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Showing posts from June, 2008

Three Thousand Versts goes on holiday

I doubt very much whether there will be any more posts on the blog until 16 July. I’m going on a two week jaunt to Russia which I will no doubt be describing when I get back.

Do svidaniya Rossiya! Olé l'Espana!

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Last night Russia succumbed to a second Euro 2008 thrashing against Spain. From the start the Spanish showed more vigour and energy, with Russia returning to the type of one paced, leaden football that they had produced previously in this tournament only in the group game against the same opposition.

The Russians will point to an anonymous performance by Andrei Arshavin, although in truth none of their stars turned up for this game. In contrast Spain played some exciting stuff on a sodden pitch in Vienna. Cesc Fabregas in particular orchestrated much of his team’s play after replacing injured David Villa.

On a difficult night like this, failing to produce their incisive passing game, Russia did not have players to dig in and dominate a battle in midfield. Xavi finished after a one two with Senna, to give Spain the lead early in the second half. After that Russia looked thoroughly beaten. Fabregas provided ammunition for Guiza and then Silva to secure an easy victory.

Good luc…

A Unionist Academy should be run by those who value the Union, not the DUP.

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The DUP intend in the autumn to launch a think tank entitled the ‘Unionist Academy’. The party states that its aims are, to “promote… unionist culture and the advantages of the Union; encourage unionist learning in the community and provide a forum for unionist strategising and policy-making”. Along with a mooted ‘British Cultural and Equality Unit’, which is to provide legal advice on republican attempts to excise and erode British emblems from public life, this group aims to liaise with a wide range of ‘community groups of all types’.

From the outset Three Thousand Versts must record scepticism as to whether the DUP values the Union sufficiently to explain why it carries intrinsic value, understands that British culture is something broad and mutable enough to encompass a plurality of religions, races, lifestyles and political beliefs, or is capable of developing strategies and arguments which promote the whole Union in a modern and inclusive fashion. Presuming that the tone of

'Deez' new management - 'we're going to get Hunters kicking again'

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A follow-up to Beano’s post on Hunters / Vaughans / Deez (which an anonymous commenter informs us below, was originally known as the Ashley Arms) I have been asking a few questions and have got to the bottom of what’s currently happening with the pub.

Apparently the place’s owners are a company known as the Dual Group. Hunters’ incarnation as Deez was not an initiative of this group who instead had leased the premises out to whichever genius conceived the gaudy colour scheme and '600 capacity venue' marketing nonsense.

Clearly Deez was every bit as unsuccessful as this blog predicted initially and its lease has now reverted to the original owners. The manager I spoke to last night says that a return to the name Hunters is imminent, although I had to chuckle when he stated that his aim was to get ‘Hunters kicking again’.

I have to credit my girlfriend with the observation, ‘they should forget about getting it kicking and just let it kick back’. Although given our anonymou…

You don't know what you're doing

With justification Caitriona Ruane’s failures as regards fundamental aspects of policy have provided a focus for the bulk of criticism which Northern Ireland’s education minister has attracted. That said, Caitriona doesn’t just do macro-incompetence, she can manage micro incompetence with equal ease.

Roy Beggs, UUP MLA for East Antrim, has pointed out that the worst minister anywhere ever ™ promised to deliver a leaflet outlining her proposals for post primary transfer procedures to every house in Northern Ireland, without having any notion how much such an operation will cost. After a question was tabled in order to establish the information, it transpired that this promise had been quietly dropped.

Of course Ruane’s vague proposals have certainly not yet been agreed by the executive and any document containing them would represent nothing more than the minister’s own view on how post primary selection should proceed. Sequestering public funds for a huge, unnecessary mail drop outli…

Hockey problem reflects a common misapprehension

I’m not a fan of field hockey and at first glance a post about Olympic eligibility on Slugger O’Toole didn’t greatly raise my hackles, but on closer examination I think the story highlights the manner in which the term Ireland is often wrongly viewed as analogous to the Republic of Ireland and demonstrates that this can have a practical effect in prescribing and limiting people who wish to exercise a plurality of identity.

