elections, but by now it is like waiting for Godot. What characterised the Scottish elections is the lack of clarity produced by a shambolic voting system.

SNP and Labour parties are fighting to the last vote to secure the majority and lack of clarity in these circumstances is not at all positive.

In any case, my feeling as an external beholder is that the UK should engage in a wide constitutional debate as to the nature of devolution, the place of the house of lords, and the status of the human rights act.

This may be the right time to start developing a genuine constitution for the UK.