The crux of the story is that a change in the rules prevents Northern Irish hockey players, who have competed for the Ireland hockey team in competitions featuring separate England, Scotland and Wales sides, from representing the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team in the Olympic Games. In previous Olympic tournaments Northern Irish players have played integral roles in medal winning GB & NI teams, but now they are forced to rule themselves out of international tournaments in which Team GB do not compete, if they wish to play for the UK side. Obviously it…

Was Conrad as antithetical to Dostoevsky as he supposed?

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I have been reading Joseph Conrad’s attempt at a 19th century revolutionary Russian novel, Under Western Eyes. The book is considered Conrad’s riposte to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and many of the devices and conclusions of that great novel are inverted and even satirised. Despite Conrad’s supposed detestation of Dostoevsky, however, I can’t help feeling that the two novelists perhaps had more in common than the Pole might acknowledged and their treatment of common themes in their novels may not have diverged as radically as he believed.

Joseph Conrad was born in what is currently modern Ukraine (then part of the Russian Empire) into a passionately nationalist family of Polish aristocrats. Indeed his father was arrested by the Tsarist authorities for his involvement in the movement which would foment the 1863 January Uprising by citizens of the Polish – Lithuanian Commonwealth. His father’s arrest and exile, coupled with the subsequent premature deaths of both his parents…

Great minds think alike ..... Poots, Corr and conspiracy theories

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Jim Corr has spent his career riding on the coat-tails of his glamorous sisters; Edwin Poots has ascended the political ladder thanks to the patronage of the Paisley family. Perhaps an underlying sense of inferiority explains why both men have succumbed to the attraction of outrageous conspiracy theories. The musician has been expounding the traditional brand of ‘New World Order’/ Illuminati/ Freemasonry tinged drivel which informs cranks worldwide, whether they are right wing Americans preparing heavily armed compounds, David Icke or crazed Islamist terrorists. ‘Potty Pootsie’, to use the tabloid vernacular, believes that Maze stadium plans were only scuppered by a vast institutional conspiracy within the civil service.

Ostensibly it might be held that Corr’s beliefs edge those of Poots in terms of nuttiness by virtue of their febrile, unhinged quality. Remember though, that Poots has form in this regard. After all, he believes, despite all geological and scientific evidence to…

Insider's take on the marching season

Ignited has begun what promises to be an interesting series of posts over on Redemption’s Son. He intends to blog his experiences of the marching season as it unfolds, through the prism of his own membership of the Orange Order. The initial post provides some insight into his motivations in joining the Order and his perceptions of what membership means to those who have joined.

When Ignited comments, “the Orange Order is a family; and that is not lost on its members”, I am reminded of Ruth Dudley Edwards book ‘The Faithful Tribe’ in which the author is noticably seduced by the familial aspect of the loyal orders and the acceptance which she found amongst its members. Ignited is circumspect about some of the problems within the Order, but he is also firmly committed to the principle that marches should not be restricted.

I have recorded on this blog my ambivalence and indeed apathy as regards Orange culture. I believe that in many cases the orders have not presented themselves in a f…

Euro 2008. Russia reach the semis.

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Another day, another post about a Russian triumph in Euro 2008. On this occasion Guus Hiddink’s side defeated the manager’s home nation, the Netherlands, 3-1 after extra time. Sean’s Russian Blog carries the ubiquitous Youtube video of well-healed young Muscovites hanging out of expensive cars waving Russia’s flag and various containers of alcohol.

They can be forgiven an excess of enthusiasm, because their side looked genuinely world class on Saturday. Although the Dutch were disappointing, Russia’s relentless waves of attack, getting both midfielders, and those rampaging full backs forward, looked irresistible at times.

Despite this adventure the Russians nevertheless managed consistently to get enough men back to defend in depth when necessary. And all the while, their best efforts were orchestrated by the clever, subtle talents of Andrei Arshavin. He really is a wonderful little player to watch. He reminds me a little of Jari Litmanen.

Russia now faces Spain in the semi-fina…

Here's to a new management for Hunters?

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Beano has brightened up my Friday afternoon by rumour-mongering that the ‘Deez’ incarnation of Hunters’ pub might already be approaching its end and the pub may soon be under new management (yet again).

 He has written a wonderfully vitriolic post detailing his objections to the ‘600 capacity venue’ (as it styles itself) and its ‘insufferable vulgarity’. My own contribution on this topic, bemoaning the re-branding of Hunters, was written only in March, so if Beano is correct, Deez took less than four months to prove an abject failure.

Unlike Beano I must admit that I have not boycotted Hunters since its name change, although I have been more inclined to walk the extra few yards to Ryans. But I felt strangely compelled to find out whether my own prediction of its demise would prove accurate or whether the new management had actually cleverly identified a gap in the market for a structurally old fashioned pub, decked out in day-glo yellow, with pretensions of being a club.

During th…

Remembering the lesser crime.

The Soviet and Nazi regimes both committed atrocities during their occupations of Lithuania. During nearly 50 years of Soviet rule, 74,500 people died or disappeared, due to summary executions, whilst in prison or during deportations. The Nazis occupied Lithuania for three years and killed 240,000 people, 200,000 of whom were Jews.

Jonathan Steele examines why then Vilnius’ Museum of Genocide Victims is focussed only on the Soviet crimes and why this pattern is repeated in terms of public remembrance throughout Lithuania’s capital. Steele concludes that anger about recent Soviet occupations, “blocks discussion of Nazi mass murder and the fact that too many Lithuanians eagerly supported it”.

Football fever in Russia

Russia Blog is getting excited about Euro 2008. Indeed it is drawing parallels between Guus Hiddink and Peter the Great in terms of successful Russo-Dutch exchanges of expertise. Meanwhile, in Moscow, fans have been taking to the streets in order to celebrate the national team’s achievements.

EU must respect its own rules to retain any credibility

You know that the EU is heading into questionable territory when Tim Garton Ash, a committed Europhile, questions its conduct in threatening to push the Lisbon Treaty forward despite rejection by referendum in the Republic of Ireland; a threat which implies a readiness to sideline the Union's own constitutional requirements. Instinctively I am sympathetic to the European project. I believe that greater cooperation and even integration within the Union is positive and desirable. I can see that in order to work effectively the European Union needs to reform and empower its institutions. However if those institutions are to assume greater powers, if the EU wishes to extend its remit, then there should be a corresponding increase in democratic accountability.

There are two significant problems of perception for the European project to tackle which bear direct relevance to the Lisbon Treaty. Firstly the Union is perceived to be a colourless bureaucracy that has little connection …

Lyric set for demolition

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The Lyric Theatre is due to be levelled later today to make way for a brand new facility. The replacement is sorely needed as the current theatre is uncomfortable, pretty chilly and very poorly soundproofed. Nothing quite damages the impression of twelfth century Denmark, like hearing an ice-cream lorry revving its engine and playing ‘the Entertainer’ at full volume, somewhere outside.

The theatre has contributed to a fair amount of dross over the years, Marie Jones’ career spring to mind, but it is still the leading arts’ theatre in Northern Ireland. Hopefully the work goes well and it will open on schedule in March 2010.

Russia show themselves to be contenders

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At the outset I declared that I would be supporting Russia in the European Championships, and after an uninspired start Guus Hiddink’s team showed themselves genuine contenders last night with a slick, inventive display of passing football against Sweden.

In their opening fixture, against Spain, Russia had demonstrated in spells, their adroitness in possession, but a propensity to play at pedestrian pace and a readiness to surrender the ball, allowed a strong Spanish side to claim an easy victory. In the following encounter, against Greece, the Russians improved, turning possession more effectively into opportunity and allowing attacking full-back Yuri Zhirkov licence to roam unfettered on the left flank.

Last night, with crafty forward Arshavin returning, Russia began to produce the ole football which characterised Zenit St Petersburg’s UEFA Cup winning campaign. They won 2-0, with goals from rangy Spartak striker Roman Pavlyuchenko and Zenit’s Arshavin, but would have increased t…

Kennedy listening to the fans?

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It is encouraging to hear the IFA president, Raymond Kennedy, making a statement on a new stadium to house the international team, which echoes grassroots feeling amongst Northern Ireland supporters. For too long the game’s governing body here has ignored the viewpoint of its customers, who will actually patronise any stadium, and has instead pandered to the government’s notion that the Maze Stadium plans were the ‘only show in town’.

Although Chief Executive Howard Wells remains wedded to the idea of an out of town, multi-sports’ white elephant in the middle of nowhere, Kennedy has expressed his support for a stadium in Belfast, specifically mentioning the Ormeau Park plans.

"I would love to have a nice, spanking new stadium at Ormeau Park."

Hear, hear Raymond!

Chekov 0-1 Mouse

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Last night my rodent nemesis delivered a humiliating reverse in the war of wits being fought in our front room. This morning I found that one of the mouse-traps had been tampered with and the piece of bacon had been removed (also presumably nibbled) before it was tauntingly deposited on the floor some inches from the device. The trap had not been sprung.

Previously the cunning freedom fighter had emerged once again from behind the television and disappeared into the cupboard housing our fuse box. This raised my hopes that I may have had him trapped. No such luck. The mouse might henceforth be known as Steve McQueen, because he had managed to find some minute route of escape.

This morning I sprung the trap myself and have reset it with the bacon more firmly lodged in the bait tray. I would, however, be unsurprised to find it gone tomorrow morning. My mouse appears to be a worthy adversary and it may be time to take the gloves off. Poison could be the only answer. I refuse to…

Promoting the Irish Language through TV and film is an appropriate initiative

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To dissent from Lord Laird’s opinion, I do not believe that £6 million funding secured for the Irish Language Broadcast Fund (and seemingly announced on behalf of the government by Gerry Adams!) is either ‘disgusting’ or ‘despicable’. The means by which the funding was secured is certainly a concern. It seems that in the Labour Party old habits dies hard, and Sinn Féin’s threats have once again been rewarded with a dividend. Noteworthy also, is that the linkage between the Irish language and the Provisionals becomes once again implicit, with SF portrayed as the language’s champion.

But actually, funding broadcasting initiatives for this language seems to me to represent precisely the type of cultural support which it should receive. With some justification unionist politicians might argue that there are other ways in which the money could be spent to the greater good, but these types of arguments arise wherever cultural initiatives receive funding. Governments must always balanc…

Arthur Aughey on 'progressive patriots'

Perhaps as a reaction to Brown’s appropriation of the idea of Britishness, and perhaps because leftist politics have, since the disintegration of the USSR, turned increasingly away from internationalism to embrace localism, those who presumptuously term themselves ‘progressives’ have become increasingly inclined to raise the English nationalist banner. In a review of a new book entitling itself ‘Imagined Nation – England After Britain’, Arthur Aughey offers a critique of the conceptual knots which these ‘progressive patriots’ tie themselves in, and challenges the false assumptions about Britishness which inform the narrative these people are advancing.

In order to rationalise attempts to break up the United Kingdom, and in order to cleave their new found nationalism to an identity which they adjudge convivial, it has become de rigueur to write naval gazing tomes in which the English national identity is offered a set of civic, multi-ethnic, liberal clothes. Aughey notes the incohere…

The Tories and equivocal unionism

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On Unionist Lite I’ve been engaging in debate, presumably with a member of the Northern Ireland Conservatives, as to whether unionists might find a more constructive home within that party, rather than becoming members of a Northern Irish unionist party. In common with many unionists of a pan-UK bent, I am sympathetic to the idea that the national parties should organise in Northern Ireland and that ideally they would form the most natural home for unionists who simply wish to play as full a part as possible in UK politics and who do not view the label ‘unionist’ merely as communal shorthand for the term ‘Ulster protestant’.

The ideal scenario whereby I would be happy enough to join one of the national parties is not yet in situ. Firstly, the choice in Northern Ireland is confined to the Conservative Party, and I am deeply sceptical as to whether the Conservatives constitute my natural political home. In addition, that party shows no signs of acquiring anything close to the electo…

Mongol: Genghis Khan, David Davis and pre-charge detention

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I watched the Kazakh film ‘Mongol’ on Friday night and it offered two hours of arrestingly ‘epic’ film making. A mythical interpretation of the history of Genghis Khan’s rise to prominence form the subject matter for the movie. Headstrong son of a tribal leader, Temudjin survives being repeatedly imprisoned, and fuelled by a combination of pride, tradition, love and faith, progresses to unite the various warring Mongol tribes.

Aul' Genghis, as depicted in Russian director Sergei Bodrov’s film, is a cracking chap and an exponent of law, fair wages for his employees and the progression of women’s role in society. He is a dutiful husband and father, only compromised by his frequent absences and an inability to impregnate his wife (although he happily accepts all her offspring from other liaisons). I rather got the impression that if Genghis were around today, he’d take a dim view of 42 day pre-charge detention.

Chekov 0-0 Mouse

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I apologise in advance if today’s posts are a little on the lax side. I didn’t sleep well last night. In fact for much of the night, I lay awake in a state of agitated blood-lust, straining to hear the thwap of an activated trap, and possibly the anguished squeal of a vanquished mouse.

My foe is far from Burns’ ‘wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie’. On the contrary, whilst it may be inaccurate to say that the rodent ambled from behind the television when making its first appearance, during Friday’s Holland vs. France clash, certainly its scuttle was imbued with a casual lack of urgency which suggests that it already considers itself an inhabitant of the house fully entitled to enjoy the amenities of the living room.

My girlfriend was initially inclined to accept the mouse’s claims of equality of residence (mainly on the grounds that it reminds her of a gerbil), and was eventually moved more by her father’s observations that mice breed, eat things, suffer incontinence and get…

Euro 2008 gathers pace

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Last night I watched Austria steal a last minute point from Poland when Howard Webb punished a Polish defender for a little wrestling with Sebastian Proedl in the penalty area. It was anything but a clear cut penalty, yet Austria deserved a draw, after forcing a number of saves from Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc.

Donning a Northern Ireland supporters’ hat, there is still more encouragement to be drawn from Poland’s uninspired display. The Poles’ offside trap was so diabolical in the first half that David Healy and Kyle Lafferty must be licking their lips in anticipation. In addition, although they are comfortable in possession, the Poles lack an incisive, pacy forward to provide a goal threat.

The previous day another World Cup opponent, Czech Republic, showed in flashes the fluidity and technique which has made them feared opponents. But ultimately they displayed all the signs of a team in decline and were comfortably beaten by Portugal, 3-1.

I must say, after a sluggish start, the…

Davis resignation will precipitate a debate which UK needs to have

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Whatever the exact motives for David Davis’ resignation from parliament, his actions will result in a thorough national debate being instigated on the importance of civil liberties to the United Kingdom. Gordon Brown’s claim that the public support his controversial 42 day pre-charge detention measure will be subjected to forensic scrutiny because Davis is intent on placing that specific debate within a broader context. This broader context will involve examining how highly British people value freedom as a central tenet of their state’s governance, and whether those foundational freedoms have been eroded incrementally to the extent that the ethos of our Kingdom has been undermined.

If Davis’ narrative of erosion will prove ultimately convincing remains to be seen, but whether the British people decide that they are happy to cede certain freedoms in order to feel safer, or whether they agree with Davis that the pretext of security is being employed to bolster an ever more intrusive a…

Belarus and Lukashenko's geopolitical balancing act

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Kommersant, Russia’s business daily, carries an article examining the manner in which Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, plays Russian and western interests in his country off, one against the other, in order to strengthen his own position and copper-fasten the independence of the state. Translation renders the piece into somewhat idiosyncratic English, but it is worth persevering, because this is an interesting departure from perceived wisdom that Lukashenko, the vanity of a tyrant not withstanding, is effectively in the Kremlin’s pocket.

Fedor Lukyanov argues that Lukashenko has used Belarus’ strategic position, as the last bulwark separating Russia from NATO, to extract economic concessions from Russia, with the minimum secession of sovereignty and influence to the Kremlin. In tandem, Belarus’ proximity to both Russia and Poland allows Lukashenko to court the EU, without political pluralism ever seriously entering discussions.

Maintaining this delicate balance allows Luk…

Russia Day - a national day with a date which inspires ambivalence

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Today is an official holiday in Russia, marking the country’s ‘national day’. The 12th of June was first decreed a holiday in 1991 when Boris Yeltsin’s government instigated Independence Day. Given that Russia has not undergone foreign occupation since Moscow freed itself of the ‘Tartar yoke’ in 1480, the day is viewed with ambivalence by the majority of Russians. The nominal ‘independence’ to which Yeltsin was alluding was a declaration by the Russian Congress of People’s Deputies in 1990 that Russia had become independent from the federal authority of the Soviet Union.

The holiday has since undergone two name changes, and it is now known simply as ‘Russia Day’. However, despite Putin’s attempts to harness the day to an all-encompassing sense of national pride, “on this day we honour our motherland, our Russia. We honour the country of a thousand years history and unique heritage, the country which united on a huge space many peoples, territories and cultures”, it retains its link…

Parochial politics and 42 day detention

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Unfortunately a cursory glance over the last page of posts on this blog might give the impression that it only exists in order to attack the DUP. This is not so (honest!), it’s just that they are undoubtedly a shower, and a number of stories have arisen lately which happen to graphically demonstrate this.

Take for instance the fashion in which the party have been using the 42 day detention bill, a piece of legislation which encapsulates a vital debate about the nature of liberties in the United Kingdom and the defence of its citizens against the threat of terror, to gain leverage with the government and indeed the Conservative opposition.

The DUP are not renowned for their attendance at Westminster, but they claim they will vote in the best interests of the country on this issue. It is odd then that they are taking so long to decide in which direction the country’s best interests lie. Indeed, although the debate is currently ongoing, the DUP’s final group meeting has had to be p…

Ignorant Sammy in DUP's Alliance against Science

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If any further evidence were needed to demonstrate why it is necessary to maintain a strong alternative unionist voice to the DUP, the party itself has been providing it over the last week or so. In addition to Iris Robinson’s remarks about homosexuality, we learn that Mervyn Storey, an inveterate proponent of young-Earth creationism will replace Sammy Wilson as chair of the Assembly Education Committee. And as noted below, Sammy himself has found a suitable role in the DUP’s Alliance against Science, becoming Environment Minister.

Sammy is a clown, with the red nose to prove it, but it is not funny having a clown in charge of Northern Ireland’s environment. He has wasted no time outlining his understanding (or lack of it) of the issue of green house gases contributing to climate change.

"I am not convinced and I don't think that there is any firm evidence to show that all of that climate change is due to CO2 emissions."

Which as a literal statement may be true, but …

Kane rejects DUP's overtures

The News Letter today reports Alex Kane’s comments on Peter Robinson’s unionist ‘unity’ overtures, delivered to South Down Ulster Unionist Constituency Association, last night. His objections to ‘cuddling up’ with the DUP are twofold. Firstly Kane doubts the bona fides of the Democratic Unionists and secondly he does not agree that the pro-Union vote would necessarily be strengthened by a pact or a merger.

The tactical cynicism of Robinson’s approach has already been discussed on Three Thousand Versts. In a succession of pieces it has also been pointed out that the idea of unionism gaining strength through unity is fallacious. "In my own view the best way of increasing and maximising the pro-Union vote is for the DUP and UUP to do their own thing," is Alex Kane’s view and it also summates accurately the opinion professed on this blog.

Unionism is not, and should not aspire to be, a monolith. Monolithic unionism would succeed, not only in disenfranchising a substantial pro…

Robinson's hand remains unconvincing

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It would be churlish not to register some pleasure that the Northern Ireland Executive’s second worst minister, Edwin Poots, is a casualty of Peter Robinson’s first reshuffle of the DUP’s executive positions. Placatory noises have issued from the First Minister, to the effect that the Lagan Valley MLA could return to a ministerial role in eighteen months time, but I will believe it when I see it.

Less encouraging is the rest of the reshuffle’s content. The DUP continues its insistence on double and triple jobbing its high profile personnel. Meanwhile the new Environment Minister is Sammy Wilson, an appointment which could be viewed as something akin to putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank. Wilson may be the DUP’s jester, and he may not be drawn from the religious wing of his party, but he shares with his fundamentalist colleagues a tendency to refute established scientific opinion. Sammy may not be so rib-tickling when he puts into action his self-professed scepticism over th…

Robinson's comments are indicative of a predominant strain in the DUP

I have refrained from too much comment on the Iris Robinson controversy as I believe that her remarks speak for themselves, and indeed are indicative of the strain of condemnatory Christianity which infests the DUP. A couple of bloggers’ thoughts are worth reading however.

Brian Crowe on Burke’s Corner argues from the perspective of more mainstream Christian churches that Robinson’s hate filled rant is aberrant to genuine Christian teaching. I am in no position to comment on Brian’s contention that, “the Christian tradition has a responsibility and obligation to act with respect towards gay people - a responsibility and obligation that flow from foundational Christian beliefs with regards to creation and redemption”, but it does confirm to my mind that Robinson’s Christianity is of a particularly virulent strain, and although she does not belong to the Free Presbyterian Church herself, that organisation, which still exercises a hugely influential role in the DUP, is characterised by …

Czechs and Poles fail to convince

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A few words about a rather lacklustre first weekend in the European Championships. Nigel Worthington should be a relatively happy man after he watched two matches featuring forthcoming opponents and neither proved particularly awe-inspiring. The Czechs at least managed to win their match against a Swiss side which should really have gained something from a dreary spectacle. Poland produced neater football at times, in a 2-0 defeat to Germany, but were easily outclassed in the end and carried little goal threat.

I must confess that despite Czech Republic vs. Switzerland being the first match of the Championship, I did pick up a book and merely half-watched the game throughout most of the second half, it was so bereft of excitement. From the moments I did watch though, the Czechs produced an oddly incoherent performance, with Jan Koller stranded on his own up front and proving ineffective. They desperately needed a player with enough craft and thrust to provide a threat from midfi…

Memorialising Russia's dark past

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RIA Novosti carries an opinion piece by Maxim Krans which examines Russia’s relationship with its Soviet past. Krans condemns an equivocal attitude towards the darker aspects of the USSR which has become increasingly prevalent as 1991 recedes into distant memory. In particular he is critical of the rehabilitation of Stalin which has crept into Russian textbooks and the teaching of history under Putin’s regime. Notably RIA Novosti is a state owned news agency and the article is published not only on the English language site, but also within the opinion section of the Russian language site.

The debate has arisen as Mikhail Gorbachev and others have appealed for a ‘national memorial’ to be established in memory of those who lost their lives in Stalin’s purges. In addition Gorbachev has suggested that Lenin’s embalmed body be removed from the mausoleum on Red Square and buried in accordance with his own wishes. Although the commentator is rather disingenuous in implying from this a…

Feedback on layout needed

On and off today I’ve been tinkering with the new ‘My blog list’ links menu which has been made available on Blogger. Personally I am torn as to whether it offers much of an improvement, or whether it simply adds more clutter to the screen. To surmise, basically the links menu updates whenever a new story is posted on a linked site. I’ve decided to leave a few sites linked through this new menu over the weekend and if anyone finds it useful please leave a comment below. Otherwise I might just stick with the straight, alphabetical list of sites only.

Fundamentalist, Ulster nationalist First Minister? Who'd have thunk it?

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Iris Robinson did a fine job of emphasising her husband’s pragmatic and secular instincts earlier this week on the Nolan show. Having spent some time bemoaning the loss of the word ‘coloureds’ and offering homosexuals the services of a psychiatrist to get them ‘turned around’, Iris stressed that she shared these beliefs with her ‘born again Christian’ husband. Wonderful. Only in Northern Ireland could Peter Robinson represent progress in edging the First Minister’s post away from an even more extreme religious nut-case.

And as if to emphasise the element of continuity between Robinson and his Ulster nationalist predecessor, O’Neill makes an interesting contribution in the comments zone of a post on Slugger which includes a ‘TagCrowd’ of the new First Minister’s inaugural speech. He notes that there are no tags for ‘unionist’, ‘unionism’, ‘Britain’, ‘British’ or indeed ‘UK’. The King is dead, long live the King.

Counting down the days ....

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Thank god Paisleyite lickspittle Edwin Poots will soon be shuffled away from the DCAL brief. Matthew Parris retains the distinction of summating Poots’ credentials most pithily during a radio discussion with the Lagan Valley MLA, ‘Good heavens! You’re the Culture Minister!’ was Parris’ astonished remark.

Poots has been utilising the death throes of his time in office, to berate Civil Servants for providing realistic assessments of the Maze Stadium plan, on Good Morning Ulster.

"There have been those within the civil service who have been opposed to the project at the Maze right from its conception."

Maybe because it’s a crap and ill-conceived project Edwin?

Belfast City Council has meanwhile produced a shortlist of five possible city based sites, replete with a business plan and forwarded it to the relevant departments.

Signs that Medvedev is loosening the 'power vertical'?

Yevgeni Kiselyov has an interesting assessment of Dmitry Medvedev’s first four weeks of power in today’s Moscow Times. Kiselyov acknowledges that no ‘revolutions’ were possible in such a short time frame, but nevertheless discerns a number of important indications that Medvedev’s ‘pet projects’ threaten the machinery whereby Vladimir Putin maintained his presidential ‘power vertical’.

Medvedev has spoken repeatedly of his desire to move Russia away from a culture of ‘legal nihilism’. There are important signals that the president intends to act on this campaign promise. A number of cases whose pursuance could be adjudged primarily political have been dropped. In addition Medvedev has admitted frankly that court decisions are often influenced by pressure from bureaucrats and that officials lobby judges (often with money changing hands). An unprecedented statement from a leading Supreme Arbitration Court official, that a top official within Putin’s administration has attempted to in…

Persepolis

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After 45 minutes watching the animated film ‘Persepolis’ last night, I imagined that I would be blogging unadulterated praise this morning and urging all Three Thousand Versts readers to get tickets ASAP. Actually it began to ramble a little after the hour mark, either that or the pre-show coffee had reached my bladder enough to make me restive, or perhaps it was a combination of the two. Nevertheless, this charcoal animation, examining the experience of liberal Iranians following the 1979 revolution, was still arresting enough to deserve some plaudits.

I gather that the film is adapted from a graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi on whom the protagonist of this coming of age fable, ‘Marji’, is presumably based. Marji is a little girl when we join her secular, left leaning family and revolution flares against the Shah. Initially they welcome these events and even the emergence of fanatical Islamists in government is dismissed as a passing phase. Soon, however, the oppression and sexis…

Euro 2008 tips and favourites

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Northern Ireland fans will be watching the opening match of Euro 2008 with particular interest. World Cup qualifying rivals the Czech Republic kick off the tournament at tea time on Saturday with a match against co-hosts Switzerland. Although the Czechs are perceived to be a team on the wane, they are still strong contenders to progress from Group A which also includes Portugal and Turkey.

Group B similarly contains forthcoming opposition as a strong Poland team contend with Germany, Austria and Croatia for two quarter final slots. Although however intently GAWA members scout World Cup adversaries, there will still be a rueful element watching this tournament on TV, when with a little more attention we could have qualified.

I have opened a poll (on the top right of the page) giving you an opportunity to vote for your tip to win the competition. It’d also be interesting to know who you are supporting and your reason for lending a team your backing and/or tipping them.

It will not …

Posturing Sinn Féin threaten election

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It is appropriate that Ian Paisley is spending his last day as First Minister cuddling up to fellow UK regional nationalist, Alex Salmond. His Scottish counterpart is rather more circumspect than Paisley in public, but together perhaps privately they can reflect on the evils of the ‘Brits’. Immediate concerns, however, are focussed on the handover of the First Minister’s position from Paisley to his successor, Peter Robinson, and the potential for Provisional Sinn Féin to derail the process by declining to re-nominate Martin McGuinness for the Deputy First Minister’s post, a position which is tied to that of the First Minister.

With his customary flair for understatement Paisley has deemed any potential failure to nominate, “an evil thing”, although you might be forgiven for thinking that it would not constitute the Provisionals’ most evil action throughout the years. Nevertheless the threat is being taken seriously, to the extent that Gordon Brown invited both SF president Gerry Ad…